Monthly Archives: May 2015

Premier League Recap

With the end of the Premier League season, it’s time to take a look at how my pre-season predictions for the table turned out. In order from worst to first, here’s the break down on how each club’s season went.

*First number is where the team finished, followed in parentheses by where I predicted they would end up and how many spots I was off by.

Queen's Park Rangers

Queen’s Park Rangers – Finish: 20th, Predicted: (20th), Difference: (+0)

QPR looked like they had a fighting chance when they clocked in at the midway point of the season in 15th place, but the Hoops never sealed up their leaky defense and ended up exactly where most people thought they would… in last place. Queen’s Park Rangers spent their season playing an attacking style of soccer. They outscored six other teams in the Premier League behind 18 goals from standout striker Charlie Austin, and highlight reel tallies from Matt Phillips and Bobby Zamora. The big problem was the 73 goals given up on the other end, 10 more than any other squad.

The London based club had problems before the season even began, failing to unload some of their overpaid players. Now, QPR could face a massive penalty under the Financial Fair Play regulations to go along with their relegation to the Championship. If Queen’s Park Rangers aren’t careful they could follow the examples of Portsmouth, Wolverhampton, Blackpool and Wigan Athletic before them and fall further down the league hierarchy.


Burnley – 19th (19th) (+0)

It’s a shame to see Burnley heading back down to the Championship. They introduced us to the sponsorship of Dave Fishwick Minibuses and gave us some spectacular displays against Manchester City, taking four points from their two matches with the reigning champs. In the end, they just didn’t have enough quality to avoid the drop.

Burnley’s biggest struggle, as it is for a lot of newly promoted smaller clubs, was scoring. They only scored more than one goal in seven games all year, and won just two of those contests. The woes up front could get worse as England U-21 star and leading scorer Danny Ings appears to be planning on staying in the Premier League when his contract expires this summer. A few wise investments with the parachute payments they’ll receive for the next few seasons could see Burnley make a quick return back to the top flight. In the meantime, Bournemouth will carry the flag of small club in the Premier League next season.

Hull City

Hull City – 18th (14th) (-4)

The Hull City Tigers came close to spending another season in the Premier League, but a draw with Manchester United coupled with a Newcastle victory on the final day of the season booked them a return to the Championship. The Tigers never really got going, failing to earn a point in all of November and flirting with the relegation zone the majority of the season.

Hull City have been in this situation before. After earning promotion in 2007-08, they were relegated back to the Championship after the 2009-10 season. They made their way back to the Premier League after just three seasons. If they want to make a similarly quick return they’re going to have to find more production from their front line. Club record signing Abel Hernandez scored just four goals in his first year in English football, and top scorer Nikica Jelavic found the back of the net just eight times, with only three of those goals coming in the final 19 matches. Their 33-goal total simply wasn’t enough.

Aston Villa

Aston Villa – 17th (12th) (-5)

Aston Villa flirted with disaster for much of the season, as none of their offseason moves to provide more goals seemed to yield any results. The club went an entire month without scoring and ended up with the second fewest goals ahead of only Burnley. The Claret and Blue started to improve when they brought in manager Tim Sherwood. He managed to nearly double the number of goals scored in just a third of the number of matches that Paul Lambert was in charge for.

Young winger Jack Grealish had a standout campaign while Fabian Delph and Christian Benteke struggled through most of the season, but made up for it with a good run at the end. Benteke’s resurgence was an impressive streak of 11 goals in 12 games (across all competitions). Unfortunately for Aston Villa, that run of form was good enough that it appears he may leave for greener pastures this summer. A bad loss to Arsenal in the F.A. Cup final was the final blow in a forgettable season.


Sunderland – 16th (15th) (-1)

It was the same old song and dance for Sunderland, as for the third straight year they managed to survive after looking certain for relegation. The low point of their season was the 8-0 thrashing they suffered at the hands of Southampton, the largest defeat suffered by any team this season. Manager Dick Advocaat replaced Gus Poyet in March and managed to lead the team to safety, but he retired shortly after the season, which once again opens the question of who will lead Sunderland.

American striker Jozy Altidore’s struggles from last season continued and he was eventually sent to Toronto FC in MLS. He wasn’t the only player to have problems finding the net. Sunderland finished tied for the second-fewest goals with just 31 and did not have a single player score more than five. Jermain Defoe, the player the Black Cats got in the Altidore swap, managed four goals in half a season. There were problems all over the field with Jack Rodwell and Jordi Gomez were especially disappointing considering their pedigree. Midfielder Adam Johnson can be dynamic… when he’s not busy getting arrested off the field. Sunderland’s best players by far were Sebastian Larsson and goalkeeper Costel Pantilimon.

Newcastle United

Newcastle United – 15th (11th) (-4)

Not many managers get a website dedicated to their firing like Newcastle United’s Alan Pardew did. The irony was that Pardew managed to secure Newcastle comfortably in the middle of the pack by midseason, but appeared to be so fed up with the lack of support from the club’s fans that he bolted the team for Crystal Palace. The ensuing second half of the season saw Newcastle plummet to the basement and barely avoid relegation, while the Eagles of Crystal Palace soared into the 10th spot that the Toons had previously held.

Evidently, a change of manager wasn’t the solution that Newcastle’s supporters thought it was. The team one just three league games after the switch to manager John Carver, including a stretch that saw them go nearly three full months without a win, save for a victory on the final day of the season that ensured their Premier League status.

Things have just been a mess for Newcastle United. Leading scorer Papiss Demba Cisse missed seven games through suspension, goalkeeper Tim Krul allowed the second-most goals and players turned in disappointing performances at nearly every position. The lone bright spot was defender Jonás Gutiérrez’s return from testicular cancer to score in Newcastle’s final game.

Leicester City

Leicester City – 14th (13th) (-1)

The greatest escape of the season. Sitting in last place with just two months left in the season, Leicester City produced a stunning string of results, winning seven of their final nine games, to end up just about where I thought they would be at the beginning of the season.

Leonardo Ulloa, Jamie Vardy and Serie A legend Esteban Cambiasso provided the bulk of he offense, while goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel turned in some excellent performances in between the posts to keep the Foxes in the Premier League. If they want to survive another campaign they’ll have to make some improvements at multiple positions, but for now they can just enjoy the awesome form they showcased to end the season and hope it carries over to the next one.

West Bromwich Albion

West Bromwich Albion – 13th (18th) (+5)

My preseason pick of seeing West Bromwich Albion relegated may have been based more on hope than on outlook, but boring, boring Albion managed to drift to mid-table safety. Ironically, it was the arrival of Tony Pulis, a man known for “boring” tactics, in January that finally saw West Brom’s form tick up. Saido Berahino was by far the star man scoring 14 goals, 10 more than any other Albion player. Center back Joleon Lescott proved to be a fantastic signing while in goal, Boaz Myhill seems to have claimed the number one spot over Ben Foster.

The Baggies could have finished much lower and only ended up six points ahead of 17th place Aston Villa thanks to two wins against top five teams in the final month of the season. Before those victories against Manchester United and Chelsea, they had only gone 1-1-6 against the teams that finished in the top five. They’ll need a lot of improvement in the summer.

West Ham United

West Ham United – 12th (16th) (+4)

West Ham United’s early season form was one of the surprises of the Premier League. The Hammers played like a top five team until they came crashing back down to earth. Just two wins in the final four months of the season meant they struggled home to a 12th place finish, which meant the end of the much-maligned Sam Allardyce’s time in charge of the squad.

Much like their results, West Ham’s players also had a mixed bag of success. Diafra Sakho had a good season after transferring to West Ham, leading the team with 10 goals. On the other hand, Enner Valencia followed up his World Cup appearance for Ecuador with just four goals in a West Ham uniform. Defender Aaron Cresswell had a player of the year campaign after being brought in from Ipswich Town, while striker Andy Carroll had his year derailed by yet another injury. Without Allardyce’s pragmatic style of football, maybe West Ham can reinvent itself before next season.


Everton – 11th (7th) (-4)

Midseason fears of relegation proved to only be paranoia, but there’s no denying Everton had an awful campaign considering their preseason hopes. A defense with more leaks than… well, something with many, many holes in it, was the biggest culprit with opponents scoring seemingly at will. Goalkeeper Tim Howard wasn’t his usual self after perhaps using up and entire year’s worth of saves during his jaw-dropping World Cup performance for the U.S. against Belgium.

Romelu Lukaku settled in after initially struggling, following his permanent move to Everton. He ended up leading the team with 10 goals. Fellow striker Steven Naismith ended up cooling off considerably after a great start and ended with just six tallies. Ross Barkley never got used to playing out wide and should be returned to the middle of the pitch next season. Phil Jagielka and Kevin Mirallas were okay, while midfielder Steven Pienaar was just one of a host of injuries that didn’t help matters. Manager Roberto Martinez will have to figure out how exactly to fix things in the offseason, but at least Everton won’t have to deal with the distraction of the Europa League in the next campaign.

Crystal Palace

Crystal Palace – 10th (17th) (+7)

Crystal Palace were the polar opposite to Newcastle United. They found themselves treading water in the bottom three with 19 games played. Since January, they added 10 wins to their haul cementing their third straight season of Premier League football thanks to the guidance of Alan Pardew.

Scoring was a mixed bag for the Eagles this season. Nobody scored more than seven goals, but seven different players found the net at least four times. Jason Puncheon’s free kick-taking abilities are a big weapon, and Glenn Murray’s Cinderella career of finding the net continued when he was healthy and available to play. However, the emergence, or purchase, of a number one striker would help them considerably next year.

Stoke City

Stoke City – 9th (8th) (-1)

Stoke City produced their best Premier League season of all time, recording a club-best 54 points and tying their best position in the table. The Potters have continued their slow, steady improvement and their low-risk, high-reward moves have mostly worked out. Mame Biram Diouf played well up front as the young Senegalese player bagged 11 goals. Barcelona cast-off Bojan Krkic looked like he was finally adapting to the Premier League before an injury ended his season.

Midfielder Charlie Adam made headlines for scoring the best Premier League goal of the season when he blasted the ball past Chelsea’s Thibault Courtois from 65 yards out in April. Steven N’Zonzi had a spectacular year in the holding midfielder position. Goalkeeper Asmir Begovic was solid once again, but could move on this summer as teams higher up the table look for better options in between their posts. Young back-up Jack Butland only made a few appearances but the England international appears capable to take over if needed. Stoke just keep getting better and better, and could surprise a lot of people by challenging for a Europa League spot next year.

Swansea City

Swansea City – 8th (9th) (+1)

Similarly to West Ham, Swansea roared out of the gates to start the season, but fell back a bit as time went on. The second-to-last team to lose a game (not quite outlasting Chelsea), the Swans kept themselves near the top of the table even after they sold leading scorer Wilfried Bony to Manchester City.

Icelandic international Gylfi Sigurdsson was their all-everything with seven goals and 10 assists. French striker Bafetimbi Gomis finally found his form and ended the year with seven tallies. One of the standout performers was one who went under my radar for most of the season, Ki Sung-Yeung. The South Korean midfielder dominated the middle of the pitch and had a knack for timely forward runs, which led to eight goals.

Southampton's Sadio Mané celebrates with manager Ronald Koeman after scoring against Stoke City

Southampton – 7th (10th) (-3)

After a great 2013-14 campaign, Southampton made huge profits off the sales of a number of their top, young players. When they didn’t bring in too many reinforcements, it looked like Southampton would be stuck toward the back of the pack. Instead, the Saints had another excellent year challenging for a Champions League spot through the first half. Their reward is a potential repeat of last summer, with defender Nathaniel Clyne and midfielder Morgan Schneiderlin at the top of a lot of clubs’ wish lists.

Several of the players Southampton managed to bring in had excellent first seasons, the best of those being goalkeeper Fraser Forster and forward Sadio Mane. The big, 6’7” keeper played well until an injury in March ended his season. Mane was second on the team with 10 goals, behind only Graziano Pellé’s haul of 12. That included him setting a Premier League record for the fastest hat trick, scoring three goals in a span of three minutes against Aston Villa. Mane is definitely challenging Stoke City’s Diouf for best Senegalese player in the Premier League. Overall, the future still looks very bright at Saint Mary’s.

Liverpool FC

Liverpool FC – 6th (4th) (-2)

Liverpool trundled home to a sixth place finish in the league, just beating out Southampton for the last Europa League spot, which is either a blessing or a curse depending on how you look at it. Losing Daniel Sturridge to injury for most of the season put them in a rough spot and the roster never looked like it fit the system that Brendan Rodgers wanted his squad to play.

It’s a new era for the Reds as one-club man Steven Gerrard moves on to MLS. But the fact that he led the team in goals despite being a midfielder with a lot of miles on the engine should make Liverpool concerned about next year. Young phenom Raheem Sterling appears headed for the exit door as well, with Liverpool not meeting his big club expectations. Phillippe Coutinho was a bright spot as the Brazilian showed a penchant for highlight reel goals from the midfield, but on the other hand, Liverpool’s boatload of acquisitions from Southampton seemed to struggle along with new striker Mario Balotelli.

Tottenham Hotspur

Tottenham Hotspur – 5th (6th) (+1)

Tottenham came up short of their goal of a Champions League spot, finishing six points behind Manchester United. Spurs definitely had some enormous bright spots, but for each of them, there seemed to be another player who struggled. Harry Kane was the toast of the team, tying the club record with 21 goals and an additional 10 in all competitions. The 21-year-old’s club and international future appear to be bright after bursting onto the scene this campaign. On the other hand, strikers Emmanuel Adebayor and Roberto Soldado had very difficult seasons and could both leave.

Left back Danny Rose had a good season, while young defender Eric Dier faded after a strong start. In the midfield, Christian Eriksen and Nacer Chadli solidified spots, while club-record signing Erik Lamela and Paulinho both had rough spells. Tottenham might count themselves lucky to have gotten a fifth place finish. Goalkeeper Hugo Lloris earned a lot of plaudits for his play and may be set for a move this summer, but Tottenham still gave up 53 goals in 38 games, better than only four teams in the league.

Manchester United

Manchester United – 4th (5th) (+1)

It’s been a zany, up and down year for Manchester United. Despite spending boatloads more money, Louis van Gaal couldn’t get much more out of the Red Devils than his predecessor David Moyes did. United had nowhere to go but up after a 4-0 dismantling by MK Dons in the League Cup, and a couple of good stretches were enough for them to beat out Tottenham and return to the Champions League.

Even with all the marquee players brought in during the offseason, it was mostly the established players like Wayne Rooney, Robin van Persie and David De Gea who did the heavy lifting. Radamel Falcao and Angel Di Maria never really met expectations. Now, club player of the year De Gea appears poised for a move to his hometown team Real Madrid, and United must be wondering exactly how much more cash they have to shell out if they want to finish better than fourth next season.


Arsenal – 3rd (3rd) (+0)

I managed to nail my top three selections, with Arsenal, Manchester City and Chelsea rounding out the table. The Gunners made a late surge and looked like they might at least push Chelsea for a title challenge, before fading to third with draws in three of their final six games. Still, Arsene Wenger should be proud of the progress his team made.

Alexis Sanchez proved to be one of the best transfers in the Premier League this season. Along with striker Olivier Giroud, the pair accounted for 30 of Arsenal’s 71 total league goals. The Gunners often played the type of attractive football that Wenger has always longed for. David Ospina replaced Wojciech Szczesny in goal midway through the season, and looked to play well enough to nail down the starting spot on a permanent basis moving forward. A better start to next season should see Arsenal in the race right up until the final match.

Manchester City

Manchester City – 2nd (2nd) (+0)

A stretch of just two wins in seven games between January and early March effectively ended Man City’s chances of mounting a serious title challenge. But the Citizens still left their mark on the Premier League, finishing out with a run of six straight victories and scoring the most goals. Striker Sergio Aguero is still world class, winning the Premier League’s golden boot with 26 goals, while David Silva chipped in to help City score more than any other team. Joe Hart was occasionally erratic but is still a top-class keeper.

Manchester City’s biggest failing was against the other teams who finished in the top four (Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester United), as they picked up only six of a possible 18 points in those matches. An improved performance in those bigger matches is Man City’s best chance of regaining the Premier League title next year. If club captain and longtime top player Yaya Toure leaves the club this summer, the Citizens could have a very new look. Not to mention their apparently never-ending search for a better manager.


Chelsea – 1st (1st) (+0)

Chelsea were my pick to win the whole shebang and essentially led the league wire-to-wire, never really facing too much of a challenge from either Manchester City or Arsenal. The Blues locked up the title with some games to spare and Jose Mourinho delivered a couple of snarky remarks about the rest of the league making it too easy for his team. Chelsea suffered the fewest defeats, conceded the fewest number of goals and saw the majority of their transfers pay off with Diego Costa and Cesc Fabregas proving to be integral parts of the team.

Chelsea even picked up some points for class at the end of the season when club legend Didier Drogba was carried off the field during his final appearance for his longtime club. Chelsea appear to be favorites to win the league again next year and Mourinho may find his only challenge is trying to mount a more successful campaign for Champions League glory.


A Black Mark for Blackpool FC

2014-15 was a bleak campaign for Blackpool FC. Playing in the second tier of English football, the Championship, Blackpool tied the mark for the fewest number of points in the history of the league, earning just 26 from 46 matches. The team failed to win a game on the road all season, and went the final 17 matches of the campaign without a victory.

The Seasiders last match of the year did not even end on the referee’s whistle. Instead, the game was called off early in the second half after Blackpool supporters stormed the field and refused to leave, as they protested the club’s owners.

Next season, the squad will be down in League One, and without significant improvements could find themselves battling to avoid the drop down into League Two, the fourth division of the English Football Association. It’s a huge difference from where the team found itself in 2010-11, having earned an unlikely promotion to the Premier League. It was the first time since 1971 that Blackpool FC had been in the top flight, and that’s when I became a fan of the squad.

Led by a charismatic manager in Ian Holloway and the magical left boot of captain Charlie Adam, the Tangerines played the kind of attractive, attacking football that fans of the game love. For a small budget team, this was the departure from the norm. Most newly promoted sides looked to play defense-first football in the hopes of avoiding relegation for at least one season. Blackpool did the exact opposite, using a 4-3-3 formation. From the opening kick-off every game was an all-out assault on the other teams goal, their bright orange kits surging toward the net with Adam providing beautiful, pin-point accurate passes and players like D.J. Campbell and Gary Taylor-Fletcher lashing them home.

The Tangerines were eventually relegated on the last day of the season by one point, in a brave, 4-2 defeat on the road against Manchester United. To make matters more agonizing the team finished with 39 points, a total that in any other season since 2002-03 would have been enough for them to safely stay up. But the team won a lot of friends across the country, and with the millions of pounds in parachute payments the team would receive over the next three seasons, Blackpool’s future looked brighter than it had since perhaps the 1950’s when they won the FA Cup for their first and only time.

So how have things gone so wrong? What sent the team from rubbing shoulders with Chelsea and Arsenal to preparing for matches with Scunthorpe United and Port Vale FC in just four years? How did a club whose chairman once described it as the “Envy of the Football League,” fail so spectacularly? Like in the case of most teams that have plummeted from football’s greatest heights, the answers are found by following the money.

Left: Blackpool FC owner Owen Oyston/Right: Chairman Karl Oyston

Left: Blackpool FC owner Owen Oyston. Right: Chairman Karl Oyston

A Fall From Grace

Blackpool FC is owned by the Oyston family. Owen Oyston, a businessman who made his fortune in real estate and media companies, bought the team in 1988. Chairman Karl Oyston, Owen’s son, runs the team, and handles both the duties of owner and general manager that are usually divided up in American sports franchises. The Oystons came through for Blackpool in the 1990’s, helping the team out of significant financial trouble and eventually leading the charge up the table from League Two.

The Oystons did it by investing money in the team, adding on to the team’s stadium, Bloomfield Road, and helping to bring in players like Charlie Adam at the cost of $500,000, a pretty significant chuck of change for a team in the Championship.

Once the money started flowing back into the club though, things changed. Rather than reinvesting the money into the team through upgrades to the training facilities or youth academy, the Oystons paid large amounts of money to themselves. The most notable of which, was an £11 million payment made to Zabaxe Ltd. in 2010, a company owned by Owen Oyston, after Blackpool’s promotion. That amount was higher than what the club paid all their players combined.

The fans opinion on their owners really started to sour last season when Blackpool failed to win a game for a stretch of 17 straight matches and only barely avoided being relegated. When the cameras came to Bloomfield Road for a nationally televised game they captured a bizarre scene, as the game was interrupted by fans hurling dozens of tennis balls and tangerines onto the pitch. Fans held aloft scarves and chanted “Oyston Out” a slogan that would later become a mantra. Karl Oyston exacerbated matters by posing near one of the banners while his children mocked protestors by tweeting out photos of themselves holding tennis racquets.

Blackpool FC tennis ball protest

Descent Into Madness

If the 2013-14 season ended in disappointment and anger, the opening of this season was absolutely farcical. The team had just a handful of players left on the books after releasing the majority of the squad or failing to re-sign them. Karl Oyston took his time deciding on a manager knowing that a massive rebuild was in order, eventually choosing Jose Riga from Belgium. The club’s website brazenly billed it as the “Riga Revolution.”

However, rather than backing his choice with a war chest of transfer funds, Oyston spent most of the summer bickering with his new manager and stonewalling his choices of players he wanted to bring in. Things got so bad that just days before the start of the new campaign Blackpool FC had just eight players on their roster, not even enough for a full team. As many expected, rather than working on tactics and bringing the squad together, the Seasiders spent their weeks in the lead up to matches bringing in more and more players on trials, loans and free transfers. Riga was sacked on October 27, with just one win in 15 games.

Karl Oyston’s refusal to spend money on player transfers even after a horrendous season the year before was the final breaking point for a lot of fans, and it marked a downward spiral for the rest of the season. Protests were staged every week with some bigger points being a mass walk-out in the 53rd minute (a nod to the club’s lone FA Cup triumph) during a nationally televised game against Cardiff, sparse home crowds and outraged pre-match displays after the team’s relegation became official in April.

Karl Oyston himself responded to fans posting angry comments on message boards by suing them for thousands of pounds, which in turn rallied fans against him even more. Oyston also got himself in trouble by insulting a fan in text messages, which led to charges brought by the FA and outrage from anti-discrimination groups around Great Britain. Blackpool was also cited by the FA for having a terrible pitch, which led to injuries and sub-par football displays, failed to pay their bill for work done on their horrendous training ground (Holloway once described it as a “hell hole”) and had several off-field instances involving a player going AWOL, using social media to reveal they thought they would lose and getting arrested.

It was a shambolic season to say the least, and it almost seems fitting the way Blackpool’s final game ended. Oyston famously wrote back in August, in his own blog on the Blackpool Gazette, that fans should, “Judge us at the end of the season, not now.” Blackpool supporters heeded those words. With mass protests planned by several Tangerine fan groups, Oyston had the team’s statue to former player and manager Stan Mortensen removed before the match. The statue was to be the meeting place of the protests outside the stadium. That led some of the fans who did go inside for the game to respond by rushing the field and ultimately getting the match called off.

Photo Credit: Blackpool Gazette

Photo Credit: Blackpool Gazette

The Road to Redemption

So where does Blackpool FC go from here?

The Seasiders find themselves in a nearly identical situation as the one they faced last summer. The club is without a manager and in need of almost an entire roster’s worth of players. Mid-season replacement manager Lee Clark resigned shortly after the end of the season, stating that the six-month experience had been a nightmare. Blackpool chose to activate options on just a handful of players (oddly enough, including Nile Ranger, the player who went AWOL). The Oystons will have to splash the cash to quickly bring in talented players and give them enough time to gel as a team before the start of the season. If the mistakes of a year ago are repeated, Blackpool could find itself plummeting down into League Two.

Ironically, some supporters actually would prefer that outcome, believing that relegation to the fourth tier would be enough to see the Oystons finally sell the club. Fans are so desperate for an ownership change that when news broke that Blackpool hero Holloway would be talking to Karl Oyston about a return to the team as manager, some responded by stating on message boards that they hope he stays away. They worried that the return of their hero would soften their resolve to boycott games until the Oystons left.

Rumors of club president, Latvian millionaire Valeri Belokon, who owns 20% of the club, putting together a bid to buy out the Oystons, and a potential offer from the Blackpool Supporter’s Trust appear to be the best options for getting rid of the family before the 2015-16 campaign.

In the end, that is probably the best solution for Blackpool FC’s troubles. While any sports franchises group can go through a rough patch, things appear to have reached a point of no return. The Oystons have burned bridges with their fans, often times going as far as to antagonize them. Even if things were turned around on the field and team started winning again, it does not seem like it would be enough for supporters to change their opinion on the men who run their club. That is the kind of poisonous atmosphere that can only be fixed with a clean slate.

Owen Oyston has mentioned many times how his affection for Blackpool FC dates back to his early years spent in the coastal town. He once saved the club from extinction. Now, he has the chance to save his boyhood-love again. This time from himself.

History Repeats Itself… With a Twist

On Tuesday night, the Calgary Flames took on the Anaheim Ducks in an important game three in their best-of-seven Western Conference Second Round series. Down 2-0 in the series, the Flames essentially needed a win to have much of a chance of advancing to the conference final.

Calgary scored two goals in the first two periods, already good enough to best their total of just one goal in the first two games on the road against Anaheim, but the Flames still trailed 3-2 late in regulation. With 6:25 left in the third period, David Jones slid the puck out in front to Sam Bennett who slid the puck toward the far post. Ducks goaltender Frederik Andersen kicked out his right pad and appeared to knock the puck away while it was on the goal line. Anaheim iced the puck and the referees prepared for a faceoff. Meanwhile, Calgary head coach Bob Hartley screamed from the bench, demanding a video review of the shot.

This whole situation was reminiscent of a game in that building 11 years ago. It’s a game I’ve written about before, as part of the worst sports moment of my life. In 2004, the Flames were hosting the Tampa Bay Lightning in game six of the Stanley Cup Final with a chance to clinch the trophy and the city’s first championship since 1989. Late in the third period of a tie game, Calgary’s Martin Gelinas deflected a puck off his skate and toward the net, in almost the exact spot where Andersen made his save. Tampa Bay goalie Nikolai Khabibulin kicked out his right pad and knocked the puck away in nearly the exact same way. Video replay showed the puck appeared to cross the goal line, but the referees never went to a review. The game went on and Calgary ended up losing the game in double overtime. In game seven, they lost by a goal and Tampa Bay raised the cup.

That’s what flashed through my mind when I watched the replay of Bennett’s shot. This time though, the referee did go to scorer’s booth to look at the video. Here was a chance for redemption, a chance for the NHL to marginally make up for that no-goal call more than a decade ago. The referee looked at several angles. The overhead camera was inconclusive, with Andersen’s pad and the crossbar making it difficult to see if the puck fully crossed the goal line. But another angle showed the puck cross the line before rebounding back out off the goalie’s pad. To my shock, and the Calgary home faithful, the referee ruled the video inconclusive and the game continued.

This was where history diverged though. Rather than losing the game, Calgary managed to tie it up with just 19 seconds left on the clock on a goal by rookie Johnny Gaudreau. A few minutes into overtime, Mikael Backlund sneaked a shot through traffic and past Andersen on a delayed penalty, giving the Flames a 4-3 victory.

It may not have been as important as a potential Stanley Cup-clinching victory, but the win exorcised a few demons for Calgary and gave them new life in their already improbable playoff run.