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Just Off-Camera

"They respect you if you write. The dumber the world gets, the more the words matter." -Dan Jenkins


Monday, January 31, 2005

Playoffs?!?!

What, you've been waiting this long for the NHL to get some kind of deal worked out? Once again, the players and owners met this week and came away with nothing to show for it. At this point, since dates have been released to arenas on a 45-day rolling basis, the regular season would have to begin in mid-March even if an agreement were reached today, and that's not happening.

While the No Hockey League was sleeping, the Pac-8 wrapped up its regular season this weekend, and the UCLA Bruins finished in first place. We went into the weekend's two-game set with Cal knowing we needed only a split to get the top spot, and we came out with guns blazing in the first period of Friday night's game. Martin Galstyan, our leading scorer, scored four goals and added an assist in the first period alone, and we went into the break up 5-2. I even contributed an assist in the period as well, my third point of the season (and third in the last three games). We didn't roll over them quite as handily the rest of the game, but we still played with confidence, winning 8-4 and securing the regular season championship. I'm told it's the first time in the last six seasons that we've had the top seed in the playoffs, and it's the first time in the last five seasons that we've made the playoffs at all.

Perhaps because we knew we had the top spot locked up, we came out soft in Saturday's game, losing 5-3. Cal smothered us with their forecheck all game long, and we were down 4-1 heading into the third period. Despite our best efforts, they held us off, so we finished the conference schedule with an 11-5 record.

Cal would have made it into the tournament regardless of their finish since they are the tournament hosts this year, but Cal finished second. They're the defending champs, and they're on their home ice, so they'll be tough to beat. Oregon, another team we split with (1-1) this season, finished third.

The biggest surprise is Washington sneaking into the tournament with the fourth seed. They beat Washington State twice this weekend to slide past USC, keeping the Trojans out of the tournament for the first time in the tournament's history. They'll be a real wild card when we play them to open the tournament (1:00, Feb. 18, Berkeley Iceland). We beat them 10-2 and 8-3 in Washington earlier this season, but they somehow turned their whole season around and won their last six games (including two over both Oregon and USC) to finish 8-8. We took Washington pretty lightly when we played them in October, but we can't afford to do that now that they've shown that they're capable of beating teams of our caliber.

Then there's USC, our last remaining game before the Pac-8 tournament. Since 'SC's not going to the tournament, that game, on Feb. 11, is their season finale. They'll come at us with everything they've got in that game, and we have to be ready for it. We have two weeks to prepare for that game. We'll be at home, where we're 2-0 against the Trojans this season, but they've won the last two games to force a meaningful Game 5 in the Crosstown Cup series. It's been a long time since UCLA has had the Cup, so there's plenty of pressure on both teams in that game.

Add to all of this the fact that the Eagles are in the Super Bowl on Jan. 6, and it makes for three straight huge sports weekends in the Book of Alex. So much for February being the worst sports month of the year. It's time to fire up the playoff beard - it's not coming off until I get back from Berkeley, hopefully with a Pac-8 championship to UCLA's credit.

Unless I get a job interview. Then I guess I have to shave.

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