With all three California teams making the NHL playoffs this season, and two of them—the defending Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings and the San Jose Sharks—in the midst of a Western Conference semifinal showdown, senior writer Austin Murphy takes a look at the Golden State’s thriving hockey landscape in this week’s
Murphy finds that much of hockey’s popularity in California is due in part to the Sharks, Kings and Ducks being committed to developing young talent right in their backyard. The Sharks, playing in their ninth straight postseason, including trips to two of the last three conference finals, oversee a score of traveling club teams for boys and girls, ages eight to 18.
“By growing the game at a grass roots level, the Sharks are also minting fans for life,” says Murphy. “Since the NHL planted the team in San Jose 22 years ago, this high-tech hub has morphed into a kind of Hockeytown 2.0.” (PAGE 46)
The Sharks play in front of sellout crowds at the “Shark Tank”, which Murphy says has turned out “to be one of the loudest, most inhospitable pits in the league.” (PAGE 48) Their older fans love to play hockey too, as Murphy finds that San Jose is home to the largest adult hockey league in the country with 5,000 skaters and 165 teams.
The Kings and Ducks also have invested in youth hockey. The 2010 draft had a total of four California kids selected—all of them products of what is now the Los Angeles Jr. Kings Hockey Club. Anaheim has poured $12 million into its youth program since 2007, the same year they won a Stanley Cup.
The state’s franchises each “has invested heavily in the sport,” says Blues coach Ken Hitchcock. “When you watch national championship games—bantams, pewees, midgets—the teams from California, especially Southern California, are always at the top of the heap.” (PAGE 46)
Though the Sharks struggled on the ice its first few years in the NHL, they did well at the gate and with merchandise sales thanks to the business community. “With all the corporate support they had coming in, you knew hockey was going to be a home run in that city” says Jack Ferreira, the former Sharks and Ducks general manager who is now special assistant to Kings G.M. Dean Lombardi, who also was G.M. for the Sharks from 1996-2003. (PAGE 48)
“From the NHL down to the squirts, the hockey boom in California is massive and irreversible,” writes Murphy. “Players and coaches who come to the Golden State tend to stick around. They can check out any time they like, but they never leave.” (PAGE 49)
Man boobs or mobility? Thunder thighs or the fastest 40 at the combine? These are the questions for so many wide-body prospects in the rapidly evolving game of football, where every extra pound is a double-edged sword. In this week’s SPORTS ILLUSTRATED, staff writer Austin Murphy examines the difference between being fit and being fat and how that matters for today’s game—one that looks for different type of linemen who can work in complex offenses such as the read option and the spread.
LeCharles Bentley, former Pro Bowl lineman with the Saints fears obesity is becoming an epidemic in the NFL. He believes that there are plenty of players who have eaten their way well past that mile marker. “A lot of the bodies you see in the league are soft. You don’t have to look like a receiver to play offensive line. But it’s critical to have correct body composition. You’re not playing to your full athletic potential when you’re that fat,” says Bentley (PAGE 52).
NFL executives now worry about what will happen to big guys once they get paid. “Throw guaranteed money at a guy, and the next thing you know he’s drinking smoothies with pineapple and whole milk,” says Murphy (PAGE 53).
Yet, many offensive line coaches can see the beauty in a big belly jiggling over tree-trunk legs. “Your power comes from your hips and your ass, that’s where your biggest muscles are…That’s your power pack. Some guys got a gut sticking out over top of that, but they can still use the power pack. They can get the job done for 16 weeks,” says Joe Pendry, an O-line coach for 45 years in the NFL (PAGE 52).
Howard Mudd who played seven seasons in the NFL, then coached offensive linemen for another 38 looks for balance and recovery when scouting an offensive lineman.“I wanted to see what happens when he starts to block a guy, but the guy gets away from him, and he almost falls down, and yet he’s able to right himself and complete the play. It might not even look that good, but I’ll say, Wow. That guy recovered,” says Mudd (PAGE 54).
This year, Georgia DT John Jenkins, as well as other big linemen lost a few pounds for the combine and their pro day to score better in combine drills. Most plan to gain the weight back. However, Murphy finds that today’s players have much more knowledge and resources when it comes to diet and nutrition.
NFL Network draft guru Mike Mayock agrees. He says, “Offensive linemen this year look much different than they did 10 or even five years ago…they look leaner, not as sloppy as in the past years…for a lot of these prospects, for the first time in their lives people are hammering on them about nutrition.” (PAGE 53)
Murphy is still left to wonder—just how big is too big?
San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who rushed for more yards—181—than any other quarterback in any NFL game, threw for another 261 and finished with four TDs in a 45-31 victory over Green Bay in the NFC Divisional playoff last Saturday, is on the cover of the Jan. 21, 2013 issue of Sports Illustrated, on newsstands Wednesday. This is the first time Kaepernick has appeared on the cover, and the first time a 49er was featured on the cover since Jan. 23, 2012.
Sports Illustrated staff writer Austin Murphy (@si_austinmurphy) says that after one of the most electrifying playoff debuts in NFL History, Kaepernick has silenced critics (the college coaches who didn’t find him worthy of a scholarship; the NFL teams who picked five quarterbacks before him in the ’11 draft; and the fans who preferred Alex Smith).
”I had a lot to prove,” Kaepernick shouted on the field after the game. “A lot of people doubted me and my ability to lead this team (PAGE 41).”
Perhaps it was fate that the 49er quarterback led his team to a win over the Packers. Kaepernick’s mother Theresa told Murphy about a letter she found that Colin wrote to himself as a fourth grader. It said in part: I hope I go to a good college in football, then go to the pros and play on the niners or the packers even if they aren’t good in seven years (PAGE 39).
Perennially loaded on offense, Houston finally has a dominant defense to match: a manic swat patrol that makes life miserable on quarterbacks. The best team in football? No doubt about it says SI writer Austin Murphy. The issue will be on stands Wednesday.
Jan. 11, 2011 Issue: NFL Playoff Preview
Our NFL Playoff Preview—the cover of which features Patriots 325-pound (yeah, right) defensive tackle Vince Wilfork—delivers game-by-game predictions, complete scouting reports on the 12 teams, key moments from all 44 Super Bowls and a feature on the all-important massive anchors on the defensive line. And the iPad version not only proclaims what will happen but also why it will happen.
Senior NFL writer Peter King’s (@SI_PeterKing) playoff bracket results in New England defeating Green Bay 30–24 in Super Bowl XLV, yet his predictions go well beyond picking the scores. King provides “playoff analysis” for each team as part of their individual scouting reports, and he’s not alone in his prognostications. Fellow NFL writers Damon Hack (@si_damonhack), Tim Layden (@SITimLayden), Jim Trotter (@SI_JimTrotter), Andrew Lawrence (@SI_DrewLawrence) and Ben Reiter (@SI_BenReiter) contribute their picks for every postseason game as well.
As part of a special partnership with Bing, Sports Illustrated has come up with a list of the decisive moments from each of the previous 44 Super Bowls—eight of which have been selected as finalists for being the most decisive in the big game’s history. This week, readers on the iPad can view footage of those “Eight That Endure” and cast their vote here. The winning moment will be revealed the Friday before Super Bowl XLV.
Finally, the iPad extra to Attack of the Space Eaters—Tim Layden’s feature story on the playoff impact of massive defensive linemen—provides a gallery showing how these big and hungry anchors in the trenches have evolved over the years. It’s photographic proof of how their importance in the playoffs has grown in conjunction with their ever-expanding waste lines.
For those interested in football on the collegiate level, we have you covered. As an add-on to senior writer Austin Murphy’s (@si_austinmurphy) recap of TCU’s Rose Bowl win—a statement victory for the Horned Frogs and their non-BCS brethren—readers will enjoy a panoramic shot from this year’s game in addition to BCS title game predictions courtesy of Murphy, Lars Anderson, Albert Chen, Stewart Mandel (@slmandel) and Andy Staples (@Andy_Staples).