Fan Rant: Letting Loose on the Penguins

Fan Rant: Letting Loose on the Penguins

Level reader and creator of the great Philly Sports Power Hour video, John Gallagher, sends in a Bundy-like rant of his own. These are his words.

In Philadelphia, we’ve always enjoyed making a mockery of the Pittsburgh Penguins fan base.

Where do we start? Their love for soft, whiny players who always get their way? The fact that it's only because of Lemieux that their team isn’t playing in Kansas City? The
fact that most of them wear those shiny new bandwagon baby blues after the empty
hockey building in Pittsburgh welcomed three straight number one or two overall
draft picks? Pittsburgh was given it all.

But this isn’t about the Pittsburgh fans. It’s about their beloved team, who until now
was always perceived as a talented, hardworking franchise with at least an ounce
of respect.

That all changed on Sunday.

The world finally got to see the Penguins for who they really are. They put on the
most gutless display of hockey seen in years. It’s one thing to fight—to challenge an
opponent. That’s fair; that’s hockey. That’s actually what Philadelphia enjoys and
respects. It’s another thing to take unwarranted runs at talented young players with
a clear intent to injure. It’s beyond disgraceful and disrespectful. It’s cowardly.

The Penguins captain, Sidney Crosby, started everything and finished nothing.

I love fighting and rough play in this league, but it’s the not the same anymore. Why? Because it was changed for Crosby.

People love to praise Crosby as one of the world’s best players—his strength on his skates, his unreal stickhandling and playmaking ability. But some people who have never played hockey don’t understand how he truly works. Philadelphians don’t chant “Crosby sucks” because of his abilities—his skill level is on another planet; Philadelphians chant that because they can see straight through him.

He’s a phony. The antithesis of our ideal hockey player—a dirty coward who dives and starts fights but doesn’t finish them himself.

It’s a catch-22 for a defender. He knows Crosby’s strong on his skates. He creates space on the ice because honestly, yes, he’s damn good and fast. The defender plays him as hard as he can, but the problem is that he knows if he so much as taps him the wrong way, he’s going down, diving. And Crosby’s going to the get the call more often than not, because the league protects its “superstar.”

How do you, as a player, prevent that? You either defend him and get called, or back off and run a greater risk his talent prevails with a goal. That’s how he’s created himself; that’s how he creates space on the ice. Not merely because of his playmaking/scoring ability, but his diving/coercing ability. How can a hockey fan honestly respect that? His slashes and other on-ice antics could fill an entire article by itself. There are countless examples of every sneaky dive from Crosby, and it’s obviously contagious on the team.

Even though the Flyers were branded as the Broad Street Bullies (only after they were bludgeoned by the St. Louis Blues early in their existence) and they’re known for being aggressive, as a Flyers fan, I’ve never enjoyed dirty hits or unnecessary runs. I’ve always cringed when I see nasty, disrespectful things. But the Flyers are well aware of their aggressive reputation, and they know the second anything is questionable, it’s going against them. There is a code on the ice. If you’re challenged, you answer the bell. I’ve always been proud of the Flyers for largely sticking to it. Case in point: Mike Richards fought David Booth.

This current Flyers team is a bunch of kids, nothing like the team, or the sport, in the 70s. However, the Penguins made it perfectly clear yesterday that they were going to be relentlessly dirty in an age when their sport protects its stars from the very actions they displayed.

Not a proud day in Penguins history, and even their own fans are proclaiming their disgust.

In the first period when the Flyers were up 3-1, I could sense and see it; the Penguins were going after Flyers, and they needed to worry about injuries at that point. Matt Cooke, who has been surprisingly calm collected (probably because after being the dirtiest player in the league, he only has one more strike) took a run at Jagr at center ice. You could argue he was trying to disrupt a stick handling legend. It was clearly a run, though.

But it was only the start. It didn’t take long after that to realize the Penguins weren’t trying to score or prevent goals anymore. They were trying to disrupt the Flyers’ momentum. But the blatant intent to injure, the unprovoked picking on smaller, younger kids is what I have a huge problem with, and that was the Penguins’ mission.

Here are just a few specifics:

1) Crosby started almost everything. The ridiculous hacking of Bryzgalov’s glove after a play and then hitting away at Voracek’s glove as a scrum dissipated. Jumping Kimmo Timonen. All on one shift. Cute, Crosby.

2) He got away with a vicious slash on Talbot, his long-time friend. No call.

3) Crosby wouldn’t drop the gloves, yet he punched randomly with the gloves on. Never once did he truly answer the bell.

4) The fight with Giroux doesn’t count. Did you see how quickly the referee jumped in? Crosby didn’t start throwing punches until the referee stepped in. The unwritten code is if you initiate things in the National Hockey League, you need to finish them, but that’s the captain of the Penguins for you.

5) Arron Asham crosschecking Brayden Schenn in the neck, then punching him in the head as he went to the ice. Brutal. The start of the unraveling of the Penguins.

6) James Neal plowing Sean Couturier without the puck, not looking. Unnecessary. Unprovoked. Yet, no game misconduct?

7) James Neal, again literally going for Claude Giroux’s head. Unnecessary. Unprovoked. Clear intent to injure. Possibly incurring a concussion. Easily suspendable.

8) Crosby horse-collars Hartnell. Lays a good hook into him. Starts everything and keeps his mouth guard in, with his gloves and helmet on. Won’t fight Schenn.

9) Then Craig Adams, third man in, is punching Hartnell from behind before actually fighting.

10) Zac Rinaldo got a game misconduct for trying to respond, not Neal or Crosby. So where does the league stand?

Not once did the Flyers take a serious run at Crosby or Malkin. The Flyers, thankfully, took the high road. They fought back, but didn’t stoop to the same level of cheap-shotting. That’s a testament to Laviolette, his team, and their mission.

It doesn’t take a genius to see who’s in the wrong and who’s in the right.

Bylsma has been pushing this crap because his “world
class” players have been dominated by a bunch of kids. That’s why Laviolette pointed at him. It was to call him out for being the disrespectful hack he truly is.

Finally the world got to the see the Penguins, and Sidney Crosby for who they really are. Crosby’s always been known as a diver and a whiner. Pens fans loved to wash aside those comments as Philadelphians were “jealous” or “paranoid.”

Hockey fans are finally starting to wake up, and even most Pens fans can’t defend their team during this series.

Bitter. Arrogant. Cowardly. Gutless.

And, hopefully, the first chapter a Flyers’ Cup run.

Go Flyers.

Versatile Brock Stassi making his pitch to win a spot on the Phillies’ roster

Versatile Brock Stassi making his pitch to win a spot on the Phillies’ roster

TAMPA -- When Phillies camp opened earlier this month, Brock Stassi was considering mentioning his ability to play the outfield to manager Pete Mackanin.

Though he’s played mostly first base during his six seasons in the Phillies' system, Stassi has been used occasionally in left field. He’s also played the position in winter ball in Latin America. Even going back to high school, Stassi played center field.

As it turned out, Stassi didn’t need to have that conversation with Mackanin. The manager actually approached the player early in camp and told him he planned to get him some time in the outfield as well as at first base.

Mackanin and the Phillies' front office value versatility and they want to have it on their bench. Stassi has come to his second big-league camp as a serious candidate to win a job on the bench. His left-handed bat -- which he showed off with a solo homer in Friday’s 9-4 Grapefruit League loss to the Yankees -- would be attractive to the Phils. So would his versatility.

And if the ability to play first base and outfield isn’t enough versatility, Stassi can actually offer something else.

He can pitch.

In fact, the Cleveland Indians drafted him as a pitcher after his junior year at the University of Nevada in 2010.

Stassi returned to school for his senior year in 2011 and was a two-way player. The Phillies selected him in the 33rd round of the draft that year as a hitter, even though on draft day there was some confusion.

“Initially, I was announced as a left-handed pitcher then they changed it to outfielder,” Stassi said. “Then I got to Williamsport (the Phillies’ New York-Penn League team) and had a first baseman’s mitt in my bag, and I was like, ‘All right, let’s go. You’re going to be playing first.’”

Stassi’s minor-league managers in the Phillies' system have always been aware of his pitching background. He has made nine pitching appearances during his time in pro ball, including four with Triple A Lehigh Valley last year. All were in relief in long extra-innings games.

“I got a win and a loss,” Stassi said.

He recalled the loss with a big laugh.

“I shook off Logan,” he said, referring to catcher Logan Moore, another candidate pushing for a spot on the Phillies’ bench. “I shook to the fastball against a lefty. It wasn’t the right move and Logan won’t let me forget that. The guy hit a triple. Then I got hit with a comeback one-hopper right on the butt. It was like a 14-inning game.”

Stassi throws a fastball, curveball and changeup.

“My fastball is like 84,” he said with a laugh.

Many position players in a big-league clubhouse were pitchers at some point in the baseball journey. Roman Quinn, who broke into pro ball as a shortstop and is now a centerfielder, was used as a closer in high school and hit 94 mph on the radar gun.

“I believe it,” Stassi said. “That guy’s got a cannon. I had to catch him when he was playing shortstop. He’d come charging in on a close play and he’d let one loose and I was like, ‘Oh, my God.’ And even from the outfield he’s got a cannon.”

Stassi’s arm doesn’t bounce back the way it used to when he pitched in college.

“Every time I have to pitch now I’m hanging for like two weeks,” he said.

But that doesn’t mean he wouldn’t grab the baseball and gut out an inning if Mackanin ever needed it.

“Hey, if that’s what it takes,” he said.

Figuring out the Phillies’ bench at this point of camp is a little like solving a Rubik’s Cube. There are many possible combinations. Infielder Andres Blanco is a sure thing and outfielder Aaron Altherr seems like a good bet. So does outfielder Chris Coghlan.

Andrew Knapp, Ryan Hanigan, Bryan Holaday and Moore are the candidates for backup catcher. Knapp can also play first base. And it’s not out of the question that the Phils would carry three catchers.

They could fill the perceived final spot on the bench with an infielder such as Pedro Florimon or another outfielder such as Daniel Nava, Andrew Pullin or Cameron Perkins. Or it could be Stassi, whose versatility is a plus.

“There’s a lot I like about Stassi,” Mackanin said.

Stassi comes from a baseball family. His brother, Max, is a catcher with the Houston Astros. They played for their dad, Jim, at Yuba City High School near Sacramento, California. Jim was a catcher who reached Triple A during his playing days in the Giants system.

“My dad always talked about the value of versatility in high school,” Brock said. “He preached it to the whole team. You might have two second basemen and they’re pretty equal, but you want both bats in the lineup so you might have to play outfield. It’s good to be able to do it. Don’t take it as a knock that you’re not at your normal position -- you’re in the lineup.”

In addition to wearing several different gloves, Stassi can swing the bat. He was Eastern League MVP in 2015 when he hit .300 with 15 homers, 90 RBIs and a .863 OPS for Double A Reading. He hit .267 with 12 homers, 58 RBIs and a .806 OPS at Triple A Lehigh Valley last season.

Stassi has been described as “a grinder” by members of the Phillies’ player-development staff, and that’s a compliment. More than one thousand players were selected ahead of him in the 2011 draft. His signing bonus was just $1,000. He’s never appeared on one of those Top 10 prospect lists and never been on a 40-man roster, never mind appeared in a big-league game. But he’s continually moved up the ladder and now, at age 27, is under serious consideration to win a spot on the Phillies’ bench.

And maybe -- if needed in a pinch -- in the bullpen, too.

“Oh, man, it would be a dream come true,” Stassi said. “Ever since I was a kid I dreamed of playing in the big leagues. Just the path that I’ve taken -- I've had to earn everything, and I wouldn’t want it any other way. It would be really awesome to make this team.”

Yankees 9, Phillies 4: Cameron Perkins comes out swinging

Yankees 9, Phillies 4: Cameron Perkins comes out swinging

TAMPA -- The Phillies’ bats were slow getting started in the Grapefruit League opener Friday afternoon. The Phils did not have a baserunner through the first six innings in a 9-4 loss to the New York Yankees at Steinbrenner Field.

“First game, I’m just happy we got at-bats because the pitching is always ahead of the hitting this early,” Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said afterward.

Outfielder Cameron Perkins had the Phillies’ first hit, a single up the middle in the seventh inning. He added a solo homer in the ninth inning.

Perkins, 26, was the Phillies’ sixth-round pick in the 2012 draft out of Purdue University. He graduated from Southport High School in Indianapolis, the same school that produced Phillies great and Hall of Famer Chuck Klein.

A right-hander hitter who eschews batting gloves, Perkins hit .292 with eight homers and 47 RBIs at Triple A Lehigh Valley last season. He is not on the 40-man roster but was invited to camp for a look-see. He is considered a longshot to win a spot on the Phillies’ bench, but will certainly improve his chances if he keeps swinging it like he did Friday.

“I don’t think about it,” Perkins said of his bid to make the club. “All I can do is what I did today -- get my opportunity and make the most of it.”

Brock Stassi, another candidate for a job on the Phillies’ bench, also homered.

On the pitching side
Right-hander Alec Asher, who projects to open in the Triple A rotation, started for the Phils. He pitched two innings, allowed a home run to Didi Gregorius and struck out two.

Asher made big strides with his sinker last season. He’s added a cutter now.

Right-hander Nick Pivetta debuted with two scoreless innings. He gave up a hit, walked one and struck out three. The Phillies acquired Pivetta from Washington from Jonathan Papelbon in July 2015. He projects to open in the Triple A rotation, but first will pitch for Team Canada in the WBC in March.

“It’s a lifelong dream for me, right up there with whenever it is that I get my first start with the Phillies,” Pivetta said.

The bullpen
Mackanin has said he’d like to have two left-handed relievers in his bullpen. The Phillies have just one -- Joely Rodriguez -- on their 40-man roster, although it’s possible that Adam Morgan could be shifted from starter to reliever later in camp.

The Phils have brought two veteran lefties -- Sean Burnett and Cesar Ramos -- into camp on minor-league deals to compete for a job. Burnett made his debut Friday and gave up a triple, a sacrifice fly and a home run in his inning of work.

Luis Garcia was tagged for four hits and three runs in his spring debut.

Up next
The Phillies host the Yankees in Clearwater on Saturday afternoon. Morgan will start for the Phils against right-hander Adam Warren.