Mason NEEDS this, Pistons, after all you've put him through
Discussion about the dangers of football as it is currently played and the current, unprecedented levels of speed and strength in the game prompted my thoughts on the existence of performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs) in football and other sports. How widespread is doping in major sports?
It used to be that doping was only something "bad guys" did. Ben Johnson. East Germans. Crazy European cyclists. For years I thought that PEDs were a dirty trick that only bad guys would indulge in--my favorite athletes and teams were all good guys and thus ethically incapable of such moral transgression.
However, Western sports are not immune to performance-enhancing drug use; see baseball, for example. When Jose Canseco threw syringes at every significant baseball player of the 90s I piled on baseball as a sport and arrogantly checked off a box on my list of reasons why football is superior to other sports. After all, the NFL tests for drugs!
I was being naive. In truth, I already knew better: The BALCO scandal shockingly revealed that the most sophisticated PEDs were invisible to contemporary tests. An athlete could dope wihout any limitation and never test positive. This inherent flaw in drug testing was and is a big deal; the most determined dopers are capable of defeating whatever tests are in place.
Lance Armstrong never tested positive. He won 7 Tours de France in a row, an unmatched record in cycling. I actively rooted him on, roping me into the small world of cycling fandom. Interesting fact you might not have known: virtually every cyclist that he shared a podium with from 1999-2006 was linked with doping (the lone exception was Fernando Escartin, placing third in 1999). That means that Lance beat riders that were actively cheating every year. Either he was also enhancing his performance... or it is the greatest athletic feat of all time.
I liked Lance. Accepting the possibility that he may have cheated was a difficult conclusion for me to draw. And that led me to an important conclusion about us as sports fans: We do not recognize the breadth of PED use in sports because we are asking the wrong question.
When we consider the possibility of PED use, what we want to do is ask ourselves whether or not we think someone would use it. We ask this about our favorite athletes: Would Steve Yzerman dope? Of course not! He's such a great guy. (This is still my actual position). We ask that about other athletes, too; people generally think Derek Jeter and Ken Griffey Jr. managed to get through the steroid era without juicing, and there may be good reason for that. However, I think this belief is at least partly held because people think highly of Jeter and Griffey as individuals.
That is part of the reason that so many people find it so easy to accept that Barry Bonds juiced at the end of his career: we don't like him. Sure, Goodyear recruited his head to join their blimp fleet, but he's a jerk, a villain; of course he'll dope.
But this is the wrong question. We take an incomplete understanding of the character of an athlete and, based on our conclusion of their behavior, make a wider judgment about the status of sports as a whole. "Barry Sanders wouldn't dope, therefore doping isn't a big deal in football, probably just a few bad apples."
But we don't understand the character of most athletes. In truth, a successful athlete is almost certainly driven by a level of competitiveness most of us will never comprehend. The drive to win, to succeed, to prove oneself to detractors, to get better, to achieve, is remarkable. That's what compels Kobe Bryant to spend hours in the gym before and after practice perfecting his shot. That's what compels Peyton Manning to spend hours and hours each week studying film--in the offseason. Victory. Success. Winning.
And individuals who seek to win will, often, go to any length available to succeed. Slightly late hits after the whistle. A whack at the hands at the base of a jump shot. A stick in the shins when the ref looks the other way. A rub of a dirty hand before a pitch.
PEDs can increase strength. They can increase speed. They can increase endurance (cyclists don't use anabolic steroids, but directly alter their blood chemistry to increase their cardiovascular efficiency to astonishing levels). What are sports if not tests for speed, strength, and endurance? PEDs can give a soccer player the endurance to win a corner in the 87th minute, a baseball player the extra length on a fly ball to hit a home run, or a running back the extra kick to make it to the second level. A basketball player gets extra height on their way to the basket, a hockey player recovers quicker for the next playoff game, a swimmer has the extra wattage to win at the wall.
If you want to know if there are PEDs in use in a sport, just figure out if their is a tangible benefit to them. Football, a game of speed and power, clearly benefits from PEDs. Baseball, where power hitting and power pitching are million-dollar attributes, also benefits. Cycling, swimming, distance running, soccer, and even tennis are sports where endurance can make the difference between winning and losing; they benefit. Basketball? Strength and particularly speed. Hockey? Strength and speed.
"But wait," you say. "Nobody in the NBA/NHL/EPL has tested positive." There are drugs known to beat tests, and sophisticated doping programs are brilliant at evading detection. If a sport has not had any positive tests, that doesn't mean nobody is doing it. In my opinion, that means a lot of people are doing it, and nobody has been caught.
I've settled on a principle for determining whether or not I think there is doping in a sport. The PED principle. I use it for my own opinion only, as much for a protection against future disappointment as anything else. It allows me to appreciate a sport, recognize the potential problems, and enjoy the athletes or teams I like without having to worry myself asking "Is so-and-so doping?"
The PED principle is this:
If there is a benefit to PEDs in a sport, athletes will use them. Unless the risk of consequences outweighs the benefits, many will do it. If I hold it against one sport, I must hold it against all of them... or none of them.
Title pretty much says it all, Jack was named team captain for the upcoming world championships in Sweden.
Edit: Also Max Pacioretty is on team USA. Other names of note include Red Wings Jimmy Howard and Justin Abdelkader. Also Michigan natives, assistant Captain Jim Slater Winnipeg Jets (MSU- Lapeer Mich), Cam Fowler Aneheim Ducks (Farmington Hills), and Jeff Petry Edmonton Oilers (MSU- Ann Arbor)
Here's to an exciting night of hockey!
Ottawa @ NY Rangers 7:00pm ET
Washington @ Boston 7:30pm ET
San Jose @ St. Louis 7:30pm ET
Chicago @ Phoenix 10:00pm ET
[Ed-S: Gee golly willickers this guy knows his hockey. Bump Elliott'd]
I know it's not about Trey Burke... but Brian suggested I post it Monday night:
Hockey Special Teams 1: Power Play Basics
Brian recently asked me “What’s wrong with Michigan’s powerplay?” Since that is a complicated answer, I’ll answer it in a 3 part Diary. This one focuses on the Power Play, the next will be on the penalty kill, and once I’ve explained those basics I’ll dive into Michigan’s specifics. There are many situations that can lead to a power play during a hockey game:
First, my hockey resume: I’ve been playing hockey for 20 years. I tried out for the club team at Michigan and was told I was the 2nd best goalie trying out, but they were only taking 1 that year (they might have told that to all the goalies). I played on Sunday nights at the Cube from 2006-2009, so if you played in that student league you probably played against me. I’ve done some coaching since graduation but had to take a break from that when I changed jobs. OK, enough about that. There are plenty of better hockey minds on the board (JimLahey comes to mind) who will hopefully chime in and add to what I’ve put together here.
All powerplays have 3 parts:
1. Establish possession in the offensive zone
3. Profit! Er. Score.
In this Diary I’m mainly going to focus on #2. In my diary on the penalty kill I’ll talk more about #1 (and how to stop it). The obvious advantage of a powerplay is that you have an extra man. The objective becomes taking advantage of that extra man and getting him a scoring change in space. It comes down to spacing and angles. Forgive the Word Art, but a basic offensive zone powerplay formation is the “Umbrella”
In this formation you have 3 players high in the zone, with one in the middle. This formation works best if the man on the left circle is a right-handed shot and the man on the right circle is a left-handed shot as seen here:
Right now the wing players are on their “opposite” sides, which allows them to be open to a pass from the middle and one-time the puck right away. We used to teach our “Quarterback” – the player at the top of the umbrella – to shoot it right away the first time he got it and establish himself as a threat. You make the PK commit to the middle player and he’ll have options on either side. In the above frame against Western, the WMU penalty killer approaching the puck is doing so after challenging the QB up top.
If you’ve got 5 minutes, this video does a good job of breaking down the Umbrella:
In the frame above, Michigan actually ran a different set off an umbrella look that lead to a goal. Rather than just cycling the puck among the top 3 guys, Michigan flipped the puck low and took advantage of what Western gave us. The same principles apply here though – get a scoring chance to a guy in space.
Another powerplay set up I learned as the “Swedish” play. This works well if you want to have 2 defensemen on the ice for the powerplay (like Red does) and you don’t want to have them switch sides (right D man is on the right side)
Again, forgive the word art. This set up lulls the defenders to sleep and sets up a quick one timer for one of your defensemen. The play starts at the top middle with a right handed defenseman. The puck should move between the top 3 players for a while until the play starts. The top defenseman passes to his partner, who passes down the wall, who passes to the man in the corner – who should be a lefty in this case. As the puck works around to the corner a few things can happen depending on what the defense gives you. The player in the corner can drive the puck to the net, look for the man directly in front of the net, or drive hard around the net and find the crashing defenseman for a one-timer. This works because the puck has been busy rotating on the right for a while, and your top left penalty killer can be caught sleeping when the defenseman crashes. Again, creates a scoring chance in space.
Those are 2 basic powerplay set ups. Now for some general powerplay non-bullets:
You have to establish possession in the offensive zone
I mentioned this above, but that is really where Michigan struggled this year. This isn’t nearly as easy as it sounds, as I’ll try to show you in the upcoming “Penalty Kill” diary. It’s a lot like breaking a press in basketball. There are a lot of different neutral zone kills, and the offsides rule really helps the defenders out.
The powerplay is a lot like football plays – constraints are huge
This will come into view with the “Penalty Kill” diary, but depending on what the offense is doing, the defense does something and vice versa. There are ways to break kills, kills designed to stop specific powerplays, etc.
Powerplays can be very mental and high pressure situations
You're supposed to score, you can press, you can play tight, and you can fail. Especially if a powerplay is struggling. Like THJ - when he was in his slump, everyone knew it, when he was open for a 3 he should make it, and stuff like that can become a self fulfilling prophecy. That's the mental part. The physical is more akin to the red zone or goal line football. Everything gets turned up a notch. Again, you're supposed to score and the defense turns it up too. Every little mistake gets jumped on - if you don't have a perfect clean pass the D pounces and you have to try to gain the zone again. As an aside, Michigan’s PK was dominant against Ohio State in Cleveland, we were on every loose puck.
A 5-on-3 is a goal one way or the other. Everything mental I just mentioned about a normal powerplay is turned up to 11. A goal is scored, either by the offensive team or by the team that shut down the 5-on-3. The momentum swing and huge boost is as good as a goal, and I am not exaggerating. Many teams will run their normal powerplay, just condensed. So rather than the umbrella being near the top of the zone, your middle guy is even with the top of the circles and your wings are closer to the dots.
A Good goalie can muck all of this up
A team’s best penalty killer is their goalie. A goalie can affect a series more than any other player in any other sport. Some nights no matter what happens you’re not scoring on a goalie. Sometimes this is awesome and Hunwick takes us far. Sometimes we run into the hot goalie and can’t do anything about it.
Powerplays can get too fancy
Just like a basketball team trying to get a pretty play on a 3-on-1 break, the powerplay can be over thought and fail. Sometimes you just need to make the smart pass, or throw the puck at the net. Dirty goals are still goals. On the powerplay often players will try to go for the beautiful pass for a seamless one-timer… when what they should have done is throw the puck at the net at crash it.
That’s it for my Powerplay Overview. I’ll try to get the penalty kill diary up within about a week, followed by a breakdown of where exactly Michigan struggles.
Have at it guys, first game has very little impact unless Michigan meets Union in the National Semi Finals.
The second game starts at 5:30 and the winner advances to face the winner of Michigan/Cornell.
Union vs MSU is on ESPNU but, www.espn3.com has all the coverage