Revisiting the Brick City


Written on 3/10/2010 by Jim Cerny

So driving to Newark---aka The Brick City---earlier today for the Rangers' and Devils' morning skates at The Prudential Center, my mind was not focused on the prospects of the Rangers making the playoffs, or on Marian Gaborik's health concenerns, or Martin Brodeur's mental well-being following his recent struggles during the Olympics and in the games following the Winter Games.

In fact, my mind was clear of any hockey-related thoughts really.

Instead I was thinking about baseball.

That's right, baseball.

A hint of spring in the air here in the northeast contributed to this thought process. But really there was something much more specific that made me think of baseball, and that was the city of Newark, The Brick City itself.

You see I spent seven springs/summers making this exact same 51-mile drive each way from my home in Westchester, NY to the city of Newak, NJ day-in and day-out, all because of baseball. And as I passed Bears and Eagles Riverfront Stadium off McCarter Highway the memories flooded back of my time working for the Newark Bears minor league baseball team.

I joined the Bears as the club's radio play-by-play broadcaster at the start of the 2003 season. Within a few weeks I added the duties of Media Relations Director. It was a special summer in Newark, what with future Hall-of-Famer Rickey Henderson plying his craft and sharing his unique wisdom while playing for the Bears before signing with the Dodgers and heading back to the majors where he still belonged. Rickey and I developed a friendship, one cemented with the special way he treated my son, Ryan.

Though still working in hockey---hosting NHL Live and covering the league for The New York Times---during the fall, winter, and early spring, I was also able to enjoy the daily 140-game routine of working with the Bears. That routine of being employed in the NHL and in minor league baseball continued through the 2004 baseball season, and included much juggling of my schedule when I covered the Tampa-Calgary Stanley Cup Finals that lasted more than two weeks and necessitated me being away from the Bears the entire time. All I can say is thank you to Kim, my assistsant in Media Relations, and Jared, my backup radio announcer, for covering for me so well!

The NHL lockout, which wiped out the entire 2004-05 hockey season, altered things for me, however. Faced with no income from hockey, I accepted a full-time position with the Bears, and eventually became the club's Assistant General Manager, in charge of everything from sponsorship sales to player procurement.

I greatly missed working in hockey. But at the same time---despite the 100-mile roundtrip every day---I was fortunate over the next several years to gather a great life experience, being part of the core group trying to build a successful baseball franchise in as difficult a market as you can imagine.

Our successes---increasing sponsorship revenues, winning the 2007 Atlantic League championship---were sweet and extremely hard-fought. It was with this great group of young, talented individuals in the front office that I was fortunate enough to spend my 15-hour days with. I will never forget what an amazing group of people worked there, the amount of zany antics and laughs we shared.

Most of all I will remember The Den, as the stadium is affectionately known, as a second home to Ryan, my son, and how many life-long memories he created there. From sitting with me in the broadcast booth during games, to hanging out in the clubhouse and manager's office before and after games, to father-son practice long after the crowds had gone home, to proudly taking his friends into empty suites for VIP access, to sharing the championship trophy for the team I helped build in '07, Ryan will have a flood of memories to look back on one day. For this I am grateful.

And as I drove past The Den earlier today I also remembered one of my other favorite things about that place. I used to love having the whole stadium to myself in the off-season, after everyone went home. As the sun set earlier in the fall and winter, I would change into workout gear, turn on the stadium's sound system, put on some Pearl Jam or Led Zeppelin, and run the steps inside the ballpark, as good a mental escape as it was a physical workout.

It all came to an end in the fall of 2008, and I returned full-time to hockey, where I was fortunate to land with the New York Rangers, writing for the team's web site, something I had done part-time even while still working for the Bears in 2007-08.

Hockey is where I want to be. But I am better in so many ways for the time I spent with the Bears, here in this city of Newark, where I now write this at The Prudential Center.

All that said, now it's time to shift attention back to the Rangers' pursuit of 8th place, Gaborik's groin, and Brodeur's lost game.

Three-and-a-half hours 'til they drop the puck.

Game On! 

Gold Medal Regrouping


Written on 3/02/2010 by Jim Cerny

I needed to sleep on Canada's scintillating Gold Medal-winning 3-2 overtime victory over the United States on Sunday before writing about what had happened.

Or maybe I just needed to sleep, because I found myself thoroughly exhausted afterwards.

But that's what a truly great sporting event does to you, right? It exhilerates you so much---starting with the tremendous buildup and following through each riveting minute of action---that when it eventually reaches a conclusion, the viewer is just drained.

That was the case with me by the time Sunday evening rolled around and Sidney Crosby had just set off, perhaps, the biggest party ever in Canada.

As a reporter I have to write my game story as it develops and deliver it right when the action concludes, then wade through the post-game locker rooms and add relevant quotes and facts to my game story. Sunday, aside from Tweeting updates over at the New York Rangers official Twitter during the game, I was not obligated to write a running game story. And it's funny that just watching the game probably wasted me more than if I was reporting on it simultaneously, as I believe I was much more caught up in the drama of the event.

So here I am more than 24 hours after this epic clash, which featured an intensity level that any Stanley Cup Finals Game 7 would be proud of, and I still do not believe I have the right words to convey what a thrilling contest this was.

What stands out to me the most: the intensity and passion that both teams played with---without a let-up---the entire match, as well as the resiliency both squads showed. It's obvious how resilient Canada was, bouncing back from allowing the tying goal with 24.4 seconds left in the third---thatclose to the Gold nad with an entire country breathing down their necks---and then controlling the overtime period until Crosby finally delivered the Gold. But what about Team USA?

The United States stared down a 2-0 deficit, stayed with the game plan, and pulled to within one on Ryan Kesler's second-period goal. Then with three players in behind the defense, they tied the game when Zach Parise banged in a rebound with less than a half-minute to play in the game.

Both teams deserve all the accolades that have been thrown at them. And so does Crosby, individually. No one player carried more pressure throughout this tournament than the annointed Golden Boy of Canadian Hockey. And while his numbers were not staggering great in the Olympics, Crosby did deliver a shootout game-winner earlier in the tourny and the ultimate game-winner in the Gold Medal game.

What does Sidney Crosby do now for an encore after he captained the Penguins to the Stanley Cup last spring and then delivered Gold when it was demanded by his country on home soil? TSN's Matt Burt provides some quality thoughts on all that Crosby, still a baby really at age 22, has accomplished.

I had an interesting chat with Rangers' center Erik Christensen, a former teammate of Sid's in Pittsburgh, yesterday after practice. You could see the relief that Christensen felt for Crosby because, as he explained, Sid the Kid would have been ripped to shreds in his native land if he had not scored in the final two Olympic games and Canada had lost the final to the dreaded United States, something that was oh-so-close to happening.

But Christensen said it would not have been fair. He explained how intelligent a player Crosby is and emphasized all that he does away from the puck, and how his mere presence on the ice draws consistent attention from opposing players, whether he is scoring or not. That opens up ice and opportunities for his teammates. Little things are big things, and Crosby was contributing every shift, noted Christensen.

Christensen thought long and hard trying to find a player to compare Crosby to, in all that Sid does out there on the ice.

"Not Ovechkin," said Christensen. "I don't think Ovechkin does nearly as much out there as Sid does. I'd say he's more like Pavel Datsyuk, because even when he is not scoring he is a force."

Very, very intriguing observation made by one of the more thoughtful players I have had the chance to spend time with in my career.

But bottom line, Crosby also DID score THE GOAL. He will be forever a national hero. Good for him.

And good for the other Team Canada players. And good for Team USA, which captured its nation's fancy over the past two weeks. And good for the game of hockey. The true winners on Sunday were the millions of hockey fans who watched and will tell their kids and grandkids about this match for years to come.

Following are my First Team and Second Team All Olympic Squads:

First Team:

G-Ryan Miller (USA)
D-Shea Weber (Canada), Brian Rafalski (USA)
F-Pavol Demitra (Slovakia), Zach Parise (USA), Rick Nash (Canada)

Second Team:

G-Jonas Hiller (Switzerland)
D-Ryan Suter (USA), Chris Pronger (Canada)
F-Corey Perry (Canada), Marian Gaborik (Slovakia), Ryan Kesler (USA)