2016 Worlds Watch: Hockey player turned figure skater is the future for the U.S.

We are 205 days out from the 2016 World Figure Skating Championships coming to Boston. In the lead up, I’ll point out some figure skaters to keep an eye on leading up to the event.

The Boston Bruins will take a brief hiatus from the TD Garden this March when the 2016 World Figure Skating Championships come to town, but a hockey player may still take the ice.

One of the most promising men’s skaters the United States has produced in some time, hockey forward and figure skater Nathan Chen delivered a phenomenal short program Thursday at the Junior Grand Prix stop in Colorado Springs. His 77.13 score put him in first after the first leg of competition, a total that U.S. Figure Skating reported as being the highest ever at a Junior Grand Prix event.

If you haven’t been watching figure skating in a few years (and I know there are quite a few of you out there), U.S. men have been struggling. Quad jumps, once revolutionary, are now commonplace, but the U.S. doesn’t boast much power in that department. The reigning national champion, Jason Brown, is known more for the overall composition of his programs and precise skating skills (which deserve kudos, don’t get me wrong), than his jumping ability. A quad jump isn’t currently in Brown’s repertoire.

Nathan Chen, on the other hand, can jump. When he lifts up for his opening triple Axel, it is as secure as the dominant U.S. men in days of old. He has enough confidence and strength to place the rest of his short program jump requirements in the second half of his program, which gives him a score boost. (While watching Chen’s program on YouTube, I may have physically slapped my desk in excitement when he landed the triple Lutz-triple toe loop in the second half of his program.)

While Chen doesn’t have the program composition of reigning national champion Brown, he still can sell a program, as he does with his Michael Jackson short program medley. He can hold his own artistry-wise among the top U.S. men at the moment, an important point in a quadrennium where U.S. judging panels have shown they might hold it in higher importance than those internationally.

Chen’s first senior performances for those particular judges were less than ideal. After winning the novice and junior men’s titles twice each, his first year on the senior men’s level at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships was marred by a heel injury. He finished eighth. Given reports of his blistering performances at summer competitions and as shown in Thursday’s short program, Chen probably won’t see himself in eighth place nationally again.

Given his age, Chen could compete on the junior or senior level internationally. To the dismay and confusion of some skating fans, he was placed on the junior circuit this fall, but has the goods to compete — and do well — on the Senior Grand Prix. If he shows up in Minneapolis in January for the U.S. Championships and places in the top three there, he could represent the United States at the TD Garden, the venue where he won his second junior national title in 2014.

His last junior title was won while he was spending his evenings playing hockey for a Midget A team in California. A forward, Chen detailed his dual career for Icenetwork’s Amy Rosewater last winter, and how his family talked him out of tending the net:

“At first, I wanted to be a goalie,” said Chen, who got interested in hockey because his two older brothers played. “I thought being a goalie would be the most fun. I really liked the goalie gear. I thought it was cool. But my family said being a goalie would be boring, just standing there in front of the net, not skating. So I decided to play up [at forward] instead.”

So while the Bruins may be on the road for an extended road trip next March, it’s quite possible that a forward might still take the ice.

Bostonians have a chance to see Chen for themselves at Harvard’s Evening With Champions, September 18th and 19th.

At halftime, Daggett is ready to get the job done

The Junior Men's competition at the 2015 P&G Gymnastics Championships at the Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
The Junior Men’s competition at the 2015 P&G Gymnastics Championships at the Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

INDIANAPOLIS – Last year, a great first day of competition saw Peter Daggett in striking distance of a stellar P&G U.S. Gymnastics Championships debut.

Then the East Longmeadow, Mass. native let himself look too far ahead to a Junior National Team berth and fell on floor exercise and vault on day two, dropping him from fifth to tenth in the standings. That coveted national team status would have to wait another year.

“Last year, I had a really good first day,” said the 18 year old. “But in the off period, I let myself get a little too high and let myself think that I was all set for making the national team, when it was really only halftime.”

It’s now halftime of Daggett’s second P&G Championships, and to continue the football analogy, he will start the second half with possession. Hitting all six routines, he finished the first day of competition at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in second place with an overall score of 84.050, putting him on quality ground for that elusive Junior National Team spot.

“I’ve learned now to pace myself,” said Daggett. “There’s six more events to do, six more routines to hit, and I’ll go from there.”

Maturity hasn’t been Daggett’s only growth area since last August. His recent move to start school at the University of Oklahoma has pushed his gymnastics in an entirely new direction. He now rooms with two other competitors in this weekend’s junior men’s division, current leader Yul Moldauer and Levi Anderson, who sits in sixth.

Daggett hasn’t added tremendous difficulty (though he insists he has upgrades he should be able to show off next year), but every move is that much more exact. Spending time in a college gym with some of the nation’s best senior gymnasts stresses those details.

“It’s a lot different training with guys like Jake Dalton and Steven Legendre, senior national team guys I’ve looked up to my entire life,” said Daggett. “Watching everything, watching those little tiny details, those things they do a little bit better than anyone else that get them to that level.”

One of those details Daggett improved upon the most were his dismounts, and those lifted him above all but Moldauer on Friday afternoon.

“My landings have gotten a lot better,” said Daggett. “I’m not typically one to do very well on the sticking portion of it. But I’d say that went pretty well today. I’d say I stuck my routines today that I don’t usually stick.”

If he can stick his landings again in Sunday night’s finals, he might clinch the National Team spot that has served as motivation since last year. But membership in another team, Oklahoma, may now spark his efforts even more. Now he wants success now just not for himself, but for his two other Sooner teammates who are competing alongside him.

“I had teammates back at home, but it was nothing like a college team,” said Daggett. “These two guys are my roommates. We live together. We’ve only been together for a month and a half and we’re already best friends. It’s great.”

Jersey Girls: Gymnastics’ future might have Garden State roots

INDIANAPOLIS – The 47th largest state in land mass in the United States might have cornered the market on the future of women’s gymnastics.

When the junior division, gymnasts between the ages of 11–15, took the floor at Indianapolis’ Bankers Life Fieldhouse for the first day of their competition at the 2015 P&G U.S. Gymnastics Championships on Thursday afternoon, five of the 28 competitors hailed from the Garden State. The only other state to equal that amount? The traditional gymnastics powerhouse that is the nation’s second largest state — Texas.

And when the first day of competition ended? Three of those five Jersey girls had spots in the top ten, with two — Jazmyn Foburg and Lauren Hernandez, who train at Morganville, N.J.’s Monmouth Gymnastics — in first and second.

Foburg is the reigning national champion in junior women, and her consistency won the day. Although she stepped out of bounds on her final tumbling pass on floor exercise to open the afternoon, she put that behind her quickly. On her next event, she scored her first career 15.000 — a giant score for a senior gymnast in this decade’s Code of Points, let alone a junior one — on vault with a high-flying Yurchenko double twist.

“It was amazing,” said Foburg. “I’ve always wanted (a 15), and I finally got it. And it’s awesome because I got it at P&Gs.”

Foburg’s uneven bars routine finished with a flourish, a full-twisting double tuck dismount, and she slid up to first place. On her last rotation, she calmly moved through a balance beam routine with fewer bobbles than most of her competitors, earning her a 14.35 and putting her in a good spot heading into Saturday afternoon’s finals.

Clad in a yellow, white and hot pink leotard, the spunky Hernandez held her own in her first national championships back after wrist and knee injuries kept her sidelined for most of 2014. With choreography details so sharp that you could easily see them if you were hanging from the Indiana Pacers’ Divisional Championship banners in the rafters, she started the afternoon off with a huge ovation and score (14.35) on floor exercise. Vault shook her a bit, but she recovered on uneven bars to move from third place to second.

Nerves struck Hernandez as she waited for her last event, balance beam. To help, she turned to advice she learned online.

“Sometimes I blow on my thumbs. Somewhere I read that your thumb has a pulse, so if I blow on my thumb it helps,” said Hernandez. “Or I talk to my coach about shoes, so I don’t overthink.”

It worked. She had a balance check here and there, but she held her own to remain in second just behind her teammate, something Foburg was pleased about.

“I’m glad we’re together,” said Foburg. “I am so happy that I get to compete with her.”

Next year, the New Jersey contingent will be down two gymnasts in the junior ranks. Both now 15 years old, Hernandez and Foburg will move up to the senior division for 2016, making them age-eligible to make runs for the team headed to the Olympics in Rio. But for this weekend, the focus is on one of them winning a national title at the end of Saturday’s finals, proving that New Jersey is as tough in gymnastics as it is in its stereotype.

“I’m just so happy to be here, especially with her,” said Hernandez. “She pushes me to be the best and she always has my back.”

The Value of Conversations: Thoughts on Grantland’s Look at Sports Radio

“The readout from our sports-radio diagnostic noted the following: Hosts don’t necessarily maintain the air of swamis. Callers have been downsized or have fled. News updates are anachronistic. Why do we still listen to sports radio?”

– Bryan Curtis in his Grantland feature on national sports radio host Scott Ferrall


Having taken increasing responsibilities on a hockey radio show over the past few years (shameless plug here for Hockey on Campus, Saturdays and Sundays during college hockey season on SiriusXM NHL Network Radio), I have thought a lot about sports radio and its future. Reading the above quote in this weekend’s Grantland profile of CBS Sports Radio host Scott Ferrall stopped my eyes in their tracks.

Why do I listen to sports radio, and why did I start given that I’ve never been a member of the genre’s key demographics?

I feel completely old by saying this, but when I started listening to sports radio, my city had just one show for two hours on weeknights. That was it. I started actively listening as a 11 year old, while my friends were busy calling our Top 40 station to ask for the last gasps of New Kids on the Block and the new sounds of Mariah Carey. (Don’t worry, I also joined them in singing Emotions into my hairbrush (and having my sister ask me to please stop because I sounded like a dying animal.)

Every evening during dinner, my father and I would turn on the Bob Matthews Show on Rochester’s WHAM 1180. Our family dinners were spent listening to Matthews, a longtime columnist for the Democrat and Chronicle, and whichever guests he had on that night. My father and I would argue with the radio, but we would never call the show. I remember wanting to a few times because I had strong feelings regarding some football topic (probably that I felt they were giving Dallas Cowboys’ quarterback Troy Aikman way too much credit for something), but my father always waved me off. “You’re a girl. They’d never put you on the air.”

I was a girl in the early 1990s, and because of that, conversations with my father and listening to Rochester’s one sports radio show were the only football and hockey content beside the newspaper I had. This was back when ESPN showed more sporting events than endless hours of SportsCenter, so it wasn’t like I had a plethora of talking heads to listen to. Never mind chatting about sports at school – there just were not a lot of sports fans at my creative and performing arts high school. I was an odd duck.

Even though sports radio was never made for me – it was made for men like my father, and still is – listening gave me a sense of belonging. There were other odd ducks like me who talked quarterback rating and defenses. Maybe, someday, I would find some of these people in person.

When I moved to Boston in 2004, I listened heavily to sports radio again because I didn’t know many people yet and thus couldn’t have sports conversations in person. (I guess I could have saddled on up to a bar and just started those conversations up with strangers, but I didn’t quite have that gumption.) A few years later, I spent weekend overnights at my then-boyfriend’s parents’ house, where I was regulated to the guest room. Nervous and unfamiliar with the setting, I kept the clock radio in the room tuned quietly to sports radio so because it was something familiar. The combination of my boyfriend’s mother vacuuming loudly as a family alarm on Sunday mornings while the syndicated NFL Preview with Boomer Esiason played on the guest room clock radio is a standout memory of my 20s.

For me, my listening to sports radio is so much rooted in finding people having the same conversations I wanted to participate in. In the Grantland piece, Curtis touches upon the idea that social media is now fulfilling that particular need. That’s true – for people who can engage regularly online. Not everyone can. Economic (the affordability of internet, computers and smartphones), generational (not everyone is fully comfortable with their online abilities) and functional (not everyone can engage with their smartphone or a computer at the their jobs during the day) factors make sports radio still an important outlet for a certain population of sports fans.

There are also times where sports radio still is the best way to have some sports discussions. On Hockey on Campus, the conversations our host has with some of college hockey’s legends are best conveyed in audio format. We could transcribe them (and will next season), but there’s always going to be nuances lost in that transcription. Jack Parker and Jerry York are quite quotable coaches, but their telling quotes lose that je ne sais quoi when you read them.

And maybe that really is sports radio’s saving grace. We may tweet in 140 characters, we may text our friends, but the nuances of audial conversation are still the best. What’s more fun – chatting around the table with your friends or texting? Do I remember tweeting, or do I remember laughing until my sides are sore at something someone said to me?  Maybe I value conversations because for so much of my life I couldn’t have them – either because I didn’t have people to have those sports conversations with, or because earlier in my childhood I had speech issues that prevented me from having many conversations at all.

Conversations still have incredible value to me, and that’s why when I’m in a hotel room alone on some crazy work trip, I always roll over and make sure the clock radio is on the first sports radio station I can find. Because sure, now I’ve got people in the press box like me, and I’ve got people on Twitter like me, but when I’m all alone, hearing those conversations still has meaning. There’s still a place for that.

Why Do They Hate You? Let Me Count The Ways.

The Boston newspaper that I work for part-time plastered the question, “Why do they hate us?” on their cover today under the images of four polished Super Bowl trophies. (Let me preface this by saying I adore the paper and thank the stars every single day that there is a large news outlet that lets me actually write about sports part-time. I understand I am an extremely lucky person.)

They chose the cover they did to echo what many New Englanders have been asking over the last week. Why does the rest of America seem to hate the New England Patriots? Why are those outside of New England rejoicing in the idea of quarterback Tom Brady being suspended four games, the team losing draft picks and having to pay a million dollar fine?

Oh, it’s easy. It is not because the rest of United States is filled with jealous green eyed monsters wanting to revel in the idea of the Patriots’ fall. It’s not because we or the NFL are a Mean Girls-level of catty.

As someone who spent 22 formidable years in “the rest of the country,” let me list the reasons why the rest of the U.S. hates the stereotypical “pink hat” Patriots fan that seems to be getting their turn in the spotlight:


The Patriots fan base will not acknowledge that football existed prior to January 2002.

I thought that by moving here 11 years ago, I would be surrounded by knowledgeable fans I could talk about my favorite 1990s quarterbacks with. Alas, many in New England failed to pay attention to the NFL prior to the millennium. It’s like Boston decided that if they survived Y2K, they should move on to figuring out what this football thing the rest of the country likes is.

You ask who Steve Young is? “He’s that guy on ESPN who bashed Brady!” Reggie White. “Who?” Merton Hanks. “A company?” Steve Tasker. “The sideline reporter from when the lights went out at the Super Bowl!”

Let me tell you, 1990s football was amazing. Less drama, great games, solid personalities, more creative post-touchdown celebrations. (Merton and Deion, your dances are missed.) You missed heck of a lot, New England.


The refusal to acknowledge that there was a point in time where the Patriots were awful.

This harkens back to my first point. Because football seemingly didn’t exist prior to 2002, Patriots followers don’t realize there was a point in time where the team was the laughing stock of the AFC East. (It was when Steve Grogan, Hugh Millen and Scott Zolak played QB. They all seem like nice guys, but they weren’t the best quarterbacks that era had to offer. I am sure there are some who listen to Zolak on 98.5 on a regular basis who may not even be aware that he once started for the Patriots.)

I own Buffalo Bills rainboots (and joke that I own them because it’s always raining for us Bills followers), and the number of completely uninformed comments I get from New Englanders when I wear them is shocking.

An actual example from a Green Line ride:

“Ha! A Bills fan. Bet you wish you’ve gone to the Super Bowl.”

The Bills did. Four times in a row, in fact.

“No they’ve never been! You’ve always sucked!”

Okay. Um, ESPN is about to do a 30 on 30 on those four appearances, but you know, don’t stop believing, buddy!


Bill Belichick

The greatest coaches are often those who elicit a wide range of opinions, and Belichick’s career is a fantastic example.

I grew up with a Rust Belt father who doesn’t hold much hate in his heart. He holds doors for ladies, writes birthday cards and buys candy for his co-workers in the machine shop and dragged us to 7am Catholic Mass every Sunday.

He Hates-With-a-Capital-H Bill Belichick.

After the Giants defeated the Bills in Super Bowl XXV, my father didn’t blame Bill Parcells. He didn’t blame Bills kicker Scott Norwood. He blamed then-Giants defensive coordinator Belichick for using “illegal formations,” claimed that he sent out too many players on defense several times during the game and ran a dirty defense that wasn’t called for obvious penalties. And correct allegations or not, he wasn’t alone in his beliefs. Factories and Wegmans lines all over Western New York engaged in this discussion in the 1990s. If any Giants coach was ever mentioned by name in those “wide right” post-mortems besides Parcells, it was Belichick.

Belichick then moved onto the Cleveland Browns, another Rust Belt city that once was a football power and has since struggled to recapture that glory. His failure as a head coach there there cast him in another bad light. More Rust Belt fathers joined my father and his friends in their hatred.

I’ve learned to respect Belichick for the job he has done with the Patriots and the amount of hard work he has done, cheating and all. I held much of my father’s dislike until I read Michael Holley’s War Room and Patriot Reign, and realized that while Belichick may appear to lack personality and be some sort of evil genius, he is just a lacrosse player who emulated his father and loves coaching and problem solving.

But those two books are deep cuts, volumes that you probably won’t read unless you live in New England or are a very knowledgeable football fan. Reading them changed my attitude on Belichick, but most people in America haven’t read them and rely on Belichick’s not-so shiny public persona for their opinions.

Belichick isn’t liked. Some in America find him the real life version of Grumpy Cat. Right or wrong, his association with the Patriots will forever sully the team to a large base of people.


New England’s collective temper tantrum over DeflateGate.

Never since the toddler tumbling class I once taught had a massive meltdown because I wouldn’t let them throw mats have I seen such a collective tantrum.

That Facebook image of a middle finger with four Super Bowl rings on it that everyone keeps sharing? Super classy. (On a side note, how come 49ers fans never did that with their five rings when Eddie DeBartolo was fined by the NFL, barred from active control of the 49ers and eventually forced to give up ownership? If Twitter had been alive back then, would we have seen the hashtag #FreeEddie?)

The Barstool Sports guys “protesting” at NFL Headquarters in Tom Brady jerseys? Not only is protesting anything contradictory to your previous stance on protests (which are scarily obsessively violent), they looked sad because there were only four of them. Mr. Portnoy, it looked like you threw a party and no one showed up. (Hey, I’ve been there. Seventh birthday: massive strep throat infection depleted my party’s attendance. Two girls. Chuck E. Cheese wouldn’t even come to our table because it was so pitiful.) Or it looked like you were in the end stages of a game of Duck, Duck, Goose. Just sad.

Look, it is absolutely fine to be incensed by the NFL’s decision. We all have a right to question the decision making of Ted Wells and Roger Goodell. (And gosh, Ted Wells, I hope you never decide to get a PhD on top of your MBA and JD and have to go up in front of a dissertation defense, because if Tuesday’s media availability was any indication, you would not get any of your committee to sign off.)

There are less whiny and more classy ways to voice your support of your favorite NFL team and the uneven decision making of the NFL. The changing of social media profile photos to a Brady jersey? Classy. Asking the Patriots not to raise a Super Bowl banner until Brady plays? Understandable. But stop flipping out like a two year old being weaned off a pacifier.
I don’t dislike Patriots fans and know many who are just wonderful. I choose to live in Massachusetts, listen to a lot of sports radio and have a desire to be a full-time sports writer in this town that I chase like a kid chases the first ice cream truck of the season. My statements above aren’t indicative of all Patriots fans, but the loud few. But if Patriots’ followers don’t understand why the rest of America dislikes them, then it’s time to wake up. Just like many other franchises, there is a lot to dislike.