Danica Patrick takes on Richard Petty’s Criticism

By Bill Whitehead

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – This space at Mostly Panthers Hockey is generally reserved for the players, games and issues surrounding the Florida Panthers, but with the Olympic break occurring and Speedweeks at Daytona International Speedway opening, this is a fine time to throw a little NASCAR talk out there.

As I have done since 1997, I trekked north to Media Day on Thursday. Drivers from NASCAR’s top three series venture to the big track and discuss issues they talked about one week earlier in Charlotte at that media tour. It’s a reprisal for the drivers, really, but the Florida media and those who cover the sport’s beat get to fire off a few more questions. It’s a starting point to a new season.

 
The big question in the Daytona 500 Club on the infield of DIS: Was Richard Petty right to say what he did about Danica Patrick on Monday in Toronto? If you missed it, the 7-time champion Petty, when asked if Patrick could win in NASCAR’s top series, replied, “If everybody else stayed home.”

Winless as she begins her second full Sprint Cup Series season, the feisty Patrick again found herself as the center of attention when the media swarmed her at 8:20 a.m., just after all the coffee had settled in us. She didn’t shy away from the question, smiled that pretty smile, flipped her hair to one side and essentially pulled her No. 10 Chevrolet out onto the on-ramp that led to the high road.

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“You know, people have said things in the past, and they’re going to say things in the future. I still say the same thing: that everyone’s entitled to their own opinion. People are going to judge what he said, whether they judge it well or not, and I’m just not going to,” said Patrick, who fielded numerous questions about her relationship with fellow driver Ricky Stenhouse Jr. at last year’s Media Day, which had more of a TMZ feel to it.

The last two Cup champions – Jimmie Johnson and Brad Keselowski – weighed in and appeared to side with their on-track opponent.

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“He has a right to his opinion like everyone else, and he makes some pretty strong points when you read his whole transcript, but it’s a long ways to go out there and say someone will never win a race. I wouldn’t want to have my name behind that comment, so I think I would probably give that a little more time and see how that one plays out because there are races where I think she could win,” said Keselowski, the 2012 champ.

Johnson said he was unaware of the comments until he got to Daytona, but I find that hard to believe unless he lives in a vacuum. Sure, he’s a new father again for the second time, but even diaper duty and midnight feedings can’t keep you in the dark when the sports world discussed Petty’s comments for two full days.

Plus, who doesn’t look at Twitter every couple of hours to get an idea of what’s topical?

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“I think her most immediate opportunity to win would be plate-wise (with) what she’s shown down here, especially in the 500. I’d say plate racing is probably the first opportunity for her,” the 6-time champ explained.

Keselowski and Johnson are both right, and sadly, the King comes off looking a little senile and, well, petty in this one. It’s a low blow from an iconic figure, which sounds as odd as it reads. It’s Petty’s “Get off my lawn!” moment.

Has Patrick struggled? Yes. After finishing seventh in the Daytona 500 last year, she looked lost most of the season’s remainder. Plus, she simply won’t be able to win at tracks like Bristol, Martinsville and Richmond – bullrings where her hard-nosed nature isn’t up to snuff with the big boys in NASCAR who got their starts on short tracks and who’ve logged countless laps.

Right now at her current rate of development — barring fuel strategy, staying out with rain approaching or backing into a win somehow — she has four good chances to win each year: At the two restrictor-plate tracks in Daytona and Talladega.

And remember this: She was running third when the white flag came out over the Great American Race last February. Anyone running third in a fast car at a restrictor-plate track – and where she won the pole – has a chance in those closing laps to win a race and make history as the first female driver to claim victory in NASCAR’s premier series.

I wonder how Richard Petty would react to that.

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A Few Reasons to Love Women’s Hockey

By Bill Whitehead

When the thought of women’s Olympic hockey came up early Wednesday morning, I jumped at the opportunity. No hockey for a long time is really bad for the soul, and the chance to get a good taste of a heated rivalry like the USA against rival Canada was enticing. There’s pure, unadulterated hatred between the two clubs.

The game didn’t disappoint.

As an American, I was, of course, dismayed by the outcome. I thought the USA moved the puck around and possessed it better in the first period, but it took three outstanding saves by netminder Jessie Vetter to keep the game scoreless after one period. After trailing 1-0, feisty Team Canada played a stronger game and took advantage of a controversial second goal by Hayley Wickenheiser to pull ahead 2-1. Once the Canadians stretched it to 3-1, Team USA scored one and had a two-man advantage inside the last minute after Canada committed a minor for too many (wo)men on the ice, but the Yanks simply ran out of town.

It was a great win for Team Canada, and it was just Round 1. There’s a good chance these two clubs, who truly dislike one another, meet in the medal round, perhaps playing for gold. If that happens, I’d like the USA’s speed to outlast Canada’s tough physical play and come away the winner in the rematch.

Three observations from the game:

HELLO, OLD FRIEND – It was nice to see Kevin Dineen pop up again on my TV. I always found Dineen to be a personable chap during his tenure behind the Florida Panthers’ bench, and it’s great to see him have some success – even at the expense of Team USA. Dineen had to have been shocked to be on the winning side of Wickenheiser’s controversial/reviewable goal because he lost about 95 percent of those with Florida. That’s the good for Dineen. On the negative side, well, let’s just say we saw those too many men on the ice infractions way too often with Dineen as the Cats’ coach.

GREAT GAME, GREAT TIME – Watching the game reminded me of the World Junior Championships two years ago when Vincent Trochek and Rocco Grimaldi paced Team USA in the gold medal game over Sweden in the wee hours of the morning over here stateside. I can remember getting up at 3:59 a.m. for those 4:00 ET starts, making a pot of coffee and cheering on Vinnie and Rocco, who sounded like a pair of mobsters, with the house all to myself. Nothing quite like getting up way too early and enjoying some java and puck. It’s the same thing I do with the British Open golf tournament – just without the hockey.

GIRLS ROCK – If you haven’t been exposed to the women’s game, you’ll be surprised: These girls can play. Team USA is incredibly fast, and the skill level is quite high. Plus, they communicate well. In fact, certain NHL teams could learn to stay onside like these women who fly up and down the ice with their ponytails swishing around because they always seem to be on the same page, again communicating and playing well with one another, not making many mental errors or silly passes.

I don’t like the players being referred to as “ladies.” We don’t call the male members of the NHL “gentlemen” — ever. Maybe at the Lady Byng Trophy presentation, that’s about it. And I doubt all the things heard on the ice in Sochi would qualify as lady-like. But that’s a minor gripe.
When the NHL was locked out in the fall of 2012, I expanded my DirecTV package to include more sports in an effort to see more college hockey, especially the University of Minnesota for Nick Bjugstad and Kyle Rau, and North Dakota to watch Grimaldi play. What I didn’t get to see then or didn’t notice at the time was any of the women’s game.

That’s a shame – again — because these girls can play and it’s a fine quality of hockey.

#RedWings 3, #FlaPanthers 1: Anyone have the answers?

By Bill Whitehead

SUNRISE – Florida Panthers interim coach Peter Horachek was looking for answers following the club’s 3-1 loss to Detroit on Thursday night at the BB&T Center.

Two shots in the first period. Just six more in the second. Lackluster effort for roughly 55 minutes before that frantic few moments of desperation with a 6-on-4 advantage after Detroit’s Brian Lashoff committed a cross-checking penalty with just over two minutes remaining in regulation.

And how does this happen after such a dominating performance in a 48-shot, 4-1 win over Toronto two nights earlier? How do the Cats not at least come close to giving even half that effort in the final home game before the Olympic break?

“I guess it’s the same as every team that has difficulties doing it. It’s a lot of games, and it’s hard for them to play at that pace, I guess. I wish I knew,” said Horachek.

“They outworked us. It’s as simple as that. It’s disappointing. We want to play a whole game, but it just wasn’t there.”

Scottie Upshall, just out of the penalty box and behind the Detroit defense, provided the lone offensive highlight when he batted down a long, aerial pass from Tomas Kopecky as the first period was about to end. Uppy possessed the puck, skated in on Detroit goalie Jimmy Howard and beat him 5-hole for a 1-0 lead.

One goal on two shots in the first period.

“It’s happened against us before. I’ve seen it before many times,” Horachek said of the Panthers (22-28-7) scoring on one of two shots. “I’ve seen some strange things where you dominate and they get one shot on one play. The last time Detroit was in this building I think we had nine or 10 shots and many chances, and they scored on their first chance with about three minutes to go in the first period.”

It’s often said that athletes don’t pay attention to the numbers, but defensemen Ed Jovanovski and Mike Weaver were aware of the worst number and mentioned it in their post-game interviews – eight Florida shots over the first 40 minutes.

“Detroit’s a pretty defensive (-minded) team. Obviously they have an offensive side to them, but we need shots. You’re not going to score in this league if you’re not getting a lot of shots, and we had eight shots in two periods…you can’t do that. We’ve got to create more from the point in throwing shots to the net and getting traffic. It’s simple,” said Weaver.

Simple? Maybe. However, Horachek’s having a hard time finding a reason for the lack of effort after such a spectacular one against the Maple Leafs.

And the Cats are running out of time.