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Bruno’s Monday Thoughts: Masters and Stanley Cup Playoffs

What do Phil Mickelson, Sergio Garcia, Charl Schwartzel, Dustin Johnson, Jason Dufner, Keegan Bradley, Zach Johnson, Graeme McDowell and Angel Cabrera all have in common?  They have all either won the Masters within the last 8 years, or are currently in the Top 20 in the world golf rankings, and every single one of them missed the cut at Augusta this past week.  I picked Mickelson to win, so naturally, he missed the cut at the Masters for the first time in 17 years.

That’s enough about the losers though.  What an incredible performance by Bubba Watson.  He took control of the tournament after the first two rounds, had a shaky outing on Saturday, but closed like an absolute boss with a 69 in the final round.  He made the par-5s look like par-4s, never lost his confidence and consistently made clutch putts.  There must be no better feeling in the world than walking up the 18th fairway at Augusta National on Sunday afternoon, knowing you’re a lock to win the green jacket.  Two wins in three years… not bad.

Jordan Spieth could have become the youngest Masters winner in history, but it just wasn’t meant to be.  As much as I was cheering for the 20-year old, it seemed like Bubba knew he was going to take it all along, even when Spieth had the momentum on his side for a good stretch on the front nine.  I was very impressed with the way Spieth handled himself on the golf course and in the media.  He displayed great composure and acted more like a 15-year Tour veteran than a first-time Masters participant.  I can’t wait to see what this kid does in the next 5-10 years.

The Stanley Cup playoffs officially begin on Wednesday, and as always, it’s very difficult to prognosticate what’s going to happen.  Over the last four NHL seasons, 60 playoff series were played, and the lower seed won 27 times.  We hear it every year, and it’s starting to sound annoying, but it actually doesn’t matter where you finish, because all you really need is a ticket to the dance.

The Boston Bruins are the real deal.  I don’t think any other team in the East can beat them in a 7-game series.  They have balanced scoring, an amazing goaltender, a cyborg defenceman who can play 30 minutes a game, and are one of the elite defensive teams in the league.  The West is a completely different story.  I believe there are as many as six teams that are capable of winning it all.  Not too long ago, I thought the Blues were the team to beat.  Unfortunately for them, they lost several key players to injury at the end of the season and finished the year on a disappointing 6-game losing streak.  If they return close to full health by their first game against the Blackhawks, which they are expected to, then I believe they will make a very deep run.  They’re the most complete team next to the Bruins, but this might be the year the San Jose Sharks finally break through. They have two No. 1 lines, are a great defensive team, have no significant injuries, and just got Tomas Hertl back.  It’s time to lock in my pick.  I think the Bruins will beat the Sharks in 6 games in the final.

In other news, I clinched my second straight fantasy hockey title last night, which I sadly hold extremely high on my list of accomplishments.  If you’re entering a playoff hockey pool this year, I encourage you to ride players on the Bruins, but don’t be surprised if a team like the Montreal Canadiens or Minnesota Wild throw a wrench into your master plan.  Even if you start questioning your hockey knowledge after three quarters of your team gets knocked out in the first round, take a breather, sit back, enjoy the games and remember there is more to life than fantasy sports.  However, if you won your regular season championship, disregard the last sentence.  Congratulations and feel free to bask in the glory of that for as long as possible.

Anthony Bruno

Twitter: @AnthonyMBruno

My Favourite Days in Sports

Have you ever sat back and thought about your favourite days in sports?  I’m talking about the days you refuse to do anything but sit on your couch and stare at the television.  Some of you might do this on a regular basis, which is okay in my books, but perhaps rather socially unacceptable.  Seriously though, if you do this a lot, like considerably more than the average human, add in a freaking workout session once in a while.  But I digress.  The sports days I’m referring to are the ones you live and breathe for as a sports fan.  On these particular days, the entire world could be under attack by aliens, but that’s the least of your worries.  When your team is involved in a big playoff game, that’s going to take the cake every time.  However, when I dismiss all the allegiances I have to my favourite teams, these are my Top 3 days in all of sports.

3) Any Playoff Game 7

There are certain sports teams (I won’t mention any in particular) that I absolutely hate.  I usually don’t waste my free time watching these teams compete, but if they’re involved in the seventh game of a playoff series, I’m tuning in.  Game 7s have produced some of the most memorable and iconic moments in sports history.  What I love most about the deciding game of a playoff series is that anything is possible.  The underdog could eliminate the best team in the league, the sub could be the hero, legacies are on the line and true heart is on full display.  Everything gets thrown out the window for one night.  No ones cares how good a certain team was in the regular season or how many points someone scored in Game 6.  All that matters is conquering the moment.  The team that overcomes the pressure gets to move on and fight another day while the loser is stopped dead in their tracks.  Just writing this, I can’t help but visualize specific plays and feel the energy from all the Game 7s I’ve seen in the last calendar year alone.  Above all, if you don’t enjoy watching a clutch performance, which you see in every Game 7, then you aren’t human.  

2) NFL Championship Sunday

Never mind Super Bowl Sunday, the best day in the NFL and the second best sports day on my list is the Sunday of the AFC and NFC Championship games.  I used to love watching all the analysis leading up to Super Bowl Sunday, but in today’s day and age, it’s become a bunch of garbage.  Every network talks about the same story-lines for two weeks in a row, and by the time the game arrives, it usually doesn’t live up to the hype.  Don’t get me wrong, Championship Sunday is vulnerable to this as well, but it is the best six-plus hours of football you’ll watch all season.  The rivalries are amazing and the intensity between the teams is palpable.  2013 was a perfect example.  First up, we saw the always-legendary match-up of Tom Brady versus Peyton Manning, and immediately after, we witnessed the best and most physical game of the season between the Seattle Seahawks and the San Francisco 49ers.  The Super Bowl didn’t stand a chance.

1) Sunday at Augusta

Of all the exciting, highly athletic and fast paced sports to choose from, my favourite day in sports comes from golf.  Yes, a game that can be played well by obese, beer-drinking, fast-food eating individuals who probably couldn’t last more than one minute jogging on a treadmill.  To me, nothing is more captivating than the final round of the Masters.  The front nine is awesome, but the back nine is BANANAS!  You can literally feel the pressure before every single shot.  The suspense is otherworldly.  Every year, a big name is in the mix down the stretch.  We all remember Tiger’s famous chip on 16, Jack’s birdie on 17, Mike Weir’s playoff against Len Mattiace, and Bubba Watson’s improbable shot from the woods in 2012.  I’ll also never forget seeing Phil drain that putt on 18 to claim his first major and his second shot from the trees on the par-5 13th in 2010 en route to his third green jacket.  The list goes on and on.  I also have a confession to make.  I love Jim Nantz as the voice at Augusta.  He’s so smooth, incredibly soothing and has made some very epic calls over the years.

The Masters is also played during the perfect time of year.  When I see the luscious fairways and immaculately manicured greens under the beautiful Georgian sun, I can’t help but think that summer is right around the corner.  I also can’t help but think about hitting the links myself.  I was so enthusiastic to golf one year, that I called up a buddy and bolted to the driving range during the third round of the tournament (it was raining and still too cold to golf), because I couldn’t last another minute without a club in my hand.  I smoked balls down the range while watching the tourney on the TV next to my tee box.  On Sunday though, I’m glued to my couch.  The only time I move is when I turn on the television and click on CBS.  All that’s left to do at that point is wait for the theatrics to unfold.

There are other days that were scratching and clawing to be on this list, but they fell just short.  Super Bowl Sunday, MLB Opening Day, the first day of the NHL season, and the Sunday of any major golf championship are several that come to mind.  It’s safe to say that as long as sports are on television, we know that the world is rotating on its axis.  This is my list, but let me know what you think!

Anthony Bruno

Twitter: @AnthonyMBruno