Sunday June 2, 2013

The weather at the end of the week made it feel like lazy, summer days. The sports world was anything but lazy in the last seven days.

The NHL Eastern Conference championship series began Saturday night in Pittsburgh between the Bruins and the Penguins.

If you're wondering why it took so long to get started, blame Canada. The CBC wanted the Pittsburgh-Boston series to air on its "Hockey Night in Canada" telecast. Television, be it the CBC or NBC in America, pays the piper and we all just have to dance.

These teams have much more in common than their colors -- or what their colors used to be before Pittsburgh shifted to Vegas Gold.

If you are a Bruins fan, you should send a "thank you" note to the Penguins. The two biggest stories of the postseason to date have been the successes of defensemen Torey Krug and Matt Bartkowski. Both of whom might be playing football if it weren't for the Penguins.

Krug played his high school hockey in Michigan before going to Michigan State. But he lived in the Pittsburgh area during his early years in hockey, and that helped push him on the path to the Boston blue line.

Bartkowski, meanwhile, actually played high school hockey in the Pittsburgh suburb of Mount Lebanon. The Lemieux-Jagr Penguins started the first wave of high school hockey there. Without that, Bartkowski probably played linebacker in high school and is probably on the gridiron at a Penn State or Michigan.

I wouldn't be a hockey fan if it weren't for a former Bruin. The late Bill Speer was a defenseman in the Boston system who was taken by Pittsburgh in the original expansion draft. He rented a house next door to my best friend in high school, and he used to take us to games.

I learned two things: Canadians drive way too fast, and I became a hockey fan for life.

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Need a team to pull for in the NCAA Division I baseball tournament? Pittsfield Suns manager Tom Conley's Bryant University team, a winner over SEC power Arkansas in the first game, might be one.

Or you could pick a team with as many New Englanders as any team south of the Mason-Dixon Line has -- the Commodores of Vanderbilt.

Vanderbilt has outfielders Mike Yastrzemski, Carl's grandson, and Rhett Wiseman along with pitchers Tyler Beede and Kevin Ziomek.

Ziomek played at Amherst while Beede pitched at Auburn before going to prep school.

As a freshman, Beede threw three innings of scoreless relief and struck out four in a a state semifinal win over Hoosac Valley.

The next year, Beede pitched two days to beat Mount Greylock in the state semis. Greylock was trailing Beede and Auburn 3-0 after 41 2 innings, when downpours forced the game to be stopped. it was picked up the next day.

When the rain came, Beede was throwing a no-hitter and struck out six in his outing.

"I heard he was throwing 86, 87 miles an hour. That's faster than anything we've ever seen," Greylock first baseman David Jones told me during the rain.

Beede is throwing even harder now. He's 14-0 with a 2.10 ERA. Ziomek is 11-2 with a 1.92 ERA and has 111 strikeouts and 38 walks in 1121 3 innings.

They're that good.