Sports Beat: “Rangers: New coach, new culture”

Last Friday at Radio City Music Hall the New York Rangers introduced Alain Vigneault as their new head coach.

Vigneault succeeds the combative John Tortorella. In one of those small world coincidences, Tortorella will be replacing Vigneault as the head coach of the Vancouver Canucks.

Even though he was dismissed two weeks ago, the specter of Torts was quite apparent in the majestic lobby of Radio City where the press conference was taking place as both Madison Square Garden Entertainment CEO James Dolan and Rangers general manager Glen Sather profusely thanked him for his hard work over the past five seasons.

Neither Dolan nor Sather referred to Tortorella’s stormy relationships with the media and many of his players as the reasons for his dismissal although that had to have been the deciding factors for his dismissal.

Sather preferred to contrast Vigneault’s core hockey strategy which is more geared for offense with Tortorella’s defense-first mantra. “Our guys were getting beat up in their own end of the rink and it took a toll on them,” Sather said.

Vigneault certainly came off as more genial with the press than Tortorella ever was as he said that it would be fine if reporters called him by his initials, “AV.” He wasn’t modest however as he touted his fine regular season career record. He then gave a playful verbal jab towards Glen Sather as he reminded him that other NHL teams were interested in him.

I asked him why the Vancouver Canucks did not retain his services given the high esteem other clubs had for him. “You would have to ask them that question,” he replied not unexpectedly. My guess is that the Canucks management was frustrated with first round playoff eliminations the last two years.

Even if you are not a Yankees fan you have to admire how they always hold an Old-Timers’ Day to honor their alumni and not just the legendary names as Yogi Berra, Reggie Jackson, Bernie Williams. Scott Kamieniecki, Andy Phillips, Steve Balboni, Horace Clarke, Brian Dorsett, and Graeme Lloyd were among the many Average Joes by Yankees standards who took part as well in last Sunday’s festivities.

The Yankees don’t have to incur this expense but they realize that letting their retired players take a bow in public is both a great way of reminding all of the power of the Yankees brand as well as a way of connecting different generations of Bronx Bombers fans.

The Mets have ignored Old-Timers Day for years in all probability because of its expense. It was pathetic that they even refused to have one last year for their 50th anniversary season which was more fizzle than sizzle in terms of honoring history.


Mets southpaw starting pitcher Jonathan Niese was placed on the disabled list because of a partial tear that was discovered in the rotator cuff of his left shoulder. Rest, not surgery, is being prescribed for Niese.

We’ll see if the Mets have learned from past mistakes of players rushing back before they were truly physically able to do so. Mets general manager Sandy Alderson should not activate Niese until after the All-Star Game break at the earliest.

It’s hard to believe in their 51 years that the Mets had never won series from both the Braves and the Phillies on the same road trip until last week when they took three out of five from Atlanta and two out of three from the Phils at Citizens Bank Park.

It will be interesting to see whether Syracuse senior forward and Bayside native James Southerland will be selected by an NBA team Thursday night. The 2013 NBA Draft will be held at the Barclays Center. The Nets have the 22nd pick while the Knicks own the 24th slot.

ESPN will be presenting nine documentaries this summer about women in sports as part of its ongoing “30 for 30″ Emmy-winning film series. The “Worldwide Leader in Sports” is dubbing these films “Nine for IX” in honor of the 40th anniversary of the federal government’s mandate that colleges receiving any kind of financial aid from Washington had to equally fund men and women’s sports.

Many of these documentaries had their world premieres at last April’s Tribeca Film Festival. First up on July 2 will be “Venus Vs.” Surprisingly, the crux of this film is not a recap of Venus Williams’ stellar tennis career but rather how she successfully took on the governing bodies of Europe’s two Grand Slam events, the French Open and Wimbledon, to demand that women receive the same prize money that men do.

It was hard for anyone’s heart not to race watching Nik Wallenda walk across the Grand Canyon on a cable last Sunday night on the Discovery Network. It reminded me of those Evel Knievel jumps that ABC’s Wide World of Sports used to show in the 1970s although I think that this stunt was far more dangerous.

The annual International Franchise Expo was held last week at the Javits Center. Most of the exhibitors as expected were restaurant chains. Mike Sarao, who is in charge of Blimpie restaurants in New York admitted that his franchise has taken it on the chin from arch-rival Subway in recent years. He told me that he expects to open a couple of Blimpie shops in Queens by the end of 2014.

Sarao’s counterpart at Pudgie’s, Whitestone native Gary Occhiogrosso, stated that he was disappointed that the reboot of the skinless chicken franchise last year in Woodside did not go as well as he wanted but he is undaunted by the setback. Gary vows to open a number of Pudgie’s in Queens and Long Island over the next two years with an expand menu.

On the sports front, Cooperstown Connection, a baseball memorabilia store located a stone’s throw from the Baseball Hall of Fame, was seeking out entrepreneurs who wanted to get into the retail sports collectibles biz. There will not be any player inductions at the Baseball Hall of Fame next month and that is certainly going to hurt the local businesses in Cooperstown.

Summer is obviously the busiest vacation time of the year. It is easier to listen to your favorite local sports and music radio stations when you are out of town than ever before thanks to modern technology. You wind up wasting a lot of data minutes if you are not on unlimited plan with your smartphone carrier if you listen that way. A far better idea is to take your Kindle Fire tablet which has just launched a high definition version that features Dolby sound and crisp images. The Kindle Fire HD is a lot lighter than a laptop computer; less expensive than most other tablets;  and there are no data charges.

If you have been wanting new flavors in your snacks, Nabisco and General Mills have been listening to you. Wheat Thins now come in such flavors as lime, honey mustard, and chili cheese while Triscuits have added a line of brown rice-based crackers. Not to be outdone, General Mills has come up with Cornbread Chex Mix and Sweet Potato Chex Mix. They are promising a Candy Cane Chex Mix for the holiday season.

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