Monday, December 15, 2008

Early Christmas Present

Heading west on the Schuylkill Expressway, you can't help but glance at the giant billboard right before the Conshohocken exit with Temple star Dionte Christmas, proclaiming the 5 months of Christmas that encompasses the 6'5" shooting guard's senior season.

Dionte Christmas is no joke. The Philadelphia native had a breakout season in 2007-08 and was poised to make heads turn in his senior campaign. Saturday, mission accomplished. With the No. 8 Tennessee Volunteers in town, Dionte got more than a few scouts in attendance at North Broad to take notice.

Right out of the gate, the Owls showed the Volunteers and the nation watching on ESPN that they scheduled Tennessee to beat Tennessee. Temple came out fired up, playing aggressive defense and smart, methodical offense. Sergio Olmos got things going with a couple early scores and blocks, and Ryan Brooks helped take the scoring load of Christmas. At the half, Temple had 9 point lead, 34-25, with Dionte scoring only 5 points.

All that was about to change. Well, not all that. You see, Temple wasn't about to give up the lead. Sure, the Vols made a run, just like they're supposed, but they could never catch a Temple team that was playing nearly flawless basketball. Why? Because just when it looked like Tennessee's aggressive defense may start to take Temple out of its comfort zone, Dionte Christmas began to light it up. From everywhere. From anywhere.

He exploded for 30 points in the second half, nailing deep, contested three after three. All Tennessee could do was watch in awe as Dionte delivered dagger after dagger. In the end, Christmas shined brighter than anyone else on the floor netting 35 points including 7 threes to lead Temple to the huge 88-72 upset. And in reality, the game wasn't even that close. Temple embarrassed the Vols, and Dionte Christmas showed the nation, and the NBA, just how good he is. The students stormed the floor, getting a little Christmas present a couple weeks early.

But the gifts didn't stop there Saturday for Philadelphia fans. With the hated in-state rival Penguins in town, the Flyers played like a team who hasn't forgotten who ended their season last year. With both the Flyers and Penguins coming in red hot and both tied for second behind the Rangers in the Atlantic, Philadelphia played like a team on a mission. From the onset, they dominated the Pens, playing perhaps their best game of the season.

Joffrey Lupul got the Flyers on the board first with a power play tally, and Knuble made it 2-0 with another power play goal before the first was through. And power plays were a common theme in that first period. Every other minute, it seemed, a player from one side or the other was getting escorted to the penalty box. The referees were calling it tight, and for good reason, because these two teams despise one another and were playing the rough stuff.

But really, none of that mattered. What mattered was how the Flyers played. After Jordan Staal cut it to a one-goal game in the second on a great tip in, Richards got it right back. Then, Hartnell scored on a beautiful tic-tac-toe play from Carter to Carle to Harnell. Right then and there, the game was over. Knuble scored another power play goal and Carter added a pp goal of his own for good measure in a 6-3 massacre.

The Penguins were never in this one. Not one bit. The best players on the ice that day weren't Crosby and Malkin. They were Mike Knuble, Kimmo Timonen, Matt Carle, Jeff Carter, Mike Richards, Simon Gagne and Braydon Coburn. They were the players in the fantastic "new" orange jerseys. The Flyers were better than the Penguins from start to finish, something I don't remember ever saying with confidence in any game last season.

It was another fantastic early Christmas present, and a third came when the Sixers demolished the Wizards later that night in their first game under Tony DiLeo. The Flyers are still just 4 points back from the Rangers and have played 4 games less. Right now, there's not a hotter team in hockey. In fact, the only thing hotter than the Flyers right now, perhaps, was the shooting of Dionte Christmas in the second half on Saturday. The good news … we have more than 3 more months of Christmas to come.


  1. Yeah the flyers are hot, but the Penguins? Not so much. They've lost 4 of their last 5.

  2. good point. i guess i should have said the red hot malkin and crosby