While it isn't at the level of the NHL, and the reffing is often sub par (even for Euro refs), and the tournament is set up so Davos will win, you have to give it to the Team Canada guys that go over and play for the country every year. This year Hockey Canada put together about a star studded roster as is possible at this tournamet, including former Jr. Gold winners Justin Pogge (who has played quite well so far) and his backup Devan Dubnyk, Danny Syvret; fomer top prospects Krys Kolanos and Brandon Reid, and has hired Pat Quinn on to coach.
If you watched the game today you know that this group plays with as much passion and pride as any other group wearing the Maple Leaf, but often without the same level of support as other Canadian national teams. The games get just as heated as well - in the middle of the second period today Justin Pogge felt a Berlin Polar Bears player was taking too many liberties in his crease, so Pogge went off on him. An all out melee ensued after, something you don't see too often in European hockey.
Something I just found out today, veteran game caller Paul Romanuk (who I always enjoy) has a bit of a blog going about his experiences over in Switzerland during the tournament.
Good luck in the final boys, lets send Del Corto a message he can't refute!
Saturday, December 30, 2006
Wednesday, December 27, 2006
Two games into this tournament and Canada is 2-0, and while there is still a long ways to go, a lot of questions have been answered.
Game one was a clinic by the Swedes on how to play on the big ice surface, using their forecheck and positioning to really difuse the Canadian attack most of the time. I thought that if the Swedes didn't actually outchance the Canadians, it was damn close. The difference was that Canada buried its chances, while the Swedes managed to find a way not to score on every occasion. This game was proof that the Canadians are not going to run over the competition ala the Dream Team in 2005, and that the Swedes are true Medal contenders.
The number one question answered by game 1 was that of goaltending. Carey Price was outstanding all game long, stifling the skilled Swedish attackers, including what Pierre Maguire has dubbed 'the killer b line,' consisting one of the most skilled players in the tournament, Niklas Backstrom. While I did say earlier that the game was close, I never felt (one the Canadians were up 2-0 especially) that it was particularily in doubt. Carey Price was simply playing too well.
Game 2 verse the Americans today was a much more exciting, North American style game, and it was also notable for several bizarre events.
The Good? Canada wins 6-3 on the strength of 2 goals in the last 2 minutes, and Jonathan Toews (pronounced 'Tayvs') emerged as one of the tournament's best. He had several impressive shifts including a dominating cycle shift in the first, a great rebound goal (also in the first) and a breakaway in the third which led to a converted penalty shot goal, killing whatever momentum the Americans were playing.
In addition, Canada faced some adversity with the Americans scoring two quick goals in the second, and coming within one in the third, but played smart hockey and never altered from the gameplan. In addition, the coaching staff has to be commended for keeping cool under the pressure from both the Americans and the poor reffereeing.
Although Skille got the player of the game award for the Americans, I thought Bill Sweat deserved it as he had a goal and rushed the puck into the Canadian zone for an assist on another goal. One of the better American players on the night.
The Bad? The officiating. From the start of the puck there were several bizarre calls and non calls. A slashing call from a poke check, a cross-checking from a push, several phantom slashes, culminating into a Claude Lemieux on Mike Vernon Stanley Cup finals type play, in which and American player blatantly ran Carey Price, which directly led to a goal for the Americans. The officials could have called the play on either the goalie interferece, OR man in the crease without the puck, but blew both calls, cutting Canada's lead in half.
The American's duo of Jack and Eric Johnson were impressive at times, but also got caught several times for goals against. On Toews' third period breakaway Jack Johnson actually threw his stick at Toews to try and stop him. Eric Johnson took a badly timed penalty (can't remember what the actual call was, but the penalty was an elbow) to give the Canadians an extended 5-3 when the Americans only trailed by one in the score.
To be fair though, the duo played fairly well all night, with Eric scoring a goal, and both at times controlling the play in the Canadian end especially.
The Ugly? The poor state of Team USA Hockey's program. The team is year after year living on the edge of mediocrity but they refuse to change their outdated development system or their strange player selection process. Bobby Ryan not on the team?
Sunday, December 24, 2006
First game December 26th, 12:30 pm ET / 9:30 am PT on TSN, Canada faces host team Sweden. Carey Price will be starting for Canada in net.
Friday, December 22, 2006
In a wierd synchronicity of sorts regarding yesterday's post, I came across this article today, ranking 60 major sports in terms of difficulty. Hockey (of the ice variety if you're American) ranks 2nd only to boxing.
Of note, hockey ranks number 1 in terms of difficulty of 'ANALYTIC APTITUDE;' the ability to evaluate and react appropriately to strategic situations.
Thursday, December 21, 2006
Two issues have been gnawing at me over the past week; the NHL's Paternalism over the Penguins, and Colin Campbell's plan to increase net sizes.
The years have not been kind to the Penguins franchise. After almost folding in the 70s, (saved by new owners), the 80s (saved by the (alleged) throwing of a season and the emergence of Mario Lemieux,), and the 90s (when Lemieux brought the team out of Chapter 11), the Penguins are now up for sale once again.
It is clear there are not many buyers interested in this franchise, and I am no Harvard Business grad, but here are partial reasons:
- The Penguins play in the oldest (and from what I hear, the most dilapidated) arena in the NHL. Steve Staios referred to it as a prison. The Penguins were depending on Isle of Capri Casinos to build a new $290 million rink if they won the slot license for the city, but that bid was quashed on Wednesday
- If history does in fact repeat itself, then getting fan support for the Penguins is going to be next to impossible. This franchise routinely ends up in the bottom end of NHL home attendance figures. Possibly explains why the franchise almost folds every 10 years
Jim Balsillie, owner of Research in Motion, made what I understand to be a very generous offer to buy the Penguins, even without the Isle of Capri deal guaranteed. However, if the rumours are true, the NHL faxed him several demands before the Isle of Capri deal went down, including a stipulation that he keep the team in Pittsburgh for a given amount of time, regardless of the new arena deal (or apparently profitability). Balsillie promptly withdrew his bid, the Isle of Capri deal fell through, and Lemieux has stated that any future deals with Balsillie are off the table.
From a Canadian fan's perspective, these last minute demands from the NHL are a slap in the face, especially for Winnipegers and Quebecers. Where were these demands when those franchises were shipped south, in some cases to cities where the idea of hockey looks as if it'll never take hold. Is the idea of a Canadian billionaire taking a failed American franchise north to Hamilton or Winnepeg (where there is a new arena built even without a franchise) so disturbing to the market mad NHL that they'll stop the deal at any cost?
Well good luck to Mario and Gary, but right now it looks like for some reason Basillie is still somewhat interested, otherwise they're going to have to go to Frank D'angelo, hockey fan/bad beer ad extraordinaire (to be fair, the ads are supposed to be bad, and they're somewhat hilariously so). Right now nothing would make me happier than see both the current Penguins ownership and NHL brass get screwed for not heeding the age old advice of beggars not being choosers.
My second rant concerns the proposed increase of net sizes (by the same guy who hands out disciplinary decisions no less. Lets get a handle on that first, sound good Collie?) I don't understand the NHL's obsession with increasing scoring. Why do they believe that increased scoring will result in increased viewship or fandom?
Soccer is the world's most popular sport, and its almost always a low scoring affair. I doubt the average soccer game gets half the goals scored of the average hockey game. Contrarily, Lacrosse games probably average twice the number of goals of a hockey game, but its not half as popular, at least in terms of viewership.
This is only speculation on my part, but I think there are multiple attractions to hockey. Firstly, the athleticism involved in skating and puck handling is astounding. Few athletes in terrestrial sports could understand the complexity of puck handling, checking, positioning in skates. Many hockey players can run and catch a ball with a high degree of competence. Few pro football players could even skate.
Secondly, there is a great amount of strategy and planning in hockey. Few people who even watch the game understand how an individual player should position himself, let alone how a group of 5 people consistently position themselves in accordance with one another and the other team to maximize their chances of success.
Third: Shifting on the fly. This brings an element of explosiveness and strategy to the game itself. In other sports coaches can send everyone out and tell them exactly who to cover. In hockey its a constant battle to get the right matchups between one player and another. In addition, it allows player to stay fresh and play at a very high rate of speed, keeping the total game speed up. NBA starters play up to 45 minutes a game. Baseball players sometimes play double headers (two game in one day). A great hockey player might play 25-30 minutes a game, but usually only if there isn't another game the next night. If there is a game the next night, usually players don't play much past 20 minutes.
Finally, individual efforts and awesome plays. Sometimes you just have to watch and wait for the unexpected. Most nights (for me at least) a player will make a play that simply inspires awe due to its precision or creativity or effectiveness. Whether its a coast to coast or a great 1-1 battle, its what makes hockey worth watching.
So lets put an end to these bigger net ideas. Goals aren't all hockey fans look forward to, and if people simply want to see them they can watch the highlights at the end of the night and miss the real game.
Monday, December 18, 2006
Alright, lets review:
Shut Down Selanne - Fail
Although he was held to 1 assist on the scoresheet, Selanne made the play in the offensive zone as the last seconds of the 1st period ticked away. Instead of going into the intermission up 1-0, the Flames must settle for a tie after 1. A heartbreaking event for the Flames.
Giggy vs. Kipper - Fail
I'm not going to sit and say Kiprusoff played a bad game, after all, he made 37 saves, including many in spectacular fashion in the first and second, however, I thought he let in one softy, and it was arguably the difference in the game. With the Flames having just lost the lead about 3 minutes earlier, Dustin Penner had a step on Phanuef and unleashed a wrister. Kipper misplayed it and the bad angle shot slipped between Kipper's body and arm. I'm calling that play the turning point in the game. Meanwhile, Giguere let in one early in the first and shut the door after that.
Secondary Scoring - Fail
I said that if the Flames were to win someone other than Langkow, Iginla or Tanguay had to show up on the scoresheet. Well the Flames lost and guess whose names were on the scoresheet for the Flames lone goal.
I am officially writing off this road trip as a failure, as determined by the conditions I set here* over at Five Hole Fanatics.
*By tournament I meant roadtrip. Brainfart...
- check out Finny for the view from the opposition!
Friday, December 15, 2006
Thursday, December 14, 2006
In late November the Oilers were on shakey ground to say the least. After decimating the pitiful Hawks they blew a late 3rd period lead to the hated Ducks and then got routed by Colorado the next night. Two nights later they lost their third straight, and during that three game losing streak they lost the sublime Hemsky and heart and soul Ryan Smyth, one of the few Oilers giving a consistent effort game in game out. Any reasonable person would have said it was time to push the panic button. I was pretty worried myself, it looked like the Oilers had only one direction to go.
Enter ex Team Canada captain Jarret Stoll. After being labled by many as the man to go in Edmonton's cap crunch, Stoll had been looking largely ineffective for large stretches this year. Enter Raffi Torres, the bulldog who couldn't seem to find a reason to rip out someone's throat. Enter Pisani, the man with overburdened with unachievable expectations. Enter the group that I said would be the best 3rd line in hockey should they stick together.
Over the next 6 games, without Hemsky and without Smyth, the Oilers have 4 wins and 2 losses, including a game in which they put over 40 shots on Chris Mason, which could hardly be called a weak effort. Sure they were caught sleeping in Chicago, but there were 3 posts by the Oilers in that game, including two by Stoll in one shift in the second period.
During this effort, Stoll had 2g and 6a, Pisani had 2g 2a, Torres 1g, 5a. But its not just the points this line is putting up - its their sheer dominance. Stoll has played like a man possessed, and is undeniably the team's current inspirational leader. Torres has started to lay guys out again (several Wild bailed tonight in puck races with Torres) and Pisani has started to bury his chances.
Whats the difference? Your guess is as good as mine. I thought it was ice time difference but that theory doesn't really pan out when you examine the numbers, especially when you compare it to the same players output during the playoffs (of course those number are slightly skewed because Pisani exploded so far out of his usual statistical distribution output). Stoll's ice time has increased from about 17 minutes a night to about 21 minutes a night over the last 3-4 games, but that seems to be more a result of his strong play, rather than his strong play being a result of his ice time.
Whatever the reason, I think Oilers fans can't help but smile, both at the team's recent suprise success, and the lack of faith they had in the team's ability to win without Smyth and Hemsky. I admit, I was one of the doubters, but I can't help but watch Stoll and be impressed.
Ok, so maybe I was off when I predicted they would be the best 3rd line in hockey. The way they're playing now I probably would have been more accurate saying they would be the best line in hockey. (A little hyperbolis humour there).
Wednesday, December 13, 2006
I attended the Team Canada U-20 intra-squad game tonight so I thought I'd quickly post my thoughts.
The shots may have been close after the first period, but team White dominated team Red with their forecheck and cycle. Red had absolutely no counter when team White gained the zone, and the chances for White were about 8-1.
In the second period team Red decided to show up and held zone control for long periods of time. They actually managed to tie it up 2-2 at one point. However, the 2nd half of period 2 saw White adapt and mostly keep Red to the outside, and in fact they pulled ahead later on.
The third period was more domination for Red. They scored two (including a highlight reel 3-1 goal) to put the game away, then scored a 6th to really put an exclamation point on the win.
Of particular interest to Flames fans is goaltender Leland Irving who played the 2nd half of the game. I was impressed with him, he seemed very composed and had excellent rebound control. Hard to say a lot more about him as he didn't have to make very many saves, but he only let in 1 goal, the least of any goalie in the game. I would say he's the front runner for the number 1 position. Price didn't look very impressive, and Cann really didn't make the saves when he needed to either. Bernier let in a couple but he was being bombarded so he looks like the possible backup.
Of interest to Oilers fans was Andrew Cogliano. I thought he played a real sharp game. He made an excellent defensive play in the 2nd period to check a man in front with the puck, he used his speed to create room for his teammates, including a dominating shift in the third where he simply owned the ice which resulted in a goal. He had one breakaway in which he went glove side on Price, but was denied. I thought he got better as the game went on. He ended with an assist and a tip in goal.
Therealdeals of the night had to be Sam Gagner and Steve Downie for team white, Brendan Mikkelson and James Neal for red. The 17 year old Gagner had an 'encouter' with Bourdon in the first after the whistle, and as he skated off the ice he kept his eye on Bourdon. On his next shift he challenged Bourdon a second time, proving that he wasn't going to back down from the returnee. From then on he dominated in the offensive zone and transition for the rest of the game, getting a goal and two assists, including a shorthanded highlight reel marker (seriously, its on TSN's highlights of the night) on a 3-1 from Downie.
Downie had 3 assists and was nasty all game. He took two penalties in the first and went after Bourdonwith a slash in the offensive zone in the third, resulting in Bourdon retaliating with a roughing penalty. I really respect Downie a lot and he reminds me of Messier the way he retaliates to get room for himself. He's proven that he can hold back when he needs to as well.
James Neal created a few of the few offensive zone chances for team Red all night and got one of their 3 goals. He did have some neutral zone giveaways though.
Brendan Mikkleson in my opinon was Team Red's best defenseman. He provided good outlet passes all night, made good defensive decisions and he skated well. He got Red's first goal as well, not a bad night for a new fish in a sea of returning defenseman. I would say he's got a very good chance of being the 6th or 7th defenceman based on tonight's performance.
Also of note was 17 year old Drew Doughty on defence for team White. He looked extremely composed with the puck, making several very good outlet passes and dominating on the point in the offensive zone. Cogliano's tip in was shot by Doughty, and in tonight's game he was one of the top 4 defenceman.
Sunday, December 10, 2006
Friday, December 08, 2006
John Garret proposed before the game that Roman Hamrlik has been the Flames best defenceman of late, and while I won't go ahead and agree with him, I will say he's played suprisingly well lately. He's been jumping up into the play more often, he's been in better position defensively and it's been showing up in his +/- and the scoreboard (in the sense his strong play is correlated to the Flames success). The other pleasant suprise about Hamrlik is that he's much less overpaid than he was earlier in the season. Given the inflationary rate of defenceman salaries, and given his ice time, Hamrlik right now is, dare I say it, being paid at a fair rate.
Why are the Flames so bad on the road? Someone was saying to me that this is either a testament to Calgary's coaching (in that when the coaching staff are able to get the desired matchups they DOMINATE) or a sad exposition of the coaching staff (in that if they don't get the exact matchups, their poor systems get exposed and they consistently lose).
Obviously there are other explanations, (like maybe the players are totally spooked about playing on the road and they're gripping their sticks), but its an interesting theory.
And what about Kiprusoff and shootouts? How can a goalie be so good during the game, and so bad at shootouts? Look, a lot of times the shots Kipper faces in the shootout are next to impossible to save, but he needs to find a way. Speaking of, Calgary's shooters need to find a way to put the puck in the net.
Tuesday, December 05, 2006
I've made no bones about it. I miss Mike Commodore. While Calgary was having its cinderella season, there is no doubt Mike Commodore was the cinderella player. Pressed into regular shift duty when Toni Lydman and Denis Gauthier went down, Commodore formed one half of 'The Dores' defensive duo. While it was Montadore that scored the famous beaver tail slap winner against the Sharks in OT, Commodore became famous for his gigantic red afro. I think though that fans appreciated him even more for his clutch play.
Commodore is back in town playing for the first time since Game 6 of the 2004 Western Conference Finals, and while Flames fans still feel the sting of that defeat, Commodore has surely soothed his somewhat by winning the Stanley Cup exactly one season later. Less than two full season in the NHL, and already a Stanley Cup Final veteran.
Andrew Ference said tonight's game will be like a benchmark for the team. I think right now the Ducks are the true benchmark, they're playing better than any other team and its showing in the win column. The 'Canes have without a doubt lost some of the mojo from last year, so its not as big a deal as maybe some are making it up to be. It is important though in the sense that the Flames are a team that needs to put forth a consistent effort game to game.
Sunday, December 03, 2006
I hate to sound like a broken record, but the NHL's disciplinary 'policies' are a joke. While the rest of the hockey world debates about whether fighting is dangerous, or whether perfectly legal hits should be outlawed, I am going to continue to decry hits from behind.
When Ryan Smyth was knee'd by John Liles, some people asked if it was Ovechkin was the victim, would the penalty assessed to Liles be as leniant? Now I am asked to ask the converse question: If the disgusting hit against Briere last night had been committed by anyone but Ovechkin, would that person be suspended? Would Ville Niemenen gotten away with such a play? Think about it, Ville got suspended for a cheap hit on Curtis Joseph during the 2004 Western Conference semi-finals. I agree with that suspension, but at least there was no chance of an injury from Ville's 'hit' (which was more of a grazing elbow).
Not only was Ovechkin's hit from behind, it was totally late, it was obvious Briere was out of the play and heading towards the bench, AND the bench door was open. Thats the perfect storm of a dirty play. The chance of injury on from that hit was astronomical. Briere was lucky, but eventually the luck of hit from behind victims will run out.
Of course, Ovechkin was thrown out of the game, (Gastaud also got thrown out for trying to punch Ovechkin, ya, thats the same as a blatant hit from behind...) and he apologized, but is that enough? I don't think so, and I don't think anyone other than a blind deaf and dumb Washington Capitals fan would disagree.
So what is the Disciplinary Committee smoking? Your guess is as good as mine.
Video of the hit in question:
Saturday, December 02, 2006
America doesn't vote for a new president until 2008. Canada will not have a federal election for some time either (barring unforseen circumstances). In Alberta there is a leadership race for the provincial Progressive Conservative Party. But in the hockey world, there is only one current campaign that matters: Rory Fitzpatrick for NHL All Star Game 2007.
Sure, he hasn't played a game since early November. And sure, he has no points. But Rory deserves your vote, and here's why:
Steve Schmid, The organizer of www.voteforrory.com says that Rory is your classic lunch pail guy who never gets acknowledgement for his hardwork. He claims the all-star game is full of pretty boys who don't always deserve their recognition. He'd like to, just once, have a hard working no-nonsense guy in the game.
The reason I think you should vote for Rory is because I think fan voting for the All-Star game is stupid. Fans are unlikely to vote for 'no-name' players who are performing well, and they are unlikely to vote for very good players from small market franchises. I especially think its stupid to stage the voting so certain players are more likely to be voted in from the get-go. There is always a short-list of players in every position, and then the hassle 'write-in' vote. Shouldn't the ease of voting be equal for all players?
Schmid agrees: “It's not who deserves it, it's who has the biggest fan base.”
Voting in Fitzpatrick would prove to the league that All-Star voting is a joke, plus it would be nice to see a hard working lunch pail guy in the game.
So from now, until All Star Voting closes, do the right thing: Vote For Rory.