He may not be a household name just yet, but San Jose Sharks defenseman Matt Irwin may work his way into your mental NHL player directory yet. Now in his second NHL season, the 26 year old British Columbian is continuing a trend from his amateur career that has seen his point totals, ice-time, and contributions to his team’s success dynamically increase every year.
Irwin spoke with me at length about his long road to the NHL and what he’ll have to do to stay there, the tough decisions he was required to make and small window of opportunity he had to live out his dream, past teammates that helped get him where he is now, current ones that help make him better, what the San Jose Sharks will have to do to win their first Stanley Cup, what it takes to be consistently inserted into a lineup full of Olympians, All-Stars, and Stanley Cup champions, and more.
In episode 12 of XP PSP, Justin Bourne from The Score dropped by to debrief the Sochi 2014 Olympic hockey tournament with me, and discuss it’s implications on the NHL moving forward. We talked about Canada’s route to gold, USA’s fall from grace, Backstrom’s Olympic suspension, how it affected Sweden’s outcome and why team doctors weren’t regulating his intake better, whether Canada’s win justifies all the heavily critcised roster adjustments the coaching staff made, who steps into Steve Yzerman’s role next Olympics, who Canada would send if the NHL chose not to participate in the 2018 Olympics, what the alternative to the Olympics as a best-on-best tournament would be, how John Tavares’ Olympic injury affects the decision for the NHL to return or not, how it affects the Islanders going forward this season, how Olympic performances affect NHL players finishing their NHL season, and more.
We call ourselves the best in the world at this sport but, the truth is, Canada is ranked two places outside of a bronze medal in the world. Fifth place, that is.
As Canada only rounds out the top five in IIHF World Rankings with 2,940 points, an Olympic gold medal would give them an additional 1,200, and vault them to the head of the class with 4,140. That point injection would leapfrog them well past Sweden (first – 3,105), Finland (second – 3,065), Russia (third – 3,040) and the Czech Republic (fourth – 2,975), and reassert Canada’s hockey dominance — not only in the Olympic tournament, but on the world stage.
Canada needs those 1,200 points because, quite frankly, they only send their national best to compete as an intact unit against the world every four years. The IIHF’s other major measuring stick in international competition and rankings is the World Championships. It’s a well-known fact that NHL content is limited every year at that tournament, with the showdown conflicting with Stanley Cup playoff scheduling every year. Many players who are invited to play in the World Championships after their NHL team either does not make the playoffs or is eliminated early from them still opt not to attend, opting to stay home to either heal injuries, or just because they know the tournament does not truly reflect any participating country’s full capacity. While that is entirely their prerogative, it also means Canada misses out on 1,200 points every year, instead of just quadrennially. When the 2014 World Championships are hosted by Belarus from May 9-25 – only three months removed from the Olympic tournament – you can bet that the rosters will again be compromised, and the results will be contentious at best. But though that affects all competing teams, it generally means Canada does not win, and thus plummets further down the ranking ladder.
One intriguing scenario would be for Canada to win both the Olympic and World Championship tournaments, and induce a 2,400-point swing on their standing status. An extraordinary possibility, albeit an unlikely one. The last time the Olympics were held and Canada won the men’s hockey tournament, the only player to reprise his role as a Canadian representative at the 2010 World Championships was Corey Perry. Canada did not medal that year. Further, they have not medaled at the tournament since 2009, nor won since 2007. They did, however, pull off a dual Olympic and World Championship once — 20 years ago in 1994.
Further, both tournaments are held on internationally-sized ice this year. While Canada’s winning percentage on North American-sized ice is impeccable, it would be generous to say they traditionally struggle on the bigger sheet. In fact, Canada has not won an Olympic gold medal in men’s ice hockey outside of North America since 1952, when they struck gold in Oslo, Norway.
While every NHL player transitioning from the smaller sheet is on the same learning curve when it comes to adjusting to the additional 15 feet of rink width, it will be the European club-based players from the KHL and Elite Leagues that will have the advantage over the their visiting teammates and opponents. The question will be whether that factor will be advantageous enough to those already familiar, or whether a week of practice prior to games is enough time to adjust and catch up.
Russia is not projected to win, but a team nearly full of KHL players used to big ice — and competing in their home country — may do better than people expect.
And further still, from Hockey Canada’s standpoint, it would be a crushing blow for Canada’s international rankings for the NHL not to send its players back to the Olympics in 2018. Their world seeding would suffer tremendously after likely dropping their best chance at a quadrennial point spike, while instead likely being represented by amateur players.
So considering that Canada needs to win in order to prove that: 1) 2010 was no fluke; 2) they’re better than fifth; and 3) they can indeed win on big ice, I am picking Canada to win gold.
If we really want to walk around calling ourselves the best hockey nation in the world, and if we want it to actually be true, we have to do more than just want to win — we have to win. That’s a game-changer.
Additionally, silver to Sweden and bronze to Russia. The Swedes are just too good to ignore, and Russia’s home-ice advantage and desire to win at home should not be overlooked.
Dave Cunning is a freelance writer from Kelowna, B.C., Canada, currently residing in Jeju, South Korea. Read his blog: http://davecunning.wordpress.com, follow him on Twitter @davecunning and listen to his podcast: http://xppsp.podbean.com.
The speculation is over. Hockey Canada officially named their Olympic men’s hockey team roster on January 7th. Here are the men defending Canada’s 2010 gold medal:
Jamie Benn,Patrice Bergeron, Jeff Carter, Sidney Crosby, Matt Duchene, Ryan Getzlaf, Chris Kunitz, Patrick Marleau, Rick Nash, Corey Perry, Patrick Sharp, Steven Stamkos, John Tavares, Jonathan Toews
Jay Bouwmeester, Drew Doughty, Dan Hamhuis, Duncan Keith, Alex Pietrangelo, PK Subban, Marc-Edouard Vlasic, and Shea Weber
Roberto Luongo, Carey Price, Mike Smith
What do you think? Did they get it right? Who would you have added or deleted?
I’m pretty sure I’m going to need some Olympic detox. Withdrawals are surely on their way. I was hyper-tweeting on twitter, and my blogs reached record outputs (and hits!). A few of my readers were concerned I’d never return from Olympic themed blogs. So, with the intention of moving back to various topics, here is my last Olympic blog… for now.
Sidney. Freaking. Crosby. I could watch that “Golden Goal” (as announcer Chris Cuthbert called it) on loop for, probably ever. I heard one comparison already of that goal to the likes of the Paul Henderson goal in the ’72 Summit Series, and the Gretzky-to-Lemieux Canada Cup goal, and I have to say I agree with the alignment. It really was one of those goals that you’re going to always remember where you were and who you were with when it happened. It didn’t matter if you were a hockey fan, or even ever played hockey once in your life – if you are Canadian, you were excited.
And wasn’t that the spectacle of Vancouver 2010? All of us Canadians were excited, everywhere; seemingly all the time. Not just in Vancouver; not even just in Canada. Every living room, every pub, bar, airport, restaurant, Tim Hortons’, basement suite, townhouse, apartment, mobile home, rancher, bus, plane, car, city street, or any other dwelling place across the globe that displaced Canadians were currently occupying went absolutely bananas when they saw on their TV or computer, or heard on their radio or phone that Crosby’s shot went in. And it wasn’t just during that game; the jubilation and camaraderie really lasted throughout the entirety of the 17 days that were the 2010 Winter Olympics. There was video evidence from various cities from the East Coast all the way across the country to the West Coast of Canada; from Kandahar, Afghanistan to LAX; of Canadians loving every moment. I got to experience a few events, and even sported car flags on my vehicle (2 lost due to accidental window roll-downs, and one to manufacturers defect). And who could forget the red Olympic mittens? I had my pair.
We cheered and applauded, and/or got a little teary every time a Canadian earned a medal. Was there a better back-story than Alexandre Bilodeau drawing inspiration from his disabled brother and winning Canada’s first gold medal at home? We loved seeing giddy Marianne St-Gelais and Charles Hamelin win their medals and embrace. Who could keep their composure after Joannie Rochette won her bronze just days after the death of her mother? Canadian males everywhere grunted as Jon Montgomery screamed in victory, and guzzled a pitcher of beer. We couldn’t stop from singing “O Canada” in the curling rink, and causing non-traditional delays. The stories go on and on. And as I referenced already, when Crosby went five-hole on Miller, silenced the fear of loss, and Canada triumphed over the US, and took the overall gold medal lead and set the all-time Winter Olympic record, well, is it of any surprise that IOC President Jacques Rogge was “boo’ed” when he announced the games were officially closed?
Our hearts broke every time one of our athletes told us they felt like they let us down. Skeleton’ist Mellisa Hollingsworth, and cross-country skiier Devon Kershaw both broke down in tears as they fell short of the medal podium, and Jeremy Wotherspoon capped is career off still without an Olympic gold medal. Through them wearing their hearts, pride, and passion on the sleeves of their Canadian uniforms, we not only forgave them (we were never mad at them), but we embraced them.
We rallied together anytime negative and irrelevant criticism was thrown our way, and retaliated in a civil way, if necessary. We defended ourselves in, probably, a most unexpected manner. When foreign newspapers and other media outlets tried to point out all our shortcomings as hosts, we accented our strengths, did our best to clean up our messes, and kept on waving the Maple Leaf and breaking into spontaneous street-hockey games anywhere and everywhere, with anyone who wanted to join in. From the time the torch reached our shores from Greece and paraded to every corner of our country, to the time the flame was extinguished and started its journey to the next host, we were a team out there. Even our Prime Minister placed bets on u
IOC President, Jacques Rogge, assessed Vancouver 2010 as “excellent and most friendly”. Perhaps in part from being Canadian and watching Canadian broadcasts, my spectrum of the games were quite partisan. But in all honesty, compared to any other Olympics I’ve seen from any previous year, Vancouver’s 2010 Olympic Games were the best. Games. Ever. Many have said Canada forged itself a new identity, and put some swagger in our step. Some say it was there all along. Whatever it is that we’ve become as far as a united nation, I hope we never forget it.
Olympic Quips: Quality Over Quantity, Happy With Harper, Big Kid Pictograms, and More Hockey Thoughts.
Our country, and the world, has certainly been critical of our little “Own The Podium” program that we developed. Now, the goal was to win more medals than any other country, and the likelihood of that happening is fading. But do consider the following: We’ve won more gold medals than anyone else, meaning we’re the best in the world at more sports than any other country, INCLUDING the first place US. We tied the all-time Winter Olympic record for most gold medals at 13. If a country had 32 bronze medals for coming in third every time, and another had a fraction of that amount in gold first place medals, wouldn’t you give the nod to the country with the gold’s? Also, we’ve set another Canadian record for our medal count in Torino, which also was up from the previous record. And thirdly, our female athletes are destroying our male athletes in medal winnings.
I think it’s pretty cool that our Prime Minister, Stephen Harper is attending so many Olympic events. Apparently he’s been paying his own way for tickets (as he should be), so he must have some deep pockets; tickets for medal events like he’s attended are all in the multiple hundreds of dollars range. That aside, you likely wouldn’t see US President Barack Obama, or certainly not our old friend George W Bush, amongst the common people at such a largely populated public event. Harper’s high-fiving Wayne Gretzky, and hugging athletes as they win medals. I like it.
Who did Pepsi think they were kidding when they tried to make us chant “Eh Oh Canada Go” because they had a contest and awarded a prize to someone
who came up with, what they believed to be, the best original chant? I’m sure the entrant meant well, but come on. Chants are as spontaneous as the wave, or events depicted in Bacardi commercials; like throwing a lot of rocks in the water, building an island, and having an insane party, all on a whim. Our standard “Go Canada Go” chant is fine the way it is. Also, I’ve enjoyed “WE WANT RUS-SIA CLAP, CLAP, CLAP-CLAP-CLAP”; also sub-in SWE-DEN and U-S-A at the sight of inevitable Team Canada hockey wins as my favourites so far.
What’s the deal with the presentation of flowers after the medals? I know in Roman times, the flowers were quite coveted by the winners. Surely, it’s a tip of the cap to that tradition, today. But I mean, I’m sure the athletes are like, “WOW THIS IS AWESOME I’M THE BEST THIS MEDAL RULES… oh, and thanks for the flowers… hold on, I gotta put these in some water… for something that’s gonna die fairly soon, these seem like something that we could’ve saved spending money on for something for necessary.” Here’s a little quip about where the bouquets are made.
I’m glad Vancouver 2010 decided to use pictograms to visually interpret the events that don’t look like kindergarten scrawls, as has been done consistently for like, ever. These ones are well drawn, and actually look like what they are supposed to depict.
Team Canada’s Women’s hockey team prrrrrobably shouldn’t have been drinking champagne and smoking cigars in the public eye after their gold medal victory, especially with an underaged player on the team participating. But you’re kidding yourselves if you think these things weren’t happening anyways in the dressing room. They just got caught. Oops. Add this to the IOC’s list of reasons that will be reviewed to support women’s hockey remaining as an Olympic event… hmm, probably should’ve kept it in the room. Well, they are the best in the world, again. And they beat the Americans. On those fronts, nice going girls!
Finally, after squeaking by Slovakia, CANADA IS GOING TO DESTROY THE US IN HOCKEY AND WIN THE GOLD MEDAL AND AVENGE THEIR ROUND ROBIN LOSS AND SETTLE THE PSYCHE OF ALL CANADIANS. Given, the US has a great team, a hot goalie, and it would be good for the business of hockey for them to win, but my allegiances are unquestioned. I have a friend who is a die-hard Calgary Flames fan/Vancouver Canucks hater, so much so that the mere thought of Roberto Luongo being credited for Canada’s success spurs on thoughts of “Lu” assassination, and instead wants Iginla to be credited for all triumphs. I’ve got another (American) friend who only gets interested in hockey when the US plays Canada. After some back and forth text-taunting since the first game, I NEED Canada to win for my own pride. Is it interesting to anyone else that North American teams only make it to the Olympic finals when the games are played on NHL sized ice instead of Olympic sized ice (an insane stat; what other reason is there to have Olympic sized ice if not to be used AT THE OLYMPICS?) I think we can all agree, it’s going to be one heck of a game. Lets go Salt Lake City on ‘em!
GO CANADA GO!!!
My goodness, Canada obliterated Russia. Canada lives to fight another day, and Sid wins the latest chapter of the Crosby vs. Ovechkin showdown (actually, they both had zero points in the game, but Sid wins by default with the team win; also Ovechkin was invisible throughout the whole game). I hate to say it’s typical of Russia, but since the loss, the Russians have been skewering Canada in the media (no offence to any of the nice Russian people I know). All the people who thought that the loss to the US might have been the “inspiration” Canada needed to get things back on track may just have been onto something.
My most common thought through that game was MAN I FREAKING LOVE TEAM CANADA. I had a long term relationship with the LA Kings during the Gretzky era, had cups of coffee with the Blues, Rangers, and most recently, I’d been warming up to the Coyotes and Leafs. But all in all, Team Canada is my favourite hockey team of all time. I absolutely love it when they win, and I nearly lose my mind when they lose. All the whining about how American NHL teams are all comprised of Canadians, and when those teams win Cups, it’s really Canada winning, sort of; well this is actually all those Canadian players all together on one team, and all NHL season gripes, grudges, and affiliations are off. I’ve even come to realize that I really like the new sport neutral Team Canada logo designed for the Olympics.
I really have come to think that the Olympic tournament is the premier
international hockey competition as well. As opposed to the World Championships, you have EVERY country’s best players representing their flag; not the small percentage of NHL players who aren’t in the Stanley Cup playoffs that year. Also, the players are in peak mid-season conditioning; whereas WC players may be “mailing in” their efforts after knowing they’re not going to win the Stanley Cup. The World Cup/Canada Cup is cool too, but it has no frequency to it; only being contested every 7-8 years. It would be better if the Olympics didn’t have single elimination games, and best-of series’ instead. I wish there was a way to have every country play every country at least once, instead of the pool play, but I guess there really isn’t that kind of time. Maybe next NHL lockout, there could be a Global Hockey League, where we see countries compete in an NHL season format. How awesome would that be?
Now we face Slovakia, after what must be considered an upset after defeating defending gold medal champs, Sweden. So Sweden, you’re telling me a squad comprised of Zetterberg, Franzen, Alfredsson, both Sedin’s, Forsberg, Lidstrom, and others were not good enough to beat… wait, who does Slovakia have? Zdeno Chara? (ok they have the Hossa’s and Gaborik too, but come on, not nearly as deep as Sweden) This was the first legit upset of the tournament, in my opinion, but man were there a few close calls. The Swiss were a handful for Canada and the US, Belarus made it tough on Sweden, Latvia took a run at the Czechs, and even Norway almost edged out the Slovaks. Now by the math, Canada should roll over Slovakia, but hey, we said that about the US, didn’t we?
I think it’s great for hockey as a whole, but obviously not great for Canada. We’re no longer afforded the luxury of thinking we’re automatically the best in the world when it comes to international matchups (someone tell all the women’s teams besides Canada and the US to follow suit). We’ve known this since 2006 in Turin really, but people like to pretend as if those Olympics never happened; isn’t it odd that the only Olympics Canadians seem to “remember” in terms of hockey is 2002? Obviously our best showing, but you have to take the bad with the good and make adjustments if you’re going to remain king of the hill. Another thing that escapes Canadian hockey fans memories is that both Martin Brodeur and Roberto Luongo were our goalies in Turin as well. Luckily, we’ve already bested our placement from that time.
Go Canada GO!