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The Sting of Silver: a 2011 World Junior Hockey Championship Wrap-Up.

January 6, 2011 Leave a comment

Ahhh…. the first blog of 2011. Let me start off by thanking all you readers out there; viewership and interaction continues to climb every month, so thanks for tuning in! It’s been fun trying to keep your brains entertained and your interests’ piqued; I hope you’ve been enjoying new things like the video blogs, and with any luck you’ll keep coming back for more and bring your friends with you.

Anyways, enough mushy stuff. Some big hockey related events to chime in on, so lets get ‘er goin…

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Obviously the World Juniors ended in disappointment for Canada. It kinda bugs me a little that even at the U20 level, Canadian hockey players have nothing-less-than-the-best expectations placed on them. Now with 2 consecutive silver medal finishes, you know that Hockey Canada is going to re-evaluate the entire Canadian development program, and cue up some ridiculous overhaul project that is far from necessary, to see what it’s going to take to get back on top of the world.

It’s too bad that losing at this game sends our country into such a panic about the state of “our” game. The more that we do this, the more I inch to agreeing with the notion that we do have a bit of a status/superiority complex about this game of ours; if we’re not the best in the world at hockey, then Canadians from all walks of life seem shaken to our foundations, and our stumble is all any of us can talk about until we eventually redeem ourselves with another victory down the road (see: 2010 Olympics). The NHL has spent the better part of this decade trying to sell our game to the US television audience, as well as the global one; and the pace at which the world has caught up to us has been well documented since at least a decade prior to the 21st century. We really shouldn’t be astounded that other countries are good at hockey (or at least, that we’re not always going to be the best), and that other countries winning once in a while is probably a good thing for the game of hockey as a whole.

Perhaps if we had more sports that we as a country laid deep claims and dominance to, we wouldn’t be sent into such a tailspin everytime losses like this happen (much like the way the US and Germany generally dominate most of the events at Olympics, win a majority of them, and don’t bat an eyelash at slip-ups because there’s enough victory to go around). But then again, you’ll think I’m a bad Canadian if I suggest that notion, so disregard the last two paragraphs.

I mean, 2nd in the world just really ain’t that bad from any other perspective than the one of the nation that holds claim to inventing the game, and coined catch phrases like “The drive for 5”, and other catchy rhymes related to winning championships a whole bunch of times, often in sequences. But as Major Junior hockey gets more and more exposure every year, and specifically the players who compete in this tournament, you begin to see that a good percentage of these players are indeed NHL bound (Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin, John Tavares, Shea Weber, Marc-Andre Fleury, etc etc…), and maybe the increased pressure of having a planet-sized microscope on them isn’t such a bad thing from a preparation standpoint, as it’s likely pretty close to what they’ll continue to experience in the next phase of their hockey careers.

chin up kid, you beat a freaking Gretzky record.

This year specifically, I think of Brayden Schenn. As always, Nike made a commercial campaign that stirred me like no other company can, and pretty well made me want to buy all the training gear that was being used in the commercial because of the emotional connection made to the players and the game. They had Luke Schenn speaking about how he and his brother, Brayden, have been neck and neck in accomplishments all their lives, with the exclusion of Brayden winning a gold medal at the WJC’s. And now, all we have left to assume is that Brayden has failed; which is insane, considering the fact that during this tournament, he tied a personal record set by Mario Lemieux for most goals in a game by a Canadian player (4), and surpassed Wayne Gretzky’s most points by a Canadian player record (18). I’d say anytime you can draw even or pass guys of that magnitude, failure is far from a correct descriptive term for you. Though as a big brother myself, it’s always good to have a leg-up when you can get one, especially with siblings that competitive  🙂

On a comedic-interlude side note, I loved the Gord Miller-Pierre McGuire back-and-forth that saw Gord Miller getting what sounded to be genuinely frustrated with McGuire’s stubbornly ludicrous commentary; in particular after an icing call that neither couldn’t let go of their differing opinions of for a number of whistles worth of banter. People who know me know that I think Pierre needs to have his microphone “malfunction” more often than it does; most of me wished that Gord had finally snapped once and for all, and gave Pierre a good throttling right there in the booth. The audio would have been priceless.

Canada in the (Americans') houuuuuse!!!

For Canadians to be proud of:  We have the best fans in the world.  Have you ever seen a road team’s fans fill an opposing team’s home arena like the Canadians did?  Particularily astounding was the overbearing amount of Canadian fans present for the US-Canada game.  The team I played for in college regularly had more fans in opposing rinks than the home team did; and to have that 7th man support at anytime, especially on the road though, is a priceless,special kind of x-factor momentum swinger that truly can make the difference by the end of the game.  Of course, I never played in front of a supportive road crowd of the magnitude that Canada had, but I’d like to think I had a parallel experience on a much smaller-scale .  The States should be embarassed; that’s their house, they should have supported their team better.  Also, we beat the US, which is always good, and it was nice to avenge last year’s loss to them. 

In the end though, you just can’t give up 5 goals in a period, especially in the third period, and double especially if you go into that third with a 3-0 lead. I mean, that’s just inexcusable. It’s tough to say it was unexpected, considering how many come from behind victories they put up through the tourney. Hats off to them for doing it though. If Canadians can take any solace, maybe it’s that the Russians are stuck in Buffalo until they sober up.

THE RUSSIANS ARE LEAVING!! Upsets, and Assessments of Olympic Hockey.

February 25, 2010 2 comments

 

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

Remember when the US beat us for this in '96? We got revenge in '04.

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!

 

Sid Vs Ovie 2010: No Hockey Rivalry Rivals the Crosby-Ovechkin Battle.

February 24, 2010 Leave a comment

 

***Heading into their Olympic quarter-final showdown both touted as their respective country’s top players, I thought I’d relaunch my Sid vs. Ovie blog that I previously posted for another site.  While the latest chapter may not be have the gold medal on the line, for Canadian fans, it might as well be in the “do or die” situation we’ve found ourselves in.  Enjoy!*** -SDC

There are battles of Alberta, Summit Series’, and “Magnificence” vs “Greatness”; but is there an NHL rivalry greater than the current individualistic battle between Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin?

The two phenoms entered the league as at least respectful rivals of each other. Prior to their simultaneous NHL arrivals, they had only ever competed against each other on the international stage, playing for Canada and Russia, respectively.  With cameras and tape recorders rolling, making campy NHL commercials and delivering birthday cakes at the NHL All-Star game together slowly morphed into on-ice physicality and off-ice verbal sparring.  Welcome to the business of “selling” the new NHL to the American market.

It’s a protagonist-antagonist scenario that seems to be inspired by Vince McMahon himself.  In one corner, you have the abrasive, exciting, inimical Ovechkin; equipped with infinite energy and a talent level he must have exchanged his soul for, hailing from Mother Russia, a country that, according to Hollywood, produces more bad guys than perogies.  His opposition, the humble, hard-working, and traditional Crosby; hailing from Canada, playing and interviewing the way the Canadian hockey heroes of the past did before him.  Of course, as the NHL panders to the North American market, it’s easy to portray Crosby as the “good guy”, though Ovechkin, Federov, and every other Russian NHL star has been adorned in their homeland.  Most Canadian fans would likely admit that there’s Russian NHL’ers that are better than Canadian NHL’ers, but they’d feel like they were betraying their country if they ever uttered it publicly.

Forget all the media hoopla; shouldn’t the NHL be sending royalties to the parents of Sidney and Alexander for deciding to have children that grew up to capture the attention of their entire audience?  In the ongoing battle to

Happy Birthday, Shanny!

procure American advertisers and cable network broadcasters, the NHL can count on at least Penguins and Capitals games as easy ratings sells; providing that Crosby and Ovechkin are in the lineup.  Did anyone care about the Capitals before Alexander the Great?  A team with no Stanley Cups, and nothing more than a conference championship in 1997-98, former Hart and Art Ross Trophy Winner Jaromir Jagr couldn’t even make hockey exciting in Washington.  All of a sudden, the Verizon Center has sell-out crowds, and the team is a contender.  Ovechkin plays with a wreckless abandon that has resulted in a kneeing suspension, but what is coach Bruce Boudreau going to do with his star, bench him?  Tell him to ease up?  Come on.  The Penguins at least got to pair Lemieux and Crosby together in 2006, but the Steel-Town had been pretty dismal since the back-to-back Stanley Cup championships in 1990-92.  Sure hockey’s a team game, but to suggest that the individual ability and rivalry of Crosby and Ovechkin isn’t largely responsible for the teams’ success and the league’s rising interest, is naive.

The 2008-09 playoffs were an absolute treat to watch, and many people would point to the Pens/Caps Eastern Conference showdown as a highlight, as well as an indication of who would/did become the eventual Cup winner.  Fans got to see Sid and Ovie go at each other for seven consecutive games rather than once a season, and they got to see both players at the top of their respective games; Game 2 featured both players notching hat tricks, and Sid’s 13 series’ points and Ovie’s 14 equaled the highest single-series point total since the 1995 NHL playoffs.  It was awesome.

Penguins win the series 4-3, and the “evil” Ovechkin, was banished back to Russia (well, Washington), screaming promises of revenge (actually he wished that the Pens win the Cup, but just work with me) while he was being dragged away. Meanwhile, the “heroic” Crosby was adorned on a mountain top, cape waving, a dark curl dangling from mid-brow (just above his perv-stache), all while giving an interview where he characteristically puts over his opponents, commenting on how well they played, and not giving himself any selfish credit. Wouldn’t it have been great/justified if he had finally just snapped, either after that series or after winning the Cup, and said, “YOU SEE?!?! I AM BETTER THAN HIM!!”

Ovechkin wins rookie of the year, Sid’s named the youngest captain in history.  Sid wins the Art Ross and the Hart, Ovie wins the Richard and Pearson awards.  And so they dance.  We’re still waiting to see what Ovechkin’s equal to Sid’s Cup win will be.  Alexander’s pursuit of a championship, Sidney’s defence of his, and their continued rivalry will continually be fun to watch, and is easily the best rivalry in the NHL today.  It’s Canada vs. Russia, tradition vs. new school, team vs. team, and man vs. man, all wrapped into one ongoing showdown.  Their 2010 Olympic showdown will be the latest chapter, and perhaps the most exciting for fans thus far.  It’s one thing to have the hopes of a whole city on your back in the case of an NHL team, but entire countries?  If the NHL can’t sell that to Americans, then tearing fans away from the baseball diamond and football field for the hockey rink is a fruitless endeavor anyways.

 

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