Archive for the ‘International Hockey’ category

Please Shut Up, Bob

May 14th, 2011

Hockey Canada President Bob Nicholson bitched and moaned on Friday after Canada was eliminated by Russia at the 2011 World Hockey Championships earlier this week. Nicholson’s comments – saying the results are “totally unacceptable” – are fueled by the fact that Canada hasn’t won a single medal in the last two tournaments.

Bob Nicholson, President of Hockey Canada

Nicholson also took a shot at several young Canadian players who declined playing in the tournament for reasons that were a “little lame.” Thanks, Bob. That was very insightful. Here’s another gem of a quote from Nicholson:

“This team was good enough to win, but with one or two more players (it could have been different). You know what, Hockey Canada and Canada have been pretty good to those players through the under-18, the juniors and an Olympics Games. I thought they would have thought about that before refusing to come this year.”

Is this guy freaking kidding me? That has to be the most ridiculous and obnoxious thing I’ve read in weeks. In my opinion, that’s worse than anything Jeremy Roenick said over the last few days. Let’s break down several reasons why Nicholson’s comments are so absurd:

» Read more: Please Shut Up, Bob

The Golden Save

March 10th, 2010

I know it has been a few weeks now since the gold medal game, but I can’t resist. (Hey, I’ve been really busy, ok?).

You can easily run out of superlatives when describing Sidney Crosby’s gold-medal winning goal. It was not a fluke, not a lucky shot against a talented Ryan Miller. The pass from Jarome Iginla wound up behind Crosby, so he had to reach back and pull it forward. Secondly, Miller, seeing that Crosby had his head down to find the puck, makes a quick decision to poke-check. This opens up a split-second opportunity for Crosby, who sees Miller’s move in his peripheral view and fires a shot, low, five-hole. At full speed, this was pure talent. The rest, as they say, is history.

The analysis has been pretty intense since that goal. Everything from comparison to Henderson’s goal in 1972, to how Canadians all held their pee.

I think one event that has been grossly overlooked by the media was the play that immediately preceded Crosby’s goal. At 12:43 of overtime, Jack Johnson (Los Angeles Kings) feeds Joe Pavelski (San Jose Sharks) as he streaks up to center ice.  Scott Niedermayer plays him well as Pavelski hits the hash marks in the Canadian zone and strips him of the puck. As Niedermayer goes around the net to turn back up ice, Pavelski forces a turnover and gets a really decent scoring chance against Luongo. He shoots high, glove side as Luongo goes down, and is able to stop the puck with his shoulder. Niedermayer recovers, and hits Crosby as he turns back up the ice. Watch the video — that could have been the end of the game right there and Niedermayer would have been the goat.

Amazing stuff.

Now if Crosby can only find his missing stick. I’ll bet Ovechkin took it.

Stay classy, Roberto Luongo.

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Olympic rant!

February 25th, 2010

The Men’s Olympic Hockey Semi-Finals are set to get underway on Friday after the Quarter-Finals wrapped up last night. I’m not going to review the stomping Canada laid on the Russians because I’m sure every other blog and web site has already touched on it. I’m not sure I can offer any new insight either. Evgeni Nabokov easily played the worst game of his career and the Russian forwards were dreadful in the neutral zone. Full marks to Canada for their effort though. They played one of the best first periods I’ve ever seen.

Instead of game reviews today, I’m going to rant about some of the things that have really ticked me off over the last few days in the Olympics. Feel free to add yours below – I can’t be the only one with issues about the Olympics!

  • Luongo’s familiarity with Canada Hockey Place – I keep hearing TV analysts and people online citing Roberto Luongo’s familiarity with the ice, boards, etc… of Canada Hockey Place (or GM Place). I think that’s ridiculous. Do you have any idea how much work went into this arena prior to the Olympics? The glass isn’t the same glass used in Vancouver Canucks games. The boards have basically been rebuilt. The ice is getting chewed up faster than free desert at a Britney Spears dinner. Very little of Canada Hockey Place should be familiar to Luongo or any other Canuck. In fact, the only the thing that’s the same is the doorway to enter the building. Luongo is a great goalie and has been solid for Team Canada, but this isn’t one of the reasons why!
  • Christian Ehrhoff’s Team Canada Comments – Following Germany’s Quarter-Final loss to Canada, Christian Ehrhoff reportedly said he wasn’t very impressed with Team Canada. He went on to say “[The Russians] bring skill, but they also play very hard and physical. They have a great goalie and I think they have the complete package to pull it off here”. According to Chris Stevenson of Sun Meda, Ehrhoff agreed Canada isn’t yet at the level of team play the Russians and Americans have shown so far. Here’s my question: Was Ehrhoff watching the same tournament as the rest of us? The Russians didn’t look very impressive at any point in this tournament. Team USA looked extremely disjointed, prior to the great game they played against Canada. And Ehrhoff’s quotes came after the Germans were soundly beaten by Canada in a fairly dominant Canadian performance. Sounds like someone is bitter…
  • Skates in Faceoffs – As everyone knows, one of the subtle differences between international hockey and the NHL is rules about using skates on faceoffs. In the NHL, it’s perfectly fine. In international hockey, it’s not. Having said that, I can’t tell you how many faceoffs I’ve seen won with skates. In yesterday’s Quarter-Final games alone there were 4 or 5 instances. I don’t really care for the rule, personally, but rules are rules, right?
  • Evgeni Plushenko – OK, this one isn’t so much about hockey, but I found it hilarious. Following a great opening skate last week, the Russian Figure skater took a verbal jab at his competition saying “Without a quad it’s not men’s figure skating”. In other words, you aren’t a man if you aren’t pushing the figure skating boundaries. Uhh, Evgeni, you are still wearing tights, make up and glittery costumes that only Lady Gaga would wear… pretty sure that’s not considered “manly” either.
  • Another Pierre McGuire Quote – No international hockey tournament is complete without at least one eye rolling Pierre McGuire quote. This one was pulled from Tuesday’s Canada-Germany game when McGuire discussed the infamous “Luuuuu” chants for Roberto Luongo. During the telecast, McGuire said the following: “A lot of kids cry, they don’t understand why people are booing Luongo… that needs to be explained to a lot of people”. *Sigh*  Yeah, another great McGuire quote. When I heard him say this, I got the distinct feeling that millions of other hockey fans around the world were rolling their eyes just like I was. It was powerful! I anticipate more great quotes later this week given the size of his current Shea Weber man-crush.
  • Terrible Reffing – I didn’t think the Olympic refereeing would be more inconsistent than the NHL, but wow, it is! How wrong I was. It’s everything, too. From penalties called (hitting, interference, holding or tripping – like last night’s Marian Gaborik penalty), faceoffs and even stopping play when goalies are hit in the head with pucks. There’s been several times this tournament where the play has been blown down and I’ve been completely lost as to why.
  • Olympic Brackets – I realize this isn’t anyone’s fault, but prior to the Quarter-Final games yesterday, you could split the tournament brackets into two groups: top and bottom, with one team from each group making it to the Gold Medal game. The top brackets featured USA, Switzerland, Czech Republic and Finland while the bottom brackets featured Canada, Russia, Slovakia and Sweden. With all due respect to each Country/Team, the bottom bracket’s seemed way tougher. Than again, both Russia and Sweden looked pretty average all tournament… I’m completely confused why. This tournament has been weird…
  • 2010 Miracle on Ice – This one drive me crazy. When you look at the American Men’s Hockey team, it’s a solid NHL team. On paper, perhaps it lacks the big names Canada and Russia boast, but it’s a very strong hockey team. Calling this team the “2010 Miracle on Ice” or even making the comparison is downright insulting to the quality players on the team. Although Team USA wasn’t considered the top team in this tournament, their success so far is hardly a surprise. TV broadcasters need to stop with all the “Ryan Miller played well because Jim Craig was watching” nonsense. Ryan Miller played (and is playing) well because he’s one of the best goalies in the world. End of story!

Stay classy, Olympic hockey.

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Keys to victory for Canada and Russia

February 24th, 2010

It’s the game many figured would be the Gold Medal showdown: Canada versus Russia. This is the game that many around the world have been waiting for. It’s unfortunate one of these teams will finish a disappointing 5th place (at best), but that’s the way it goes in an International tournament as deep as this one. It goes without saying there’s a lot riding on this game for both teams.

While there will be many keys to this game, here’s a few I think stand out and should have a big impact on the final score.

Team Play & Chemistry
I can’t help but think the biggest key to this game will revolve around which group can play more like a team. Both Canada and Russia have struggled finding chemistry between linemates and having star players adapting to different roles.  Canada has the advantage, having played an extra qualifying game (Tuesday night) to work out some kinks. As far as Russia goes, top players like Alex Semin, Alex Radulov and Pavel Datsyuk haven’t played at their best in this tournament as a result of reduced ice time and different roles (compared to their NHL/KHL roles). Canada’s star players have adjusted to their roles better than the Russians over their last two games. Advantage: Canada.

Powerplay
It’s amazing that Shea Weber is the only defenseman of both teams to have a goal in the 2010 Olympics. Having said that, Russia’s powerplay is quarterbacked by Andrei Markov and/or Sergei Gonchar. While Canada’s powerplay has improved, they are still guilty of forcing passes and making predictable plays. Advantage: Russia.

Goaltending
Roberto Luongo versus Evgeni Nabokov. Not sure how much there is to dissect here. This game probably ranks among the biggest starts for both goalies in their respective careers. I try to be as objective as possible, but in all honesty, I don’t have much confidence in Nabokov and big game performances. Frankly, I like Russia’s chances better with Ilya Bryzgalov starting, but that’s just me. Advantage: Canada.

Crosby versus Ovechkin
I suppose no Canada-Russia match-up is complete without mentioning Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin going head to head against each other. So far, I haven’t been overly impressed with Crosby in these Olympic games. Before you yell blasphemy and accuse me of being unclassy, hear  me out. Crosby has been very good in this tournament, but not as dominant as I expected. Maybe it’s because he seems to have new wingers every game. I’d like to see Crosby shoot more pucks to the net, rather than pass off quality scoring chances for potential highlight reel setups. When you look at impacts to their respective teams, I think Ovechkin’s splash is slightly bigger than Crosby’s. My analysis could very well change after tonight’s game. Advantage: Russia.

Regardless of which team wins, this should be a great game. It’s easily the biggest quarter-final game in this tournament and should draw the highest interest. It’s very possible fans will go through enjoyment, excitement and high periods of stress all at once. Consider that your warning! Get ready for some world class hockey and remember, we’re still in the quarter-finals!

So tell me classy readers, what’s your prediction? Who wins and what’s the score? Also, what do you think will be keys to the game? Thanks for reading Stayclassy.net.

Stay classy, highly anticipated Canada-Russia showdown.

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Canada, can we stop making excuses?

February 22nd, 2010

A friend of mine has recently started getting into hockey. She made two observations about Ryan Miller last night, prior to the big USA-Canada game starting. She said “Ryan’s a hottie and probably the best goalie in the NHL”. I can’t comment on the first observation (although I’ve always felt Miller looks like Jared Leto), however, she’s bang on with the latter part of that quote.

So even a hockey fan who’s very new to the game knows how good Ryan Miller is. Fast forward to around 10pm EST on Sunday night and Canada is collectively saying “our Olympic hockey team was beaten by Ryan Miller”. Seriously, can we stop making excuses? It’s not like Ryan Miller is the only strong goalie in this Olympic tournament.

That was a pretty gutsy game from Team USA last night. In both of their previous games, I felt Team USA had trouble playing as a team and staying in synch with each other. That was not the case against Canada. In fact, Team USA played a far better team game than the Canadians did.

Everyone is crediting the win to Miller and Miller exclusively. While he was outstanding, he wasn’t the only reason USA defeated Canada 5-3. Let’s give credit to the coaching tandem of Ron Wilson and John Tortorella for figuring out how to turn one of Martin Brodeur’s strengths into weaknesses. Let’s give some credit to the US penalty killers like Ryan Callahan and Chris Drury – both of these guys played terrific games. Also, let’s give some credit to the US center’s like Drury, Ryan Kessler and Joe Pavelski. These guys were dominant in the faceoff circle against a team who’s style of play relies on puck possession.

And one of the most critical aspects of the loss last night had little to do with the USA. As I watched last night’s game, I really felt like they needed to be leading after the second period in order to win. Canada really let up in the second period. They didn’t push as hard as they could and should have. I realize it’s easy to say this, however, if they played like they did in the final five minutes all game, they probably would have won. They did in spurts, but not often enough. Canada’s puck retrieval wasn’t terribly strong all game. Canada’s physical game disappeared in the second period and they didn’t move pucks well (everything was too slow and too predictable).

Don’t get me wrong – I’m not taking anything away from Miller’s play. However, the reality is there’s a lot of other reasons Canada lost besides running into a hot goalie. If Canada can get their game together, they can look forward to better results. Every other contending team has great goaltending too. If goaltending is going to be an excuse for last night’s loss, get ready to blame a few more goalies over the coming days. Canada is capable of beating teams with great goalies, but there’s a few things they need to do, besides worrying about who they are shooting on.

Let’s accept last night’s game for what it was – US was the better team. No more goaltending excuses (Miller, Brodeur or anyone else). If Canada wants to win, they’ll need to be better. End of story.

Stay classy, Team Canada.

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Overall impressions of the Olympic Hockey (so far)

February 19th, 2010

Happy Friday, everyone!

Now that we’ve seen each of the men’s Olympic Hockey teams play, I have a few overall impressions from the first couple days of the tournament.

  • Last night’s Canada-Switzerland game last night was way more exciting than I expected. Perhaps it was unsettling or too close for comfort for Canadian fans, but it was a fun game to watch.
  • The quality of hockey played in every game so far has been amazing. I’ve enjoyed each game I’ve seen. When it’s all said and done, I think this tournament will go down as the best hockey tournament ever.
  • How awesome is it to see Jaromir Jagr, Sergei Fedorov, Peter Forsberg and others playing hockey with younger great players like Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby?
  • A few Tiger Woods brain cramps… (sorry in advance) … Did Tiger Woods really need to hold a press conference in the middle of the Olympics? Does he crave attention that much? What’s with calling cheating “sex addiction”? He’s a man and he’s horny. Wait, I’ve got it! Every man has an addiction to sex. Got it.
  • Everyone has talked about the offensive depth of the Russians and how it could result in a Gold Medal win. I’m starting to wonder if the Russian stars are having trouble playing 10-15 minutes per game when they are used to 20-25 in the NHL.
  • I’ve read a few things about Drew Doughty’s mistake last night being a result of his age. I think that’s garbage. Don’t blame it age – chalk it up to an error and everyone makes them. It wasn’t a mistake for Doughty to be selected for Team Canada.
  • Did anyone else notice that slight glove drop by Martin Brodeur on the game winning shootout save last night? That little drop was probably enough to distract Martin Pluss. Clearly, Pluss wanted to hit the high left corner and didn’t get the shot where he wanted it. Sometimes, that’s all that it takes to screw up a shooter’s plans.
  • I was very surprised the Russians didn’t use Alexander Radulov in the shootout last night against the Slovaks. You have to think Radulov was pretty upset about not getting to shoot, given Ovechkin got three attempts.
  • Despite different circumstances, I can’t decide which goal was better – David Backes breakaway goal (fast forward to 0:17)or Pavel Demitra’s shootout winner.

Which goal do you think was better? So far, this tournament has been amazing. What other storylines have you enjoyed from the Olympics (hockey or otherwise)?

Stay classy, Olympic Hockey.

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Players to Watch in the Olympics

February 17th, 2010

If you haven’t joined an Olympic hockey pool yet or you just want to look smart in front of your hockey buddies, look no further. This is the blog that will lend you instant credibility and will make you look wiser the Shaq in front of lockerroom of reporters. Here’s my look at some of the top and most underrated players to watch during the Men’s Olympic Ice Hockey Tournament in Vancouver.

Jaromir Jagr (CZE) – Jaromir Jagr was one of the most dominant hockey players in recent memory – when he wanted to be. He’s the highest scoring European-born player (goals, assists and points) in NHL history and is very highly regarded by his younger teammates. His skill was never in question, but his motivation and desire usually was. At 38, it’s safe to say that this will likely be Jagr’s final shot at Olympic gold, so I’m sure motivation won’t be a problem for the Czech flagbearer over the next two weeks. I’d love to see one last flash of glory for the player whose long, curly hair captured the hearts of so many hockey mom’s in the 90’s.

Aleksey Morozov (RUS) – One of the reasons why I think many Canadian hockey fans are underrating the Russian team is Aleksey Morozov. He didn’t quite pan out as the Pittsburgh Penguins had hoped, where his best season saw him score 50 points in 74 games. Still, since returning to play in Russia, his game has dramatically improved to a point where he’s the best player in the world not playing in the NHL and has been for some time. Last season in the KHL, he scored 32 goals and 74 points in 49 games. I know it’s only the KHL, but Russia’s captain is much better than most give him credit for. Hypothetically, I bet if he were to join the NHL next year, he would easily be the most sought-after player on the free agent market this summer.

Ryan Getzlaf (CAN) – The big focus for Canada over the past 72 hours has been if Ryan Getzlaf will be in or out of the Canadian lineup. Well, he’s definitely in – for now. He stepped up to answer questions about the strength of his injured ankle Sunday night by scoring 4 points and guiding Anaheim to victory in his final tune-up game before the Olympics. If he can stay healthy, he adds a much more physical and dynamic presence to Canada – far moreso than a player like Jeff Carter. He also makes teammate (and probable linemate) Corey Perry immediately more effective, which will be big on that 2nd line.

Tomas Vokoun (CZE) – Tomas Vokoun had a bit of a lackluster season last year with Florida and this year has been so-so at best. But make no mistake about it – Tomas Vokoun is a very good goalie. He lead the Czech’s to a gold medal in the 2005 World Championships and a bronze medal 4 years ago in Turin. Anybody scoffing at that should think back to how Canada did in that same tournament. He could steal a few games for the Czech’s and that definitely makes the Czech Republic a dark horse in this tournament.

Patrice Bergeron (CAN) – Many were surprised to see Bergeron included in the Summer evaluation camp, and even though his name was buzzed about during the season, many more were surprised when Patrice was actually named to the Canadian Olympic team. The reason he made this team is because he’s a very useful and versatile player. If you’re surprised to see him on the top line with Sidney Crosby, don’t be. Think back to the NHL lock out year where he and Crosby played on Canada’s top line at the WJC. In fact, it was Bergeron who lit up the score sheet and won the tournament MVP award. With Crosby and Nash as linemates, Bergeron looks set to pile up the points.

Jonas Hiller (SWI) – Everyone is on the same page when it comes to the Swiss team – they are a dangerous team but they aren’t true medal contenders. It would be the shock of the Games if they finished on the medal podium. But having said that, I think the Anaheim Ducks management team will be watching Switzerland closely to find out if they chose the right goalie for their future. This tournament will really expose Hiller and we’ll find out soon enough just how good he really is. This tournament could be a big breakout party for Hiller and like Ray Ferraro said on Tuesday, I wouldn’t want to face Switzerland in a quarterfinal elimination game.

Evgeni Nabokov (RUS) – Burgundy says Russia’s great up front, but not so good on the defense and goaltending positions. I disagree and it’s time for ‘Nabby’ to put his money where his mouth is. A strong performance in this tournament would do a lot to elevate San Jose’s playoff prospects, as well as his UFA status this summer. So clearly, the motivation is there. But the big thing with Nabokov is that he doesn’t need to necessarily steal games for Russia, he just needs to hold them in the game if Russia’s offense stalls. Think Grant Fuhr in Edmonton’s glory days.

Peter Forsberg (SWE) – We’re all getting a little sick of Peter Forsberg aren’t we? He’s probably the only person in history who’s staged more career comebacks than Brett Favre. We’re constantly hearing about his annual comeback attempt to the NHL yet, he’s still a player to watch because this is only a two week tournament. Anyone who can miss an entire NHL season, return in the playoffs and flat-out dominate the way he did in Colorado in 2001-2002 is worth keeping on eye on.

Here’s to a great tournament. Let the best team win and for the aforementioned players to make me look good!

Your Reporter in the Field,

Fantana

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Classy Olympic Predictions

February 16th, 2010

With the men’s Olympic hockey set to start in a number of hours, there’s no better time for us to roll out our tournament predictions. Especially when you consider that we’ve been talking about this tournament for about 2 full years. Below are each writers Gold, Silver and Bronze Medal predictions. Of course, we’d love to hear your thoughts (you know, if you agree with us or not), predictions and more. Folks, get ready for the greatest hockey tournament you’ve ever seen!

Burgundy’s Olympic Predictions
Gold- Canada; Canada might just have the most well rounded team in this tournament and they’ll need to be firing on all cylinders to defeat Sweden in the Gold Medal game. I believe Canada will move pucks better than any other team and their talent mixed with grit will put them over the edge. I predict Sidney Crosby to be the dominating force Canadians hope he’ll be.
Silver- Sweden; Team Sweden is one of the older teams in the tournament and I believe their experience (and Henrik Lundqvist) will get them through to the Gold Medal game. However, as smart and as well coached as the Sweden team is, I don’t think they’ll be able to keep up with the pace Canada will set in the Finals. Plus, for whatever reason, Crosby always scores a few goals on Lundqvist… yeah, you heard it here first!
Bronze- Russia; No one is giving Finland any love whatsoever, so I’m predicting the Fins meet Russia in the Bronze Medal game. Given the depth the Russians have, I believe they’ll win the Bronze medal by defeating Finland in a closer than expected game. I think the Russians won’t win their semi-final game because their defense and goaltending isn’t good enough. In fact, when you consider the talent they carry in forwards, their defense isn’t even comparable (aside from Markov). This will be the #1 thing that hurts Team Russia in 2010.

Fantana’s Olympic Predictions
Gold- Russia; There’s too much offense on this team to be able to contain it all. If you manage to shut down Ovechkin and Semin, players like Datsyuk and Kovalchuk will step up and lead the way. Their defense isn’t the best in the tournament but I think their goaltending is strong enough to bail the D out.
Silver- Canada; Canada is sending a great team to the Olympics this year and they will definitely make up for the disaster in Turino 4 years ago. Having said that, I don’t think they quite stack up against a strong Russian squad, though it will be close. 2nd place is no shame and I think this is where Canada, as a country, needs to learn that it’s no longer our game.
Bronze- Sweden; In the Bronze Medal game, I think you’ll see a great match with the U.S. and the Swedes going head to head. Both teams are lead by solid goaltending and exciting young players who are emerging as superstars around the world. In the end, I give the edge to Sweden because they’re a little bit older and a little bit more experienced on such a large stage.

Champ’s Olympic Predictions
Gold- Russia; What can we say, the Russians have more fire power than the US army. These guys will just come wave after wave with speed and all out talent and will embarass a good number of teams. This will be the year the Russians return to the top of hockey internationally.
Silver- Sweden; The Gold Medalists from 2006 return with a very strong team and will benefit from players currently playing well for their respective teams such as Daniel Alfredsson. Good goaltending and good defence will help this team do well throughout the tournament.
Bronze- USA; Team USA is going to surprise a lot of teams riding Ryan Miller throughout the tournament. I would be surprised if Tim Thomas or Jonathan Quick even see any action. Look for team USA to be a very fast team that many will under estimate.

Notes: What about Canada you ask? As I said I believe the “jinx” will unfortunately hit the men’s hockey team as well as I believe they will be “shocked” in the quarterfinals once again. My heart truly hopes this does not happen as Champ would love nothing more than to celebrate a gold medal like in ’02, but my gut tells me it will be for not. Let’s hope I’m very very wrong!

Baxter’s Olympic Predictions
Gold- Canada; All round best team. Motivation to win at home should be enough to be a difference maker. Watch for other forwards to capture the limelight as Crosby will be a marked man the entire tournament.
Silver- USA; Ryan Miller will steal games for the Americans. Offense is not much to write home about, but his stellar goaltending will be good for a few key games.
Bronze- Russia;  Surprise upset prediction. Goal scoring will be not an issue, but preventing goals against will be their challenge.

Stay classy, Olympic Hockey.

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If Canada doesn’t win Gold…

February 12th, 2010

First and foremost, I’m a proud Canadian. Secondly, I absolutely love the team Steve Yzerman and co. have put together for the Vancouver Olympics.

But one thing bothers me about Canada’s search for Olympic gold in Ice Hockey. I think many Canadians and media seem to both expect a Gold medal win and think anything less is a failure. Before going any further, someone will probably say “Well Burgundy, the Olympics are on home soil”. I guess. However, I doubt most people’s expectations would change if the 2010 Olympics were held anywhere else around the world.  Perhaps the pressure would reduce a bit, but not that much.

I want Canada to win. They have as good of a shot to win as any other team. But frankly, there’s at least 5 teams who could win this tournament. 5 teams, 3 medals. Obviously, that’s 2 very good team’s who won’t even get medals. And 2 other teams who don’t achieve the primary goal of Gold. (forgive the pun).

People seem to be saying all the right things with regards to the level of competition. Most admit the Russians are scary and people give Countries like Sweden and Finland benefit of doubt. Some Canadians actually think Team USA won’t be bad either (for the record, I don’t have them in my top 3, but I like their team a lot – they will surprise many). Despite this, I’m going to go out on a limb here and suggest many Canadians aren’t prepared for Canada to lose.

I think back to the 2010 World Junior Championships earlier this year. Team Canada played pretty well, but were beaten by an even better US team. These kids came back home with 2nd place medals in their pockets. They weren’t proud. Yes, losing is difficult, but that’s still a hell of a team. I truly believe Canada as a nation had difficultly accepting that loss to the US, as well as two losses to Russia at the World Championships in 2008 and 2009. And let’s not kid ourselves, that loss to the US won’t be the last at the World Junior level or at bigger stages like the World Championships or… the Olympics. No, I’m not saying US will be Canada for gold in Vancouver, but the day will come where other Nations (US, Russia, Sweden, etc…) will be better than Canada at hockey.

For too long, Canada has looked at hockey as “our sport”. In case you still think that, it’s not. Many other Countries around the world have gotten better at hockey, hockey development and understanding the game. For the sake of hockey, I think it’s great that the sport is growing. And the way Countries are pumping out young talented players only makes for better hockey for fans.

But for all Canadians, a few simple questions. If Canada doesn’t win Gold, can you handle it? Will you still celebrate a Silver/Bronze medal (if they win a Silver or Bronze)? You should. That’s a terrific achievement in what might be the toughest hockey tournament ever. It certainly shouldn’t be considered a failure. Will you call for Yzerman’s head and declare he should never assemble international hockey teams again? And finally, are you willing to accept that Canada’s absolute best may not be enough? (If that’s the case, we are in for some amazing hockey over the next few weeks).

It’s OK if Canada loses. As long as they play hard and represent our Country with passion. It’s a very real possibility – one I don’t think many are ready for.

Stay classy, Team Canada.

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Does Henrik Sedin’s breakout season make Sweden an Olympic gold medal threat?

January 25th, 2010

Watching the transformation of Henrik Sedin this season has been amazing. He’s always had an incredible chemistry with his brother Daniel but I never really saw Henrik as a true number 1 centre in the league. He had incredible talent, but I never really saw him as an incredible player. In fact, I always saw Henrik and Daniel as the best 2nd line in the NHL. Maybe that’s because I don’t watch the Canucks play as much as I should, and maybe it’s because I live in Toronto and there isn’t much Canuck coverage here. Or maybe they just seemed so comfortable in their role on the 2nd line back when the Bertuzzi-Naslund-Morrison line was ripping it up. Am I really getting that old? It’s hard to say.

Vancouver Canucks star Henrik Sedin leads the NHL in points this season, classy.

Vancouver Canucks star Henrik Sedin leads the NHL in points this season, classy.

Regardless, while I applauded Mike Gillis for resigning the Sedins to reasonable contracts this past summer (cap hit of $6.1M over 5 years, each), the lingering thought in my mind was that they would have to really earn that money now. Those new contracts meant first and foremost, that the Sedins had now absolutely become Vancouver’s top line. And they have definitely stepped up, especially Henrik.

Henrik currently leads the NHL with 74 points in only 51 games, including 23 goals. Assuming he stays healthy, that puts him on pace to score 36 goals and 118 points, both of which would be career highs. In fact, Hank has already achieved a career high in goals this season – as the 22 goals he scored last season was his best previous tally. You can attribute his goal scoring explosion this season, in part, to the fact that he’s simply shot the puck more. He’s taken 105 shots this season compared to 143 in all of last season. I think he’s also played a much stronger defensive game, which has made him a tougher player to shut down and play against. He’s +23 this year, which is a currently a career best as well. Finally, he’s done a lot of this while Vancouver have battled two significant injuries: Roberto Luongo was out for a couple weeks and brother Daniel missed 18 games – at the same time. Henrik’s emergence as one of the top players in the league has come from the simple fact that he’s become the go-to player for the Canucks and that’s kept them in a tight battle with Calgary and Colorado for the division lead. There’s a quiet argument out there that Hank should be a serious contender for the Hart Trophy this year and it’s an argument that’s quickly gaining momentum. At the very least, Henrik Sedin has been one of the best and most consistent players in the NHL this season.

All of this leads me to one question – Does Henrik’s emergence as one of the NHL’s best players make Sweden a real threat to win gold in Vancouver next month? I’ve believed all along that the fight for the gold medal will be a three-horse race between Canada, Russia and a dark horse American team. But like most, I hadn’t really considered Sweden a real threat, despite the fact that they took gold 4 years ago in Turin. To me, the thing that’s always separated the Canadians, Russians and Americans from the rest of the pack was the fact that they all have two, maybe even three lines capable of being their number 1 line. Their depth of high-end talent up front seemed to be too much for the teams from the Czech Republic, Finland and even Sweden.

Yet, when you look down at Sweden’s roster, their top 3 lines look like this:

Daniel Sedin –  Henrik Sedin –  Henrik Zetterberg

Daniel Alfredsson – Nicklas Backstrom – Loui Eriksson

Patric Hornqvist – Peter Forsberg – Tomas Holmstrom

That’s a pretty strong top 9 and I think they’ll be a very good team. I think they’ll be a much stronger and tougher team to play against than most people think. I wouldn’t be surprised to see them earn a position on the medal podium. They’ve got strong goaltending and pretty solid defense, so it could happen. And when you’ve got an emerging world-class player like Henrik Sedin riding a major hot streak, it could definitely happen.

Your Reporter in the Field,

Fantana

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