Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Lockout Update September 27-October 3

The opening night game between Montreal and Ottawa is probably all but a forgotten idea now; the two sides in this increasingly bitter dispute have not officially spoken directly since the early part of the week of September 13th. With no progress attempted and thus no progress expected, we’ll continue our listing of Lockout oriented material. Warnings of doom and expressions of sorrow, is all we're left with as the two sides sit back and wait for the other to blink!

27-Sep-04 Give us our game back!
27-Sep-04 The fans in the Hockey Heartland speak out
27-Sep-04 Junior Hockey benefits huge from lockout
28-Sep-04 "You have NO fans left"
28-Sep-04 To Russia with pads
28-Sep-04 Fans making plans
28-Sep-04 Terrible Ted sees no solution in the short term
28-Sep-04 Media money going to other places
28-Sep-04 Scrambling to cover some bets
28-Sep-04 Some Historical reading for Gary and Bob
29-Sep-04 Fed up fans to make a stand
29-Sep-04 October is cancelled!
29-Sep-04 Gag them with an order
29-Sep-04 Taking a byte out of the lockout
29-Sep-04 Naslund moves against salary caps and luxury taxes
30-sep-04 On ice alternatives looking shaky
30-Sep-04 World Stars bound for London town
1-Oct-04 Pittsburgh tallies up the cost of no hockey
1-Oct-04 The TSN solution
1-Oct-04 Little brother loads up
3-Oct-04 Starting a New NHL full of problems

Saturday, September 25, 2004

Two reasons the NHL had best get busy solving their problem

This is a rather simple post, in fact it won't consist of much more than this introduction and two links. Click on the two newspaper links appearing below and decide for yourself how much damage is being done to the league's profile in the two Large NHL markets!

New York, New York

Boston, Mass.

The absence of comment in any form, speaks volumes for Mr. Bettman. One wonders if anyone is paying attention at the Head office?

Friday, September 24, 2004

OSHL not a panacea for the hockey fan!

It would seem that the hockey fans of Southern Ontario are voting with their feet regarding the fledgling Original stars Hockey League. After a debut last week in Barrie with a rather large crowd of lookey loos, the league has seen attendance tumble drastically. A situation that seemingly has led to a cancellation of a number of “pre-season games” (aren’t all these games pre-season??) and rumblings that the league may not last until its October regular season debut.

The league attracted some interest at the early stages but with ticket prices as high as 60 dollars the value of the product has gone wanting. While a few well known names have put their talents to use with the circuit, for the most part it’s still a collection of rather average players apparently out for a skate.

With no hitting involved and the rather frantic offensive display at hand the true hockey fan will quickly take a pass on this version of glorified shinny. There are many options for the hockey fan to take in if they need a fix, the Junior leagues across Canada, the always overlooked but very competitive Canadian University scene and even minor hockey in your own hometown. To pay sixty bucks to sit in a rink and watch some public skating seems to be something out of the books of P. T. Barnum.

The concept was interesting at the start, but once the product took to the ice it really didn’t seem to resemble hockey as most of us know and love it. While most would gladly do without some of the goonery that has infected the pro game of late, there is still a great admiration for a solid check, keeping a player honest in the slot and taking the body at the blue line. None of which is going to happen in an OSHL match.

Jes Golbez offers up some useful suggestions in a well done piece on his website. Suggesting some points for the OSHL to consider, fixing up its product and getting back on track. And while they’re rather helpful, for me, the prospect of watching NHL “stars” going through the motions at inflated ticket prices would prove to be a losing situation for the players, even if they’re donating “some” of the money to charity.

If I were Bob Goodenow I might suggest to the membership to take a pass on the fledgling circuit. It’s bad enough for the union that the public is starting to buy the owner’s line that the players are overpaid, a few weeks of no contact rec hockey at 60 bucks a pop won’t help the argument that they’re greedy as well.

While potentially a nice idea harkening back to the days of pond hockey, the reality is that the OSHL has all the indications of a pure cash grab. Better to go watch some honest hard hitting hockey at your local University or check out a Junior A game, they play a fast paced, hard hitting brand of hockey that is available for viewing for much less than the OSHL road show. If you like hockey as it should be played, that would be the better investment for the family entertainment funds.

Goodenow gets an earful!

Well it’s always hard to follow up the main event and for Bob Goodenow, following Gary Bettman proved to be a hard row to hoe. Bettman handled his time in the CBC bear pit quite nicely on Tuesday, exhibiting a sense of humour and a smidgeon of humility for the first time in memory. He handled his audience participation sessions well and for the most part presented the League’s point of view quite well. With his performance receiving a few kudo’s from fans and median the bar was set rather high for the NHLPA’s chief spokesman. On Wednesday night, Goodenow enjoyed the same format as the Bettman experience, but found the audience to be a tad snarly and the video taped portions to be less than enthusiastic for his position.

For the most part the consensus seemed to be that the players were being greedy, unwilling to play for a million dollars when they could get another 3 or 400,000 in the old days. Goodenow probably can report back that at the moment, the public is buying the league’s argument that change must take place. Whether that’s an accurate decision or not is to be determined, but for the moment if we we’re going to assign hats to this showdown, Goodenow would be the hombres in the black one.

Peter Mansbridge once again did his honest broker thing, urging Goodenow to pick up a phone and contact Bettman to get things rolling again. It was a suggestion that Goodenow gently deflected back into Petey’s domain. The labour leader looked a tad uncomfortable as countless young folks from minor hockey teams would pop up on video and wonder why they couldn’t watch hockey anymore and instead will be left with rehashed Hollywood movies. No doubt they never covered nine year olds and their wants in Labour 101.

With fan after fan doing their own math, the numbers kept coming up that the average hockey player makes more money than the average fan and with that the sympathy card quickly disappeared. For Goodenow it’s a loser’s game, his players make good money playing a game that most Canadians would kill to have a chance to play. Considering the insanity of previous contracts where relatively average players were given huge salaries, the idea of holding out seems lost on most. The best Goodenow could offer up on Wednesday was that the owners strategy of a lockout was a misguided one, a reply that while admirable didn't win over too many viewers.

Sure the owners were the authors of their own misfortune with their profligate ways, but when the chickens come home to roost, the fans don’t seem to care who has to bend, as long as somebody does and fast. In this case the assembled group on Wednesday seemed to suggest that the players need to take the pain, it they wish to keep playing.

When he reports back to the membership he’s going to have to tell them, this is one labour dispute where they’ll be on their own. The public may not necessarily come down on the side of the owners, but they’re finding a fair amount of fault with the player’s position. And no amount of Public Relations is seemingly going to change that perception.

With the screen fading to black the CBC completed it's in depth coverage of the early stages of the dispute. Calling in at times the thoughts of Martin O'Malley and Rex Murphy to re-inforce for us love of hockey and our frustration at it's current state. Sadly with two sides so far apart, there will be lots of time for CBC News to put together many more reports about our game.

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Team Bettman takes an early lead

Bob Goodenow is going to need to take the offence, in the first period it was a solid performance by Team Bettman, as the NHL Commissioner laid out his league’s position on the current labour impasse. As part of the CBC’s National news, Gary Bettman sat down with chief correspondent Peter Mansbridge for a once over regarding the NHL lockout. For those that missed the show, the CBC has a streaming video version of it.

Bettman took the shots from Peter Mansbridge, the crushing body checks from an in house audience and wasn’t caught with his head down, on the set up video pieces. For the most part the Commissioner handled all that was thrown at him rather well. Speaking on behalf of the owners, he once again said he didn’t begrudge the players the money they have made in the past, but said that the current financial situation dictates that a change must be made and this was the time to make it.

There were many calls for him to “contract” the league, letting the poorer sisters fall by the wayside, but he took care of that well by suggesting that what if one of the Canadian cities were one of the struggling teams, should the NHL cut them adrift? Pointing to Ottawa’s near death experience of a year ago, he suggested that once the NHL’s financial picture was on more solid ground then the chances of any franchise having to be eliminated or moved would be slim. He even held out the carrot of somewhere down the line a return to such hockey hotbeds as Winnipeg.

And while he may have been just boosting the spirits of River city, it none the less did help hit home the point he was trying to make. With salaries taking up 76% of revenues, there really would be no hope for the game in places such as Winnipeg and Quebec City, should the league get that percentage down to around 60% then perhaps it’s feasible for hockey in the smaller markets.

For fifty minutes he answered the questions, he didn’t say anything new, but did manage to at least keep his message on track and in the public’s mind. More importantly he came across as calm, measured and knowledgeable, not nearly as edgy and combative as he has in past sessions with Ron McLean.

Try as he might, Peter Mansbridge however could not get Bettman to commit to a meeting any time soon with the NHLPA, Bettman claiming that until the union is ready to address real change, then a meeting probably wasn’t on. Leaving the CBC anchor to try and work his mediation skills on Bob Goodenow on Wednesday night.

The puck is now in Goodenow’s end of the ice and it will be interesting to see how he can answer the blue print put forward by the Commissioner. Having said that a salary cap is not on their radar, the question remains how the players will win if the league is intent on enforcing one. Most hockey fans can understand the idea of wanting to make more money, but when the actual job itself is at stake they might wonder about the wisdom of the fight at hand. Once you start dealing in millions of dollars the average hockey fan can't relate, owners, players it doesn't matter who gets the lions share, they just want the game back on the ice and back soon. With a billion dollar industry at stake, one would think the parties at hand could find a way to ensure that everyone wins in some capacity!

No doubt Peter and the studio audience will get to the bottom of all of this for us. But heading into the action Wednesday, it’s definitely an advantage to the Bettman forces. The Goodenow gang will have to bring their A game to the table Wednesday as they battle for the hearts and minds of the Canadian hockey fan.

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

Training Camp Opens!

For those already suffering Hockey withdrawal the CBC offers up a little diversion for the winter. Starting tonight the “docu-drama” (also known as a reality series for the less highbrow CBC viewers) Making the Cut debuts tonight with a two hour opener, at 8 pm local time on your CBC affiliate across the land, 8:30 in Newfoundland as Bob Cole would say!

Scotty Bowman and Mike Keenan have their whistles at the ready, the drills set up and their cutting remarks prepared just waiting for the fresh legs to hit the ice. For the next thirteen weeks we’ll follow a band of wanna be’s trying to work their way towards an invitation to an NHL training camp (whenever that may take place again).

When the CBC first came up with the idea it was thought it would make for a nice little story tied in with the NHL season. Now it may actually be the season. It might make for an interesting bargaining chip should negotiations between the players and the league remain in the deep freeze.

Should these guys actually show some talent, maybe the CBC can put together a league of guys that made the cut! Find enough guys to fill out six teams (the Canadian cities!) and we can call it the Original Six! With six hours of Hockey Night in Canada time to fill on Saturdays, who’s to say that expanding on this idea might not work. Really if Survivor and its like can reach the top of the ratings, who doesn’t think that a hockey starved public won’t follow suit.

An even more radical idea might be to challenge for the Stanley Cup, since it was originally designed as a challenge trophy" it just might be available after the thirteen week run.

Move the final players from the cold neighbourhood rinks of their past and into our temples of hockey across the land. If they make it, maybe we just might come!

Spin Cycle

The CBC (with no doubt more than a casual and fiduciary interest in the situation) weighs into the NHL lockout debate Tuesday night as they begin the first of two nights dedicated to exploring how the national sport got sidetracked before the season even began.

CBC news heavyweight Peter Mansbridge will host two CBC news specials on the situation at 9 pm EST (6 pm PST) on Newsworld and following the National at 10 across the country. Night number one features NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman who will present the league’s case for cost certainty and explain why the league felt that a lock out was required at this time. In addition to commenting on questions from Mansbridge, Bettman will also face a studio audience which will be allowed to ask questions of him as well.

With the league getting air time Tuesday, the players association will take over the dais on Wednesday night, when Bob Goodenow drops in to make the case for the players association. A similar set up will take place on Wednesday; a studio audience will be encouraged to ask the probing questions that so far haven’t been addressed.

Whether we learn anything from the two nights of bafflegab and number crunching remains to be seen. The fact that the two main players in the debate will appear on separate nights probably speaks volumes. Content to make their cases through the media, the concept of sitting down and negotiating with each other seems to be a distant memory.

Instead we get spin and more spin. In the end it may be that the side with the best Public relations position will come out with the public backing its position. Hockey fans had best prepare to have their emotions put through the wringer, brush up on your math skills, grab a few labour law guidebooks and bone up on negotiating 101. At a time when we normally would be consulting the various pre-season draft books about potential line mates and predicted goals and assists, we instead find ourselves learning about the likes of cost certainty and CBA language.

By the time this issue is settled (if it ever is), we’ll be more likely to be called Policy wonks over hockey Nuts, more knowledgeable in deferred taxable income than in scoring leaders and power play conversions. It all makes one wonder if we’ll ever return to the days of the “love of the game”, instead of living in the era of the “art of the deal”.

Monday, September 20, 2004

September Lockout Update Sept 20-26

The stories are starting to dwindle as the reality sets in that there will be no NHL for the near future, or even for the longer term. However, there is the odd story that pops up from time to time of interest to the HockeyNation and here are the ones for the week starting September 20th.

20-Sep-04 Three contracts that killed a league?
20-Sep-04 Bettman and Goodenow to the bear pit
20-Sep-04 Gamblers and Governments big losers in the lockout
20-Sep-04 But would Jarome pull a loading dock shift?
20-Sep-04 Arena dates are now available
20-Sep-04 Travelling down a Dead end road
20-Sep-04 Rent is still Rent!
20-Sep-04 Remembering the Halcyon Days
21-Sep-04 Putting the pressure on Wayne and Mario!
21-Sep-04 Maple Leafs could end up the big losers
21-Sep-04 Show us the numbers
21-Sep-04 An NHLers European vacation
21-Sep-04 Bettman sets the scene
21-Sep-04 Sinden says owners are united
21-Sep-04 Scott Stevens seven million dollar clearance
22-Sep-04 The lines in the ice
22-Sep-04 Karmanos saving money
22-Sep-04 Former Sens owner thinks back to 94
22-Sep-04 Professor Bowman has no answers
22-Sep-04 Battlin' Bob offers little hope
22-Sep-04 Predator numbers put team in peril
22-Sep-04 Former Canuck owner airs out all grievances
23-Sep-04 But who gets the kids?
23-Sep-04 Goodenow gets an earful
23-Sep-04 Killer keeps his own counsel
23-Sep-04 Daly and Saskin shoot the breeze
23-Sep-04 Desperately looking for a second opinion
23-Sep-04 Careful what you say!
23-Sep-04 A misguided approach!
24-Sep-04 Grapes in the players corner
24-Sep-04 The Kirea solution
24-Sep-04 Thinking out loud
24-Sep-04 Not in the fans interest?
24-Sep-04 Saving an Olympic dream!
24-Sep-04 Making sense of cost certainty
25-Sep-04 An ode to hockey via Stompin' Tom's classic
25-Sep-04 Mr. Melnyk holds the line and keeps his wallet closed
25-Sep-04 Heroes and stiffs
26-Sep-04 Old Money deals, they are the real problem
26-Sep-04 Will lockout result in Changes?

Friday, September 17, 2004

A much noticed absence explained (finally)

The recently completed World Cup of Hockey featured some bad hockey and some great hockey, some incredible performances and some going through the motions exhibitions. But the one thing it didn’t feature was Donald S. Cherry.

Night after night, Ron McLean would sit on the set with Brian Burke and Kelly Hrudey by his side, no mention made of Cherry, and no explanation why the national icon would miss out on this much anticipated tournament. More importantly why he would miss out on the last bit of televised hockey for who knows how long.

And why was Grapes missing, well, it turns out he wasn’t invited! The folks at the CBC decided to treat the World Cup quite differently from the regular Hockey Night in Canada broadcast. No Coach’s corner, No Satellite Hot Stove. And so Cherry was left to watch the series alone at his home, he, his dog and a few pops. The first time in 24 years that Cherry has missed attending a pivotal moment in Canadian hockey.

Cherry appeared on Toronto’s Fan 590 radio on Wednesday, finally breaking his silence to explain why he was left off the broadcast team and it doesn’t appear that he was overly happy with the decision. No reason other than trying something new was ever given, but one wonders that if the CBC worried about recent statements by Liza Frullo, the Heritage Minister. The minister issued a public warning that she would be keeping her eye on Mr. Cherry, perhaps that much pressure from the money train spooked the executives just a little bit. With so many “foreign” players in a line up each night, perhaps the CBC had horrific visions of political incorrectness running amok on a nightly basis.

Ron McLean made a carefully worded reproach to the CBC management at the end of the tournament, when he pulled out a Dr. Seuss style hat and stated that Hockey Night wasn’t the same with Cherry. For many that may have been the first indication that something had gone amiss at the Hockey Night in Canada family.

With Hockey finished for the foreseeable future we may have seen the last of Donald S. Cherry. If so; this was no way for a warrior to leave the scene. He always attracted his share of controversy, with reaction split between those that detested his every word and those that would hang on each one. Beyond that debate though, one thing was certain, when Cherry was on the television the ratings went up.

His coach’s corner feature attracted huge audiences for the CBC, bringing much revenue to the coffers of the television network. As the suits cash their paycheques at the Mother Corporation every two weeks, they should keep in mind a lot of their payroll came out of the mouth of Don Cherry. Not to mention the public outcry the last time they tried to censure him.

There has always been a debate within the CBC about whether they should even have hockey, let alone taint it with it the likes of Cherry on the publicly funded, overly politically correct network. With hockey and Cherry gone from the scene they are going to find that their revenues are about to take a sizeable drop.

The voice that courted controversy from time to time, put an awful lot of money into the programming pool at the CBC over the years. The folks that called for his expulsion over the years, may find that they miss both hockey and Cherry more than they may have ever imagined.

Thursday, September 16, 2004

Gary Bettman's MP3 player

Like Dan Rather at CBS, we too have a scoop, the Top secret play list on Gary Bettman's MP3 player, used to pump himself up for Wednesday’s press conference.

Bruce Springsteen’s - Glory Days
Sarah McLauchlan – Sweet Surrender
Led Zeppelin – Communication breakdown
Pink Floyd’s – Money
Allan Jackson – Who says you can’t have it all
Rolling Stones – I Can’t get no Satisfaction
Jackson Browne - Running on Empty
Fleetwood Mac’s- Don’t Stop
Billy Idol’s - Rebel Yell (especially the part that goes More, more, more)
Snoop Dog – Da Bo$$ would like to see you
U2- Still haven’t found what I’m looking for
Beatles – Get Back
The Who- Won’t get fooled again
AC/DC – Highway to Hell
Tom Petty – Don’t come around here no more

Like Dan, if we’re wrong we’d like to be the first to break that story!

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

A most unwanted day finally arrives

Perhaps it’s fitting that the image projected by Gary Bettman today was that of an undertaker. Bettman who always gives one the impression of being the guy at the funeral home handing out the programs; lay to rest the hopes and dreams of hockey fans across Canada and some parts of the USA today.

At 2:30 pm New York time, he put on his most serious face, intoned in a sorrowful tone that it was his “sombre duty to report that NHL teams will not play at the expiration of the CBA until we have a new system which fixes the economic problems facing our game,"

And with that, he opened up the floor to questions and spent over an hour basically blaming the players and their spiritual leader Bob Goodenow for all that ails the sport today. Claiming that the union is in denial, Bettman rehashed the various arguments made of late about massive club losses, while salaries have skyrocketed out of sight.

Basically drawing a line in the ice, Bettman said the league would effectively be closed down until the owners have a system in place that will fix the problems with their game.

The announcement was covered by all three sports networks in Canada as well as the CBC Newsworld and CTV Newsnet news channels. All of the sports networks featured a panel to examine the announcement, suggesting that the declaration meant that hockey fans in North America will be without the NHL for quite a while. And when it comes back it may not resemble the game we remembered last spring and celebrated Tuesday night.

Bob Goodenow followed the Bettman performance with his own announcement, expressing disappointment at the turn of events, and blaming intransigent owners for all the problems. Claiming the union has made many proposals that should have avoided the scenario played out on Wednesday.

With these two sides so far apart, one tends to believe those who feel this is going to be a long, nasty and eventually bitter disruption, with no winners and losers all around. If the feedback from day one of the dispute is any indication, so far its advantage Bettman, Canadian fans siding with the League's position in a poll taken by Ipsos-Reid. As long as the League feels the public understands its stand, don't expect them to back down, or give in on their main point of cost certainty.

As the two sides hurled themselves towards today’s version of Hockey Armageddon, there have been numerous articles pointing out just how much peril the game has been in over the last few years.

Kevin Paul Dupont of the Boston Globe has put together a story on how the game in the US won’t be “fixed” until the CBA issue is taken care of. Considered a peripheral sport in all but the most rabid American hockey cities, Dupont suggests that with the number of distractions for the American hockey fan such as the NFL season and the baseball playoffs, many Americans may not even notice that hockey is missing until a two week window in February. Give up any thoughts of public pressure becoming a force to get these two sides back to the table.

The Christian Science Monitor examines the financial implications of the labour dispute, but not how it affects the teams or the players. Rather The Monitor looks at how the bar owners, hotel keepers and television networks will suffer with hockey banished for the foreseeable future.

Adrian Dater of the Denver Post compares the two sides to Rush Limbaugh and James Carville in a room together, magnifying their bluster and bravado by tenfold. That says Dater is the atmosphere in which the NHL and the NHLPA approach the labour issue. And he’s probably not too far off the mark, the last week prior to this black day has been filled with vitriolic rhetoric, basically setting up entrenched positions from which there apparently is now no middle ground.

Newsday from New York wraps up our little tour of bad news, featuring Alan Hahn with a well researched article on the ailments of the NHL. Hahn traces the troubled television deals of Fox, ABC and ESPN in the US, the expansion program put forward by Gary Bettman that brought the NHL to the likes of Nashville, Atlanta and Anaheim, as well as allowing relocation to Carolina. Those are all areas now where the teams are suffering terribly at the gate and in the case of Nashville, Atlanta and Anaheim the owners are desperately trying to unload their teams. It paints a picture of a league in a terrible amount of trouble, much of it self inflicted. With a situation in place now, where they have nothing to lose by keeping the league’s thirty rinks dark, the prospect of a quick resolution to this mess is slim.

Watch the TV replays of today’s announcement, Mr. Bettman’s words and body language certainly seemed funeral like. All that was missing was the soft organ music playing underneath, the quiet crowd gathered murmuring in respect. We all have nice things to say about the recently departed.

“It was such a nice game, always so much fun to be around. It passed on far too soon. It’s so sad that nobody could step in before it was too late.”

And then the undertaker leaves the room, a sense of finality settles in, for a game that may have changed forever today.


HockeyNation fans if you're just a little frustrated at today's developments, here's your chance to vent.

Whether you think Gary Bettman is Satan (and we're not talking Miroslav here) in a suit, or Bob Goodenow is the re-incarnation of Marx and Lenin combined, we offer you this chance to voice your opinion on the state of hockey today.

Come sit on our couch and post a word or two, or more in the comments section, you will feel much better afterwards.

As they say confession is good for the soul!

September Lockout update

Well HockeyNation certainly hopes that this will be a short lived feature, but with the NHL locking out its players there will be lots of material to process. This will be our archive for all things Lockout, the latest from the League, the Players Association and maybe even the much fogotten fans.

15-Sep-04 The official word
15-Sep-04 Mr. Bettman shuts it down
15-sep-04 The puck stops here
15-Sep-04 Dueling press releases
15-Sep-04 The players make their plans
15-Sep-04 What's on the tube tonight?
15-Sep-04 Some teams won't survive
15-Sep-04 Selanne warns of a long disruption
15-Sep-04 Expect the worst
15-Sep-04 A line in the ice
15-Sep-04 The Colorado story, a payroll to kill a league for?
15-Sep-04 The fans are the biggest losers
15-Sep-04 Advantage Bettman?
16-Sep-04 Joe Sakic reflects on the impasse and who is to blame
16-Sep-04 Pointing the finger of blame at the owners
16-Sep-04 Enough scorn to go around
16-Sep-04 Both sides are pathetic and disgusting
16-Sep-04 A reality check for the players
16-Sep-04 Truly a great game, in order to survive those that run it
16-Sep-04 Playing chicken!
16-Sep-04 Gambling with nothing to lose
16-Sep-04 Why be held hostage by millionaires and billionaires?
16-Sep-04 Hockey Night in Canada lays off 50 workers
16-Sep-04 Casualties of a Labour War
16-Sep-04 A fight to the finish!
16-Sep-04 Two minutes, months, years for instigating!
16-Sep-04 Digging in for the long haul
16-Sep-04 They feel our pain
16-Sep-04 Until the cap comes off, the table sits empty
16-Sep-04 Droppin' the gloves
16-Sep-04 When millionaires squabble
16-Sep-04 The view from the farm
16-Sep-04 Putting the game on ice
16-Sep-04 The last we've seen of Yzerman?
16-Sep-04 Go Home!
17-Sep-04 Iron Mike speaks out
17-Sep-04 Manning the phones in Cowtown
17-Sep-04 41 dates now open at the Corel Centre
17-Sep-04 Sens to lose 7-10 mil with a lockout, 12-16 mil without it
17-Sep-04 Checking the Moose schedule in Winnipeg
17-Sep-04 NHLers planning European vacation
17-Sep-04 Solidarity Forever? Madden speaks his mind
17-Sep-04 Ooops, what I meant to say! Madden clarifies his words
17-Sep-04 Fiscal sanity according to Fergie
18-Sep-04 Union keeping track of playing time
18-sep-04 Some players still getting paycheques!
18-sep-04 Winners and Losers of the first week
18-sep-04 Joe Fan bears the brunt
18-Sep-04 Hockey Night in Barrie
18-Sep-04 Filling the void
19-Sep-04 Where will it all lead?
19-Sep-04 Hockey Isn't over, just the NHL!
19-sep-04 Forsberg to stay in Sweden regardless of how it ends

Game Off!

The much expected suspension of the NHL season took place today, as Gary Bettman took to the microphones at 2:30 New York time and announced the league was locking out the leagues players.

Claiming it was his sombre duty to do so, Bettman said that the league will not resume play until they have a CBA in place that makes sense to the leagues owner.

And so shall become our fall, winter and maybe even spring of discontent.

The announcement today, certainly didn't come as a surprise, but none the less did add a certain finality to the long winding battle over a new contract.

The decision comes less than 24 hours after hockey fans across Canada celebrated victory in the World Cup. Now like that often viewed downhill skier on the old Wide World of Sport, Hockey fans have experienced the "thrill of victory and the agony of defeat", it seems pretty apparent that the bitterness of the defeat, is going to last a lot longer than the sweet taste of the victory!

Brian Burke's plan of action

The CBC put Brian Burke to work yesterday as an arbitrator, giving him the task of providing a blue print for the owners and players to consider before they lock the doors later today.

It consists of 15 different points, dealing with length of a contract, money issues and joint respect. Having been involved in both sides of the NHL dynamic, as a player agent and a GM/President, Burke probably has as much knowledge on the issues facing the league as any talking head or fast writing scribbler/blogger.

His call for a 72 game season would certainly come as welcome relief to players and fans, since the current schedule set up drags the season on far too long. This makes for many nights of meaningless, going through the motions hockey. Of course the owners are probably not too thrilled with losing out on six or so home dates, especially in a gate driven league. But at least it’s a starting point for discussion.

But judging by the “negotiating” session the network organized last night that’s a lost cause for now. The two participants. Ted Saskin for the union and Bill Daly for the owners, were seen on different screens, kind of like a satellite hot stove set up, the only problem was they were both in the same hockey rink at the same time. If things have come to the point that the two sides won’t even talk to each other face to face, then Hockey fans we’re in for a lengthy shut down.

For those that missed out on the second intermission of last night’s hockey game, here’s the Burke proposal. Take your time crunching the numbers, with an expected lock out announcement at 2:30 PM (est) 11:30 AM (pst) this afternoon, time is all we have now, time is all we have.

Is there a Canuck sale in the works?

The timing is interesting for Gary Bettman, what with his argument that his franchises are in trouble, losing value every day. Through the last few months we’ve been treated to horror stories of franchises teetering on the abyss, their value dropping due to the runaway costs of running an NHL franchise. Without cost certainty the story has gone, franchises may very well be in danger.

So if this Armageddon like scenario was true, how should we read the potential sale of the Vancouver Canucks rumored to be very close to being completed. 250 million dollars has apparently been offered up by a group of British Columbia businessmen, who presently are going through their due diligence over the purchase of the Vancouver Canucks.

The potential sale was the talk of Vancouver on Tuesday, as word broke with a Gary Mason story in the Vancouver Sun that the deal was all but done. In fact an agreement in principle may already be in place as Tom Gaglardi and Ryan Beedie prepare to dot their i’s and cross their t’s and hand over the super sized cheque to Seattle billionaire John McCaw. After that, the hotel and restaurant tycoon and the property manager will have the keys to GM place as well as the responsibility of keeping the Canucks on track for a Stanley Cup, should there actually ever be NHL hockey again.

Mason appeared on the Bill Good show on CKNW (Tuesday audio vault 8:30a-9:00a) to discuss what he knew about the possible sale and how it may impact on the NHL team in Vancouver. Over at Mojo radio the new radio program hosted by Arthur Griffiths tackled the story as well, Griffith’s of course would have a good bit of background to add on the sale, having been the owner that sold the team to John McCaw in the first place. His take was that if the franchise is going to sell for what it was purchased for 1o years ago, then yes indeed, it highlights the state of the NHL today.

Bettman who has more important matters on his plate at the moment, had no opinion on the potential sale. The perception of struggling franchises close to disaster is hard to sell, when your one of your partners is pocketing 250 million dollars. But then again, that is basically the same price tag as ten years ago. Which probably does help the Bettman cause, not many investments return no increase in value over ten years especially investments that regularly had full attendance as the Canucks did last year.

Regardless, for Canuck fans it would be a big day to see the team return to local ownership. While McCaw has been a pretty solid owner, springing for some big contracts whenever asked to by former GM Brian Burke, the perception has been there for a while now that he’s an absentee landlord and not focused on the hockey team.

The animosity towards McCaw and his right hand man Stan McCammon reached a fever pitch this spring, when Brian Burke was terminated by the Canucks. Burke a popular personality around British Columbia received a groundswell of support from the public after his ouster. With the team about to be sold, it seems he may be brought back into the fold. According to some followers of the hockey scene in Vancouver, the new ownership group is considering making an offer to Burke to return to run the day to day operations of the team.

If the sale goes through, it would be a move that would certainly start the new owners off on the right foot with the Canuck fans. While warnings have been issued that the current stalemate between the league and its players may kill the deal, optimism abounds in Vancouver over the ownership issue of the team.

The Canucks may be the only NHL team with good news over the next little while, a positive development in an otherwise very negative situation.

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Shane Doan's Finn-ishing Touch

After 52 seconds of Tuesday night’s Championship game at the World Cup of Hockey it looked like any Finn who had stayed up late to watch the game could go back to bed. The same could be said for those early rising Finns, who pulled themselves out of bed at 1 am Helsinki time, hoping to start their day with a World Championship performance from their side.

For at the Fifty two second mark, it appeared that Canada had come to the rink determined to run their Finnish guests right out through the end boards. Mario Lemieux put an eye of the needle type of pass onto the stick of Joe Sakic, who quickly deposited the puck behind Miika Kiprusoff, the goal counting as Sakic’s fourth goal of the series, this one on the first shot of the Championship game.

However, loyalty should be rewarded and for all those Finnish hockey fans who put on the coffee on and stayed up, their heroes came right back and put some pressure on the Canadians. Echoing shades of the game against the Czech Republic, the Finns kept the play hopping in the Canadian end. Martin Brodeur, back in the Canadian nets, held the fort for Canada, while Canada got their attack back into motion. In the first part of this game the Lemieux, Sakic and Iginla line were on fire, wheeling down the ice setting up chances and keeping the Finns occupied in their end. At the five minute mark Kiprusoff saved his team with a point blank save on Mario Lemieux, if that had gone in, perhaps a rout would be on; instead the second chance sent the Finns back down the ice more determined than ever.

With Canada in trouble in their own end, a collision at the blue line left the Finns with a man uncovered in front of Brodeur, a double tip at seven minutes gave Riku Hahl the first Finnish goal and tied the game up, silencing the robust Canadian crowd temporarily.

Using an effective fore-check and a frustrating dump and trap the Finns kept the pressure up as the period wound down, both teams heading for the dressing rooms tied at one. They may have been rattled after the first minute, but they were a rather confident looking lot by the final one of the first period.

Three and half minutes into the second period Kiprusoff let in a rather questionable goal on a long shot by Scott Niedermayer, with the lead the crowd was back in the game and the Canadian bench was a bit more animated. But once again, the Finns battled back as Tuomo Ruutu scored on a beauty of a chance with less than a minute left in the period, once again sending the teams back to the dressing room, this time tied a two and giving the Finns a bit of momentum to face period three.

But momentum was broken with a shot by Shane Doan at thirty four seconds of the third, Doan knocked in a pass from Joe Thornton for what would eventually become the winning goal. From then on, with a 3-2 lead, the Canadians shut down the Finn attack, the Doan, Thornton and Draper line checking the Finns into the boards, knocking them back into their own end time and time again. The Lemieux line as well did its part in a defensive scheme, fore checking the Finns heavily not giving them a chance to really challenge the defence at the Canadian blue line, let alone get near Martin Brodeur. When they did manage to get into the Canadian end, Brodeur was there to close the door. As the game wound down the crowd began the countdown at around two minutes rising to their feet and cheering the victory on home, the added enthusiasm seemed to spur on the Canadians who bottled up the Finns in their own end for the final two minutes of the game.

With the win Canada continues it’s domination in International hockey, a 2002 gold medal from the Olympics, two world championships and now a World Cup to put on the national mantle, a sign that all is well in Canadian hockey.

However, we should take note of the upcoming charge, the Czechs and Finns have shown us that they’re right up there with us now, the Americans will retool, the Russians are young and starting to come on as well, Sweden while a disappointment in this tourney will once again find its way to the top of world hockey. For now we enjoy our victory, celebrating a team that didn’t lose a game in this tournament and won when it had to.

And while we keep an eye on the folks coming up the list, we can take some comfort in the young talent in our talent pool, which it seems is more than up to the challenge ahead. This is nothing but good news for our continuing success at our game.

And for our friends in Finland who stayed up late, we think they’ll agree the game if not the result, was worth all the bleary eyes at the office today. Finland had a terrific tournament, earning the respect of hockey fans everywhere for their never say die commitment. It was an entertaining show, one which shows that hockey when played at a high intensity and with a passionate effort, can truly be one of the world’s great team sports.

Saturday, September 11, 2004

Too close for Comfort

Disaster was averted Saturday night by Vincent Lecavalier, as the Tampa Bay Lightning star scored in the first period of Overtime, sending Canada on to the final of the World Cup of Hockey. Lecavalier allowed Canadians to breathe again, when his shot went top corner left, to finally put away a Czech Republic team that refused to quit.

Prior to Lecavalier’s heroics it was finger nail chewing time for Canadians from coast to coast to coast and all environs abroad, as the never say die Czech Republic squad battled back time and time again to bring things to a tie in the highly energized and entertaining match in Toronto. The Canadians would take a lead, the fans would begin to celebrate only to have the Czechs fly down the wing and score a reply before the Canadian scoring announcement would be finished.

For a good portion of the game the Czechs had the Canadians on their heels, sending wave after wave of the likes of Jagr, Hejduk, Rucincsky and Havlat, all of whom made life difficult for Roberto Luongo. He entered the tournament after Richard Brodeur was unable to play due to an injury to his wrist, thus the Florida Panther was sent into battle in the do or die semi final. Luongo faced 40 shots from the Czechs, who outworked the Canadians for long stretches of the game. And while a couple of the goals were unfortunate in their time frame, Luongo very much kept his team and his country in the tournament. His performance Saturday, most likely saved scalpers in Toronto from taking the worst bath in financial history since the great depression of 1929. Without Canada in the final, the price of a World Cup ticket would have tumbled faster than an Enron stock after the arrest warrants were issued.

Luongo faced shot after shot turning them away one after another, sending his team mates back up the ice to try and put this thing away. In any other game most of the Czech chances would most likely result in a goal. But Luongo found a way to keep them out, much to the joy of the capacity crowd at the Air Canada Centre.

No save was bigger than in the overtime period when he stared down Milan Hejduk and deflected a sure fire goal into the corner. It was head manned up the ice by Dany Heatley, ending up on Vincent Lecavalier’s stick, a few seconds later it was behind Tomas Vokoun and Canada was on to the final Tuesday night with a 4-3 victory.

Pat Quinn admitted that his team was fortunate to come out of the game with the victory, realizing that his team did not have its best game on the ice Saturday night. The Czechs must be hugely disappointed with the result, they were quite close to sending the Canadians to the sidelines, sometimes it’s worse to lose a game you should have won than to be blown out, this is the feeling the Czech players must have today.

Canadians respect hard work and in the Czechs on this Saturday night there was an awful lot to respect. Considering the way they entered this tournament; with the tragedy of their coach’s death, the discord in the dressing room and some early games that showed a less than hearty interest in the games at hand this one game more than made up for their past troubles. It was a performance that announced when the Czechs want to play; they can play with the best and possibly be the best in the world.

For Canada the near death experience may serve as the best possible wake up call imaginable. They must know that they barely advanced to the final, with the Finns rested up and waiting for the Canadians, concentrating on correcting the breakdowns of the semi final is an urgent requirement. After the game, Pat Quinn disclosed that he didn’t like the way they practiced the last few days and the result today hammered that point home nicely. More attention in their own end and getting back to a forceful fore-check will be the key to success on Tuesday night. Expect Quinn to remind his charges just how close they came to exiting this tournament early.

Hopefully for Canadian hockey fans, Saturday night will be the only surprise of this tournament. A near miss that would have shocked Canadian hockey fans across the land.

There will be hockey somewhere next Friday!

While Gary Bettman and Bob Goodenow play chicken, there are plans afoot to provide some kind of hockey for the day after Armageddon.

Something called the Original Stars Hockey League is set to launch on Friday with a game in Barrie, two nights later there will be a match in Sarnia, Ontario. While details are rather sketchy so far, it seems that over 113 NHL players have submitted their names for the four on four leagues draft sometime next week.

Organizer Randy Gumbley says the OSHL is a go and will help fill the void in a hockey fans life while the two sides bicker and bite at each other. The league is to be made up of six teams, consisting of 12 skaters and one goalie on each side. Each team will be named after one of the original six franchises and apparently they will barnstorm around the country. Locations suggested for games include the likes of Quebec City, Winnipeg, Hamilton, Halifax, Calgary, Edmonton, Vancouver and a host of Junior A cities in Ontario. Gumbley has put together a list of sponsors and charities that will benefit from the gate at these matches, the players will take a cut of the revenues as will the league organization which will claim 3.5% from the nightly take.

The game itself will feature a four on four format, consist of three, seventeen minute periods with nor red line, no touch icing and changes allowed only on the fly.

The focus is to keep the game of hockey in the public’s eye and help the players keep in shape at the same time. The league apparently will come to a crashing end should the two combatants in the NHL wars reach an agreement, sending everyone off to their NHL home. Judging by the tone of yesterday at the NHL offices, four on four hockey the OSHL style may be with us for a while.

FINN-ishing Touch On The American Dream

Saku Koivu sent them happy to the streets in Suomi, as he put away the American hopes for a return to the World Cup final with a go ahead goal late in the third period of Friday’s semi final game in St. Paul, Minnesota.

Koivu led his Finnish team to victory when he put away an Ossi Vaanenen pass to the side of Robert Esche, scoring the go ahead and eventual winning goal with 3:54 to go in the game. A defensive breakdown by the Americans, one of many in this game led to the finishing goal as Brian Leetch left Koivu unattended by the American net. Koivu originally fanned on his shot, recovered the puck and had time for a second shot at victory.

Ollie Jokinen had opened up the Finnish scoring with a goal at 5:04 of the third period answering Doug Weights power play goal of the second period. For the most part this was a boring hockey game, if you’re a hockey fan who loves the intricacies of the neutral zone trap then this was your kind of game. The Americans bogged down the play in the first two periods, gaining only 10 shots on Miikka Kiprusoff with only Weight’s shot making past the Finnish goaltender. At the other side of the rink Finland were equally cautious, registering only 7 shots after 40 minutes. A period of hockey that Finn coach Raimo Summanen described as a two very balanced periods of play. The Mike Keenan of Finnish hockey apparently is not a fan of fire wagon hockey.

For the Finns it’s the biggest victory in a long time, erasing memories of past losses and near misses like the quarter final scare by the Germans. Finnish papers have been following the fate of their fair haired boys, with the various sideshows between coach and players getting almost as much ink as the actual scoring summaries. Somehow despite all the discord and finger pointing the Finns have persevered, they now await the winner of the game Saturday between Canada and the Czech Republic.

For the Americans the game brings them full circle to the start of the tournament, slow, sloppy at times and showing some mental mistakes, the Americans dropped back from the heady heights of the defeat of the Russian squad earlier this week. Instead, they retreated backwards to a degree; gone was the crash and banging of the net, replaced by a cautious approach that eventually worked into the hands of the Finns.

The USA is now at the kind of Rubicon that Canada was at a number of years ago, that old gang of theirs will be broken up now. The older hands will be given their gold watches, thanked for their service and sent on their way. Loyalty has its place in hockey, but results speak louder than sentiment and there will be an examination of the American selection process now. Fortunately for the Americans there won’t be the same media attention to their tournament failure that would accompany the same form of exit by Canada.

Sometimes it’s beneficial not to play in the fishbowl; there will be a few days of discussion over the lack of success in defence of their title. But then the sports pages will turn to the NFL, NBA and Baseball playoff races. Hockey will revert to its lower strata status in the American sporting culture. A 2-1 loss to Finland a mere footnote, with the Americans out of the World Cup and professional hockey apparently about to similarly disappear for a length of time, Hockey’s shelf life on the nightly American sports reels is about to expire.

The exit of Team USA is probably not how Gary Bettman envisioned things at the start of the tournament, but when time marches on someone gets left behind. This time someone was wearing a red, white and blue uniform.

Thursday, September 09, 2004

Waiting for the puck to drop

With the first semi final in the World Cup of Hockey less than 24 hours away now, the scribes, broadcasters, bloggers and fans will once again be able to talk about the hockey that’s on the ice.

With the meltdown in negotiations today between the NHL and NHLPA the news isn’t particularly good of late. But there have been some interesting side stories to hockey, as we wait for the on ice action to resume and the off ice action to play out.

Eric Duhatschek of the Globe and Mail put together an interesting article on how the changing borders of the world have impacted on the super teams of years gone by. He also played the “what if” game, as in what if Quebec had gone its own way back in the 90’s, how would a Team Canada and a Team Quebec shape up in this tournament. While both teams would no doubt be competitive and there’s even room for a Team Ontario and Team West if need be, it's surely better for all of us, that we’re still one big Happy (sometimes) family. As the old slogan back in the referendum days went “My Team Canada includes Mario Lemieux, Martin Brodeur, et al.

From the World Cup of Hockey home site comes a touching story about respect. How a young Joe Sakic sought out the counsel of Peter Stastny during his early days with the Quebec Nordiques and how that circle is now being completed with Stastny’s son moving to Denver to play university hockey. Sakic a leader of Team Canada and one of the greats of the game, obviously picked up more than hockey tips from the former Nordique great!

Mike Ulmer of the Toronto Sun examines the state of the union in the USA hockey camp, how they’ve bounced back in pursuit of the defence of their title of World Champions. How Ron Wilson challenged his players to get back in the game, humiliating NHL veteran Brett Hull in the process, but getting his ancient warriors to take one more step to the goal. In the process he got off a good line about the recently vanquished Russians and their captain, as Ulmer wrote, “when you have an extortionist masquerading as a hockey player as your leader, you have a profound shortage of character and cohesion”. Ottawa fans forgive your Toronto brothers; they were on your side all along!

Wayne Gretzky takes a walk down memory lane all the way back to 1998, offering a cautionary tone about the upcoming game against the Czech Republic. Looking back to the Olympic games of 1998 in Nagano Gretzky recounted how it felt to be sitting on the bench and watching an NHL staffed team of Olympians lose to the Czechs in a shoot out. Will History repeat itself, let’s hope not. Regardless of our trepidation though, considering the news out of Toronto today, at least there will be a game to play.

All interesting side shows, as we await the resumption of play, all be it a brief resumption before the long unwanted separation of fan from game begins.

Non, Nyet, Zadna, Nej, Nie, Nein, Ei, NO!

Whatever language an NHLer may speak, the answer was still the same today. Bill Daly poured a huge bucket of cold water, on any thoughts of starting the NHL season on time; when he declared “We are extremely disappointed in what the Players union presented to us today.”

That after a four hour session that apparently solved nothing, hardened positions and set the stage for a lock out on September 15th. Trevor Linden speaking for the players said the players’ position was the “last chance to save the Hockey season.” That “position” was the first one presented to the league by the union since October of 2003. It called for a wage rollback of 5%, revenue sharing between clubs and a luxury tax system.

Bill Daly who has taken to speaking for the owners called the union’s proposal “recycled”. Rejecting it out of hand, he described it as a step backwards in the negotiations.

The sticking point, as it has been all along is the salary cap provision, which the league wants in place and the union rejects from the get go. No amount of fancy wording, is going to change that aspect of the dispute. It is the major hurdle in these negotiations and everytime it fails to be addressed, all discussion comes to a standstill.

The argument from the league is that too many of its teams are losing money and without a cap on salaries it is not feasible for some of their teams to keep operating, Daly said that even using the players associations’ model of economics, half the teams in the league would lose money, while one third of them would lose more than 10 million dollars. A situation the league feels is unacceptable.

The finger pointing and catcalling of the last couple of days will quiet down now, as the two sides return to their corners to plot further strategy or make other plans for the fall. But the sounds out of the NHL head office are ominous.

With no further talks scheduled “at the moment”, it would seem that all in the world of NHL hockey will come to a complete standstill almost as soon as the World Cup is handed out next Tuesday night. Wednesday, September 15th, may be one very long day for hockey fans everywhere!

Wednesday, September 08, 2004

Iggy Unleashed!

It took some time, but Jarome Iginla finally found his game! The Calgary Flame exploded for two key goals, in Canada’s 5-0 defeat of Slovakia Wednesday night. As Team Canada played perfect positional hockey and let Lemieux, Sakic and Iginla play pass and shoot for most of the evening. The game was the final one of the quarterfinals and with the victory the Canadians move on to the semi finals of the World Cup of Hockey, taking on the Czech Republic on Saturday night in Toronto.

Vincent Lecavalier got things under way for Canada with a goal in the second period, which began a four goal avalanche on the Slovakian net minder Jan Lasak. Besides Lecavalier, there was one of Iginla’s goals, a goal by Joe Sakic and one by Ryan Smith, after the Smith goal, Lasak was replaced in the Slovak net as Rastilav Stana took over near the 12 minute market. While the entire team worked well on this night, it was the trio of Lemieux, Sakic and Iginla that looked amazing. The three are finally starting to mesh on a highly skilled line, they set each other up with pin point passes and seemingly Seeing Eye passes at times. The only thing left for this line to do now is get Mario a few goals, the Canadian captain is still goal less in the tournament though he had his chances again tonight and you sense he’s not too far away from goal scoring bonanza.

Slovakia had held tough in the first period, playing a strong defensive game and bottling up the play fairly well, shots on goal at the end of the first were 8-6 in favour of Canada. The Canadians took advantage of several miscues in the second period however, taking control of the game and from that point the end was near for Slovakia. The four goal splurge in the second sent the Slovaks back on their heels and they never really recovered after that. All that was left was a bid to end the shutout bid of Martin Brodeur and while they kept the shots close, ending the game at 23-26, Brodeur made the saves when he had to and never seemed to be over taxed, sealing the win for Canada. In four games, Brodeur has faced 102 shots and saved 99 of them, making for a very solid last line of defence. Brodeur's shut out Wednesday was his first of the tourney and the first of his International career. Iginla scored his second goal of the night in the third, knocking in the final marker in the victory.

While the Canadians are saying all the right things about the Czech squad, about not taking them lightly, not overlooking the talent on the roster, etc, the game should match up nicely for Canada. The Czechs have only recently put their game in order, there is still some backbiting on that roster and some of the Czech players are an enigma, one game they’ll look all world, the next all beer league. However, they are an old nemisis, ending Canada's Gold Medal bid in the Nagano Olympics. Canada should probably expect the quality of the Czech play to match that of its competition, making it this far in a tournament can give a team some hidden strength, especially in a tourney that features one game elimination matches

The message for the Czech Republic now will be simple; Keep up with the pace. Canada has four lines to roll over though the game, each one as dangerous as the last. If Canada can keep up the momentum and keep the big line scoring, then there is a very good chance that they’ll be taking to the ice next Tuesday in the World Cup final.

Old Geezers turn into crowd pleasers

Hold the obits just a little longer, the grey beards of the American World Cup team have a little bit of fight left in them. Spurred on by the energy of Keith Tkachuk who accounted for four out five American goals the USA has qualified for the semi finals in the World Cup of Hockey.

From the get go the Americans came out fired up, rushing into the Russian end and getting many chances to put some points on the board. The gates opened up on a perfectly timed tip by Tkachuk who had crashed to the Russian net just in time to deflect a Mike Modano backhand into the Russian net, bouncing between the legs of goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov. That goal would be the start of a run that saw Tkachuk, Modano and Bill Guerin combine for 11 points in the 5-3 victory.

Over 17,000 fans took in the American victory which moves the on to the semi finals against either Finland or Slovakia, depending on the out come of the Canada/Slovakia match on Wednesday night. The Russians battled back as the third period got underway, tying the Americans at 2 before a three goal explosion, the final of which was a Tkachuk shot to an open net put the game away for good. A younger team than what is usually sent to these tournaments the experience gained by the newest additions will come in handy for future tournaments, but for now their hockey in North America is done.

After a rather stormy weekend in the American camp with the Hullabaloo over Brett Hull’s benching, the American’s managed to get back to the game at hand. Coming out from the start they played a more North American style of game, heavy on dumping into the neutral zone and the Russian end, following it up with some heavy checks and consistent board play. With the confidence gained from the victory over Russia, the Americans are starting to believe in themselves again. This bodes poorly for the Finns or less likely the Slovaks who will need to have a pretty impressive game to defeat the Canadians. But as the last couple of games have shown, in a one game winner take all competition some strange things can happen. Just ask the Finns who narrowly escaped the Germans and more recently the Swedes who found themselves out of the tournament after a thrashing at the hands of the Czechs. Don’t think that Pat Quinn and Wayne Gretzky, won’t be making their players aware of the dangers of not taking the competition seriously.

With the Russians gone, organizers must secretly be hoping for a replay of the last World Cup championship game when the Americans claimed the championship at the expense of the Canadians. Three games stand in the way between that re-match, one the Americans have control over, two are in the domain of Canada. In order for both teams to get to where they want to be it’s wise to take things one game at a time. Get too far ahead of themselves and they’ll be joining the Swedes, Germans and Russians off the ice, watching television and making plans for what may be a very long disrupted season.

Tuesday, September 07, 2004

A huge no show in the home of Modo

It was a case of lack of confidence in the back end and some serious possum by the Czechs, a situation that led to a major embarrassment to Team Sweden Tuesday, as the Czech Republic dominated the game and the scoreboard with a 6-1 victory over an overwhelmed Swedish squad.

With the win the Czechs are off to North America, moving on to face either Canada or the USA in the semi finals of the World Cup of Hockey. Milan Hejduk provided some offence with two goals as the Czechs who had looked disinterested in the early portions of this tournament, turned on the jets in elimination quarterfinal. Martin Straka. Martin Havlat, Marek Zdlicky and Radek Dvorak were the other Czechs with a scoring touch on Tuesday.

Things were so bad for the Swedes that they were down 5-0 before they managed to find the net themselves, the first period featured only 4 Swedish shots on goal and by the end of the game things hadn’t improved very much, Sweden finished the game with only 18 shots directed at Tomas Vokoun, who turned aside all but Tomas Holstrom’s short handed attempt in the third period.

Michael Tellqvist did not have one of his best games in a Swedish uniform but it wasn’t necessarily his fault completely, Sweden’s defence took the night off and back checking suddenly became a forgotten art as the Czechs crashed the Swedish zone at will. Time after time the Czechs would set up behind Vokoun and take the puck the length of the ice taking advantage of a welcoming defence who refused to turn them back at the blue line.

The Czechs, who were a disorganized and less than cohesive looking unit in the earlier games, looked like a machine in front of the sold out crowd of Swedish fans in Stockholm. While Vladimir Ruzicka has had his difficulties getting his charges to play on the same page the last week, it all fell into place at the right time and now the Czechs are but two games away from hoisting the World Cup of Hockey.

As for the Swedes there will be many answers about this performance and how a team that looked so dominant in the preliminary round, could look so out of place when the time to win came around. Some questions are out there now for various NHL teams, Toronto must be a little concerned about Tellqvist’s lack of focus in this tournament and the Canucks must be wondering about the talent level of the Sedin twins, who did not see any action in the tournament, benched for the duration as it turned out. It wasn’t too many Olympics ago that the Swedes put out that special postage stamp celebrating a Swedish victory over Canada. Perhaps the Swedish post office may wish to issue an updated version, in this one there should be a giant hole in the middle of the net, symbolizing the black hole that Swedish hockey has just entered.

Monday, September 06, 2004

Too close for their liking

For the Finns and their fans the last few minutes couldn’t end fast enough. In a surprisingly tight game, Finland and Germany went down to the wire in the first elimination quarter final. As the Germans laid on a surprise for Finland, keeping them anxious throughout the game and coming within a whisker of staging one of the better upsets of International Hockey.

Mikko Eloranta will be the name remembered for saving the Finns from possible disaster as he scored with 3:22 to go to give Finland the 2-1 win, sending them on to the semi-finals in North America. Eloranta scored on a tip in from a Kimmo Timonen shot which eluded the rock solid Olaf Kolzig.

Niklas Hagman opened the scoring for the Finns midway through the second period on the power play. But the Germans never seemed to be out of this one, Germany came back to tie the game and send Finnish stomachs to sinking with a Marco Sturm wrist shot at 13:22 of the third, ending Miikka Kiprusoff’s bid for a third shut out in the tournament. With the tying goal the German team found even more life and began to press into the Finnish zone, getting a few more chances to upset the Finns. The winless Germans, making Finland dig deep and earn the victory with a final burst of hard work.

Finland will now await the winner of Tuesday’s USA/Russia game to find out who they will match up against in the semi finals. For Germany the tournament is now over, without a win the Germans were from the beginning cast as mere roadkill on the way to the championship round, but in the last few games they put up a pretty good fight. They are still a few players away from being a threat to the Hockey Powers and certainly don’t play anything resembling firewagon hockey, but give them a quality second line and they’ll continue to scare the likes of the Finns and the Swedes for years to come.

As for the Finns while they take their success over to North America, they need to do some in house counseling, as things are not particularly harmonious on Team Suomi. Islanders defenseman Janne Niinima pulled himself out of the tournament after a dispute with Finnish head coach Raimo Summanen. No details leaked out of the Finn camp, but Niinima’s departure leaves the Finns with only seven defencemen for the semi final on Friday night.

Ovechkin’s coming out party is a big gift to Russian squad

Alexander Ovechkin gave the Russian hockey powers cause to be optimistic for the future. The young phenom of Russian hockey did not look out of place in the Russian red white and blue, as he helped propel the Russians on to a 5-2 victory over Slovakia. Sharing the stage with the likes of Alexi Yashin, Artem Chubarov, Alex Kovalev and Sergei Samsnov, Ovechkin scored a goal and made some big hits to add to his much ballyhooed reputation.

Playing on the fourth line, he made the best of his ice time. Ovechkin was a complete player on the night, crashing the Slovaks into the boards, back checking and showing no fear as he went for the Slovak net. Taking full advantage of his chance to play with some of the NHL elite players he put on a show that many were amazed by. Ovechkin who was drafted by the Washington Capitals has yet to sign a contract, but his performance should help get the Capitals back on the phone shortly

Other goal scorers for the Russians were Alexi Yashin, Pavel Datsyuk, Alex Kovalev and Sergei Samsanov. The win sends the Russians back into the States to take on Team USA in the quarterfinal match on Tuesday night. The loss the third for the Slovaks in the tournament means they will take on the Canadian team, Wednesday night at the Air Canada Centre. And while many might think that the Slovaks will be an easy touch, Pat Quinn is not taking the team lightly.

For the Russians the rematch with the Americans should make for an entertaining game. The Russians defeated the Americans three to one last week, so the Americans with their title and pride on the line will be hoping to put in a better effort on Tuesday. One troublesome issue for the Russians may be the health of Darius Kasparitus, who was last spotted holding an ice pack to his leg on the bench. If Kasparitus is unable to play, that could possibly open up an opening for the Americans to exploit.

With the Americans making changes to the roster the last few days,including the controversial benching of Brett Hull, they may be a different team than the one which last played the Russians. Regardless, it should be a great game to watch as two old rivals renew acquaintances once again.

Sunday, September 05, 2004

A trip from the past, set for the future

With a fellow named Tretiak on the Russian bench, standing behind it as an assistant coach; one couldn’t help but think the Good Ole days of Canadian hockey were back. The last time a Toronto crowd saw a Canada/Russia game was in 1976, when the Russians and Canadians did battle in the Canada Cup. But for many Canadians the epicentre of International Hockey, was September 1972, when the stars of that era faced off against the Soviet Union’s best in the 8 game Summit Series. Toronto was hosting game number two in that epic struggle of hockey superiority.

Quite a few of the Canadian players in the line up Saturday night, probably barely remember, if they remember at all those memorable games. They may have read about it, or heard about it, but the likes of Jay Bouwmeester, Jarome Iginla and Ryan Smyth no doubt remember the names steeped in Canadian Hockey lore. Henderson, Phil and Tony Esposito , Cournoyer, Clarke and Dryden, it seems like only yesterday they were in Russia trying desperately to get the go ahead goal that would salvage our battered Hockey Pride.

Saturday nights game came 32 years to the night that Canada played Game Two of the memorable Eight game series, recovering from a surprising Game One loss in Montreal to defeat the Russians 4-1 at the historic Maple Leaf Gardens. Our national angst would get a work out a few more times that September, as Canada needed three consecutive victories on Russian ice to finally squeak by with a series win.

32 years later we have brand new rinks, an entire new generation of players, but the same love of the game and the expectation of a great match that we have ever had. When both teams took to the Ice the atmosphere in Toronto was electric, which the players from both teams seemed to feed off of. The first ten minutes of action seemed almost non stop, as both teams rushed the puck from end to end, stopping only when crushed into the boards at a blue line, or unceremoniously dumped at centre ice. Both teams had chances to score in the first period but couldn’t beat the two competing goaltenders.

Again, goaltending would play a big role in a Canada/Russia series, as the legendary Tretiak would watch on from his bench. Martin Brodeur showcased his talents for the third straight game, backstopping his Canadian team mates to a 3-1 victory over a very fast and surprisingly physical Russian squad. Brodeur faced 28 shots saving all but one of them in an entertaining throwback to the good ole days. His goaltending left the Russian forwards frustrated time and time again as he came up with big save at just the right time.

Team Canada opened up the scoring in the second period as Brad Richards and Kris Draper took advantage of some uncharacteristically sloppy play by the Russian Defence. Russian defensemen had trouble clearing the pucks and were guilty of giveaways at key times leaving goaltender Maxim Sokolov at the mercy of the Canadian snipers who took no mercy. Joe Sakic picked up the final Canadian goal in the third, while the Russians got one back in the third frame on a goal by Sergei Gonchar. The physical play though is what stands out in Saturday's game, the Russians and Canadians exchanged hits at will and showed no hesitation to go into the corners and pay the price if necessary.

Canada passes through the preliminary round with a perfect three and zero record while the Russians who are 1 and 1, play again Sunday in Toronto against the Slovaks. It’s a game that will determine who matches up against whom in the next round.

Canada awaits the result of that game so they can prepare for their next opposition, a phase that will have a bit more for the nerves. Round two is an elimination round, win and you move on, lose and it’s over for you. A situation that Canada would like to put on the backburner until the very last game on September 14. A date that they hope will become as memorable as September 28, 1972.

European arch rivals put on a show in Helsinki

On any given night, a game between Finland a Sweden could best be described as a pick em. And on Saturday in the final game of the round robin portion of the World Cup of Hockey it once again would be appropriate term.

The Finns got off to a rocket of a start, when they scored two goals in four minutes against a shaky looking Michael Tellqvist. The bulk of the scoring took place in a manic twenty minutes of play of the first period. As the two teams headed for the dressing room, they were tied a three a piece and defence was apparently a forgotten art.

Things finally slowed down a bit in the second as the Finns took the lead once again, only to have the Swedes come back late in the third and tie things up once again with only 11 seconds remaining, sending the game into a five minute overtime period. Which was fine with the fans, who are getting used to these barn burner finishes for the two teams.

The overtime provided no final result as the game ended in a 4-4 tie, but on the strength of Goals For, the Finns will have the home ice advantage for the quarterfinal knockout round of the tournament. But it could be a case of the winner ending up a loser; the Finns will play the Germans in one quarterfinal, while the Swedes will face an improving Czech Republic squad.

With some scary goaltending moments for the three crown squad, advancing past the Czechs may not be as easy as everyone thought it would be at the start of the series. While the Germans have been a game squad, it’s not expected that they’ll be loading up the net behind Miikaa Kiprusoff, so many are expecting the Finns to advance.

The road ahead will be a bit more challenging for the Swedes, who feature a star studded line up but seem to find ways to get themselves into trouble. They get back on the job Monday as they host the Czechs. It could be a big moment for Swedish hockey or another disappointment in the making. It all depends on which Czech squad makes the trip to Sweden. Regardless, Swedish fans will be on the edge of their seats for many reasons.

Saturday, September 04, 2004

Wishful thinking at the WHA offices

The press release issued by the founders of the new World Hockey Association, would be a rather interesting document, if it just didn’t resonate with the smell of attention deficit desperation. Apparently not content with having had the media showing less than lukewarm interest in their rambling ways towards a hockey league, the grand poohbahs of the WHA first floated and then rejected the idea, of the NHL purchasing the league. Apparently this was the first and only time the idea had even been suggested. Somehow the hockey obsessed media of Canada, looking for hockey stories at every turn, missed out on this major merger development. This is possibly the first case of popping your own trial balloon, before it even gets in the air!

With all the subtlety of a three year old going “look at me, look at me”, the league that has yet to even find a rink to play in; let alone put players into uniforms, suggested that Gary Bettman and his currently pre-occupied gang of owners were testing the idea of purchasing the league. One wonders for what purpose Bettman and the boys would want to purchase a league of six or seven, maybe five (who knows today) phantom teams. But just in case Gary has some extra mad money to spend and wants to really get into a deficit situation, the folks at the WHA were here to tell us that its not going to happen. Gee, NO KIDDING!!!

The progress of the WHA is taking on the tones of the farcical. The one possible sure fire success they might have had, Quebec City had its franchise revoked in late August, as the league wasn’t sure of the sincerity or financial ability of the owners to run it. Hmm, Mirror, mirror on the wall anyone.

Like the Knight in Monty Python that keeps fighting despite losing limb after limb, we are treated to these periodic outbreaks of “news” from WHA control, just small setbacks really, just a flesh wound you know!

Perhaps they have it all wrong; maybe it wasn’t the NHL that was looking to purchase the league, but the NHLPA. Personally that would make much more sense, since it would give their players someplace to hang their hats when Armageddon day arrives on September 15th. But with such options as Europe and a possible travelling road show, NHLPA players probably wouldn’t be too inclined to take on the role of philanthropist, let alone own a league.

Mr. Howell and the rest of his suddenly “silent” investors should concentrate on firming up whatever it is their little exercise is planning on doing this fall. So far the average Hockey fan doesn’t have the WHA showing up on his/her radar at all. And who could blame them or the media for ignoring the occasional outbursts of fancy from this would be league.

However, to hedge my bets, and prepare to cash in on any extra NHL monies, here’s an open invitation to Mr. Bettman. The HockeyNation is exploring the possibility of also launching a new league very shortly; we’ll hold a draft, divvy up the players and maybe even find the same kind of venues to play in as our friends at the WHA. Of course Gary, this can all be avoided by simply writing us a cheque, we’ll gladly turn over our copies of the McKeen’s guide and The Hockey News season preview editions, our scouting sheets of choice.

The choice is yours Gary; you can also pay us now, or pay us later.