Monday, February 27, 2006

Success has many fathers, failure it seems is an orphan!

Two Team Canada's will return to the homeland today, the hockey version arrives back in Canada and the welcome home is expected to be a quiet affair, family and friends will greet the plane upon its arrival. Missing will be the wild eyed zealots that traditionally greet the arrival of conquering heroes, of course this years entry in Olympic hockey didn't quite reach the hero status, the early exit from the competition secured their trip home without medals and apparently without fanfare.

For the most part they understand the disappointment of their fans, as Martin Brodeur put it, "Expectations are high and the players that are playing for these teams feel it every time they put their jerseys on."

But if there is a lack of passion for their result, the complete opposite reaction will greet the medal winners and the rest of the very successful Canadian team. As the planes start to land later today, the reception is expected to be gleeful and celebratory. A tribute to an Olympic team that met many expectations and indeed exceed many others. They are fully deserving of the spotlight as they return home, receiving the type of welcome that used to be the destiny of various hockey teams returning home from battle.

We're pretty sure that this current Men's hockey team won't begrudge them their moment in the Sun, they probably only wish they too could have contributed to the tone of the medals and the celebrations.

And not a Bruin was in sight!

NHL legend Guy Lafleur ran into some trouble on his South American vacation last week.

Lafleur, his wife and fellow traveling companions were attacked by a group of thugs on motorcycles while traveling in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Lafleur was sucker punched by one of the threesome who had designs on his wrist watch, the thug didn't get the watch but left Lafleur with a black eye.

The group were ambushed when they got off of a shuttle bus, with Lafleur's traveling companions losing a wrist watch in the altercation. Lafleur described the sudden hit as similar to the old days of the games against the Big Bad Bruins, when anything and everything could happen at any given time.

The incident was not reported to police as Lafleur and his entourage wanted to move forward and make their connections. But probably in the back of his mind Lafleur is wondering where Stan Jonathon and Terry O'Reilly might have been seven days ago!

Guld! Triumph for Tre Kroners!

Lidstrom, were not sure if it appears in a Finnish dictionary but if it does, it surely means disappointment of great magnitude.

It took only ten seconds of the third period, but with a canonading blast worthy of a Danny Gallivan emotive blast, Nicklas Lidstrom put the third and final Swedish goal of the game behind Finnish goaltender Antero Niittymaki, and became the thing of history for Swedish hockey.

Mats Sundin proclaimed the 3-2 victory over long time rival Finland as a long wait for Swedish hockey fans, the Swedes erasing the bad taste of the Salt Lake games when they dropped off the radar in Olympic hockey. It's taken two complete rotations of the Olympic games but the Swedes can finally claim to be the best in the world from Torino 2006.

It was a back and forth affair for most of the game, both teams equally matched in fire power and playing similar styles. A desperate Finnish squad piled on the pressure in the third period in a quest for the equalizing goal, but Henrik Linqvist would not surrender the marker and he backstopped his squad on to the gold medal podium. In fact, it could very well be the strength in the nets this time around that helped move the Swedes on through the tournament.

With memories of Tommy Salo fresh in their minds, Swedish hockey fans would not have to worry about a clunker of a goal sending their favourites off to the sidelines. From the offence to the back end, the Swedes were full value for their win. A win made especially sweet coming against the top club of the tournament.

For Finland it's another disappointment at the hands of their Baltic neighbour, the Finns were the talk of the tournament as they played disciplined and hard checking hockey through the preliminary and into the elimination rounds.

With top scorers Temmu Selanne and Saku Koivu and Olympic all star defenceman Kimmo Timonen and all star goaltender Niittymaki, many expected the Finns to walk away with the Gold medal once Canada had been handed their travel papers. But the Swedes rose to the occasion and took advantage of the many penalties called against the Finns.

With the win, Sweden jumps to the top of the list of hockey powers in the world, Canada drops to second place and will have to wait until the World Championships in May to try and recapture their first place spot.

The bulk of the Olympians now return to their club teams, with a fair amount making the trek back to North America for games beginning Tuesday. There will no doubt be an extra spring in the stride of the Swedes as they take claim to Olympic glory from Torino. Something that hasn't escaped the notice of Mats Sundin's buddies on the Maple Buds. That spring should help to counter balance the lethargic gait being brought back by Pat Quinn and Bryan McCabe.

Friday, February 24, 2006

The shroud from Turin

Over forty eight hours after our puck heroes were sent packing, the fallout continues on across the country. Canadians from St. John's, Newfoundland (though to be fair they were pre-occupied with happier matters Friday) to Prince Rupert, BC and Nunavut, to Windsor were busy digesting the complete collapse of the Olympic dream for our hockey psyche.

They say success has many fathers, but failure is an orphan and Wayne Gretzky probably feels that more than most. But there are many willing to offer up their two cents to Gretzky and those around him as to what has gone wrong on their European jaunt.

Bruce Garrioch of the Canoe papers points out the obvious this group never quite got it together as a team, more it was a collection of individuals who seemed intent to do their own thing and never could work on the same page at the same time.

Chris Stevenson also of Canoe, looks for professional advice and gathers the thoughts of Senators head coach Bryan Murray, who gave the sage advice that Canada did not seem to be intense enough in the preliminary games, leaving them in a vulnerable situation when the elimination round came along. Rather than improving one game at a time, Murray submits it may have been a wiser course to have come on stronger right from the start.

The Winnipeg Sun's Ted Wyman, doesn't take kindly to any slack being cut to Canada's team. He calls the performance embarrassing and completely unacceptable. He calls for wholesale changes before the 2010 team is put together.

Bob McKenzie of TSN bemoans the fate of the ancient warriors of Team Canada, wishing a better fate for the likes of Joe Sakic, Adam Foote et al. He looks for a younger and faster squad in 2010 and then an end to the NHL's involvement in the Olympic games.

Paul Romanuk weighs in from his perch in England, writing an article for Sportsnet. He suggests that we should turn our focus to passion over payroll, wishing for a return to the national team program of years gone by. Players playing purely for the goal of striving for the gold.

Sportsnet also sought out the opinions of the most talked about non member of Team Canada, Sidney Crosby. Taking a story from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Sportsnet relayed the feelings from Sid the Kid. Who burned no bridges with Hockey Canada, stating that he would have liked to have been able to help out, but didn't feel his absence made a huge difference. Instead he pointed to problems adapting to the larger ice as the main setback to Canada's chances of Torino.

Over at the Toronto Star, Damien Cox blogged his report on the Star website, in an item dated February 23rd his thoughts traveled from the 1984 mess of Sarajevo to suggestions that Pat Quinn is going to wear a lot of the responsibility over the losses, even though it was the players on the ice that suffered the power failures.

Cox also took a look at where Canada should go from this point on, in his February 24th column he gazes ahead to the 2010 Olympics and how a demanding Canadian nation will desperately want their heroes to recapture that which was lost in Torino.

Fellow Star writer Paul Hunter sat down for a chat with Bob Nicholson of Hockey Canada, who stated once again that had they to do things over again, they wouldn't change anything except the result. He claims there is no need to tear down the program in place, but that there would be a review of the whole operation as they head towards 2010 in Vancouver. Nicholson also discussed the future of Wayne Gretzky and hoped that Gretzky would remain involved in the process in the years to come.

Tim Wharnsby of the Globe and Mail, put together his own blue ribbon panel of advisors on the state of the Olympic team and where to go from here. Seeking the comments of Vancouver assistant coach Mike Johnston, LA King head coach Andy Murray and New York Rangers coach Tom Renney. They had a variety of thoughts on the pressing issue of our day, Johnston urged more preparation time for the Olympians, Murray suggested that those wishing to be on the Olympic team must participate in World Championship efforts in non Olympic years, giving them a wider exposure to the international game. Renney looked at the lineup shortcomings and pointed to the absence of Scott Niedermayer from the line up as a key problem, figuring that Niedermayer would have been worth a couple of goals in the tournament, goals at key times that may have changed the dynamic of the tournament.

Roy MacGregor sums it all up nicely in his piece in the Globe, "it's hard to look forward when everyone is looking back!" True enough as the nation comes to grips with its early death in Torino. He succinctly puts it all into perspective, by quoting the very players that played the games. We lost because we didn't play well enough.

We will leave our last words with MacGregor and his quotes from those involved the most, the players. They say much more about it all than all the other noise combined.

It's A Canada/Russia type finale for the Scandinavians!

The Little countries that can, that could be the subtitle for Sunday mornings Gold Medal Game between arch rivals Sweden and Finland. The Scandinavian powers will meet up in the championship game after disposing of the Czechs and Russians in semi final action on Friday.

Sweden looked overwhelming against the Czechs, a team which has been almost as puzzling to watch as the Canadian squad was in Torino. Most of their games they seemed to only do what was necessary to secure a win, nothing more, nothing overly impressive. The one big game that they had to win against the Slovakian squad was one which they rose to the occasion for, but even then, one got the feeling that the Slovaks were only one lucky bounce away from an upset.

In the semi final, you didn't get that same feeling from the Czechs, they were sloppy, uninspired and a times terribly boring to watch. They started their third string goaltender only to replace him once the game seemed out of hand, as far as strategy goes this was one heck of a head scratching exhibition. Star Jaromir Jagr was seemingly pre-occupied while on the ice, he frequently would give the puck away and never seemed to offer much of an offensive threat.

The Swedes on the other hand, seemed in complete control of the game from the beginning. They rolled their lines rapidly and took advantage of the many miscues by the Czechs in both the offensive and defensive zones. By the time the buzzer went on the 7-3 Swedish victory the Czechs looked like a completely dominated squad, ready to leave these games once they play the consolation prize bronze game.

Their opponents in that match up on Saturday will be the Russians, a team that successfully dismissed Canada from the tournament but couldn't find a goal when they ran into the Finns. Finland shut out the Russian squad 4-0 in the second semi final of the day, a match that truly provided a glimpse into the rise of the Finnish game. The Finns outskated, outshot and outhit their Russian opponent, they played a similar game against Canada of clogging up the neutral zone and intercepting the passes and shutting down the attack. It worked on one team in red and had similar success against that other red machine on Friday.

The surprising developments in the hockey tournament leave the organizers with a match up few probably thought possible a week ago, but now offers hockey heaven to two nations that enjoy the game and play it well. The two Scandinavian rivals have met many times before, the games usually entertaining affairs. The games have been emotional rollercoasters for both nations, more disappointing for the Finns who have stumbled a few times losing to their neighbours in the dying minutes of games.

Sunday will be a shutdown day in the two nations, the tone of battle like those great wars between Canada and Russia of years gone by. We know the emotions they'll have, wishing a bit that we were the ones living and dying on every shot. We'll be just a little bit jealous this Sunday, but we can console ourselves with the thought that the final game will be played by two countries that love hockey, two countries that respect the sport and two nations that will be watching with great interest as to the outcome.

Good for them, lets hope that they put on a heck of a show for those of us peering over the fence to see what's going on!

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Team America meltdown

The headline from Associated Press puts the American Olympic hockey experience in the right perspective "US hockey passes blame better than the puck". MSNBC recounts the sad ending to the Americans visit to the Torino Games.

With a 4-3 loss to Finland and an early exit from the Olympic tournament the USA hockey squad has turned to finger pointing to finish off their duty to country and Gary Bettman. Mike Modano led the chorus as the American star benched for the third period by head coach Peter Laviolette, let loose on the organizers of the American team, calling for massive changes in the way they do things.

Modano, who found himself in the doghouse after a less than stellar tournament apparently seethed on the bench and then let his emotions boil over after the final whistle blew and the Finns had wished them a safe journey home.

When Modano was finished with his blasts, US GM Don Waddell took exception to his perception of the state of the American organization and the need for change. Both Waddell and coach Laviolette called out Modano on his comments, impressing upon him and those listening that it wasn't about one player this Olympic experience, the group was always larger that the individual, at least in theory.

While Modano was burning his bridges with US Hockey, Brian Gianta did a better job of analyzing the entire tournament from an American experience, Gianta said that he wasn't sure if it was nerves or what, but that his team came out flat far too often and just didn't get the job done. Comments that he might have heard repeated in a Canadian dressing room as their fellow NHL travelers from North America also made their plans to return home after an early exit.

Laviolette, who watched his team stumble through the early stages of the game suggested that they were standing as opposed to skating and never seemed to get untracked. His frustration at his non performing squad boiled over in the third with the benching of Modano and a high strung exhortation from the American bench during a time out. All to no avail, the Americans battled back but could not get that one extra goal to tie the game up and send it off to either over time or a shoot out.

Like their Canadian cousins, the Americans would find penalties particularly unhelpful as a Derrian Hatcher high stick knocked out two of Teemu Selannes teeth and the ensuing four minute penalty kill knocked all the wind out of the American sails.

The boxscore from Torino for the Americans will read as such: one win, one tie, four defeats, and elimination. Mike Celzic points out that the American exit comes on the 26th anniversary of that seminal American event the Miracle on Ice. in 2006 there would be no miracles, just it seems excuses and anger.

One famous incident from past US Olympic Hockey history was a rather ugly episode involving hotel room furniture and un-named American stars, one assumes that Waddell had all the furniture taken out of the rooms before the end of the third period.

It might be an idea to keep the liquor cabinet locked up on the plane home too, the players, coaches and managers have already said more than enough. Their play told all that needed to be said, the message was clear, in 2006 they just weren't good enough to compete. If misery loves company, they might want to share a flight home with the Canadians.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

And now, we bring you the post mortem

As the commercials for the Royal Bank's Olympic sponsorship put it, Go Big, or Go Home. For Canada’s Olympic Hockey Club, it’s time to head for the airport. Team Canada, the defending Gold Medal Champions of the XIX Olympiad of Salt Lake, shall not repeat at the XXth of Torino.

It won’t be a fond farewell to the Torino Esposizione, the small bandbox of arena that was the scene of three consecutive Canadian losses. In that small convention hall turned hockey rink for two weeks, many bad memories were formed. Canada not only failed to win games, they failed to score. In the end it was the intimate setting of a do or die affair, and after sixty minutes an Olympic dream died.

In an entertaining, yet ultimately unrewarding game the Canadians took one bad penalty too many, giving up a key goal on a dangerous Russian power play. Canada once again found trouble putting the puck on the net, let alone in the net, and when they did get through Evgeni Nabokov was there to stop them.

Martin Brodeur continued to build upon his legend, as he turned aside 31 of the 33 shots the Russians made on the Canadian net. And many of those shots came on a Russian power play that Canada seemed to enjoy defending upon, Canada took far too many penalties once again, and each successive Russian power play got closer and closer to success. The breaking point for Canada was an unnecessary interference call on Todd Bertuzzi to start off the third period, Bertuzzi ran a pick play in the Russian end of the rink, and the resulting goal by Alexander Ovechkin was all the Russians would need to advance to the semi finals.

Canada battled back as is the tradition, coming close a number of times to picking up the equalizing marker, Iginla tried on the short side on a two on one, Lecavalier swung and missed in the slot, Sakic took his shots and came up just short, Blake blasted from the point, all ultimately to no avail. By then end of the game they had close the gap on the shots clock with 26, but not with anything that would count on the scoreboard

Speed and control went the way of the Russians for the most part, they had less difficulty getting out of their own end than Canada did, sharp passes, fast breaks and many shots kept a fair amount of the play in the Canadian end. It’s hard to score if you’re in your own end of the rink too much.

The first two periods were close on the scoreboard, but not quite so on the ice. When in control of the puck you got the sense that it may only be a matter of time before the Russians finally solved the riddle of Brodeur. They managed the ice better than Canada; the Canadian attack was at times solid, others haphazard. Far too often we seemed tentative trying to get into the Russian end of the rink, far too often our passes would bounce the wrong way, or be picked off in the neutral zone.

When they sit down and take the elements of this game apart, they will find that the goaltending did not lose them this tournament, the defence did not lose them this tournament, it was the front end where the problems began. Besides the obvious lack of scoring touch during the tournament, there was the problem of back checking, time and time again the Canadians did not get back in time to pick up a check, pinch the zone or clear the puck when it arrived on their sticks.

So Canada heads for home and the traditional gnashing of teeth shall begin over the state of Canadian hockey. Save your molars, there’s not really much wrong with the way we play our game, it’s just in this tournament we didn’t get around to playing it!

There are questions as to the personnel selected for this squad, perhaps the speed of a Crosby or the crushing hit of a Phaneuf would have made a difference, but that’s a debate that shall go on for the next four years.

We sent what we believe were our best, they no doubt tried their best as they always do. The only problem was at this time and in this tournament, they simply weren’t the best!

The wounded soldiers of Commander Bettman

NHL GM’s must be hoping that this Olympic tournament comes to a fast and merciful end, the injury list grows on a daily basis now as key ingredients to many a Stanley Cup quest suddenly find themselves in need of medical attention.

So far in this Olympic Games we’ve seen Domenik Hasek last less than eight minutes in his first game, as a strained abductor muscle in his thigh area brought his Olympic plans to an end, and may derail those dreams for John Muckler in Ottawa as well.

Joe Sakic takes a stick to the face and fractures his cheek, now encased in a full cage he continues to play, but must be making the Avalanche brain trust nervous with each shift on the ice.

Edmonton casts a nervous glance at Italy as Chris Pronger continues to play on a damaged heel, one deflected shot away from further trouble and possibly an enforced rest from the NHL stretch drive.

Martin Brodeur limps off the ice after a perliminary game agasint the Czechs and you can feel Lou Lamoriello's stomach begin to form an ulcer. His money goaltender shakes off the injury, but in New Jersey they're probably wishing he'd head for witness reolocation. Having seen Patrik Elias injured early on in the tournament, Lou will be thankful when everyone is back on the plane homeward bound.

In Vancouver Dave Nonis must be afraid to turn on the television, Vancouver like the Senators has a fair amount of players donning their national colours in Torino, and today’s crashing of Mattias Ohlund into the boards must have left Nonis feeling a little ill as they helped the big Canuck’s defenceman off the ice. The latest report on Ohlund is possibly rib injuries. Nonis will be calling the hospital hourly like a nervous grandparent wondering about a favourite son.

There’s always a danger for injury when you have a high paced tournament compressed into such a short period of time. And while it’s not much different from the day to day NHL schedule in way, in that you never know when one of your stars is going to suffer misfortune, still most GM’s would rather have their hands on the reins of their big horses, letting them run wild in Europe must be making for many early mornings and late nights for the NHL’s General Managers.

Already the word has spread that the World Cup of Hockey in 2008 is probably not going to happen, what remains to be seen is whether the pros stay with the Olympic program after Vancouvers Olympic year of 2010. Many suspect that the NHL will try to back down from its commitment after Vancouver, a situation that will disappoint many hockey fans world wide, but make these anxious two weeks of hell a long gone memory for the leagues 30 General Managers.

While the risk of injury is something to be concerned with, HockeyNation hopes that the Olympic tradition will continue. Taking two weeks off every four years is not too much to ask forwhen it comes to the opportunity to showcase the game at such a prominent level.

Better planning of the NHL schedule in Olympic years might help in reducing the injury factor, the hockey tournament is one of the main highlights of the Winter Olympics, we should continue to participate with our best, for as long as our best wish to go.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Hockey Heaven

It's the Olympic Hockey tournaments version of March Madness, as four quarter final games in one day will set the stage for mad dash for Gold at Torino.

The preliminary matches are forgotten history now, meaningless games that served only to pad some scoring stats shake out any travel cramps and in Canada's case give cause for some serious second guessing, something that seems to be a national sport in Canada when it comes to hockey.

But now, it's the games that matter! Four match ups each with a bit of intensity to them, four teams move on, four teams go home as the quest for Gold increases in drama.

The day of hockey heaven begins at 10:30 am EST/7:30 AM PST (CBC), as the Swedes take on the Swiss, the Swiss have been the surpris squad of the tournament thus far. Knocking of some pretty impressive names (including Canada) on their way to second place in their pool. The first match up of the day also has the added bit of spice of the Swedish coach, who more or less suggested yesterday that he would prefer to play the Swiss as he feels his team would have a good chance of defeating. It may be the truth, but it's the kind of thing that makes it to a bulletin board of a team that has already surprised more than one team in Torino.

Game number two on elimination Wedensday features the USA and the powerful Finnish team, the Americans have not had their best games this year on the ice of Torino. They've struggled to score over the early games and now face a team solid in the nets and on offence and defence. They take to the ice at 11:30 EST/8:30 PST (TSN).

The third match up of the day is one that has no shortage of history to it. At 2:30 PM EST/11:30 AM PST (CBC) Canada and Russia will renew their acquaintances once again in a most anticipated game. Canada has had their troubles scoring in the last few games, a situation that hasn't been something the Russians have had to worry about. How Canada comes out in the first ten minutes could set the stage for perhaps the most entertaining of the four matches of the day. Canada will need to play a more physical game than they have of the last few games, but with that they'll have to avoid needless penalties. It's a fine line to skate in International hockey, but if they don't play the body they'll find themselves in trouble in short order. Stopping the Russians in their own end before they can set up, could go a long ways towards making sure that Canada skates on to the next round by the end of the game.

The final quarterfinal of the day goes at 3:35 EST/12:35 PST (TBA) as Slovakia and the Czech Republic renew what can only be described as a rather intense family feud. Once these players may very well have appeared on the same roster, but when Slovakia and the Czech Republic went their seperate ways the world gained two rather impressive hockey nations. It's taken a few years for both teams to build their programs back up, but as the Czechs have shown in the past they can play the game fine thank you very much. Same can be said for the Slovaks who showed a lot of determination in the preliminary round. This could be the most emotional of the four games in Torino, it's a different dynamic than a Canada Russia match up, but it certainly is one that will have the same feeling to it.

Four games steeped in drama, it's the best that hockey can probably offer outside of the Gold medal match in a few days. For the record HockeyNation sees the following teams moving on by the end of Wednesday's bounty of hockey.

Sweden will defeat the Swiss

Finland will send the USA back home with no medals this year

Canada will edge out the Russians

Slovakia will top the Czech Republic

Park yourself in a corner seat at the bar, or firmly in your favourite chairs at home, there's lots of hockey to be watching, let the games begin!

Hasek has no answers!

The Dominator was a talkative fellow on Tuesday, yet he didn’t have much to say. The Ottawa Senators goaltender, Domenic Hasek made his first appearance in Ottawa since returning from his injury shortened stay at the Olympics and his words were not exactly reassuring for the Sens faithful.

Hasek said he had no idea when he might suit up again for the Sens, having had the Senator doctors examine his injured abductor thigh muscle the Dominator wasn’t hopeful of an early return. The team doctor, who also appeared at the press conference, gave little indication as to the time frame for recovery, though he did offer up a “he’s progressing nicely” to the crowd, which doesn’t exactly calm the shattered nerves of the Senators faithful.

Ottawa plays Pittsburgh in their first post Olympic game, one which Hasek doesn’t think he’ll be appearing in. The developments must be a worrisome thing for GM John Muckler, who now must decide what will be the best course for his Senators who felt that this was the year for the Stanley Cup run. The trading deadline is fast approaching, so it will be interesting to watch what direction the Sens move in now that the Dominators once again finds himself injured at a key stretch of a season.

These are the decisions that GM’s earn those six figure salaries on. Muckler is going to earn every cent of his over the next couple of weeks.

Russian Rendez vous!

The last time Canada met Russia in the Olympics was back in 1992 in France, the Russians knocked Canada off 3-1 in the gold Medal game, crushing the dreams of Canadian hockey fans from Coast to Coast to Coast. Wednesday’s match up won’t be for a medal yet, but it does carry the extra gravitas that the loser goes home!

One of the great rivalries in sport renews itself on the ice in Italy, as a struggling Team Canada meets up with a Russian squad that is running a pretty impressive run and gun offence. Russia made it to the crossover match up with Canada after a victory over the USA, and if Canada is to look for some good news it is that the Americans were able to battle back in a game that initially looked like it was going to go entirely the Russians way.

Of course Canada will have to play a much more disciplined game, but yet one with offence as well. After an impressive first period against the Czech Republic, Canada returned to its confusing ways at times in the second and third periods, surviving the Czechs purely on the strength of Martin Brodeur.

The Russians have a fast moving team, one which travels from their end to the opposing end in short order, breezing through the neutral zone with sharp passes. It’s a facet of their game that Canada had best be prepared for. The Americans found success on Tuesday by taking the body nicely and taking advantage of their chances when they came about.

That being said, the Russians still looked quite in control for most of the game, even when the Americans would tie or come close. The American cause was aided by the Russians removing Evgeni Nabokov after the first period, replacing him with third stringer Maxim Sakolov. One suspects Canada won't benefit from the same strategy.

Russia has accumulated 20 goals in the last four games, giving up only six and winning all four games, after suffering an initial loss in game one to Slovakia. They have increased their tempo each game and benefited from excellent goaltending from Nabokov.

The Canadians head into the winner moves on quarter final having lost two of their five preliminary games and suffering an offensive shortage that is hard to believe considering the depth of their line up. The “fragile” word has been used to describe the Canadians, not something you want to hear heading into a pivotal game.

Canada traditionally rises to the challenge of the game at hand, the meaningless games of the preliminary round now behind them, they can focus on the games that matter. And not many games can matter as much to Canadians as a game against Russia.

From the early days of the Canadian “amateurs” taking on the Russian ”amateurs” in days gone by, through the summit series of 72 and every other match up since, Canada and Russia is the matchmakers dream match up.

Canadians won’t have long to see whether their favourite sons will carry forth in the Olympic tournament, game time is 2:30 PM EST, 11:30 AM PST. The Russians will be looking to knock off the defending Gold Medal champs, Canada hoping to get back on their game and accomplish the mission they set out for when they left Canada last week.

Canada/Russia, winner moves on, loser goes home. It doesn’t get better than that.

A win, is a win, but..........

Thank your lucky Brodeurs Canada, if it wasn’t for the outstanding play of Marty, Canada would be looking at a 2-3 record in the preliminary tournament.

Team Canada had a strong first period and then surrendered the play to the Czech Republic for the following two, it was only save after save by Brodeur that denied the Czechs a victory on Tuesday.

Canada benefited from two soft goals on a tired looking Tomas Vokoun, and appeared to be on their way to a convincing win in their final tune up. But as the second period got underway it appeared that the Czechs were not going to roll over and give up the night. Replacing Vokoun with Milan Hnlicka, the Czechs went to the attack and came in wave after wave. Canada got away from it’s mindset of hitting in the offensive zone and knocking the Czechs off their game.

Brad Richards, Simon Gagne and Kris Draper were the workhorses in this one, pushing the play in the Czech zone tying up their players and denying them the break out plays that seemed to occur more frequently as the game progressed. Canada was outshot horribly in the final two frames as the Czechs ended up with a wide margin of 33-16 on the shot clock by games end.

Missing in action on the ice Tuesday were Rick Nash and Jarome Iginla who have had problems getting untracked in this tournament, huge players on their club teams they have yet to show the potential we expected of them on their way to Torino.

Defensively they played a little better, though the third period once again provided some cause for concern as we neglected to pick up our Czechs and clear the slot area, Canada allowed the Czechs to take the play in the Canadian zone. We tended to scramble in our end of the rink, allowing the Czechs to get too many shots directed at Brodeur.

Canadian goal scorers included Martin St. Louis, Brad Richards and Chris Pronger, the St. Louis and Richards’s goals ones that a sharper Vokoun would have stopped. Pronger’s blast from the slot was bona fide scoring play, nicely set up and one that should have made the Czechs take notice. The goals were the first Canadian markers in over 120 minutes of hockey and lifted a large weight off of the shoulders of Team Canada’s players.

Canada now waits to see how the rest of the tournament shakes out to see who our next opponent will be; one thing is certain it won’t be the USA which will be relief to Canadians. A Canada/USA elimination match would surely motivate the Americans like no other match. Instead, most likely Canada will play the Russians to start off the medal round, no walk in the park but something that should get the Canadian blood pumping.

In the end, you never criticize a win, but Canada will need to take a look at their final two periods. The mistakes made there cannot be repeated in the medal round; Canada needs to play all three periods like they played the first today.

The first period of today’s game provided all the elements towards successful Canadian hockey, hard hitting, fast paced action in the offensive zone, good defence, stellar goaltending and a lucky bounce or two. The second and third provided all the elements of a near disaster in the making, we need much more of the first and a lot less of the final two.

Monday, February 20, 2006

The Gold Standard for Women's Hockey!

It was a repeat in Torino for Canada's Women's Hockey Team, as they collected Gold on day 10 of the Olympic Games.

The Canadians once again dominated the play, as they defeated a surprising Swedish squad by a score of 4-1.

For the length of the women's hockey tournament it was the Canadians who set the pace and provided the standard for other nations to aim for, and to no one's surprise they were the ones to collect their medals of gold at the end of the game.

Their arch nemisis the USA were winners of the bronze with a defeat of the Finns in the early game on the final day of the Olympic Tournament. For the Swedes this was a moment of great achievement as their women's program gained a sense of parity with the bigger hockey powers of Canada and the USA.

The Canadian victory came on a day of many near misses for medals on the slopes and upped the Canadian medal count to fourteen. Three gold, six silver and five bronze.

Somebody has hit the snooze button!

If Saturday’s loss to the Swiss was the alarm on the clock, one is not sure what to make of Sunday’s follow up loss to the Finns.

Team Canada has now gone over 120 minutes without a goal, has brought a rather anemic power play to the tournament and for some reason refuses to make a body check on anyone crossing their blue line. That in a nutshell is how they have come to have a 2-2 record in the preliminary round of Torino 2006.

Sunday’s game featured a first period that saw the Finnish team outplay, outshoot, outscore and most disturbing of all out hit the Canadians. For the most part they left Roberto Luongo to keep them in the game and then when opportunity provided a chance to get back into it they didn’t take advantage of it. On two consecutive power plays the Canadian squad managed only one shot on net at Finland’s goaltender Antero Nittymaki .

The Finns who took the 2-0 lead early in the game, played a defensive shell game for the bulk of the third period, lining up in the neutral zone and stopping any Canadian attack before it could even get formulated. Canada’s defensive pairings had a horrendous time of keeping the puck inside the Finn blue line, giving up that line time and time again. They were equally troubled in their own end, as they lost battles for the puck and left players wide open in the slot. The most famous image of this game that of Saku Koivu banging Chris Pronger off the puck and setting up a wide open Teemu Selanne for a goal. That pretty well gives you the flow of the play in Canada’s end of the ice.

Down Finland way, Canada was kept to mainly perimeter shots, many wide, the few opportunities for a clear shot at netted went untaken or were quickly negated by a fast moving Finnish squad that found their checks and then made sure their chances were limited.

Once again the Canadian squad slipped into individual play as opposed to forcing a team approach on the Finns. Joe Sakic or Dany Heatley would try and carry the puck as deep into the Finn end as possible only to find the play broken up at the blue line or a pass intercepted and redirected up ice.

These games for the most part don’t carry a lot of weight going into the medal round and thankfully Canada won their first two matches so the circumstances are not dire yet. But if they continue this sloppy and disjointed form of play into the medal round they won’t be finding their way to a podium. Both the Swiss and the Finns have done what many never thought could happen, they played a better Canadian style of hockey than the Canadians did. By playing the body, shutting down the attack and taking advantage of the opportunities when they arose the last 120 minutes of hockey has gone the way of Canada’s competitors.

They have one more preliminary game to get it back together before the medal round, a game Tuesday against the Czech Republic. They’ve been issued two wake up calls in Tornio; they may wish to punch in to work early from here on in. Otherwise the medal round is going to be a very short affair.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Apology requred?

Al Strachan weighs into the great Gretzky debate on the Canoe website, his column points out how the rush to judgment of last week, may now require some apologies from many of Canada’s major media outlets.

When the Rick Tocchet gambling scandal first broke out, the heavy net of culpability seemed to close in around the House of Gretzky. Wife Janet was named as a frequent participant in the betting ring, General Manager Mike Barnett was named a person who made a wager with the Tocchet group and splashy pics of Wayne and his wife in clubs and such began to make their way across the internet and into the mainstream media.

The Great Betsky was just one of many plays on words that tied the name of Gretzky to a burgeoning scandal. Since that initial burst of coverage however, not much has happened. The last we heard the wife was not going to be charged, no other names had been released and now proceedings against Rick Tocchet have been delayed which Strachan suggests may be a prelude to his charges being dismissed/

That makes for a pretty wide turn from when the story first broke. As Strachan points out in his article, there will be many in the Canadian media who will have to look at how they covered the story, as it broke and as it progressed.

Strachan calls for a huge apology” to Gretzky, but we suspect that may be a ways of yet, if it ever happens at all. The media wherever it may be, rarely admits it’s wrong and will spend hour upon hour looking to find some way to say I told you so. Though they should consider some of what Strachan said, he was correct on one very important point, there was a rather quick rush to judgment among the media in Canada.

A bit more research and a little less exploitation might have aided in this situation. When a story gets ahead of those reporting on it, sometimes the coverage becomes shoddy, sensational and ultimately incorrect. One wonders if this story reached that point and went beyond

Bob Gainey on line one!

See Jose slip, see Jose fall; see poor old Bob Gainey have to make a call!

Jose Theodore’s season from hell just got a little hotter. The embattled Montreal Canadien goaltender, who has struggle on the ice at the Molson centre and other NHL rinks, struggled on the ice around his house yesterday, rumbling down the stairs an into a Montreal hospital. .

Theodore slipped and fell down a flight of stairs at his Montreal home and broke his right heel, leaving him out of the Montreal line up for up to eight weeks. Meaning, he most likely won’t be available to play until mid April and even then will no doubt be hobbled by the problem area.

It’s the latest in blows to the Habs goalie that has seen Christobel Huet become the darling of the Habitant supporters. Huet who has been remarkable in his recent outings for the Habs has seen more and more action as Bob Gainey, like Claude Julien before him tried to give Theodore incremental rests and kicks in the butt to get him back on track. Now he won’t even be around for the dash to the playoffs, the puck firmly handed over the Huet for the rest of the season. For Theodore it's just one more little thing that has gone wrong in a season that many had hoped would be step forward for him. In addition to his woes in the Habs net, he was named in a banned substance test result, one which he offered up a possible reason for, but none the less has left him and his hair blowing in the wind so to speak for a bit.

The latest setback for Theodore means that Gainey, like a few other GM’s around the league (hello there John Muckler and Dave Nonis) is suddenly in the goaltending sweepstakes. This makes for a nice situation for the Buffalo Sabres, Minnesota Wild and Anaheim Ducks, three teams which sit on some solid back up potential for any NHL team.

If there’s any kind of silver lining in all of this it’s that the problems crop up before the trading deadline, the bad news is that Gainey is going to find it rather competitive bidding in the quest to secure a goaltender.

The Swiss Guard

It’s not the end of the tournament, but some of the reaction would make you think that it is. The name on both side of an ocean is Paul DiPietro, a Swiss soldier in this war of the ice. DiPietro is a fellow who hails from Sault Saint.Marie, Ontario, his Swiss citizenship a product of his marriage to a Swiss lass, his hero status the product of two goals that took down a Hockey Giant.

DiPietro had one of those games of a lifetime, as he accounted for all the Swiss scoring and a place in their book of memories in the 2-0 win. As for Canada, they spent too much of the early part of the game floating around the rink, giving a Swiss team confidence, something that only grew as DiPIetro put those two goals behind Martin Brodeur. In fact it was the Swiss who seemed to play Canadian hockey, not the fellows with the Maple Leaf on the jersey.

Canada out shot the Swiss by a ridiculous margin of 49-18, but could not put a goal past Martin Gerber, who tends goal for the Carolina Hurricane when he’s not stoning the Canadian Olympic team. Gerber had a rather remarkable day of his own. Canada had two goals called back for contentious, if legitimate reasons. One, a foot in the crease call on Todd Bertuzzi, a rule which the Canadians had best get used to before too much longer. The second was a goal that appeared to cross the line, but was hauled out in rapid fashion by Gerber. Replay after replay showed inconclusive evidence of a goal, though one angle did seem to suggest a goal had been scored, but in the end and after a lengthy delay it was declared a non goal and play went on. Regardless, Canada had more than enough opportunity to put the puck in the net, it just didn’t seem to want to bounce that way, and when it did, Gerber and his defence were there to send it somewhere else.

The game in the scheme of things is a meaningless result, like an early loss to Sweden a few years ago, or a close call to Germany it’s more indicative of a wake up call, than a call for the panic button.

To be successful the Canadians need to get back onto their game plan, taking the play to the offensive zone and controlling the play. They got away from that at times against the Swiss and as Mr. DiPietro has shown, given a chance any team can win on any given day.

The Finns appear next on the Team Canada dance card; a loss in that one will fuel more fire and start the nervous ones to really begin to worry aloud. One suspects that Canada will be more focused, more intense and in the end more successful by the end of play on Sunday.

As for the Swiss, they’ve come a long way from 1924 and the most lopsided loss in Olympic history. Today, having had the two biggest games in their national history back to back one wonders what they might have planned for an encore. The team that many felt was just happy to be in the tournament is now perched to become a medal contender. Pretty good progress in forty eight hours.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

A Most businesslike road trip

Two games into the Olympic Hockey tournament and we get a picture of a Canadian team that shows up at the rink, punches the time clock, gets to work and then punches out, ready to return the next day to do it all over again.

The first two games so far from Team Canada have been exercises in formula hockey. They are a team careful not to make too many mistakes, successful in execution and reserved in celebration. Now perhaps it’s just a matter of playing to the state of your competition, neither Italy nor Germany ever really posed much of a threat to Canadian claims of hockey achievement. But so far the highlight reel goals are more the result of positional play than firewagon like hockey.

On Thursday, the Germans played a more physical game than Canada probably expected, so enthralled were the Germans with the idea of hitting and slowing down the Canadians that they spent far too much time serving penalties and not near enough down by Roberto Luongo. Had the Germans been a little more persistent in the Canadian end, the 5-1 final score most likely would have been a little closer and the Canadians a little more worried about the occassional sloppy play in their own end.

Luongo was guilty of some unusual wandering at times, giving the Germans more than a few opportunities to score, all of which went by the wayside as empty nets were missed and posts rattled off of all to no avail.

At no time did Canada look to be in any real difficulty though, you sensed that if they really had felt like it, the killer instinct would have kicked in and they would have rattled two or three extra goals in for good measure.

But these early games are to be an adjustment period for the NHLers drafted to the Canadian cause, leaving behind their team systems from Sunday, they now are slowly picking up the plans outlined by Quinn, Hitchcock et al as they march on to what they hope will be a Gold Medal match next week. Today's pace was a little quicker than yesterday's, the passes a little sharper, the shots harder, the hits more punishing. It's a short road to where they want to go, and they don't have much time to get there, but it looks like Pat Quinn is increasing the tempo daily for his team.

The next shift at the Torino hockey factory comes up on Saturday; Canada plays a surprising Swiss squad that is coming off perhaps the biggest game in Swiss hockey history. The Swiss led by David Aebischer shut down the Czech Republic on Thursday taking a 3-2 surprise victory from the Czechs.

In a way the Swiss victory may work in Canada’s favor, that simple feat of knocking off a hockey power such as the Czechs may have pretty well polished this Olympic moment as a success, whatever happens next for Switzerland is background info for their big moment in the sun.

The Canadians won’t be taking the Swiss lightly now either, having shut down Jaromir Jagr and his friends, the Swiss have served a bit of a notice that they’re to be taken seriously in this tournament. The Canadians, who are slowly building up their intensity in this tournament, will no doubt not wish to follow the fate of the Czechs.

Day One Surprises and setbacks

Day one of the Olympic Hockey Tournament provided some surprising results and in one case some serious problems for the folks back in Canada.

Team Canada was sluggish with an early start to the day for their Olympic experience; Canada had the early game against the host Italian squad. And while the outcome was never expected to be in doubt, at times the play of the Canadians wasn’t quite at the pace they will want by the time we get to the Gold Medal Game.

Martin Brodeur launched Canada’s Olympic experience in Torino as he backstopped Canada to a 7-2 victory over the hosts; Brodeur was never in any danger of being over worked and had a relatively easy time of things in the Canadian goal. Canada exploded for five goals in the second period that all but shut down the Italians, who countered with two goals before the day was done.

Jarome Iginla and Todd Bertuzzi seemed to have the best efforts for the Canadians, Iginla scoring two of the Canadian goals, while Bertuzzi showed flashes of the talent that led to him remaining on the Canadian roster when many suggested he be replaced.

Canada takes on Germany next with a 2 pm EST match up (11 AM PST).

Elsewhere, it was bad news for John Muckler as Domenic Hasek was forced out of the Czech Republic/Germany game after only nine minutes, suffering from an apparent hamstring problem. The game which was turned over to Tomas Vokoun ended in victory for the Czechs

The Russians were surprised by the Slovaks, who upset them 5-3 on the strength of some fascinating play by Martin Gaborik.

The USA ran into the a hot Arturs Irbe as he turned aside scoring opportunity after scoring opportunity on the way to a 3-3 tie with the Americans. The underdog Latvians full value for their surprising play and hard work.

Sweden thumped on Kazakhstan 7-2 warming up for their Thursday match up with the Russians. Sweden which features a pretty high profile line up with Sundin, Sedin and Alfredsson to name a few, outshot the Kazaks 34-14 and seemed in control of the game from start to finish.

For many of the teams the first couple of games are akin to pre season games in the NHL, they work out the travel kinks and try to learn the ways of their new team mates. The only problem is if they take too long to get in the groove, it can have serious repercussions as the medal round comes up.

The Olympic tournament is a hectic bit of action, many games crammed into consecutive days and at varying times. One or two slips on the ladder and you can find yourself watching the gold medal game from the stands.

Moore to take Bertuzzi to court again

With one day to go before a statute of limitations would have taken place, Tim Danson legal advisor to Steve Moore and his family has slapped a multi million dollar civil lawsuit on Todd Bertuzzi, the Vancouver Canucks and corporate parent Orca Bay.

Danson filed the suit in Ontario Supreme Court seeking lost wages and damages totaling over 18 million dollars. Moore is seeking 15 million in lost income, 1 million dollars in aggravated damages and 2 million in punitive damages. Moore’s parents are seeking “1.5 million dollars for negligent infliction of nervous shock and mental distress.” The Moore’s were watching television on that infamous night, when Bertuzzi attacked Moore taking him to the ice at General Motors Place.

And while the lawsuits stem from that night of hockey violence in March, Danson claims that the pre-meditation wheels were set in motion on February 16th in Denver, that night Moore hit Markus Naslund with what Danson refers to as a clean check. That check resulted in an injury to Naslund and as Danson relates it, was the genesis of the attack on Moore that would follow three weeks later in Vancouver.

Events that eventually would lead to a police investigation and a guilty plea from Bertuzzi to assault causing bodily harm. It was expected that the matter would once again return to civil court as the days turned into months and Moore seemed unable to return to the NHL and his career.

The civil suit however may find a rough road in Ontario, a previous attempt at a civil suit in Colorado was tossed out by the judiciary there over the fact that the assault took place in British Columbia. It likewise may not make it too far along OntarioÂ’s judicial calendar for much the same reason.

Danson filed his motion in Ontario to take advantage of Ontario law which allows a victim to have a case heard in the jurisdiction in which he allegedly suffers damages. The scope of the lawsuit has stunned observersrvors in the Canadian legal community, who look at the nearly 20 million dollars sought in damages as unprecedented.

Bertuzzi is presently in Italy as part of the Canadian Olympic team, so any comment from him is not expected until after the Olympic Games. He may however be served with his legal papers while playing for Canada, which will prove to be another bit of media fodder for the press. Perhaps sliding in just below the Rick Tocchet gambling ring story and the actual Olympic Hockey competition.

The lawsuit was an expected bit of business for the NHL, with the criminal matter taken care of and Bertuzzi re-instated the civil action was destined to follow. Though one suspects that Gary Bettman may have wished for a bit more time to pass before he found his league on the front pages once again, for all the wrong reasons!

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Sleepless nights for John Muckler

The Olympic hockey tournament is only 24 hours old and already John Muckler has probably seen enough. Muckler was waiting for more details from Italy as the Sens star goaltender headed for hospital and an MRI. Hasek needed the hospital visit to determine the nature of an injury that took him out of the Czech Republic’s opening game after only nine minutes.

Those nine minutes may be costly not only for the Czech hopes of an Olympic medal but of the Sens hopes for a Stanley Cup. It’s suspected that Hasek has suffered a hamstring injury, which will not only take him out of the Czech lineup, but leave Muckler scrambling for a goaltender for his Senators.

The Sens club doctor is working for the IOC at the games, so he’ll be able to give John Muckler a detailed description of the Hasek injury and any rehabilitation time expected. While Muckler awaits his phone call from Torino, he’ll be busy scouring the lists of goaltenders on the bubble or on the market.

The fear of injury is the one thing that makes NHL GM‘s nervous about the Olympic break, an event thousands of miles away from an NHL arena could very well determine how the season will proceed for the club team. In the case of Hasek, that sharp pain between his legs felt in Torino, has traveled to Prague and across to Ottawa. Growing in intensity with each mile logged.

Monday, February 13, 2006

23 minute drill

It was more of a greeter than a sweater, as Pat Quinn put his Olympic charges through their early paces in their final tune up on Canadian soil.

Quinn ran a practice that lasted only 23 minutes and consisted of a few drills and some hard skating. Other than that, the players picked up their equipment, collected their clothes and headed for the airport.

Associate coach Ken Hitchcock suggested that rest is probably more of a key ingredient for the team at the moment, than any onerous amount of time spent on drills on the ice.

With practice time at a premium in Italy and the competition underway on Wednesday, the Canadian team will be learning their Olympic systems and responsibilities on the fly. Canada plays its first five games in the first seven games of the tournament.

Fortunately for the Canadians, the first few games should give them a cushion to get their game up to a high level. Canada faces Italy, Germany, Switzerland, Finland and the Czech Republic as they head towards what they hope is their golden destiny.

It will be the final three games of the tournament that Canadians will be keying in on, the round robin portion more of a lab experiment to see how the various pieces of the puzzle have come together.

If Quinn has it figured out right, they should all gel nicely in time for the Gold medal game on day twelve of the Olympic tournament.

99 Questions, not many answers

As far as press conferences go, Wayne Gretzky’s appearance at a Hockey Canada event Monday left many of the media pack wondering why they were there.

The Press conference, Gretzky’s first as Team Canada pooh bah since the Tocchet situation popped up, was heavy on questions and light on answers. Heading into the event, it was suggested that questions regarding the gambling scandal brewing in the NHL, would not be addressed by Gretzky. He issued a brief comment about how he was not involved in the activity; he had no answers to provide and attempted to turn the gathering towards items regarding the actual hockey team heading for Torino.

It was a plea that found no traction, as reporter after reporter tried to find an angle of the betting scandal to approach. A Hockey Canada handler attempted a few times to redirect the questioning towards the Olympic team, but had little to no success. After six minutes of uncomfortable looking thrust and not so much parry, it was all over for the Canadian leg.

Gretzky and his team then headed for the airport and the long flight to Torino, where a new pack of media are already waiting. The days aren’t going to get any easier for him; the questions will continued to be asked. The fellow who says that the spotlight should be on the athletes and their quest for gold, will quickly find that that while that may be true, the real story is going to be how he handles the international media glare to come.

Interestingly enough, the focus on Gretzky seems to be building an Us against the World mentality in the Canadian camp, to a player they are all supportive of his presence in Torino and suggest they’ll be playing as much for him, as for the country when they take to the ice in the first game.

Gretzky is going to need all that good will and more as he arrives in Italy, the International media sense a story in the making. If he felt uncomfortable in Toronto on Monday, one wonders what Wednesday in Torino may bring.

Women’s hockey blowouts; the blow back continues!

The Olympic Women’s hockey competition is quickly turning into more of a traveling road show than a bona fide world class competition. There’s Team Canada or Team USA as the Harlem Globetrotters and fill in your anxious opponent, as the Washington Generals. And that has more than a few people wondering if perhaps, this is not a sport a little ahead of itself as far as an Olympic sport may go.

Over the weekend the Canadian women’s team scored 28 goals over 120 minutes of play, giving up none and received more than a few terse e mails about piling on the misery.

Before anyone jumps to the keyboard to add their outrage, keep in mind that the goals differential is a key ingredient in Olympic hockey. So as bad as it may look to lay a 16-0 licking on the amiable hosts of these Olympics, there’s no real guarantee that the Canadian arch rival the USA doesn’t likewise ring up the points in their games. Who want's to lose a Gold Medal by one goal, it would be a hard thing to swallow at the medal ceremony.

Perhaps a mercy rule should be placed in effect in these competitions, but somehow the actual entertainment value gets lost after the ten goal point, if not before.

Which brings us to the question of the competition thus far (at least until Wayne’s rolling road show hits Torino tomorrow) should Women’s hockey be part of the Olympic Games.

There are really only two nations at the moment, that seem capable of putting together anything resembling a solid core of athletes able to skate shoot and pass all in the same stride. Many of the other nations competing so far are hard pressed to manage to get across their own blue line, yet find their way into the opposition’s zone.

With Canada and the USA apparently destined for the Gold Medal game before the first puck drop, what is to become of the teams from Finland and Sweden who seem destined to perpetually battle for the bronze and happy to be there's, then what of Russia, Switzerland, Germany and Italy who seem to have a fair amount of work ahead before their women’s program is ready for prime time.

All day the sports talk shows across the country discussed the merits of keeping the women’s program as part of the Olympic Games, or perhaps putting it into a holding pattern until the level of international competition is on a bit more competitive level. Suggestions to solve the problems were heard today included a ten goal maximum, or lending of back up goaltenders to try and stem the flow of unwanted offense. It’s not an easy call, the idea of sport is that the best will prosper and move on, but in the early days of the women’s competition it hasn’t been a particularly entertaining brand of hockey being showcased.

In the past the IOC has suspended or ended a sports involvement in the games, softball and baseball are the two most recent examples and they were more competitive than the hockey at the moment. This is where the suggestions that women's hockey may find itself on the outside looking in soon.

With Vancouver hosting the 2010 Olympics, it’s doubtful that Canada would be in favour of banishing the sport from the Olympic lineup before the next Olympics. Same probably goes for the USA. So most likely we’ll still have the ladies on the ice in four years time.

Hopefully, the IOC and IIHF have figured out a way to reduce the embarrassing situation of having to run up a score on a hapless opponent, one of the key ingredients of sport is the concept of sportsmanship. It’s hard to exhibit much of that when the rules dictate that the strongest will survive only if they pile on the points.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Should I stay, or should I go.

Wayne Gretzky should fire up his iPod and click, click, click to The Clash, to help him make up his mind we offer up the classic track from Combat rock. The Gretzky debate rages on in the media, below the two sides make their case; some for, some against the Great one making the trek to Torino.

The Prosecution

Scandal plagued Grezkty should stay home-Fox Sports
Gretzky should stay home and let the games go on-Stephen Brunt
What now; Gretz? Time to step aside--Steve Simmons
Gretzky's Scandal will overshadow the games-Tim Dahlberg
Gretzky's should do Canada a favour and stay home-Bryan Burwell
A pass here would be Gretzky's Greatest-Jeff Jacobs
Fall from Grace-Art Spander
The Gretzky Olympics-Steve Simmons

The Defence

Cherry and Davidson jump to Gretzky's defence-CBC website
Give Gretzky the benefit of a doubt:Gilhen-Bob Holliday
Gretzky won't be a distraction, COC president says-Larry Lage
The Golden Gamble-Damien Cox blog
For now, Gretzky belongs in Turin-Damien Cox
Gretzky's friends say he's Mr. Clean-Canadian Press
Muckler sticks up for Gretzky-Ken Warren
Good for Gretzky-Bob McKenzie
Still the Canadian Idol-Newsday
Team Canada needs Wayne-Robert Howard

Fact finding or feeding frenzy?

With a few days distance between the initial shock of the Tocchet affair behind us, it’s interesting to look at how the media is handling this percolating issue.

While it’s correct to expose wrong doing upon its discovery, it also would be nice to perhaps collect all your evidence, before issuing the blanket condemnations. So far the only two persons, attached to the NHL to be identified as involved in the investigation are Rick Tocchet and Janet Jones-Gretzky, Tocchet as the alleged financier and organizer of the gambling ring and Jones-Gretzky as an alleged willing and apparent frequent participant.

Those first couple of days saw a flurry of news stories throwing out those two names in every release, yet the New Jersey State Police suggested that there were between six to twelve other names linked to the NHL involved. Yet none have yet to be named or leaked. How come we haven’t seen some hard proof come forward yet of other participants? Suddenly the media has decided to take a more balanced approach to the story and wait for more charges, having already thrown out the biggest name possible, it's as if the media feel they have done their job and that’s that.

How come, other than the obvious major impact of the surname, was Jones-Gretzky’s name released as being involved? She has yet to be charged with any crime, and is most likely going to be used more for leverage over the other participants, than to face legal charges. Why was her name not held back until all the other possible names were released as well?

While she is most likely in a most embarrassing situation for herself, other than trying to extricate his wife from an ugly situation, Wayne Gretzky has no apparent involvement in the actual betting circle. And yet it’s his name that now seems to be tied to every story about the betting ring. The media need to return to the main story, that of the betting circle and which other NHLers other than the now alleged Tocchet, are actively part of the situation. Now that would be the news story to follow, not the Gretzky name dropping festival that has followed since the issue first came to light.

Yes, Gretzky made an error in originally denying knowledge of his wife’s involvement and as subsequent media leaks have shown, he was in contact with Tocchet about the involvement of his wife. But, one suspects that was more a matter of concern over his wife and friend’s situation, than any sense of sweeping the issue away. Surely even Wayne Gretzky would realize that no matter how he may wish it not to be, once this information was released to the public, his family’s name would be splashed around the world. If he was involved other than as a spouse and friend, he must realize that he would have to come clean.The fact he has had nothing to say other than to support his wife and friend should be the end of his targeting by the media, unless they have proof otherwise.

His behavior at a league level is still to be examined. He most likely should have had his co-coach take the matter the NHL early on. It's an ethical problem for Gary Bettman and the league to determine. Gretzky may not have bet on the games, but he should have realized the damage the situation could cause his sport and acted accordingly. His judgment was wrong in that and will be the subject of much more debate. But again he broke no laws that we are aware of.

Those that did break the law should and will be identified and prosecuted by New Jersey law officials and those NHLers involved should be expelled from further league involvement. But perhaps we should wait for the actual indictments, witness lists and court testimony before we start to run a McCarthy like witch hunt.

The latest media storm revolves around whether Gretzky should be allowed to go to Turin to head the Canadian Hockey delegation there. It seems like a rather unfair call by some in the media. He has not been charged with any wrong doing, has stated that he is not a bettor and other than a friendship with one principal and a marital relationship with the other newsworthy name, Gretzky would seem for now to be not involved. Why should he then, not be allowed to take his team to Europe or not be wanted at the Olympic Games?

Unless his name appears on an indictment he is thus, just another citizen, one with family troubles but nothing that should preclude his involvement in any enterprise he should wish to take part in.

If the media has proof of his wrongdoing in this situation, then they should present it and then make their calls for him to step aside from his duties. Until then, idle speculation and rumour mongering will be an unwelcome addition to the debate.

We have a tendency in this country to tear down our icons when they get too big for us; however we need to tread carefully in these matters. Without evidence, without facts and without merit, we run the risk of tarnishing a stellar reputation and the many good deeds done by him in the past.

Canadian’s appreciate hard facts, if we’re proven wrong over time then shame on him and shame on us. But, all evidence thus far points to non involvement in the contentious issue of the day. With that in mind, Gretzky should be allowed to run his team. He was there at the start of the process, he should not be denied his place as the completion of the project unfolds on the ice in Turin.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Sens slumping their way to the break

Three of the last four games have been losses, the once omnipotent defence is suddenly porous and the explosive game of the forwards is firing blanks. In short, it's a hell of a time to head into a slump.

The Ottawa Senators continued to spin their wheels, as they surrendered a second period lead and ended up on the short side of a 2-1 decision to the Atlanta Thrashers. The usually reliable Senator power play once again went stealth as the Sens could not capitalize on the three advantages they were given during the game.

Penalties once again caused the Senators problems as they gave up both goals while shorthanded.

The game marked the return of marina Hossa to the team that once was his and the folks in Ottawa gave him a rather good hand as he took to the Scotiabank Place ice, a marked difference to the reception given to Dany Heatley when the Sens played in Atlanta in early January.

Kari Lehtonen proved to be the answer for the Thrashers as he stood his ground in the first period and stopped all thirteen of the shots directed his way, by the time the night was over he had stopped another twenty shots on the way to the Thrasher's win.

The Sens play Philadelphia on Saturday night to bring the pre Olympic break schedule to an end, having been frustrated in their last three games it could prove to be a pivotal game for them. A win will send them off to their appointed Olympic duties with a sense of achievement, a loss and they'll have two weeks to brood over what they need to do to get back on track.

Regardless of what the playes may do on their time off, the Sens management have a bit of work ahead of them. Trying to piece together the missing parts of the machine that was running so smooth only one month ago.

An Endorsement waiting for a call!

Jose Thoedore
President of the Hair Club for Men!

It wasn't such a great day for hockey

Even Badger Bob Johnson would have had a hard time Thursday putting a happy spin on the events of the game he so loved. Each hour seemed to bring upon us another revelation, rumor or recitation of fact in the now infamous Project slap shot.

Names were dropped like celebrities at the opening of an awards show. Have you heard? So and so was involved, or I think we're going to hear a few more names later on today. The rumor mill is running overtime as each competing journalist or broadcaster, tries to be the first to break the big names, the ones that will make us go oh no really, him too!

An owner, a skater or a hockey stick maker, you name it everybody is a candidate for what could be a new season of HBO's big hit The Wire. And that's the problem this whole mess is causing, without any actual names on indictments it seems that everyone is a suspect as is the game.

What is sure is that Mr. Tocchet is in a world of trouble at the moment, his newly hired lawyer doing his best to try and deflect some of the heat, but it's a hard to road to hoe that one.

Going down the same sidestreet might be Wayne Gretzky's wife Janet who has apparently blossomed from being a bit player in the melo-drama into a starring role, no longer a B list actress with few lines, she unfortunately may now receive the role of her life and be asked to deliver what may be the valedictorian address of this entire affair.

Then there is the tragic figure in this drama, the fate of King Wayne of Canada. One of his best friends is implicated as the ringleader of the operation and his wife is suggested as one of the best supporters of it. All apparently without his knowledge, nor approval or monetary support (we truly hope).

One hopes it's true that he was so in the dark that he can remain untainted by the tangled web being woven by the New Jersey State Police. But the more the investigators dig, the more dirt that seemingly is uncovered. Each passing hour of no comments from the principals leaves more and more questions unanswered. The league waits for the other shoe to drop, while at the same time calling in a US legal heavyweight to conduct its own investigation.

The nation of the games' birth finds a little more of its innocence taken away, the game of our youth suddenly cast under an unwanted glare. Sometimes we're just a tad too naive in the great White North, refusing to believe that our game can be tainted by unwanted influences.

As if to provide a diversion from the gambling fiasco, we found ourselves embroiled in a possible drug scandal to go with our bad news days. The Montreal Canadiens called a press conference to release the news that Habs goaltender Jose Theodore, at one time on the Team Canada list for Torino, had tested positive for a banned substance.

Theodore had delivered a positive test for propecia, a hair regrowth agent that can sometimes be used to mask steroid usage. The Canadiens provided some background on Theodore's health and family history and his worries over hair loss and suggested that this is much ado about nothing. Judging by the look of Theodore's thick mane, a serious endorsement contract should be in the works if nothing else! In fact, the league was quick to clear him of any suspicion and stated that he had no concerns about his future in the NHL.

It remains to be seen if the answers provided by the Habs will quell the inquiring minds, though the cynics will be investigating this whole situation (pardon the pun) with a fine tooth comb.

Regardless, the development comes at a rather inopportune time, casting more suspicion on the NHL and it's handling of the drug issue over the last years and giving Dick Pound more ammunition in his battle with the NHL powers that be.

All in all, a day that hockey could have done without. The events of the day providing more worries for a league and for a nation, which was thinking of bright gold medals and media spotlights and now thinks of things a little less shiny and from a place a little darker!

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Players of the Week February

Below are the players of the week for February. Selected for their achievements in NHL action. Click on the names for biographies and statistic material on each recipient.

February 13 Goaltender, Manny Legace, Detroit
February 13 Forward, Patrick Marleau, San Jose
February 6 Forward, Henrik Sedin, Vancouver
February 6 Goaltender, Ryan Miller, Buffalo

Arena Rock 2006

Get ready hockey fans, coming soon to a music store near you, a brand new sampler of those soon to be classics from the arenas of the NHL. It's a sure bet for a great gift!

From the blue line to the betting line, it’s music to drop the puck and a few bucks to.

Arena Rock 2006

18 songs guaranteed to be a hit! Get yours now, before we clear the house!

Offer not available in New Jersey or Arizona!

Murder Incorporated—Bruce Springsteen

Hold the Line--Toto

Tumbling Dice-Rolling Stones

Feel Like a Number—Bob Seger

American Roulette-Robbie Robertson

The Gambler-Kenny Rogers

Against All Odds-Phil Collins

Money-the Flying Lizards

Gimme All Your Money-ZZ Top

Money-Pink Floyd

Roll the Bones--Rush

You Better, You better, You bet-Pete Townshend

25 or 6 to 4—Chicago

Criminal Mind—Gowan

State Trooper-Bruce Springsteen

Money for Nothing-Dire Straits

Rikki Don’t Lose that Number—Steely Dan

Woke up this morning-A3