Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Sweden shows the home folk a good time

For Germany the good news is that there are now more home grown players in the line up than ever before, gone apparently are the days where Canadian boys who had distant relatives in Germany, could don the colours of Deutschland without argument. The not so good news for Germany's head coach Franz Reindl is, that many of the homegrowns are not quite the Ready for Prime Time Players.

With seven NHL hands on the bench Germany gave it a valiant effort, but were outperformed by a star studded Swedish squad as game number two in the World Cup of Hockey took place in Stockholm. The one line that Germany could offer up as an offensive threat was Sturn, Goc and Hecht, key on them as the Swedes did and scoring ops are few and far between. To counter that short coming, Germany utilized a rather ugly defensive style of play, clogging up the centre ice area and hoping to keep the Swedes cooped up, but eventually Sweden found a way to break free of the desperation move. By the third period of this icebreaker for both teams the Germans were offering little in the way of resistance to the Swedish attack.

Hometown hero Mats Sundin figured prominently in the game, making some eye catching passes, gaining two assists and scoring one of those highlight style goals you watch with awe. This one a wicked backhander, that caught German goaltender Ollie Kolzig a bit unawares, Sundin’s goal broke a 1-1 tie and started the Swedes on to their eventual 5-2 defeat of the Germans.

Sweden controlled most of the flow of the game, spending a fair amount of the game peppering Kolzig with shots after shot. By the time the final whistle had blown and the teams had returned to their dressing rooms, Kolzig had faced 42 shots while Tommy Salo handled 19 German attempts. Salo raised a few eyebrows at times as he misplayed both German goals, the first a breakaway by Marco Sturm which saw Salo go down early and leave a fair amount of net for the San Jose shark to shoot at, the second goal a shot by Daniel Kreutzer was eerily similar to one Salo fluffed in the Olympics fluttering over his glove into the top corner. Fortunately for Sweden the Germans wouldn’t wander into the Swedish end all that often during the game.

Swedish marksmen included Tomas Holstrom, Kim Johnsson, Marcus Nillson and Frederik Modin scored in addition to Sundin. While they played a well rounded game, the Swedes were not overly happy with their performance, suggesting they need to tighten things up a bit if they hope to go any distance in the competition. Goaltending may become their Achilles heel before the 14th of September. It’s expected that Maple Leaf Mikael Tellqvist will get the nod on Wednesday, when the Swedes are home to the Czech Republic

For Germany one lesson to learn from the Swedish game will be to stay out of the penalty box. The Germans took too many penalties giving the Swedes far more chances than they really needed. Taking seven penalties in the game they were fortunate that Sweden could only convert one for a power play goal. If they give Finland that many chances on Thursday they may find themselves chasing Finnish forwards for most of the game.

World Cup quest takes to the ice, Finns take Game Number One

With summer taking its last sunny (well in some parts of Canada) licks at August, we turned our attention to Hockey. A 10 am puck drop on the west coast, ushered in the 2004 edition of the World Cup of Hockey as Finland and the Czech Republic broke the ice on the much anticipated tournament. The Finnish team entertained the hometown fans in Helsinki with a convincing 4-0 victory over a rather disinterested looking bunch of Czech skaters.

Miikka Kiprusoff had a relatively easy time of things as the Czechs only managed to put 12 shots on net in the 60 minutes of hockey. Tomas Vokoun at the other end was facing a veritable barrage of shots. Vokoun was the lone stand out in a Czech uniform, as the Finns fired 30 shots at the Nashville Predator product. Despite his best efforts Finland scored four times, three of them in the final period of play.

Finland got the first goal of the tournament mid way through the first period, when Swiss league player Jukka Hentunen put the first puck past Vokoun, they held that 1-0 lead into the third when the floodgates opened with a vengeance. As the third period began the Finns scored on a goal from Montreal Canadien, Saku Koivu who wears the C in his duties with Team Finland, Niko Kapenen of the Dallas Stars scored shortly after that with goal number three and Mikko Eloranta, one of two Finnish league players on the Team Finland line-up wrapped up the scoring midway through the final period.

The Czechs who entered the tournament reeling from the tragic loss of their head coach Ivan Hlinka never seemed to get untracked. Sluggish, disorganized and exhibiting no interest in playing defence the Czechs looked relieved to be leaving the ice after 60 minutes of play, having hardly broken a sweat.

Vladimir Ruzicka who was pressed into the head coaching duties upon the death of Hlinka has the unenviable job of trying to get the Czech squads heads back into the game. With a rather deep line up, its surprising that the effort wasn’t there Monday, if the Czechs are going to make any kind of run in this tournament the likes of Jaromir Jagr, Milan Hejduk, Tomas Kaberle and Robert Reichel are going to have to take a more determined leadership role onto the ice and into the dressing room.

Game one was not a stellar debut for the Czechs, who seemed to surrender ice and opportunity at the first sign of opposition. Saku Koivu even mentioned the rather easy time his Finnish team had in this opening game. They get to test the ice again on Thursday when they travel to Cologne to take on the German squad. For the Czechs the road doesn’t get any easier, their next match is Wednesday at Stockholm when the face the Swedish team at the Globe Arena. A few more efforts like that on Monday and they won’t need to make any reservations for the trip to North America.

Monday, August 30, 2004

World Cup Summaries

Follow the World cup game by game, as we post Game Summaries and Recaps nightly.

August 30, Finland 4, Czech Republic 0
August 30, Finland/Czech recap
August 31, Sweden 5, Germany 2
August 31, Sweden/Germany recap
August 31, Canada 2, USA 1
August 31, Canada/USA recap
September 1, Sweden 4, Czech Republic 3
September 1, Sweden/Czech Republic recap
September 1, Canada 5, Slovakia 1
September 1, Canada/Slovakia recap
September 2, Finland 3, Germany 0
September 2, Finland/Germany recap
September 2, Russia 3, USA 1
September 2, Russia/USA recap
September 3, Czech Republic 7, Germany 2
September 3, Czech Republic/Germany recap
September 3, USA 3, Slovakia 1
September 3, USA/Slovakia recap
September 4, Finland 4, Sweden 4
September 4, Finland/Sweden recap
September 4, Canada 3, Russia 1
September 4, Canada/Russia recap
September 5, Russia 5, Slovakia 2
September 5, Russia/Slovakia recap
September 6, Finland 2, Germany 1
September 6, Finland/Germany recap
September 7, Czech Republic 6, Sweden 1
Settember 7, Czech Republic/Sweden recap
September 7, USA 5, Russia 3
September 7, USA/Russia Recap
September 8, Canada 5, Slovakia 0
September 8, Canada/Slovakia recap
September 10, Finland 2, USA 1
September 10, Finland/USA recap
September 11, Canada 4, Czech Republic 3
September 11, Canada/Czech Republic recap
September 14, Canada 3, Finland 2 CANADA WINS THE WORLD CUP
September 14, Canada/Finland recap

Sunday, August 29, 2004

Just like kissing your sister!

Team Canada’s final tune up game in the World Cup of hockey ended up as a draw, as the Canadians and the Slovaks played to a 2-2 tie in Ottawa Saturday night.

Jarome Iginla scored midway through the third, helping the Canadian squad to battle back and get the game even. Vincent Lecavalier had the other Canadian marker and Dany Heatley registered two assists in the Canadian cause.

Martin Brodeur worked the entire game facing nineteen shots in 60 minutes, giving up two goals one to Marion Hossa and the other to Vladimir Orszagh. The Slovaks featured Rastislav Stana in the nets; the Washington Capital faced 31 shots. As the Canadians pressured late in the game, he lifted his game a notch to hold off the attack and keeping the Slovak team in the game.

A sloppy first period almost proved deadly for the Canadian team as they found themselves guilty of standing still and watching the fast moving Slovaks travel up and down the ice. Pat Quinn again tinkered with his lines, juggling the first two lines regularly through the game. The movement of Iginla off of Mario Lemieux’s line worked in this game; it sparked Iginla onto that goal in the third. Lemieux himself had a golden chance to put the game away late in the third but missed the puck on a shot attempt on an open net.

Canada carried the play into the overtime, and found itself frequently in the slot or to the side taking a shot or making passes. A few breaks and they would have won the game in the OT.

The Canadians rest up on Sunday and then head for Montreal, they face the American team on Tuesday night as they get this World Cup underway with a game against their main rival these days. Considered to be the front runner in this tourney, there’s nothing like jumping into the competition right off the bat, no lesser skilled warm up teams to run up a score against. Instead it’ll be hard nosed North American hockey in game one. No doubt Pat Quinn wouldn’t have it any other way.

Tear it down, so as to start over?

Deny, Deny, Deny that seems to be the main approach to a prospect first voiced on 640 Mojo radio in Toronto. During a Saturday afternoon interview with Bill Watters on Mojo, the idea of shutting down the NHL and re launching it as a different entity was suggested. Watters going so far as to say that he had been told by one league owner that it was a very serious option being considered for January should the dispute last that long.

That concept was quickly shot down by the leagues Executive Vice President Billy Daly, who said that no such plan was under consideration. Daly stated that “I can unequivocally tell you that is not the case”

With the Mojo story taking on a life of its own, The Fan 590 in Toronto was quick to jump into the end of the Hockey World as we know it angle, with their own story stating much the same. They too based their story on an un-named GM, who had expressed the belief that a brand new league is very much a possibility.

Now HockeyNation is not sure exactly how that would work, for if it indeed were possible to just close your business and start over the country would be riddled with thousands of labour disputes solved simply by changing the name on the sign. Since it doesn’t happen regularly in the real world, it seems beyond belief that the NHL would be able to get it by the legal and governmental types of two separate nations. When Ford and GM have a labour dispute they don’t just close the plant, change the letterhead and reopen up a week later, somehow we assume there is some kind of labour legislation out there some place governing this kind of solution to labour woe.

One thing is certain though, this bit of rumour mongering means that Hockey fans are now officially in a vacuum, with nothing of substance to help us along the way, we’re left to listen to the rumours and the ravings of the conspiracy buffs. Most of who apparently have a direct line to Toronto radio stations.

Saturday, August 28, 2004

A game of “charades” reaches the boiling point

For two sides that had planned on keeping a low profile during the World Cup of hockey, negotiators for the NHL and NHLPA have a funny concept of staying quiet.

The rancour of the most recent discussions, was dumped out into the media on Friday, as the NHL’s Executive Vice President Bill Daly blasted the NHLPA for “engaging in a charade”. Daly apparently at the point of total frustration voiced the opinion; “that the players association has no intention of bargaining in good faith towards any kind of agreement”. Daly looked into a crystal ball and predicted that the Union would come up with a “last ditch” window dressed idea just before the deadline, which would apparently be rejected sending us into a lock out situation.

The NHLPA for its side, issued its own release afterwards, suggesting that Mr. Daly’s outburst was the result of the realization that the league’s wish for a hard salary cap was not going to be met with anything resembling acceptance.

In addition to the rebuttal to Mr. Daly, the union has also provided an advisory to its members that the possibility of a labour disruption lasting the entire season is very real.

Daly’s suggestion that the players wished to force a lockout so as to win public support was dismissed by the unions as mere grandstanding. The players bargaining team stating that any such plan would be ludicrous.

The outburst of course does not bode well for any constructive bargaining between now and the deadline of September 15th. The two sides are slated to meet again next week in Montreal as the World Cup gets under way, but it seems hard to fathom how they can sit in the same city, let alone same hotel room considering the animosity that seems to be bubbling up.

Perhaps with a weekend to cool off, saner heads will return to the table on Monday, but judging by the accusations flying around publicly, the atmosphere around the table is probably not going to be conducive to any quick breathroughs.

Is this the beginning of the Unravelling?

As the labour negotiations in NHL continue along their rancid path, the NHLPA may have one less card to play. It seems that they may not be able to use the WHA as a bargaining hammer for much longer.

In a surprise (though cynics would say not unexpected) announcement Friday, the fledgling league announced that its Quebec franchise had been taken away from the rights holder, Jean Paul Boily. Citing frequent appearances at WHA meetings seeking financial concessions, the league decided that Mr. Boily did not have the financial where-with-all to put a team on the ice this year and thus have terminated their operating agreement with him.

Now it possibly takes rather large cojones to start waving the finger of financial misrepresentation around. For all its bluster and occasional media releases, there has not been much said, let alone done, from the WHA headquarters since they held their player draft a month ago.

For a league planning on taking to the ice in November they face a rather large mountain called credibility. They haven’t signed any player of any skill level, to a contract as of yet. This despite the motions of draft from a Niagra Falls casino in July. The only big name they seem to have pursued in any fashion, Sidney Crosby has decided to stick to junior hockey and for the most part the majority of the remaining teams have yet to sign a lease with any arena.

With the exception of the Detroit franchise, none of the other teams have a GM or a coach, trainer or stickboy, let alone players. In short, the league still appears to remain the vision of a couple of guys in a bar, drafting teams on the back of a beer bottle coaster.

The final word on the state of the WHA at the moment belongs to league co-founder Al Howell who said: “The fans of Quebec deserve WHA hockey and we will now explore all options to make this a reality”.

One suspects that the hockey fans of Quebec City must be thinking what they did to deserve this salad of unfulfilled expectations.

Friday, August 27, 2004

Judge Kitchen hears a plea

The Todd Bertuzzi assault trial provided its first appearance of the principle player on Thursday, as the Vancouver Canuck Assistant Captain made his plea in a British Columbia court. With four words, “not guilty, your honour” Bertuzzi set in motion the legal proceedings that will become the focus of the Hockey world for the next little while. The trial to determine is Bertuzzi’s actions on the ice at GM place last march against Colorado Avalanche Steve Moore promises to be a media show along the lines of the Kobe Bryant trial. Already news agencies are making plans to apply for permission to have a camera present during the actual trial once it gets under way.

Bertuzzi’s appearance Thursday, his first since the charges were laid, was a short lived affair. With his wife by his side and his lawyer in tow, Bertuzzi quickly arrived, stepped out of his SUV and into courtroom and then left. Bertuzzi did all his talking in the court, having nothing to say to the assembled media, fans and casual observers gathered outside the Law Courts in Vancouver. Radio stations interrupted their programming with “bulletins”, one when he arrived, the other when he left. Television stations had the cameras rolling each one striving to capture the seriousness of the situation with a gripping visual. One wonders how the voracious Vancouver newspapers will handle the story; expect front page photos and in-depth coverage of what amounted to about a ten minute event.

With his plea entered the next phase of the trial will be to set a date for the proceedings to continue. That will take place next Wednesday when the lawyers gather once again in front of the judge to set forth their timetable.

The crown attorney is seeking a summary conviction which means there will be no preliminary hearing and no jury pool required the case will be heard by a judge alone. Should Bertuzzi find himself convicted, the most his sentence could be would be eighteen months. A situation that a number of players surveyed on Thursday wouldn’t want to see. Contacted at the Team Canada training camp, team mate Ed Jovanovski said he was fully behind his assistant captain and felt that the situation had been dealt with fairly by the league. Joe Sakic, who is the captain of the Avalanche and a team mate of Moores, likewise echoed similar sentiments feeling that these incidents should not end up in the courts.

With a possible labour dispute on the horizon it would be interesting to see the status of many of the possible witnesses to the incident. The judge mentioned that if the league solved their difficulties and had a season some of the witnesses would be scattered around the various NHL cities. An even worse scenario might be if the season doesn’t go ahead, who knows where the witnesses might end up if they have to find work elsewhere.

Regardless, with a plea of not guilty the trial will now go ahead. With the very likely scenario of no on ice action to keep the media occupied, Bertuzzi may find that his case is THE only hockey news story of the fall. If he thought he was under the microscope before, things just got magnified even more. This case has all the potential of becoming a media circus, a situation that will benefit no one. The competitive nature of the media in Vancouver means this will be the lead story for the duration of the trial. It will be interesting to see if the coverage will reflect a sensible balanced presentation of facts or a sensationalized tabloid style of run away muckraking.

Thursday, August 26, 2004

Keeping their comments to themselves

They spent five hours in discussions on Wednesday afternoon and when they exited the conference room the only thing that they had to say was no comment.

The NHL and the NHLPA have decided that they don’t want to take away from the excitement and anticipation of the World Cup of Hockey. So they won’t be talking much about how talks are progressing, or how they are not progressing while they continue to talk. Having met for the first time since their less than productive meeting last week in New Jersey, the two sides are keeping a low profile. They meet again on Thursday and say they may have something to say, after they break off discussions later in the day.

The two sides will then regroup and meet again next week in Montreal as the World Cup gets underway. Meetings next Tuesday and Wednesday will take place as the clock continues to tick down towards the September 15th deadline.

As for the players they are concentrating as much as possible on the hockey aspect of things, letting their union reps take care of the face to face consultations. Team Canada has an unusual situation to deal with, they have Wayne Gretzky running the program who just happens to be the one of the owners of the Phoenix Coyotes, while on the ice there’s Mario Lemieux, well documented as the owner the Pittsburgh franchise. Needless to say the collective agreement is not getting much discussion in between the skating drills and other preparations for the World Cup.

Even with the cone of silence in place, the subtle indications are that the owners are preparing for a lengthy battle with their players.

But thankfully for Hockey fans the next two weeks will see the rhetoric kept below our radar, not that many would be paying attention while the game is on the ice. After that it will remain to be seen if the game is put on ice for a while.

Sticking to his original plan

Sidney Crosby gave the thought of becoming an instant millionaire about two weeks of serious thought, but at the end of the day, the junior player from Nova Scotia decided that the path to success will run through Rimouski for one more year.

Crosby was tempted with a potential 7.5 million dollar contract offered up, 2 million of which would have been his whether the new WHA ever took to the ice or not. The Hamilton franchise of the newly formed league had hoped to lure Crosby away from the junior leagues and become the leagues first marquee signing. The WHA which has been keeping a rather low profile of late, let the word slip out that they had made the offer to Crosby on the same day his father advised the media that he had turned the league down.

Better to have tried and failed than to not try at all could be the credo at the WHA office these days, and well if the young phenom had turned them down anyways why not make the contract offer extremely high so as to show the league as ready to chase after some primo players.

In the end, the Crosby’s decided that the uncertain status of the WHA (the league really hasn’t progressed very far with its plans since the franchise announcements of a few months ago) that weighed against making the leap to pro hockey. That and some unfinished business in junior hockey, Crosby would like another shot at a Memorial Cup and of course be in Canada’s line up when they try to reclaim the title of World Champions and a gold medal at the World Junior Championships in North Dakota this year.

For the Hamilton franchise the gambit was seen as a way to try and secure a lease with officials at the Copps Coliseum. The new franchise has been having some problems getting a deal done on ice time at Copps, situation that many of the other WHA teams share, the Toronto franchise still has yet to secure a home for the upcoming season and little has been heard from BC since the Vancouver spokespeople advised they were inquiring about ice time at GM Place, one can imagine the quality dates they’ll get there after the Canucks schedule is factored in (providing the Canucks actually have a reason to take to the ice in September).

The Crosby’s would have received 2 million dollars up front for Sidney; his even if the league never plays a single period. It would have been like having a money tree; bills would fall off after each day progressed with no puck hitting the ice. Already with the clock ticking on the league there is some talk that they may not actually start play until November as some of the teams are having problems securing ice time. Sidney would thus have been cashing cheques through September and October wondering if November would send him to work.

As it is he’ll be heading to camp shortly, the Rimouski Oceanic’s, still wanting to learn some more skills and work on his style of play. He’ll make it to the pros, there’s no doubt about that, but he’ll do it on his own schedule, somehow one gets the feeling he won’t be too disappointed when he gets his first paystub. In this case, a good thing will not doubt be coming to those that wait.

Smooth skating in Ottawa

Team Canada took advantage of the Tampa connection for a scoring spurt in the second period which propelled the Canadians on to a 3-1 victory over Team USA in Ottawa Wednesday night.

Vincent Lecavalier and Brad Richards, benefiting from the example of some fellow named Lemieux, scored two of the three Canadian goals and Joe Sakic added the final marker as the Canadians recovered from Monday’s loss at Columbus. Playing a style of hockey that Jarome Iginla called “Canadian hockey” Team Canada added some physical play to their speed game as they turned the tables on the Americans, who took the play to them two nights ago.

Despite being outshot by the Americans, Canada held back a charge in the third period when the USA outshot the host 15-6. Roberto Lunongo, who let in all three goals on Monday night, held off the Americans for his half of the game, turning over the netminding duties to Jose Theodore at 10 minutes of the second. Theodore weathered the third period storm fairly handily, giving up a goal to Chris Drury, at the 4 minute mark of the third. But having faced 18 of 19 shots successfully Theodore made a strong case for the opportunity to serve as back up to Team Canada starter Martin Brodeur.

The Americans started Robert Esche in the nets on Wednesday he kept the Canadians off the scoreboard for his 30 minutes of play, Canada getting all of their goals when Ty Conklin took over midway through the second.

For coach Pat Quinn the Canadian effort was more to his liking, he particularly was impressed with the rapport between Richards, Lecavalier and Lemieux and also felt that all the forwards did a much better job of coming back to help out in their own end.

The two teams have one exhibition game remaining; Canada plays Slovakia on Saturday in Ottawa while the Americans take on the Russian team on Friday in Columbus. With one more game to work out the line combinations, shake out any remaining rust and get their systems down, both Canada and USA feel they’ll be ready for action when the tournament gets under way on August 30th.

Tuesday, August 24, 2004

NHL Hockey in late September is looking less and less likely.

For Hockey fans hoping for positive news regarding the labour situation things aren’t shaping up too good. Both sides seem rather entrenched in their positions and as time ticks down towards a mid September shut down, there seem less and less reasons to be hopeful.

In a fascinating hour of discussion Monday morning, CKNW talk show host Bill Good had former Vancouver Canuck President and GM, Brian Burke and former Canucks owner Arthur Griffiths on to talk about the state of the NHL and what kind of hope they had for a strike or lock out free settlement by the 15th of September.

The consensus of Griffiths and Burke was that a work stoppage of some length was probably unavoidable, lasting at least until Christmas and maybe beyond. A shutdown would definitely be bad news for hockey owners, players and fans. But it would also be particularly bad for local businesses and services in the NHL cities. Numbers vary from city to city but for the most part NHL game night is an economic engine in the immediate area of any NHL arena. From ticket takers to concession workers at the rink, to restaurants, hotels and stores in the NHL cities there would be an economic price to pay to dark rinks for a year.

Good and his guests discussed that impact, as well as the financial ramifications on the league should the shutdown of hockey last more than the season. It was the expectation of those interviewed during the hour that should the league be shut down for the year, there is a very good chance that a number of franchises would not recover from the economic hit and would fold. Contraction will come to the NHL with a vengeance if the shut down lasts a serious amount of time.

HockeyNation fans can listen in to the interview simply by heading for the CKNW website, clicking on the AudioVault section and listening in to the 9am-10 am segment for Monday August 23rd.

Arthur Griffiths will be bringing his extensive knowledge of the ownership side of the game to MOJO radio in Vancouver next week. Griffith’s has been hired on as an on air commentator, hosting a program covering all aspects of the labour dispute, starting Monday August 30th at 10 am (PST). I guess we have pre game shows on the radio, so we can look at this as a Pre Strike/Lockout show.

For those looking for silver linings in our apparently very grey skies, so far Griffiths has signed on only for a two week run, Hockey fans everywhere while not wishing ill for Arthur, no doubt are hoping his show is cancelled before September turns to October.

Don’t Panic! It doesn’t count yet!

It’s bad enough that the Olympic medal count is rather low at the moment for Canada, but Monday for many will be a dark day for another reason. Team Canada dropped its first World Cup of Hockey exhibition game, against a strong American squad in Columbus, Ohio Monday night.

The USA took advantage of some defensive miscues and some mental errors in the net, to take the Canadians to school with a 3-1 victory in the first scrimmage between the two teams. A strong fore-check in the Canadian zone forced turnovers, as the relatively young defensive corps of Canada found itself under quite a bit of pressure through out the game.

With a number of injuries to past Olympic and World Cup participants for Canada it’s a younger make up on the blue line this time. And while Pat Quinn has quite a bit of faith in his rear guard, there were some uncharacteristic mistakes made in the Canadian end.

Bill Guerin, Brian Rolston and Jordan Leopold scored for the USA as they took the play to Canada out shooting the Canadians 34-20. Dany Heatley scored Canada’s only goal of the game, giving Canada the lead mid way through the first period. But in the second period it was all USA as they came at Canada in wave after wave, pinching low into the zone and keeping the Canadian defence trying to keep up. A more physical play by the Americans also contributed to their success, as they played the body quite well during the final 30 minutes adding an exclamation point to their performance.

Martin Brodeur started the game for Team Canada and stopped all 18 shots that he faced, though a couple of shots seemed hard to handle at times and almost ended up behind him. Roberto Luongo took over midway through the second and got off to a rather rough start, giving up the first goal for the USA seven seconds after arriving on the ice. The second American goal came late in the second on only the fourth shot faced by the Florida Panther goaltender, leaving him to shake his head in disbelief at the intermission.

Canada did not dress its big line of Mario Lemieux, Martin St. Louis and Brad Roberts who were given the night off. Causing conspiracy theories to fly around about health problems in the Canadian camp. Rumours that were dismissed by Team Canada officials as baseless. The decision to sit Lemieux et al, left Jerome Iginla, Simon Gagne and Joe Sakic to try and light a spark on the offensive front, but their line had a rough night with few chances and misguided passes the order of the night.

The two teams return to the ice on Wednesday at the Corel Centre in Ottawa, Pat Quinn who was not overly impressed with his teams effort, will no doubt be doing some tinkering and making a few changes before game time Wednesday.

Brian Leetch who gained two assists in Monday’s game expects a much tougher battle on Wednesday, as the two teams continue to feel each other out. He and his fellow team mates on Team USA don’t expect to run roughshod over the Canadians for the length of the tournament. And as they all realize, exhibition games are designed to highlight the flaws and allow for correction. Pat Quinn will be watching some film on Tuesday, ready to make the changes that will bring his team back up to high readiness when the part of the tournament that counts for real gets underway on August 30th.

Saturday, August 21, 2004

The ice is fresh and the skates are sharp

Team Canada has its first two practices under its belt and the general attitude is one of great expectations and anxiousness to get to the job at hand. As Al Strachan points out in a piece on Canoe, there’s nobody dreading the call to work here. No tries to think up creative injuries to avoid giving up their summer vacation to don the sweater and play for their country. In fact faced with any kind of injury many times the player will wait til the last possible moment to give up the chance, normally with the greatest disappointment.

The risks must come close to outweighing the rewards. Every time Canada goes into an international hockey competition we expect the team to win. Hockey we say is still our game, Winning is expected, losing rarely factored in. Woe is the team that doesn’t come back with the gold medal, the world trophy or whatever trinket offered up by the organizing committee. A loss can send countless hockey fans off to therapy, wondering what is wrong with our game, why we didn’t win. Secure a win and its business as usual, a quicker gait to our step, a little taller in our walk.

With that kind of pressure, Team Canada takes to the practice rink at the University of Ottawa. Players normally thought of as the star attraction on their club teams; try to find the best way to fit into a system. Building a team such as this ends with the young phenom of the moment, suddenly a star struck kid in the face of long time veterans sharing a stall, a hunk of the bench or the ice in a scrimmage.

While they shake out the rust they get put through their paces by Head Coach Pat Quinn, who will put together the lines, draw up the plays and sit back and marvel at the talent lined up before him.

A few more practices and they face their first test of the pre tournament phase, and exhibition game against the USA in Columbus on Monday night. Long time rivals, the two teams will rekindle a match up that has resulted in memorable and quite physical games. No slow break in period this time around, it’s right to work, right away.

The practice rounds will continue until they drop the puck on August 31st in Montreal against the USA. With the NHL season still up in the air, the two weeks that follow that first game, should prove to be an intense and fast paced tribute to our national game. If we are to be faced with no hockey come mid September at least we’ll be going out in style.

With any luck the NHL owners will realize just what a special game they have, or we’ll realize just what it is were going to lose. Either way we’re bound to be left with some pretty impressive memories by the end of the tournament, let’s hope that it’s not all we have to remember over the long run!

Wednesday, August 18, 2004

We'll meet again, don't know where, don't know when!

Well actually with apologies to Vera Lynn, the two sides in the NHL dispute actually do know when they’ll meet again. Day planners have been marked for August 25th and 26th as well as August 31st and September 1st, as they try to come to some middle ground on the brewing crisis over salaries.

What they’ll talk about remains to be seen as neither side really has given any ground in the never ending debate on what the NHL will look like upon the end of the current collective agreement.

After five and half hours on Tuesday the best they could come up with was four more meetings to try to step back from the brink of a Hockey Armageddon. The leagues head legal advisor Bill Daly said that time was running short and regrettably the two sides were still quite far apart. He added that they need to start making some progress after the union rejected all six of the previously introduced league proposals.

With the negative reaction to those six ideas, Bill Goodenow and his team of negotiators now find themselves expected to introduce some talking points for the next set of meetings at the end of the month. Tuesday’s session was used up recounting the league’s view of the financial health of the league and its franchises. So far the union has come up with the concept of a luxury tax which so far has been firmly rejected by the owners group. They want a situation where revenues and costs are linked, the much ballyhooed cost certainty.

With time running out on the two sides the need to come to some arrangement by September 15th as the Hockey fan grows desperate. However, with the two sides taking five and a half hours to basically agree to disagree and to meet again to go through the motions, hope for a salvaging of the upcoming season is not being bounced around very much. Bill Daly has said that the league officials will make themselves available every day until the deadline to try and get this thing solved. But unless they have something of substance to talk about, you get the feeling that the phone won’t be ringing off the hook.

Neither side has come out and said that the start of the season is lost, but one can’t help but think that unless there is a sudden change of attitudes on both sides, all this talk is going to be just that, pointless talk. The only action we’ll see may be some form of job action either launched by the NHLPA or enforced by the league itself.

Hlinka will be missed by more than his Czech homeland!

The tragic passing of Ivan Hlinka continues to send expressions of disbelief around the hockey community. The popular Czech Republic head coach was killed in an automobile accident on Monday while on his way to a meeting with Jaromir Jagr. The man generally credited with propelling the Czech hockey team onto success on the world stage, was preparing to tie up some lose ends with Jagr. His goal was to make sure the Czech star would be joining his countrymen in this summers World Cup of Hockey.

Hlinka is being mourned in his homeland for his heart and soul determination for the Czech Republic. He starred as a player as they won world championships in 1972, 1976 and 77; he represented his country in the Olympics as well with a bronze medal in 1972 and Silver in 1976. His coaching efforts for the Czechs were equally successful taking his players on to two world championships and three Olympic medals including the Gold medal in 1998.

And while he is probably best known for his coaching expertise in world hockey, Hlinka was also a trailblazer in the NHL. He joined the Vancouver Canucks in 1981 as he and countrymen Jiri Bubla began the wave of Czech players to cross the ocean and find success in the NHL. Hlinka only spent two years in Vancouver, but his time there firmly placed his name in the record books, he shared the record for most points by a rookie when he and Pavel Bure both ended up with 60 points in their debut year. During his two year stint in Vancouver Hlinka tallied 42 goals and 81 assists over 137 games. He never seemed to receive the attention that many of the Canuck projects of those years did, and his short stay in the NHL guaranteed that his star would shine bright but fast.

Hlinka played in Switzerland for a year before turning his attention to coaching and running a national program. With the exception of his short time with the Penguins first as an assistant and then as a head coach, most of Hlinka’s coaching talents were provided for the benefit of his Czech compatriots. His time behind an NHL bench was short, from 1999-2001, but his stint as one of the first European head coaches provided a new approach to hockey in the NHL, five man units long a staple of the European game were given a try in Pittsburgh, the result led to mixed reviews as the Penguins and their coach suffered a bit of a communication gap, which eventually resulted in his return to Europe.

It was however his early playing days that made a difference in the slowly evolving NHL. He created the path for other Czech players, making things a little bit smoother and easier to travel over the years. When he and Bubla made the trip the idea of Czech’s in the NHL was a rather foreign concept. Check any line up today and you’ll find many sons of both the Czech and Slovak homelands that can raise a glass in tribute to the trail blazed by Ivan Hlinka.

His team will no doubt take to the ice with a heavy heart in a few weeks; however, they can take comfort in knowing that the burden is shared by all fans of hockey.

Monday, August 16, 2004

Every picture tells a story

While I was away the HockeyNation
  • HockeyNation Mail
  • mail site received an interesting correspondence for something called the Hockey Photo project. The creation of a guy named Dan Romuald it so far has collected over 200 photos of hockey taken by the fan.

    Many are of NHL stars but some are from the AHL and other minor leagues. A few look a little shaky, some a little fuzzy but they all reflect hockey at its home. If you have some photos you think you would like to share you can check out the site and contact Dan there.

    The only rule you really need to follow is if you didn't take the photo then don't submit it. Pretty simple stuff. Some unusual shots for you to look over, it will be interesting to see how successful the Hockey Photo project is over the next little while.

    Wednesday, August 11, 2004

    Hockey Gladiators delivered knock out punch!

    Don Cherry will have to look elsewhere for some rock em’, sock em’ fodder, the Hockey Gladiators elimination tournament has been unceremoniously cancelled. Winnipeg promoters Darryl Wolski and Ray Walker had to cancel the planned elimination bouts featuring 32 former professional hockey players, after Winnipeg Police suggested that criminal charges would be laid. Unable to persuade Winnipeg Enterprises Corp. that they were on strong legal grounds, the pair found themselves with a donnybrook without a venue.

    The elimination bouts which were to provide each participant a “talent fee” would eventually lead to a Hockey Gladiator champion, the eventual winner was to receive ever increasing talent fees as he progressed through the stable of contenders and pretenders. And that is what caught the attention of the police and crown attorney’s office; in Canada it is illegal to provide a financial incentive for prize fighting.

    Scheduled for a Pay Per view audience around North America, the Gladiators were to be marked on such skills as number of punches thrown and landed, quality of punches, showmanship, crowd reaction and control of the fight. For the dejected promoters this setback is the second time the scheduled bouts have been derailed. Originally scheduled for the Target Centre in Minneapolis, it was scrubbed there when renovations and ownership changes chased the fights out of Minnesota.

    Wolski and Walker vow to find a home for their traveling band of skating pugilists but haven’t really got any firm plans in mind at the moment.

    Perhaps they could rent out an auditorium and invite Gary Bettman and Bob Gooodenow in to drop the gloves, winner takes all! Salary caps or unfettered free agency for life, now that might fill up an arena and satisfy an ever anxious HockeyNation public!

    Rested and ready to go!

    Back from our little sojourn to the land of cheaper gas and past Stanley Cup champions we find ourselves ready to get back on the ice, go into the corners and stand them up on the Blue line. Thankfully not too much transpired in our absence, the NHL and the NHLPA met, broke bread and continued on their path to break our hearts. A few players changed uni’s most notably the Golden Brett, who if Bob and Gary can strike a deal will bark on behalf of the Desert Dogs this fall, re-activating his father’s number nine as his own, should he get to step onto the ice any time soon.

    Eddie Belfour’s back is once again acting up and so the Eagle won’t be sitting on the bench when Canada faces the world in a few short weeks. Of course Canada’s loss is Toronto’s tragedy already leaf fans are wringing their hands about Belfour’s health.

    The Maple Leafs have dashed the hopes of many a Newfoundlander, as they announced that the Baby Buds will play in Toronna come next year. This gives the dedicated hockey fans of St. John’s, the opportunity to learn how Expo fans have felt for going on five years. The only difference is that the Baby Buds really are going to leave; you’re just never sure with the Spos.

    And then there is the WHA, still proclaiming for one and all to hear that they’ll take to the ice come October. In fact they have even added Vancouver to their stable of franchises, though like most other WHA teams they have no rink, they have no coach, they only have names on a sheet of paper. In Alberta and Texas this is called all hat; no cattle!

    Those are just a few of the stories that popped up while on the road, now firmly re-attached to the HockeyNation computer we scour the world for items to entertain, inform and make you shake your head in wonder or glee. We stand on Guard oh HockeyNation; we stand on guard for thee!