Monday, January 31, 2005

Gary's Anniversary Day!

One suspects that flowers and candy are out, all packages no doubt to be scanned as they arrive at the NHL Head Office in New York Tuesday. February 1st is the 12th anniversary of the reign of Gary Bettman over the empire that once was the NHL. And while the NHL execs hang around the office to eat some cake and maybe answer a phone, others are taking a look back at how the league has fared in the last twelve years.

Ah those heady days when Gary took over and the NHL was a bona fide major league sport, touted as one of the Big Four, Hot where basketball had become oh so cold. Gary who joined the league from the NBA oversaw an expansion to points south and west, an increase to thirty teams and for a while there, some actual media interest on the Big Networks. Even Fox, the hotshot new network on the block, took the time to test drive the sport, bringing the flashing puck to the game, before abandoning hockey and tossing the timeslot over the Nascar aficionados. But for a bit of time there, Hockey was the coolest game, the tickets were selling, the branding was hot and the players for the most part willing to play for the millions shoveled their way by spendthrift owners, unaware of the damage they were committing to their own industry.

But twelve years is a long time to rule an empire, players come and players go, many of the European arrivals had less interest in the almost religious aura of the game and just wanted the big money, if they could earn it without having to play in a brutal playoff tournament so much the better. The North American lads developed a greed gene as well, jumping from small team to the lure of the big cities and their huge contracts, endorsement deals and again early summers.

Along the way though Gary seemed to lose control of his employers, they began to outbid each other for players offering ridiculous sums of money for stars and slugs alike. The bell curve of financial expenditures rose fast under Gary's watch, leading to the state we are in at the moment. Unable to control his owners, Gary hopes to control the players. For the moment though the players are not coming onside to the plan. And so we sit and without games to watch, instead we have time to do some reading.

The reviews of Gary's years in the the retrospective pieces are not kind. A top five list of blunders here or a season killed due to stubborn commissioner story there, it all floods in as the last gasps of what would have been the 2004-05 season play out. Of course his reputation took a bit of a hit just after Christmas, with some blistering reviews from Business week and Sporting News. There are the calls for his head from the media and not to be outdone, Bettman is being haunted from the grave, hockey fan Archie Bennitz blasting both Bettman and Goodenow from his obituary, not exactly the way one would want to celebrate the 12th anniversary now is it!

Calls for full public disclosure are beginning to surface, hockey fans wondering just who really does have hockey's best interests at heart. The New York Post calling for a public vote on an NHLPA proposal. Allowing all owners to publicly stand up and say why they are against the plan. As any good emperor might realize, letting democracy rule is the beginning of the end to the empire!

Helpful players remind the owners that Gary promised them a salary cap and at the moment they are nowhere near that idea. Suggesting that Gary is on thin ice with his employer due to his inability to deliver the Holy Grail of a cap! The suspense continues with each successive meeting that takes place without him or Bob Goodenow being present. They apparently to the point of being more of a distraction to events, than a force for postitive development.

We now wait for the emperor to give us the sign, when the season will end or God forbid it now begin. And while the hockey peasantry await the announcement we notice the other trends.

There are almost half (if not over half) of the players from NHL rosters with signed contracts in Europe, casting their votes with their feet. A testimony that Hockey is an ever changing business now, affiliations and loyalties last no longer than a contract and a dollar value.

But perhaps there is a more appropriate sign that all is not well; Jean Beliveau, Le Gros Bill, has decided to put his many valued items up for auction. While no doubt a personal decision by he and his family, the symbolism of it all though speaks volumes. Memories of seasons gone by are now up for auction, Monsieur Beliveau will probably reap a healthy reward for his treasures and deservedly so, but one hopes that somehow they stay close to hockey. But the sale tells a story for hockey fans on of a longing for a simpler time, one when the games were played on the ice and not in boardrooms and on telephones.

Saturday, January 29, 2005

Arrivederci Italia?

It's probably a little early to worry about, after all the Turin Olympics are still a year away, but there is a rumbling, that unless something happens soon in the NHL/NHLPA dispute, the idea of professionals at the Olympics may be an idea in danger.

Of course if the labour dispute is still going strong by Olympic time, then there's going to be an awful lot of talent chomping at the bit to play some hockey. Perhaps for Olympic glory, we should be hoping for a long a drawn out affair lasting until at least March of 2006.

Having lost half of the current season and with little to indicate that the second half can be salvaged, the two sides will have to turn their attention to getting things on track for next season. But if they do manage to salvage things for 2005-06, it might be doubtful that the owners will want to take a two week break for the Olympics, after spending 365 days down and out.

If they withhold permission for the NHL roster players to travel to Italy then it's back to the good old days of a National team, those hard working everyday guys like O'Malley, Huck and Glennie who toiled for Canada against the powerhouses of Russia and Czechoslovakia back in 1968. Or some soon to be household names like Gregg and Anderson, who wore the maple leaf in 1980. If the pros can't go, then a whole new generation of Canadians may get to wear the colours of the land, while their professional counterparts travel to the outposts of a restarted NHL.

The other side of that argument though may be the saving grace for NHL participation in the Olympics, having been out of the media spotlight for over a year and desperate to rebuild a brand in the USA the quickest way may be to give American's (and Canadians) a quick shot of meaningful hockey. Sending the pros to Turin could be the kick start to rebuilding the games reputation, at least lets hope that's the way they think it out, should they of course ever get to that point where there is hockey on again to worry about!

Friday, January 28, 2005

"what I know for certain is that owners cannot restrain themselves"

Ken Dryden, the current MP for York-Centre, but previously an NHL executive, lawyer and of course pretty damn good goaltender offers a bit of interesting insight into the current mindset of the NHL ownership group. Dryden offers up some vital topics for discussion in an article from Friday editions with the Sun newspaper's Robert Tychkowski.

It would seem that history is forever repeating itself in the Groundhog Day world of the NHL, Dryden recounts how he was supremely annoyed when Eddie Giacomin was offered 175,000 by the Rangers (funny how the main culprits never change eh!), setting the scale of goaltending off the rails in the early 70's. Dryden knowing that he was a better goaltender than Giacomin, chose to sit out a season to press his case for more deserving remuneration. Putting his idle time to work, he worked on his law degree and then in the next season signed a better deal than that which Giacomin worked under. A lesson to be learned that eventually the players get their value, because the owners can't help themselves.

Of course Dryden himself would contribute to that spiral of insanity that has become the NHL, with his big money offer to Mats Sundin in the nineties. More recently the Leafs have accumulated high profile players at big budget prices, sending the salary structure ever upward while their less financially blessed brothers have auctioned off their players, traded them away or just let them wander off onto free agency boulevard.

His comments were given an interesting echo today from the world of baseball, the Pittsburgh Pirates ownership group, expressed complete mystification at the self destructive tendencies of their own collection of owners. Kevin McClatchy, the managing general partner for the Pirates warned that baseball was turning into a two tiered kind of league, one where the rich teams get richer and load up on the names of baseball, while others in the smaller markets try to get by on a low payroll and of course lesser known players. Now doesn't that sound awfully familiar? McClatchy said that far too many teams were spending themselves into bankruptcy, he went on to wonder how teams that only a few weeks ago were claiming financial distress, were now signing these free agents at ridiculous wage levels. Echoing the comments of Dryden, McClatchy says he guesses that "these guys just can't control themselves."

Dryden who is one of our more scholarly ex athletes, has of course written a number of books about our game and been involved in numerous think tank like sessions on how to improve the game. He's given much study to the question of what ails hockey so when he speaks we should probably cock and ear and give a listen.

As for the current impasse he simply states that the current situation is just plain embarrassing, as the possibility of a completely cancelled season becomes a very real possibility. His comments to the Sun paper are quite succinct as he says, "someday the lockout is going to end, so it may as well be sooner than later."

Wise words! Too bad it seems that nobody seems inclined to listen. Maybe he should be in the room with the players and owners, a nice third party with a voice of reason certainly could find a use right about now, don't ya think?

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Nothing solved, Nothing scheduled!

The third of the union/management get togethers came to an end after about four hours on Thursday night and by all reports, the two sides are no nearer an agreement; let alone an understanding than they were a week ago.

Yes indeed the traveling road show, known as NHL/NHLPA negotiations headed for the Big Apple on Thursday, as the two sides gathered to re-hash points surely they've explored to death by now. The meeting began at 4:30 and by 8:30 it was off for dinner and maybe a show, neither side saying much, but neither side suggesting that they were going to meet again anytime soon.

Wednesday's sessions in Toronto took on farcial tones, as the two sides spent more time huddled up with each other on opposite sides of the room than they did actively seeking an end to the impasse that has brought the league to its knees.

The rumours making the rounds these days have the league offering up a two cap system, with a soft cap at 38 million and a hard cap at 50 million. Teams that went over the soft cap would have to pay a luxury tax on a dollar per dollar basis. There also would apparently be a possibility of each team declaring a franchise player, one immune from the ravages of capped payrolls.

Taking bits of the NFL, some NBA ideas and possibly even a bit of Major league Baseball, the NHL is looking to bring about it's cost certainty in the laboratory of fiscal prudence. The only drawback from a league point of view is the unlikely possibility of the players accepting any kind of hard cap that limits their earning potential.

And with that, the two sides are back to where we started at in September. Four more hours wasted today, one wonders how much of that was actually spent in an exchange of ideas and how much was spent making the same tired old points over and over again.

Realistically they've had ten years to try and get this thing right, instead they waited until the very last moment, with the very last words to be issued likely to be season is cancelled. A definitive comment on the stewardship of the game by Mr. Bettman and Mr. Goodenow. Spare us anymore of these posturing moments disguised as secret negotiations, NHLPA director Ted Saskin said two key words today "philosophical differences" they tell us all we need to know about the state of today's gathering.

Those two words probably sum up the futility of future meetings by the principles and future breathless waiting by those of us who still actually follow the game. The faint flicker of hope from earlier in the week, has given way to a giant dark grey cloud ready to open up and rain down on all of us.

It's time for us to come in from the rain, let the owners and players stay out if they wish. Call us if you have something tangible to report, otherwise leave us alone. It's perfectly clear that the fans are the last item of interest from these two sides, it's all about them, them, them. We hope they're very happy together!

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

The Alberta Clipper

The timing was wonderful, as the NHLPA and the NHL were held captive in a Toronto hotel discussing potential areas of agreement came a cold wind from the West. But unlike a cool refreshing breeze, this was one of those bone chilling blasts that makes you sit up and take notice.

Edmonton Oilers president Cal Nichols, sent an arctic blast to Toronto, with word that unless there was a salary cap or "cost certainty" (as Gary would say) in place, then he would ask the NHL to suspend his franchise, or consider moving it.

Cal's contribution to cause of collective bargaining is not exactly a surprise, most recently GM Kevin Lowe stated that unless some kind of fiscal sanity returned to the NHL then he would have to rethink his career options.

The Oilers who play in front of sell outs quite a bit of the year, have had their roster gutted over the years as players reached their peak potential and had to be dealt away due to the financial problems of the smaller cities.

Nichols said that many of his fellow owners were just barely hanging on and unless the cost structure is taken care of things can't go on. But the fact that he issues his warning while some of compatriots were involved in talks, has many thinking that there is a bit of a crack in the resolve of the management side.

Perhaps it was just a reminder to his guys at the table to not get off message, or maybe it's a last desperate plea to hold firm, for the sake of the teams like Nichols' holding on for a level playing field and a chance to stay alive.

Nichols says he wasn't sabre rattling, but merely speaking the truth. The players may take a different approach, questioning the timing of his outburst but his comments as cold and blunt as they are, merely reflect the opinion of many of the teams in the smaller markets.

But for Edmonton fans the words bring about a sense of trepidation, as they face not only the loss of hockey for a season, but if things don't shake out properly perhaps the loss of hockey forever!

Which puts all of the continual talking with no end into perspective. There's a lot to be lost in this dispute, Northern Alberta is hoping that their team isn't the first casualty of the brand new world where the NHLPA and NHL are taking us.

On the Road Again?

Perhaps all this "progress" in the NHL/NHLPA dispute is merely a convenient excuse to help out the ailing airline industry. After trips to Chicago and Toronto it's rumoured that the two sides will be making a trip to the Big Apple for further consultations.

The two sides which have done their best to be as secretive as possible regarding the latest get together Wednesday in Toronto, continue to keep their lips sealed as they plan one more session, maybe tomorrow, maybe Friday.

For the third meeting in a row, Gary Bettman and Bob Goodenow were not on the guest list making observers wonder what it is exactly the two gentlemen do to earn their rather handsome reward. And whether either will survive once the smoke and the dust clears on the dispute.

Perhaps that is why New York is the next destination on the magical mystery negotiations (that aren't negotiations) tour. Maybe Gary will be given the chance to have a little face time with the media hordes staking out airline terminals and hotel lobbies (in Wednesday's case the wrong one!) in quest of rumour, innuendo or maybe even a fact or two.

Many say it's a good sign that the two sides are still talking, proof that there is a chance for hockey this year. Others claim the end is nigh, that this is just a face saving measure by both sides, both so deeply entrenched in their own positions that it seems impossible to believe that they can even agree on a hotel room to meet in. Everyone agrees that this dispute needs somebody to calmly stake out some kind of a solution.

Regardless, with another session planned before the weekend, the circus will pick up and move on again. For the press corps a reminder that frequent flier tickets can be redeemed at the courtesy counter, per diems and travel expenses to be paid upon completion of the assignment.

With the NHL keeping its cards close to its vest and a possible scenario of no hockey to start this coming September, a wise reporter would not be planning on cashing any cheques any time soon.

Sunday, January 23, 2005

The Krispy Kreme solution!

The New York Post published a column by Larry Brooks this weekend that states that the NHL should give some serious consideration to sacking their commissioner. Using the current troubled state of Krispy Kreme donuts as a comparison Brooks points out that the first guy off the bridge was the CEO, Scott Livenwood, who walked the plank when Krispy Kreme watched a stock price drop from fifty to 8 dollars a share, faced an SEC probe into reporting discrepancies and suffered three consecutive losing quarters.

With the NHL suffering much of the same kind of financial distress and falling franchise values it's suggested by Brooks that it's time for a turnaround specialist to be hired on, sending Gary off to a place where he need not discuss hockey anymore.

Player's sources claim that while many say it's a clash of ego between Bettman and Goodenow, the problem is purely Bettman, who refuses to discuss anything that doesn't include his much cherished salary cap. The players say that the league has lost their players now due to the loss of faith in the commissioner to listen to their concerns.

With Bettman out of the picture they feel there may be some possibility of forward progress. It's not likely to happen, but it certainly is a feeling that many besides the players believe in. For Bettman this is indeed the roughest patch he's had to deal with, a bitter and drawn out labour dispute that follows on the heels of lost television deals, an expansion policy that has provided a number of flailing franchises and a sport recognition factor in the US dropping at an alarming rate, not the best selling points for a CEO to take to his board of directors and survive!

Endless Days of opportunity?

On the Sutter calendar it seems there's plenty of time left to get back to playing hockey this year. While everyone else is proclaiming that the end is nigh, the Flames coach and GM says that it will take as long as it takes to get a deal. He also says that there is "still a considerable length of time for us to start to play ". A statement that certainly places Mr. Sutter at the top of the positive thinkers club for 2005.

From all other corners of the debate comes the feeling that all is lost, the season will never be and don't make plans for 2006 either. Jarome Iginla normally a positive guy says he's making plans to take his family to Europe for next year, it's his expectation that there will be a good many other ex-NHLers making the trek for next season as well.

Guess he hasn't talked to the coach and GM in the past few days!

Sutter it seems is the only one that seems to think that hockey will return to the ice in NHL venues this year, with the latest conversations between players and management ending on a note of frustration and disappointment the Sutter vibe is a decidedly minority opinion.

Trevor Linden said it's going to be World War Three, and Gary Bettman should just go ahead and declare the season dead, a point echoed in cities across the NHL landscape as player rep after player rep suggested that there is no hope for a settlement in the short term.

As the dates on the calendar flip by one after the other we wonder if even Darryl's calendar will show a date with a big black "X" on it. The day that Darryl's optimism gives way to the reality that nothing can be done for this season, the question then will be can there be any other seasons to follow!

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

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

Perhaps Dame Vera Lynn could stop by next time and serenade the two camps at their next airline lounge meeting.

After five hours of maybe talking and maybe not talking, the two camps broke and said they would meet again.

No other details have come forward on whether anything constructive took place during the five hour get together at the United Airlines boardroom lounge at O'Hare Airport. It was the first get together since December for the two sides and with time running out on the current season, a second meeting better happen rather shortly.

HockeyNation anxiously awaits the leaks from the chatty bartender at the United Lounge at O'Hare!

Prospecting on the coast

The scouts have their notebooks at the ready, the video crews are busy putting the finishing touches on the equipment to record the nights activities. Don and John (John filling in for Bob) are polishing up the speech and the players get ready to chow down before hitting the ice.

The Top Prospects game is set to go, as Junior Hockey's elite gather in Vancouver for a one night display of game like intensity. Last night the skills competition took place as Team Davidson edged the Team Cherry squad in the fancy skating, puck handling and always exciting three on three competition.

With the sideshow of the Crosby no show now dying down, perhaps we can all get back to watching the young stars of tomorrow show their stuff today. The Vancouver media and Ron Toigo, the owner of the Vancouver Giants had a bit of meltdown over Mr. Crosby's decision to sit this one out, feeling slighted that the Nova Scotian didn't much fancy a trans continental flight to make an appearance. Crosby for his part is a little annoyed at the backlash over his decision. Claiming that a sore back is keeping him out, he will instead rest at home and ready himself for the rest of the Quebec League schedule.

But while Sidney watches on the tube, his fellow juniors will be taking to the ice in a quest to move up the ladder on the depth of an NHL GM. While probably a bit over rated, (really if a GM and a scout are basing their first round decisions based on one game it's time to find new management) it is none the less a highly entertaining sixty minutes of hockey. The players mindful of the national television audience and the high number of scouts around, seem to perform at the highest level, no one seems to take a shift off.

In most all star type games the physical nature seems to take a back seat to the fancy skating and the pinpoint passing. For whatever reason the Prospects Game has more intensity. almost to the level of a Stanley Cup Game 7. It makes for a good show and the sell out crowd in Vancouver will no doubt enjoy themselves even without the much celebrated (and now dis-honoured) Mr. Crosby.

While the top few players will always be the top few players, it's the guys in the middle that have the most to gain from tonight's game, moving up in the pack from 15 to top 10 could make a huge difference on draft day. A good impression tonight could take a player to the bank in June!

Won't you please come to Chicago..

As we write this Trevor, Harley and the rest of the band of six are sitting down over coffee and snacks to try and salvage whatever would be left of an NHL season.

The meeting arranged by Trevor Linden on Monday is perhaps the last gasp on a season that for all we know may already have been cancelled in all but official announcement.

Yet hope springs eternal one assumes, though the concept of what is rumoured to be a 28 game regular season followed by possibly as much as 28 playoff games seems rather hard to wrap ones mind around. The players make the bulk of their salaries on the regular season, the playoffs are the gravy for the owners the chance to shovel the extra cash into the vault for a flurry of free agent signings in the off season. So one wonders what possible benefit there would be for those that Trevor represents.

If the owners are adamant that a salary cap (or as Gary would say cost certainty) is the only way to save the league, and the players are equally dis-inclined to accept that concept we wonder where the middle ground of a deal may be.

The fact that the two sides have at least arranged a cup of coffee has all the writers, broadcasters and fans of hockey thinking that there may yet be life in the league. Is it more wishful thinking than any actual sense of hope?

Are we desperate enough for hockey that we would accept a 28 game schedule as a legitimate test of a teams ability and readiness for the playoffs? What about scoring records and draft positioning. Should there be an asterisk beside each category this year should the players get back on the ice?

How tempting would it be for an astute General Manager to just tank the upcoming season, finishing last and thus winning the Sidney Crosby sweepstakes? 28 games of ineptitude is not too much to ask for if you're looking at a franchise player up for grabs in June! Your owner and fans would hail you as a genius if somehow your team couldn't win a game this year, damn lock out eh, never got that team chemistry going!

The idea of hockey coming back in the form of one of those round robin minor hockey tournies we see at spring break (and at 28 games it's not much more than a glorified pee wee tournament eh) doesn't do a lot for the perception of being a major sport.

But no doubt should Trevor and Harley report back that progress has been made, we'll no doubt cheer them on. But should we not ask them to look at the larger goal of fixing the game for good and not some slapped on band aid solution. Better to lose a season and set the game right, than to rush back to the same old same old, only to go through this all again in a couple of years.

This surely must be the last get together before we realize that the season is gone. The question we should be asking both sides is why they didn't start these little exploration sessions back in November? Perhaps then we would have been watching the standings today instead of watching to see who is left standing!

Monday, January 17, 2005

The Kids are alright, but the parents........

Another in a spate of ugly experiences surrounding Minor Hockey in Canada. This time out of Toronto where the father of a nine year old minor hockey player, found himself in court this morning after an incident over the weekend.

Dad it seems found himself in disagreement with a coach's decision to bench his son for a couple of shifts, due to a missed practice (apparently a common coaching practice). Instead of discussing his concerns away from the game, the father instead jumped the glass at the bench and choked the coach to the point of blacking out. Eventually other parents pulled the man off of the coach, who regained consciousness and then continued on with the game, so as not to cause more distress to his players.

After the game he discussed the situation with his players, trying to reassure them that the world had not really gone mad. While he was providing a positive role model for the nine year olds, the man who choked him spent the night in a Toronto police lock up, pending his appearance in court today.

Greater Toronto Hockey League officials called it one of the most shocking events that they've had to contend with, but it's certainly not the first time a parent has gotten out of control. Just last December a hockey Mom shocked an arena by lifting her top and exposing her breasts to parents and players of an 11 year old match up. There have also been scattered incidents of parents duking it out in the stands over controversial plays and situations, much to the distress of the players on the ice and officials in minor hockey.

Mind you it's not just hockey, pretty well any sport or activity involving kids can bring out the worst in parents, somehow there is a disconnect between the child's enjoyment and the adults expectations.

At the moment Hockey Canada is running commercials reminding parents that "It's Only a game". Go back a few years and there used to be a commercial on TV when I played minor hockey that urged parents to stick around and watch the games.

Sadly, we seem to approaching the point where we'll see commercials suggesting that parents just drop the kids off and come on back after the game!

Time for a chat!

It could be one part wishful thinking and one part last chance grasp at straws, but Wednesday will see the NHL players association and NHL officials meet to try and find some common ground. Word leaked out today that Trevor Linden of the player's association took the bull by the horns so to speak and made the call to the league office, setting up what could possibly be the very last gasp of a season surely near expiration. Linden the leading union member in the NHLPA felt the time had come to try and have some face to face dialogue and rather than wait for the league to pick up the phone decided to make a call himself.

Full credit to him for at least trying to get the two sides back to focusing on the issues that have led to the shutdown of the game. Whether he will find success remains to be seen, but at least both sides are making an effort, the current scenario hasn't been working out too good.

Wednesday's meeting will be held without the current principles in the debate Bob Goodenow and Gary Bettman. Instead Ted Saskin, Linden and lawyer John McCambridge will represent the players, Bill Daly, Flames Governor Harley Hotchkiss and lawyer Bob Batterman will sit across the table for the ownership group.

Perhaps a meeting without the two protagonists will at least give them some talking points for future discussion. But one hopes they all realize Wednesday that time is of the essence! With Bettman and Goodenow absent from the proceedings it's hope that the animosity level might be reduced, giving both sides a clearer picture as to the distance between the two parties.

It's not expected that any form of an agreement would be negotiated on Wednesday, more likely is a free flow of information from both sides to give each an idea of whether there is any hope for a fruitful resolution to the impasse at hand.

In Mob War parlance this is meeting of the capo's, possibly setting the table for a full fledged summit of the Bosses. One of two outcomes is likely, a realization that the turf both sides are after has room for all, or full fledged Mob War, with no prisoners and only innocent bystanders in the way!

Sidney takes a pass!

First it was Junior sensation Sidney Crosby's sweater that went missing, now its the actual person who will be missing in action! Crosby's Quebec Junior team the Rimouski Oceanic announced today that Crosby, the number one attraction in Junior hockey at the moment, will not take part in Wednesday nights Top Prospects game from Vancouver.

Crosby's junior handlers claim that the Junior phenom is suffering from some sort of a back injury sustained in the World Junior Championships and thus won't be available for the nationally televised Hockey showcase from Vancouver. This despite the fact that he recently completed four of five games for the Oceanic in the Quebec League.

The decision of course is feeding a slew of rumours about the situation, the feeling by some commentators (mainly based in the West see the CKNW audio vault for the 8 am sportscast on Monday for a sample) that Crosby and his agents, handlers and hangers on are using the back problems as a convenient way to avoid the Prospects game. The theory being, that as the number one pick in the upcoming draft (if one actually takes place) Crosby would have everything to lose and nothing to gain by taking part in the extremely competitve game.

Instead the suggestion is that he would be better off taking a pass on the game, preserving his status as the definitive number one choice and all the rewards that it would provide. Such is the state of hockey these days, Junior players are skipping showcase games and off ice commentators are finding conspiracy theories with every breath. And injuries may or may not be what they seem.

My How we long for the days of an actual game to watch!

Sunday, January 16, 2005

Get a Job!

Despite rumours of "secret" meetings this weekend between Gary Bettman and Bob Goodenow, the NHLPA leader issued seem advice to his membership, a brutal and cold delcaration of misery to hockey fans across North America.

Goodenow advised his players to go to Europe as soon as possible and find work and be prepared to sign on for next year as well. It's unclear if he issued his edict before, after or during these "secret" meetings which may or may not have taken place. But the omens are not particularly good for anything resembling NHL quality hockey in the short term.

Interestingly enough the announcement was made in audio form on the Union website The Source, accessible only to union it members. One wonders about the audio only message, perhaps Bob likes the sound of his own voice. Jokes about athletes not being able to read will not be snickered at on HockeyNation thank you very much! At any rate, one assumes we can now say the players heard the news from the horses mouth. Though I'm thinking that Messrs, Bettman and Daly have a different body part in mind!

Regardless, its just one more nail into the coffin of the year that would have been 2004-05. Secret meetings or not, the prospect of a season of less than fourty games, followed by a playoff run of almost equal length seems rather pointless now.

Both sides have made their contribution to the mess, so we'll leave it to them to figure out whenever they can fit the game back into their schedule. Just don't be surprised if the paying customers take some time to think over their options. Life has gone on, the game while missed is certainly not draining us of our energies. We find other things to do, best you hope that we don't start to enjoy those other things at your expense later on. You can make your changes, but we may make some of our own!

On again, Off again WHA, decidedly off again (for now)

Please let this be the last that HockeyNation must mention the WHA until September. The league that promised to rise from its own ashes late in 2004, has suffered a wee setback.

The fledgling rebirth had been rumoured to be February, but that too has gone by the boards, the newest owner of the title to the league figuring that a fall launch may be a more feasible idea.

Promising at least six teams the "new" WHA will apparently test out Hockey markets such as Greensboro, North Carolina, Omaha, Nebraska and Baltimore, Maryland to name a few of the suggested franchise sites. Often mentioned Canadian cities include Hamilton, Toronto and Vancouver. There is also the potential for the league to move into Dallas and Phoenix, to take advantage of recently vacated NHL caliber rinks.

As usual when it comes to the WHA, they're tall on talk and short on facts. None of the "owners" of the fledgling franchises have been named and it just seems that this is another in the long list of "we're coming to a rink near you" announcements that seem to have become the staple of the league with no teams.

But hey, at least a decision not to have a season this year has been made, which puts the WHA at least a step ahead of the NHL in the reality department!! Now if the WHA promises to stop issuing press releases, we'll promise to stop making fun of them.

Friday, January 14, 2005

Are TSN producers reading HockeyNation?

While I'm quite sure it's coincidence, it's nice to see that the Programming minds at TSN and HockeyNation are of the same mind! Canada's The Sports Network has picked up the Hockey Day in Canada torch and held it high on their own.

A day after the CBC put the kaibosh on it's five year tradition Hockey Day in Canada, the folks at TSN jumped up to take advantage of the void and offer up their own celebration of Canadianna.

Hockey Lives Here: Canada's game will be broadcast for six hours on February 19th from Noon -6 pm Eastern time ( a 9 am wake up call for us West coasters). Highlights of the day include a stop in Quebec City for the always popular and much celebrated Pee Wee Hockey Tournament. TSN will pop into the rink in Thunder Bay and take in a CIS college game between the University of Western Ontario and Lakehead. They scoot back across to New Brunswick for the World Pond Hockey championships as well.

Other features will include a how to session for home rink builders, a peek into the Canadian Women's team preparations for the defence of their world title and a number of other features from across the country.

In short, pretty well everything that Hockey Day in Canada was all about, without of course the three NHL games to keep it flowing. But TSN will find other ways to keep the show on the right track, utilizing it's stable of top flight hockey experts like Pierre McGuire, Bob McKenzie, Dave Hodge and Brian Burke to name a few there will be no shortage of Hockey Talk in the six hour special.

It's as if they took the recent HockeyNation story on the CBC and put it up on the storyboard. Though to be fair to TSN I'm quite sure that mere minutes after the CBC cancelled their Hockey Day plans, TSN were jumping into the studio to get things rolling.

Kudos to The Sports Network for taking charge of things, Hockey is much more than the bleating of rich owners and well compensated players, it's about heart, determination and love of game. The folks at TSN understand the passion for the game across the land, something that not only has escaped the CBC but indeed has escaped all those involved in the NHL both management and labour!.

May just a bit of the spirit of Hockey Lives Here rub off on them! They all seem to have forgotten the hold that the game has on us. Bring on the Peewees, the college kids and the gals team. February 19th we'll all be dropping by the rink to watch some hockey, just like it should be!

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

CBC pulls the plug on Hockey Day In Canada!

An unusual announcement (and one destined to not be very popular) from the CBC today, the extremely well received feature known as Hockey Day in Canada has been cancelled for this year. Victim apparently to bureaucratic stupidity in the absence of money making NHL hockey on television this year.

In the last five years the CBC has turned over the main network on a Saturday in February, to explore our love and passion for the game. Usually set in some small town somewhere in the frozen expanse of Canada, the day long celebration would link coast to coast to coast, featuring items from burgs of all sizes big and small, just dropping into the local rink to see what was up. Ron MacLean would be the host of this national check up on the state of the game and the grass roots, can do attitude that makes it so great.

Of course the day long adventure was anchored by NHL hockey, three games featuring all Canadian match ups, played back to back with our little vignettes liberally broadcast throughout the games. The beauty of Hockey Day in Canada was not the actual NHL games; but the pride that every small town involved would take in showcasing their local heroes, their local rink and the local characters that make Hockey the beloved sport of the nation.

Somehow that message has escaped the bean counters at the CBC, who one assumes feel that without the star attractions there's no show! But one wonders if they don't have it all backwards at the CBC (not that this would be the first time that has happened!) if ever there was a year to keep a tradition alive this would be it.

There is no doubt a serious cash flow problem at the CBC without the cash cow that hockey was to the network. And while the absence of the actual pro games on the network would be hard to program around, there would have been ways to keep the spirit of Hockey Day in Canada alive and maybe send a message to the likes of Mr. Bettman, Mr. Goodenow and their respective representatives that they do not control our game.

Hockey Day could have featured a period of a junior game, a period of a university game, an old timers game, women's hockey, a high profile minor tournament, the options are endless. To counter the lack of NHL hockey on the ice, perhaps a serious debate on the issues separating the two sides. Turn lose their battalion of experts, commentators and reporters and put everything out there for us to examine.

Lets face it, if there's no hockey by February there won't be any hockey this year. What better chance to find out just how things got of the rails than to dedicate a day to problem and maybe offer solution. More importantly by showcasing the game as it is enjoyed in communities across the land, we would be showing that nothing is bigger than the actual game played on ice, any ice, anywhere!

Instead, the CBC just washes its hands of a valuable possibility and what had become a national tradition. One hopes that common sense returns to the public broadcaster and they take advantage of an opportunity to make a difference in the debate. From the reports coming out today, the staff at the CBC are dismayed at the decision, expressing frustration with a broadcaster that seems to have lost its way of late.

Memo to CBC Programming: Listen to your employees and listen to the viewers.

Hockey Day in Canada was much more than a bunch of pro hockey players on the ice, it was a mirror into the country. Which the last time anyone checked, was exactly what the CBC was supposed to be all about!

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Will the Jets fly again?

Scott Taylor who now writes for the National Post, after his messy departure from the Winnipeg Free Press, has fleshed out some of those NHL back to Winnipeg rumors past and present for us.

In Monday's Post, Taylor revealed that the "mystery" team that had contacted the City of Winnipeg with hopes of moving into the MTS Centre, was none other than the now Stanley Cup Champion Tampa Bay Lightning. Just think (though it may be painful to do so) Winnipeggers if things had fallen differently, last year's Stanley Cup parade would have wandered right down Portage heading for Main and the temperature wouldn't have been 50 below!

Taylor also whispers to Manitoba hockey fans that there are still two sun belt teams that are making occasional phone calls to civic officials and True North Management at the MTS Centre just to touch base. Panther, Predator, Thrasher or Hurricane pick your rumor, of course the best outcome ( a bit of wishful thinking first floated here on HockeyNation) to provide a certain healing for sure, would be if the Coyotes of Phoenix were to pack up and move back home.

This is return to Winnipeg is becoming a recurring theme as hockey goes through its Armageddon phase. A brand new rink, some dedicated fans and a hockey crazy market. The NHL could do a lot worse, and in fact they have!

Don't get your hopes too high yet Winnipeg, but depending on the landscape of the NHL post war, there may again be a place for you in the NHL!

Saturday, January 08, 2005

Someone get us a hostage negotiator!

So it's come to this, on January 13th three months will have gone by without hockey , as of today (Jan 7) 575 games have been cancelled. No meetings have been held since before Christmas and none are scheduled. All that's missing is a bearded guy on the corner with an end is nigh sign!

And now we're treated to the idea, that the best offering that these two sides can come up with is that "it's the other guy's fault". With the clock ticking down faster, the skies getting darker and the frosty relations between the two sides colder than a Winnipeg morning in January, we'll be forgiven if we just assume that this season is a goner.

With the toxic dialogue between the two sides getting worse by the day, the hockey fan finds him or herself stuck in the middle, with nowhere to go. The NHL in a bid for our approval calls us "hostages". Bill Daly at the league office turns up the rhetoric in these final anxious days of deliberation, giving us the real fear that there will be no more hockey this year. Ted Saskin of the union counters with a firmly pointed finger, suggesting that all the ails of the situation rest with those intransigent NHL owners and their paid hands.

While they continue to keep the house lights dark in the arenas around the league, the business world is making note of the problems with the game and those that run it. The Business Week article which positions Gary Bettman as one of the worst managers of sport in America, is quickly becoming the talking point of the anti NHL forces. As Al Strachan points out in his work for the Sun Newspapers, Gary has a bit of NHL company in the list of the incompetent, Michael Eisner head quacker at the Mighty Ducks (for now anyways) made the list of the failing as did Sanjay Kumar once of the ownership block of the New York Islanders. If the NHL gene pool is this flawed, as Business Week suggests, one wonders who the deep thinkers might be.

The owners claim that it's the players that are ruining the game by refusing the concept of a salary cap, conveniently forgetting that it's their own collection of fellow spend thrifts that created the inflationary salary spiral in the first place. The owners who stand behind commissioner Bettman circle their wagons, keep their powder dry and wonder when that Goodenow guy will bend.

Over at the NHLPA they keep waiting for Bettman and Daly to blink, so far it hasn't happened and more than likely won't happen. Any suggestion that they should follow the lead of the NFL or the NBA and their player/management arrangements, are received with muted reaction. No salary caps here, a market free and unfettered seems to be the call of the union!

And so we all prepare for one last roll of the dice and wait for someone to salvage what has become so very close to a lost season, the fans hostage both to the NHL and the NHLPA, two sides willing to take their brinkmanship down to the final possible moment.

One wonders if Samuel L. Jackson can clear his calendar for this pivotal week for NHL hockey, more than a negotiator we need a S.W.A.T. Unit, perhaps that could get the attention of both sides to get it together or get out of the way!

Friday, January 07, 2005

Theo's back on the blades, but not on the ice!

Theo Fleury wants to get back on a hockey rink. One as far removed from the shinny palaces of Chicago, Calgary and Denver of his NHL career, but still it's a sheet of ice with a dressing room and some team mates. However, Theo has hit a roadblock on his way back to the rink

Fleury was to make his debut in the North Peace Hockey League on Thursday night , a senior league in North Western Alberta which up until yesterday probably never received much in the way of national attention. But late Thursday came word from Hockey Canada, that Fleury was ineligible to play in the Senior Hockey loop, becasue he was under contract last yeat to an NHL team. Hockey Canada has some rather strict rules about Senior teams signing NHL players, basically current NHLers can't play for any Senior team, Fleury's current status of suspended apparently the sticking point as far as eligibility goes. Which for now, will leave Fleury in the rink, but nowhere near the ice.

Fleury landed in the Peace to play for the Horse Lake First Nation's team a Senior Team that hopes to be hoisting the Allan Cup by this Spring. For those that haven't followed Senior Hockey for a while, the Allan Cup is the top trophy for Senior A Hockey. Basically the place where those that have left Junior A and didn't get more than a cup of coffee with the various pro leagues go.

Once upon a time, before NHL expansion, the growth of the Junior leagues and the ever present content of television, the Allan Cup was a big deal, now you would be hard pressed to name the teams that compete for it, let alone any teams that have won it.

But hockey is hockey and Fleury hopes to appeal the ruling and don number 74, taking the ice with fellow former NHLer Gino Odjick and do his best for Horse Lake as they travel the roads of Northern Alberta . Odjick has been helping out the Horse Lake First Nation with their summer hockey program, acting as a role model for the youth of the reserve, as well as providing some hockey know how in his spare time. Fleury it is hoped will also help with the young people there, perhaps giving them first hand knowledge of the dangers that may tempt them along their path in life.

Fleury has been struggling with substance abuse issues for a few years now, a situation which has been well documented over the last couple of years. In fact, he currently is suspended by the NHL over those substance abuse problems. Controversy has been no stranger to him of late and he again, finds himself once again the centre of media attention. It seems that even travelling as far as Peace country, Fleury can't find any peace.

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Somebody check the mailing lists!

Perhaps Chris Chelios, Tie Domi, Jeremy Roenick and other dissatisfied NHLers (or is that ex-NHLers now) were in the voting booth. But for Gary Bettman this has not been a great way to start off 2005, the votes are in and he's the pits.

Bettman has seen his professional ranking drop in not one, but two major American publications. First he found his Sporting News power ranking tumble from 13th place last year to 40th in the annual listing of the top 100 important people in sport. To add insult to that injury, looking down at Gary from number 39 is none other than Bob Goodenow. No wonder nobody is taking any calls at the NHL office.

And as if that wasn't bad enough, Business Week magazine has released its poll of the seven worst managers in Business and Gary placed fifth in the stumbling seven. Gary shares office space in the doghouse with the likes of Michael Eisner, forced out at Disney in a shareholder revolt, Raymond Gilmartin, he of the troubled makers of Vioxx and Scott Livengood of Krispy Kreme donuts who are in the midst of an investigation into accounting problems.

Also listed in the article in the category of fallen managers is former Nortel CEO Frank Dunn, who has been on watch at the bridge as Nortel took on water. Gary can only hope that he doesn't suffer the same fate, as most hockey fans wish the same for their beloved sport.

Should Gary wish to talk to someone about how to turn things around, Paul Tagliabue is the fellow to chat with. He's listed as the number one sports manager in the pros. Perhaps Gary could ask Scott to send him some donuts for the meeting!

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Sutter's school of Shinny is out for the season!

Professor Sutter's class of 06 has graduated with straight A's. In a spectacular graduation ceremony held Tuesday night at the Ralph Englestad Center for Hockey Excellence, Professor Sutter oversaw his pupils receive their golden diplomas in front of family, friends and a delirious nation watching from the North.

With his team's complete domination of the competition at this years World Junior Hockey Championship, Sutter can take great pride in a job well done. One after another in post game interviews the players would proclaim thanks and respect for their coach, from the early days of training camp evaluations to the pre tourney days of Winnipeg this team came together with one mission in mind, Gold!

Players would recount how he urged them to step up their game, check their egos at the door and buy into a system that seemed perfectly flawless from the opening face off of game one, right to the final buzzer of the Gold Medal game. Sutter never exhibited anything but confidence in his team and with good cause, for this was as impressive a squad as Canada has assembled in a long time.

Night after night, opposition coaches, media observers and hockey fans everywhere sang the praises of a team that seemed to fit together perfectly. Replays of game film will show player after player holding his position, making the hard clean hit at the right time. They never gave up too much ice and rarely left their goaltenders on their own. The offensive players came back and held their checks, the defensive players blocked shots without fear. Rare was the team that could engineer a two on one break, rarer still the player that dared to cross the blue line with a head down.

This was Sutter hockey played by a collection of players who took it to heart, hard nosed, determined and ultimately quite successful. One suspects that the hockey minds of the other nations were taking their notes, breaking down their film and examining a very successful template for victory. Like it has been in the past and now is again, the Canadian brand of hockey is one that stands the test of time.

This years grads will return to their distant outposts in the Q, OHL, Western or American Leagues. But they've forever formed a bond that will no doubt be tested in competition against each other, but will never be unbroken.

In post game interviews Sutter wasn't making any commitments to returning for next years Championships in Vancouver, but one hopes Hockey Canada knows a good thing when they've seen one. This was a well taught, disciplined group of young men who not only performed to a high level of ability but played with pride of nation and respect of the game. We surely cannot ask for anything more!

Sutter's school of Shinny was the tonic for the Hockey Nation. There are countless other students no doubt wishing to study the curriculum and take their own final exams! Here's hoping the Professor signs on for another semester.

Полное Доминирование

Полное Доминирование, those two words told all as the World Junior Hockey Championships drew to a close on the frozen plains of North Dakota. Two teams steeped in hockey history took to the ice on Tuesday night, but only one would be draped in Gold Medals at games end.

The statistics of this Junior tournament give testimony to the Полное Доминирование of the Canadian squad in this years gathering.

With Tuesday night's 6-1 thrashing of the vaunted Russian squad, Canada reclaimed its place at the top of the World Hockey hierarchy. In that 6-1 victory, Canada once again controlled the play, outshooting their Russian compatriots 32-19, neutralizing the offesnive weapons of Alexander Ovechkin and Evgeni Malik. The game was the series in review.

Throughout this tournament Canada had complete control of the exhibition of shinny. Canada outshot the combined competition 259-107, Outscored their opponents 41-7, controlled the flow of the play, made the most hits, blocked the most shots, in short exhibited complete domination of all facets of the game. This was a team that never trailed once in any game of the tournament, such was the high level of their game.

Much was made of the offensive prowess of Alexander Ovechkin (mostly from Ovechkin himself) how the Russians would score often on untested Canadian Goaltender Jeff Glass, as Alex would quickly learn you can't score if you can't get close. Canada's defensive units and strong backchecking forwards shut down any semblance of a Russian attack. Ovechkin himself would be forced out of the game by the third period, a crushing open ice hit by Canada's Sidney Crosby causing Ovechkin enough distress to call it a game by the time the third period would start. In this game there would be no showboating, no gloating by Alex and his mates, they could only sit back and watch the lessons unfold. To his credit Ovechkin afterwards acknowledged that the Canadians were the better team. Though he did come by his evidence first hand and close up.

Hard work, talent and superior coaching would not be denied in the 2006 version of the tournament, as the Canadians provided a clinic on what it takes to build a winning squad. Team Canada kept to their game plan with crushing hits, control of the games flow and tight defensive work. They palyed through the frequent stick fouls (many of which went uncalled) of the Russians, who found frustration strike often in the second period, when Canada finally put them away for good. Power play opportunities by the Russians, where they should have been able to get untracked, would go for naught, as Canada shut down the Russian units one after the other.

The actively pro Canada crowd, boosted by many Manitobans who invaded Grand Forks enmasse began their celebrating midway through the third, the Russians having come to the realization that this night and tournament belonged to Canada. The crowd cheered the medal presentation, applauded with gusto as three Canadians were named to the tournament all star team and of course sang with heartful pride as the strains of Oh Canada rose with the flag to the rafters of the Ralph Englestad Centre.

With the latest in Canadian success on the ice, its safe to proclaim that "the kids are alright", as is the game they play on all frontiers.

The Medal Round

Sit back and review the results, as we recap the Canada/Russia finale and also take a look at the Bronze medal game as well.

January 4, 2005--Czechs take the Bronze!
January 4, 2005--A Moosehead with the Czech winner
January 4, 2005--Czech Republic/USA Summary
January 4, 2005--We are team when win, we are a team when we lose
January 4, 2005--The drought is over
January 4, 2005--Canada/Russia Summary
January 4, 2005--An unbelievable feeling
January 5, 2004--Scored early, Scored often
January 5, 2004--The Awesome Team
January 5, 2005--Happy Hosers
January 5, 2005--An American post-mortem
January 5, 2004--From First to fourth
January 5, 2005--The song may be out of tune, but the team wasn't
January 5, 2005--Curing the seven year ache
January 5, 2005--View from the top of the world
January 5, 2005--Dion puts the D into Defence!
January 5, 2005--Silent but steady
January 5, 2005--Celebrating with the sidelined
January 5, 2005--Alexander pays his respects
January 5, 2005--Perry's tourney to remember
January 5, 2005--Rulers of the Hockey World
January 5, 2005--And now what about next year?
January 5, 2004--Expectations fulfilled
January 5, 2004--The Claim stakers
January 5, 2004--Back in the True North, Strong, Free and Fueled with Gold

Monday, January 03, 2005

TSN's sloppy lineup change

TSN ruined a bit of their good karma during this wonderful run of a World Junior tourney when they missed out on the Russia/USA semi final. Operators at the Sports Network were left to explain to callers why the network was not showing the much anticipated showdown. Instead viewers were provided the regular season finale of ESPN's Sunday night football, a meaningless game between Dallas and the New York Giants! Normally the NFL is major a crowd pleaser, but on this night it was decidedly the nation's second choice.

As it turns out the folks at TSN were in between a rock and hard place, they were committed to the NFL broadcast due to contractual arrangements governing the entire season of games. Thus they were in the rather horrible spot of having to deny Canadians of a much wanted game.

There are questions being asked as to why TSN did not farm the game out to the Maple Leaf Network (available to those folks with fancy satellite systems or digital boxes) but they were locked into a US college hockey match up apparently. Why not send it to the Outdoor Life Network much like they did during their World Cup Soccer coverage?

Better yet for the rest of us, one wonders why TSN didn't offer the game to the Score, it's more or less available on all Cable systems across the country and would have no doubt been salivating at the opportunity to provide some hockey, then again perhaps they were stuck with their wall to wall coverage of College football.

Regardless, TSN did eventually put the game on the air, Monday night almost a full 24 hours after the main event (enterprising junior hockey fans listened to the game live on the FAN 590 which has been providing comprehensive coverage and play by play of World Junior action) no doubt most Canadians only tuned in for the last ten minutes to watch the Russians taunt the American players and crowd. Helping us to work up to a genuine dislike of their showboating style and comments the last few games.

For TSN it was a rare screw up in what has otherwise been excellent coverage of the prestigious tournament. Coverage which has been well received by Canadians, who will most likely set a new record for viewership with Tuesday's Russia/Canada showdown.

The pre game show!

With less than 24 hours to go until the big Canada/Russia showdown at the World Junior Hockey Championships, we take a look at all the pre game hype..

January 3, 2005--The avengers
January 3, 2005--The Czechs say Canadian Gold in the mail
January 3, 2005--The Great one is impressed
January 3, 2005--Making plans with Nigel
January 3, 2005--At Team Canada comittment is job 1
January 3, 2005--Hopes riding high
January 3, 2005--Crosby's the real deal
January 3, 2005--Wayne says a few words
January 3, 2005--Sidney's final shot?
January 3, 2005--The Ovechkin watch
January 3, 2005--One more for the Sutter collection!
January 3, 2005--Gunning for Gold!
January 3, 2004--Home Ice Advantage?
January 4, 2005--Tickets, Tickets, who wants tickets!
January 4, 2005--Taking a tour of the rink
January 4, 2005--Reading the signs
January 4, 2005--From the cradle to the gold
January 4, 2005--Some advice from Marc Andre
January 4, 2005--Sidney stays focused
January 4, 2005--Looking at some match ups
January 4, 2005--The last line of defence
January 4, 2005--Finally a real test
January 4, 2005--Thirsting to end the drought
January 4, 2005--Ten years of wishes
January 4, 2005--The scriptwriters dream
January 4, 2005--To break a seven year stretch
January 4, 2005--At the Russian end of the ice
January 4, 2005--A final word

A Gloomy Gretzky!

Things must not be going well in negotiations (if negotiations is the right word for this lack of discussion) between the NHL and the NHLPA. The usually ever optimistic Wayne Gretzky, gave a rather down press conference Sunday night at the World Junior Hockey Championships in North Dakota.

Pinned down in the press centre, Gretzky expressed fears that not only this current season may be in jeopardy, but the beginning of the 2005-2006 one as well. Explaining that the players don't get paid from April to September, he suggested they would be less than interested in going back to work promptly in September, having survived over a year without pay what would be a few more months, possibly stretching over two years! Not a rosy picture to greet the New Year is it!

Unless things have been happening under deep cover of secrecy, there seems to have been no effort made by either side to resolve the impasse, get back to a table and settle things as soon as possible. The clock is ticking, many expect the January 14th date to be the end of hockey for this year. The end of January the last window of opportunity for North American pros to scramble aboard that European league lifeboat.

Should the two sides not make any progress by mid month, expect a swarm of North Americans to be stocking your favourite Swiss, Swedish, German and Italian league team. Before you know it you do may be chanting LETS GO MODO, LETS GO!!

Sunday, January 02, 2005

Bring on the Bears

Somehow it seems fitting that this World Junior Hockey Championship will finish off with a one game, winner take all showdown between Russia and Team Canada. With all due respect to our American friends, particularly as they've been such decent hosts this past week, but Canadians live and breathe for the chance to measure up hockey wise against the Nation to the North of us.

While a Canada/US matchup would have been boffo for the box office and would still have brought TSN some incredible TV ratings, don't think for a minute that everyone involved in Team Canada isn't licking their lips for the chance to go line for line with the Russian juniors.

Ever since we first started skating on the same ice surfaces as the Russians there has been something incredible about taking on the sons (and I guess now daughters too) of Kruschev, Brezhnev, Andropov, Chernenko, Gorbachov Yeltsin and Putin to name a few of the past leaders of empires past and present. Despite our now common familiarity with players from Russia in both the pro and amateur ranks there is still that extra feeling when they pull on their national sweaters and line up for the opening face off.

From Olympic games past, through the 72 summit, to the Canada Cups, World Cups, Challenge tours and junior tournies the measure of Canadian hockey is always best answered with a victory over the Russians. A loss can send us into therapy and royal commissions for years, a win and all is well in the Great White North, our step is quicker our smiles brighter. Silly yes, but the importance of the game takes on much more intensity when the Red and White matches up with the Big Reds (now tastefully dressed in touches of blue and white as well!)

Tuesday night, another chapter in the great rivalry will be written. Team Canada has looked rather impressive thus far, with less coverage of the Russians we're not quite sure what kind of team will show up. This will be the ultimate pressure game for our young juniors, having not won a gold medal since 1997 there was more than enough to think about, you add on the arrival of the Russian team and we double our fun.

Brent Sutter and the assistants have done a remarkable job of keeping the team focused on the task at hand. They have cut through this tournament like a machine (comparisons to Russian teams of days gone by continue to be proclaimed) each player knowing his place, taking to his duties without missing a beat. The chance of nerves affecting this crew seems rather slim, instead we should sit back and prepare for a terrific display of hockey.

The Russian's took to taunting the Americans at the end of their semi final game, a mistake in my mind. Despite the relative ease that Canada had in this tournament, they never once seemed to waste their time with that kind of silly behaviour. Russian Wunderkid Alexander Ovechkin was quick to the press on Sunday, busy reminding Canadians that they have never defeated the Russians in a Gold Medal game, making Sutters' job that much easier for Tuesday night.

The Russians had best have gotten the taunting thing out of their system, as they most likely won't be given much of a chance to replay it against Canada. If the Canadians stick to their game plan, stay focused on the prize there's more than a better chance we'll be hearing Oh Canada at the end of Tuesday night! Lets hope that Alex Ovechkin can follow the words!!

Czechs back for some deja vu?

For the second year in a row, the Czech Republic will be the crossroad for Canada to advance to the World Junior Hockey Championship Final. Team Canada will face off against the Czechs at 3:30 North Dakota time on Semi Final Sunday. When the two teams last renewed acquaintances in a semi final one year ago, the Canadians easily took care of the lads from the Republic by a score of 7-1.

With a juggernaut of a squad from Canada this year, the Czech coaching staff will have their hands full putting together a plan of attack to keep the Canadians off the score sheet. Canada while suffering a couple of key absences on the Defensive side held a practice on Saturday and feel ready to get to the task at hand. While nothing is ever certain, many observers believe that Brent Sutters charges are unstoppable in their quest this year for Gold.

We will find out if that bid continues or will be sidelined by 7:00 in Grand Forks. It should make for a great day of hockey. The prime time match up on Sunday will feature the USA and Russia, the Americans rebounding from some questionable games to crush the Swedes in action on Saturday. The puck drops at 7:30 Grand Forks time with a noisy pro American crowd expected to sell out the home rink. Three hours later they'll know if they can hold onto their tickets or find a scalper to sell them off. Canadian fans are hoping to be looking for tickets for Tuesday's final. If they continue their domination from the last week, they'll have a three hour head start to begin the search!

Saturday, January 01, 2005

Waiting by the phone

Mid January is going to be a very important time for Todd Bertuzzi. The Vancouver Canuck forward will be watching the calendar with interest as the first weeks of January go by.

Bertuzzi has appealed to the NHL for a hearing with Gary Bettman to decide if he can now be re-instated to the league. Currently serving an indefinite ban due to his on ice assault on Steve Moore, the feeling in the Bertuzzi camp is that with his recent court appearance and the judicial determination that his debt to society has been accounted for. Providing him with a window of opportunity to return to earning a living in hockey.

Bertuzzi's agent is watching the calendar with interest besides the obvious drop dead date of the current NHL impasse, January 14th also marks the final opportunity for the IIHF to consider his possible entry in the transfer sweepstakes for International play. If the NHL closes up shop in mid January as many expect, there will only be a two week window for NHLers to find gainful employment and collect those valuable Euros. The transfer deadline is January 31st, if Bertuzzi's status is not clear by then, he'll miss out on the opportunity to make some cash on the European league circuit.

The puck is in Gary Bettman's court. Bertuzzi's sitting by the phone, the question is does Gary have his number on speed dial?

In praise of the old home town

They set an attendance record in Ottawa this week past. The 67's the Junior A franchise in the National Capital moved one of their regularly scheduled games over to the Corel Centre (currently the underutilized home of a team in some league called the NHL) where 20,081 fans showed up to cheer on the home side as they tackled the Kingston Frontenacs. The throng took advantage of the night out, to examine the expansion of the Corel Centre from it's previous 18,500 seats to the new 20,000 plus threshold, just in case NHL hockey comes back there's that much more revenue possible for the Sens.

The huge crowd sets a Major Junior Hockey record, erasing the old one of 19.875 set back in 1995 at the Joe in Detroit, when the Detroit Jr. Red Wings tangled with the Windsor Spitfires.

The crowd is symbolic of Ottawa's love of hockey. In addition to the Sens and the 67's there's the Olympiques of Gatineau (though I knew them as Hull) a number of Tier II junior clubs in Nepean, Gloucester, Kanata and points rural. Junior B teams are scattered throughout the region as well. If you need a hockey fix, book yourself a ticket to Ottawa, cause somewhere on a given night is a damn fine hockey game happening in some rink.

The 67's took advantage of the night to also raise money for Tsunami relief and as usual their fans responded with overwhelming generosity, which is the norm with the residents of Ottawa when things need to get done.

The only damper on the evening was on the final score sheet, the Frontenacs not overcome by the spectre of a huge crowd and the historical nature of the night decided to keep to their game plan, successfully defeating the 67's 6-5 in an entertaining affair.

When the time comes to proclaim Canada's Hockeytown, one couldn't get much better than selecting Ottawa, the game has a home there. It's pulse beats across the city, in every rink indoor and out, large and small.