Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Canucks finally put a leash on Coyotes

They tried to give it away in the second period, but eventually the Vancouver Canucks dismissed the Phoenix Coyotes with check in the loss column. The Canucks hot off a big win Saturday night over Colorado, the Canucks put away the Desert Dogs 7-4.

Vancouver jumped out to a quick 4-1 lead, but as seems to be the case of late could not keep that cushion alive through the next fourty minutes. Second period penalties allowed the Coyotes to get back into the game, as they closed the gap to one goal before the Canucks finally got their game back in gear.

Alex Auld kept the Canucks alive in the second period as he faced 21 shots in twenty minutes, finishing the game with 42 saves surrendering 4 goals many of which came about due to sloppy play in the Vancouver end.

Vancouver found goal scoring success once again from Henrik and Daniel Sedin, a duo who seem to have finally found their game on a consistent basis. As well Canuck markers included Markus Naslund, Josh Green, Tyler Bouck, Mattias Ohlund and an empty net goal from Todd Bertuzzi.

Bertuzzi once again seemed to float in and out of the play on the night, taking untimely penalties at times and being victimized by the refs on calls at others. Regardless, it was still not the power forward display of old that Bertuzzi put on, a concern not only to the Canuck management but to the guy across the bench tonight Wayne Gretzky, who must be wondering like others when Bertuzzi will get back to the game he once played so well.

The other story of the night in Phoenix was the crowd, or lack of it. The game was televised in Canada on Sportsnet Pacific. Frequent scans of the crowd showed row upon row of empty seats, many of them in the prime seating areas around the boards and behind the benches. The published attendance number was stated at 14,599, but appearances dictate that number is a highly optimistic count. As CKNW sports announcer JP McConnel might say, they must have counted legs instead of bums.

The Coyotes are playing in a brand new rink, supposedly state of the art and fan friendly. Too bad it seems that not many folks in Phoenix wish to make its acquaintance!

Monday, January 30, 2006

The Thinning Blue Line

When Team Canada heads for Italy in February they may find that they're heading further and further down the depth chart for defencemen. Ed Jovanovski one of the anchors of the Canadian Blue line has pulled out of the Olympic games to tend to some immediate surgery on his abdominal area.

While the news for Canada is bad, it's potentially worse for his club team the Vancouver Canucks. It's expected that Jovanovski will be out for at least eight weeks, but some are suggesting he may be done for the season. That being said, Canucks GM Dave Nonis has a bit of breathing room in trying to find a replacement for Jovo, the Canadian team does not.

For Team Canada the list of defencemen is getting smaller and smaller each passing day, Bryan McCabe is expected to return to the Maple Leaf lineup this week, should he find his form quickly he may be promoted from the taxi squad to the regular rotation. But considering his time off due to injury of late, will the Canadian team be getting the same McCabe that was burning up the NHL in the first two months?

Another question mark is Scott Niedermayer from Anaheim who will have to decide this week whether he will head in for knee surgery during the Olympic break or take his wonky knee across the ocean to Italy. It's a tough call for any player, but one has to wonder what is the most important aspect to consider here, the need to play for one's country, to make sure you're ready to help out your club team for the playoffs or indeed to make sure that your personal health concerns are addressed above all.

If Both McCabe and Niedermayer join Jovanovski on the Injury list it could open up the roster to a whole new direction. Scott Hannan, Jay Bouwmeester, Dion Phaneuf and Dan Boyle are among many of the potential names being bounced around for inclusion to the Canadian Team at Turin.

It will be a tough decision to make for the Team Canada braintrust, losing the quality play of a Jovo, McCabe or Niedermayer won't be easy to deal with. Someone will need to step up and seize an Olympic moment. The next couple of names we hear could be the difference between gold, silver of happy to be there.

Cleaning out their Closets

If one wants a soundtrack for the St. Louis Blues woeful season, perhaps a listen to some Eminem might help put things in perspective. The drama on any of the Detroit rappers albums could certainly fit in with the mess that has become the Blues. Monday St. Louis continued to empty the locker room of large salaried players, sending Doug Weight to Carolina one day after sending Mike Sillinger off to the Nashville Predators.

It’s all part of the liquidation sale to give the prospective new owners on the way, a nice clean and financially slim roster to tinker with for the rest of the season. Coach Mike Kitchen who must feel like a Barbary Coast trader has watched talented players pack up their duffel bags and leave the Blues all season long. From the off season loss of team leader Chris Pronger to today’s trade of Weight this has been a long march to irrelevance for the Blues this year.

With owners that have soured on their investment, cost cutting has become the word to live by in St. Louis. The entire state of the franchise seems like an out take of the movies Slap Shot or Major League, Billionaire owners tired of losing money decide the best way to sell a team is to reduce it’s payroll to that of a local Wal Mart store. One imagines they may keep Keith Tkachuk around to be the new team greeter, his days of stocking the nets full of pucks seemingly long gone.

The strategy in place by Larry Pleau apparently with the blessing of the incoming owners, has many in Missouri and beyond scratching their heads. It's the show me state, they would like to be shown that there is some logic behind the firesale hockey being put together in St. Louis.

For St. Louis hockey fans there is some good news out of all this misery, the unknown call ups from Peoria and those that have joined from afar apparently still have the hockey bug in them, if ownership does not. Monday night saw the depleted Blues roster benefit from points from Lee Stempniak who not only scored the tying goal against Calgary, but put away the winner as well in the fifth round of a shoot out. Stempniak had best be careful until the sale is finalized, an effort like that may end up getting him traded away, can’t have anybody showing an inclination to win now can we.

Even better news for Blues followers, the sale of the Blues is apparently getting closer. Soon somebody that maybe loves hockey, maybe wants to win and might be willing to spend the money to do so, may take over the team. It certainly a situation that can’t come fast enough for those that still love hockey in St. Louis, both on the player’s bench and in the seats.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

The Unhappy Campers of Calgary

The rumbling from Mount Sutter has erupted into a full fledged explosion and part time goaltender Phil Sauve has felt the wrath. Sutter who from time to time lights a fire under his players by calling them out in public, seems to have gone over the top in his comments over the back up goaltender for the Flames.

Taking the approach that putting Sauve into the net pretty well guarantees a loss, Sutter has probably put himself into a situation where he will have to unload the back up and for not much in return.

Eric Francis of the Calgary Sun examines the situation further on the Canoe website, suggesting that Sutter’s approach may not provide the desired effect in this instance. Rather than dealing from a strong position, Sutter may have weakened his bargaining position with opposing teams. There haven’t been many missteps by Sutter since he took over the reigns in Calgary, but every once and a while he blasts off on one of these tirades that cause folks to wonder what’s going on.

The current situation is one that will leave Sauve and his team mates twisting in the wind for a bit of time yet! Not where you want them to be heading into the playoff stretch.

Looking for signs of life on Saturday night!

Oh so much riding on a Saturday night Hockey Night in Canada game! Considering their anemic offensive displays of recent games the Montreal - Toronto match up tonight could provide one of the most boring games of the year by the time they get to les trois etoiles (if they can find any).

No doubt it looked pretty good on paper when they drew up the schedule, but neither the Leafs nor the Habs are shooting out the lights these days, low scoring and in some games low shot counts have brought out the worst in the home town crowds and made for some pretty slow moving television as well.

It's a tough sell for the CBC in trying to present the Saturday night match as battle for playoff spots, neither the Leafs nor Habs are actually in a playoff spot at the moment, the leafs Ninth and the Habs tenth and both looking for the bottom of the standings rather than the top at the moment. Of course we can always count on the old traditional rivalry angle, two ancient franchises locked in combat for the 671st time.

Perhaps they can ask Jean and Henri, Darryl and Bob to come on out for a skate and show these young fellows how to do things. Who knows they might be able to get past twelve shots in one game if things really go their way!

What's even more worrisome for the CBC though is the playoff picture, judging by the performance of the Leafs and Habs, a post season appearance is getting more and more unlikely with each passing game. With 31 games to go until the playoffs, the CBC may find that it's two largest markets have no rooting interest in a playoff participant. Sure there's the Sens, but lets face it, no Leaf fan is going to be sitting down to watch Ottawa roll on through the East and well the Hab fans are just as likely to adopt a Bruin, Ranger or Flyer than pick up the Sens torch. As for the Western teams, well central Canadians would have to pull out a map to find the hometowns, probably too much to hope for just yet.

The possibility of the both the Leafs and the Habs missing the playoffs has the CBC Hockey Night brass beside themselves in angst, as they ponder hundreds of thousands of dollars of advertising dollars finding a new home before May.

That's why Saturday night they'll be looking for a pulse, a twitch even a slight breath from these two possible hockey corpses. The Mother Corp is hoping that something happens soon, spring is coming fast and they'd like to have as much Canada in their Hockey Night as possible!

Canucks stumble way through road trip

It's three road games down and so are the Canucks. Vancouver dropped its third road loss in a row on Thursday night, as Brendan Shanahan sealed the win as the Wings clipped the Canucks 2-1 at the Joe Louis Temple of Hockeytown.

The Canucks have been awful on this their longest road trip of the year, losses to St. Louis and Columbus have rattled their confidence, while the loss to the Red Wings highlighted some problems with the current line up situation. The big line of Bertuzzi, Naslund and Morrison has done precious little the last number of games, mere passengers on the bus rather than participants.

Night after night the names of Burrows, Kesler and other unknowns have Canuck fans running for their Manitoba Moose Press kits to try and learn more about the only guys in White willing to throw a check or take a chance in the offensive zone of late.

The Sedin brothers and Anson Carter have shown flashes of life through the road trip, especially the Detroit game where they moved the puck nicely resulting in the only Canuck goal a highlight reel type of effort from Carter who took a nifty pass from Daniel Sedin.

Goaltending was a problem in the first two games of the trip, but not that was not the case on Thursday as Alex Auld held his team in the contest as long as he could, Shanhan did not put away the winning goal until the thirteen minute mark of the third. Unfortunately for Auld, the Canucks could not recapture the attack and get one back for him.

Injuries continue to plague the Canucks as well, Ed Jovanovski re-injured his groin in Columbus and has returned to Vancouver, creating more of an experience gap on the Canuck blue line.

By far though the most troublesome aspect of the Canuck play of late, is that big line, neither Bertuzzi nor Naslund have been particularly productive of late, they have their spurts and then disappear for a while. And speaking of disappearing, third wheel Morrison hardly ever sees the puck from the other two, giving him real cause to consider applying to the witness relocation program such is his involvement in the play of late.

It's a dilemma for Marc Crawford to try and solve and solve quickly, too many nights he gives the same post game comments of, we didn't check well, we couldn't keep up the pressure or we didn't give enough support to our goaltender. If you repeat the same thing enough times, one would think that it certainly may be time to try and correct the behavior.

Things don't get any easier for the Canucks on Saturday, its off to Colorado for the back end of the Hockey Night in Canada double header. A game that will feature a newly confident Avalanche team and a rather unfriendly Pepsi Centre crowd.

Saturday nights game is followed by trips to Phoenix, Calgary and Edmonton before they can unpack their suitcases. If they don't come up with a couple of wins, some of them may not have to bother unpacking.

Friday, January 27, 2006

12 shots, no goals! We can't say that the Habs are on a roll!

Bob Gainey likes defensive hockey, from his days as a Hab checker to his time in Minnesota and Dallas, Gainey hockey is normally a defensive thing. You take care of your end and the offense will take care of itself is the usual credo. But even the events of Thursday night, had to make him wonder about his young charges in rouge, blanc et bleu. Thursday night the defensive hockey was all in the Ottawa end, as the Sens hardly worked up a sweat protecting their end of the rink.

The Montreal Canadiens could only muster 12 shots on an underworked Domenic Hasek, none of which really tested the Senators goaltender who collected his fifth shut out of the season as the Senators defeated the Habs 3-0 at Scotiabank Place on Thursday night.

Montreal faced the embarrassing situation of almost setting a new team record for futility, when they went into the final four minutes of play with only nine shots on Hasek, a late game spurt of three saved them from setting the new standard of inaptitude, the twelfth shot on net, tying the old Habs record and saving them from a new entry in the books.

Over at the Montreal end of the rink, it was anything but a defensive effort as Cristobal Huet faced 40 shots from Senator snipers, with Zdeno Chara marking his fiftieth career goal and Daniel Alfredsson with two goals led the way to another victory for the Sens. Alfredsson's second goal was his 250th goal of his career.

Huet's start was his second consecutive game, as Gainey tries to find a way to help Jose Theodore get his head back into the game and try to get his team to start playing on the same page. Judging by the results of Thursday, there's need for some more homework for Gainey's guys!

Thursday, January 26, 2006

High Anxiety in Hogtown

The Basketball team is in turmoil, the General Manager was dismissed earlier today as Raptor fans try to come to grips with a team that gives up 81 points to one player and seemingly can't win games to save their souls. Further down the halls at the Air Canada Centre the Maple Leafs go through their own tribulations. With play of similar nature, Toronto's two winter sport teams are feeling the pain these days. And if the fans are concerned about their basketball team they're down right apoplectic about the hockey team.

Thursday night saw the Leafs drop their seventh straight game, this time an 8-4 loss to the injury depleted Buffalo Sabres. Ed Belfour was taken out of the game after the Sabres fourth goal in the early stages of the second period, the struggling Belfour gave up two goals of a questionable nature. His replacement, Michael Telqvist was sent in to face the Sabres and found himself surrendering four goals of his own before the Leafs called it a night.

And while the goaltending left a lot to be desired for the Maple Leafs, the offensive output was rather feeble as well. Despite the four goal burst by the Buds, the third period tells one more than you need to know about the state of Maple Leaf hockey this year. The Leafs managed only six shots on net in the final period, giving their fans ample time to contemplate the best way to boo them off the ice, something that faced the Leafs at the final buzzer.

The Leafs tumbled to ninth place with the loss, out of the playoff race for the time being and giving the Maple Leaf Nation the chance to grumble aloud about a need for a change. All this week the rumours have run rampant around the Leafs, a trade for Sundin or the firing of Pat Quinn, take your pick each has had more than its fair share of exposure over the last few days.

The idea of dismissing Quinn seems a bit hard to understand, he has not exactly been blessed with a solid line up to compete with. Defensively the Leafs have lost their way, far too often defencemen leave two or three opponents in front of the net, should the goaltenders make the initial save, someone is handy to bang in a rebound. Backchecking has also been something that the majority of Leafs seem disinclined to engage in, far too many nights have seen two or three opposing players breaking over the blue line unmolested. No wonder the goaltenders are having problems, they're truly the last line of defence, many nights with no reinforcements in sight. That being said, there are rumblings that Quinn has lost the confidence of the team and seems unable to use his players properly, whichever thought eventually becomes the widely held theory will dictate Quinn's future in Toronto.

The onus is on John Ferguson to find some help for this team, he let Brian Leetch get away and has had problems working the salary cap. While the Leafs have suffered a fair amount of injuries to key players of late, there is no doubt that the team lacks depth in the line up. If the Leafs hope to get back into the race for a playoff spot, Ferguson will have to spend the Olympic break trying to crunch his numbers and make some trades.

The fans have already seen on General Manager sent to the unemployment lines this year, one wonders if they'll be howling for a second should the Leafs not turn things around?

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Super Mario says Farewell (for good)

This time, is the last time. There will be no more returns for Mario Lemieux. The Hall of Famer, owner, player, team mate and leader laid it all out for everyone in an emotional press conference Tuesday in Pittsburgh. Frustrated with his health of late and realizing that he can't compete at a level he was happy with, one of the greatest to ever put on the blades bid adieu to the game he loved and in some ways redefined.

It was a bittersweet moment for Lemieux who leaves a game that has finally come around to his way of thinking. This new firewagon style of hockey that we have today would have been just the stage for a younger Mario to really show off his skills. Imagine what his stat package might have looked like had we gone down this road some twenty years ago!

From Stanley Cup Championships to International exploits, the legend of Mario grew with each successive year. Check out the Globe and Mail's chronology of all things Mario for the legendary details!. Often injured he bounced back time and time again to pick up where he left off and improve, improve, improve on his legacy. He battled cancer and more recently heart difficulties with grace, giving many a role model to follow for more than hockey matters.

He saved a Pittsburgh franchise doomed to extinction and has tried to move heaven, earth and politicians to make the Penguins a lasting fixture on the Pittsburgh sports scene. It's only been recently that he seems to have seen the writing on the wall and stepped aside from his hometown saviours role, allowing the officials of Pittsburgh to take more of the responsibility over whether the Pens live or die in the steel city. It's telling to see him not only step aside from the office but from the ice at ths time, perhaps not wishing to oversee the possible final days in the city where he made his name. If the Pens eventually do have to leave, not one person can raise Lemieux's name in complaint, this was a guy that did everything one man could do to make a team a success. Lemieux never failed the fans in Pittsburgh, not as a player, not as an owner and not as a citizen!

For the rest of us there was the hockey player, a bright star in the NHL universe that never failed to entertain. Worthy of our respect and adulation, he brought the game to great height at a time when many tried to bring it down to its basest level. The fact he like Gretzky was so successful is all the testimony we need to his great talent!

There are hundreds of tributes to his exploits on the internet today, simply go to Google news and google in Mario Lemieux, your reading time will be filled for hour upon hour.

Here are some of the best ones that HockeyNation found over the last few hours.

TSN January 24
Boston Herald, January 25
MSNBC January 24
Canoe January 25
Baltimore Sun January 25
Pittsburgh Post Gazette (1) January 25
Pittsburgh Post Gazette (2) January 25
Pittsburgh Post Gazette (3) January 25
Pittsburgh Tribune Review (1) January 25
Pittsburgh Tribune Review (2) January 25
Pittsburgh Tribune Review (3) January 25
The Crikey, Australia January 25
The Toronto Star January 24
Globe and Mail January 24

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Dear CBC:

Regarding the remainder of the Hockey Night in Canada schedule, considering the rather brutal nature of Maple Leaf games these days could we please, please give some thought to maybe showcasing the rest of the Canadian based teams on a more frequent basis. With the exception of the Montreal Canadiens, the remaining four teams based above the 49th line seem to provide more than enough thrills and hits to keep even Don Cherry entertained for the full sixty minutes.

Instead of the next ten weeks of Leafs games (though we must admit we too look forward to the March 4th game with Ottawa) how about moving the camera over to a few new locales for the traditional HNIC fiesta.

For instance how about on the 4th of February giving us the Sens and the Sabres, no doubt a better match than the Devils Leafs snorefest you have planned for us. February 11th the Flyers are in Ottawa, now we're not trying to pick on your schedule maker but C'mon' that has got to be a better contest than the Rangers and Leafs. And how come no late game that night? How did that happen, somebody at the NHL was not paying attention to their main money maker eh!

There's not much you can do about March 11th, the Rangers and Habs or the Bolts and the Leafs a trade off, we'll go with your wisdom and no doubt the wish to give your crews a bit of a rest. And March 18th your doing fine, three games possible covering all Canadian based teams playing that night. Sidney in HD should be a treat providing he's still able to play by then.

March 25th you do yourself proud with the Sens/Flyers, Habs/Leafs (for the truly tortured souls) and the Canucks and Oilers, it could be a winning ratings week that one.

April Fools won't be on us with the Sabres/Leafs and the Oilers/Flames games, leaving the Habs and Bruins to themselves is probably a wise call.

April 8th you miss the boat though, the Leafs and Flyers probably looked good on paper and visions of the great wars of the past danced through your heads. But the real war will most likely be the one in Ottawa when the Sabres come to town. It's not too late to revise the crew shifts you know! The back end of the double header though is a winner, Flames and Canucks will be a doozy!

You do fine for the final game of the regular season of Hockey Night on April 15th, Leafs and Sens and Avs and Canucks. Though keep an eye on how the Flames and Kings are doing, It might not hurt to split the feed giving the Flames fans the chance to watch their favourite team maybe clinch first place or home ice advantage who knows!

Anyways, as you can see there is some tweaking to be done, we at HockeyNation truly hope we find a few more nights of the rest of the gang for our hockey night entertainment!

Yours Truly,

The HockeyNation

"The Game was done in fifteen minutes"

Saku Koivu surrendered the quote to describe the night, Jose Theodore and Cristobal Huet surrendered the goals and the Montreal Canadiens as a whole just plain surrendered to the Vancouver Canucks.

Vancouver scored six goals within the first fifteen minutes of play to once again trump an eastern opponent, defeating the Habs 6-2 at GM Place. The victory was an important one for the Canucks, who now embark on their longest road trip of the season, with seven games in thirteen nights ahead of them on the schedule.

Alex Auld collected his 20th win of the season, facing 26 shots and stopping 24 of them. The win marked the ninth time in ten games that the Canucks have defeated an eastern based team, something they hope that they can now apply to the more troublesome contests in their own division and conference.

For Montreal it was more of the same misery they've been dealing with for the last sixteen road games, a stretch which has seen them win only once. It also was the second loss in a row for GM Bob Gainey, who replaced Claude Julien behind the bench last week after firing him. The Habs initially responded to the change with two wins, but since then have reverted to the old ways that put Julien into the doghouse and eventually the unemployment line.

Most distressing for Gainey should be the fact that Jose Theodore continues to struggle, giving up five goals on ten shots before being replaced by Huet, who promptly surrendered goal number six on only his second shot.

Speaking of shots, that's another thing that Gainey may wish to work on with his team. The Habs did not successfully get a second shot on Alex Auld until the seventeen minute mark of the first period. Their lethargic efforts and the overwhelming display of offence by the Canucks did much to silence the traditional battalion of Habs fans who trek to cheer their favourites on when they make their infrequent appearances at GM Place, but then again if this is the best effort the Habs can come up with perhaps Bob Gainey would like to stay away.

With the success of the Canucks over their Eastern cousins, its no wonder there is so much discussion on bringing the eastern teams to the west more often. The success rate for the home team can pad the stats pages quite nicely.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Takin' it to the House

They have a House of Commons in Ottawa, a Government House, maybe even an International House of Pancakes. But for the Toronto Maple Leafs there's really only one House, it's that House of Horrors now called Scotiabank Place, formerly the Corel Centre.

As the Senators played their 1,000 game since the city's return to the NHL, they returned to the type of hockey that had everyone talking Sens hockey at the start of the season. Once again the Leafs have gone into Ottawa to face the Sens and once again they've left the building feeling a little like they've been schooled in the art of hockey.

Pat Quinn's team left Eddie Belfour to face the Sens and their fans alone all night long, the concept of back checking and defensive play as hard to find as were the 20,093 tickets to the sold out game, a new record for hockey in Ottawa.

The struggling Leafs wandered aimlessly on the ice at Scotiabank Place, giving the Sens the neutral zone, the front of the net and even behind the net on the way to their 7-0 rout of the Leafs. And truth be told, this one could have been much, much worse. As the third period progressed Sens Coach Bryan Murray took a few steps to try and cut the visitors a bit of slack, putting the lower lines onto the power play and slowing down the pace of the game past the halfway point of the third.

However, with the Leafs not showing much of an interest in taking the game to the Sens, Domenic Hasek was rarely in danger of losing his shut out bid. Though he did try to make things interesting by playing the puck too much giving the Leafs a chance to put one in the Sens net, but even on those occasions things did not go the way of the Blue and White.

With a March 9th trade deadline it will be interesting to see what moves the Leafs make to try and salvage their once promising start. With the loss tonight, the Leafs tumbled out of the playoff race ceding the eighth and final spot temporarily to Tampa Bay.

With thirty five games to go in the regular season it may be a little early to panic, but this is a team that is looking a little disorganized at the moment, far too many players refuse to play the man or pick up their checks.

The Sens capitalized on far too many two and three on one situations than is good for a potential playoff team. Until they can recapture the sense of the basics they seem to be conveniently avoiding there will continue to be many nights like Saturday.

In fact, Monday night features a return engagement between the Sens and the Leafs once again at the Corel Centre. Not a good omen for the Leafs, so far in the five games played between the two provincial rivals, it's been all Ottawa who have outscored the Leafs 32-9. Pizza Pizza had best put in another order for dough, it could very well be another night of free pizza for the capitals hockey fans!

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Hockey's Back at NBC

Today is the big day for hockey's return to US network television as NBC takes the puck and skates into living rooms across North America. The NHL on NBC drops the puck on its schedule with three games starting at 2pm Eastern, 11 am Pacific Saturday. The New York Rangers travel to the motor city to take on the Detroit Red Wings, Peter Forsberg welcomes his former team mates from Colorado to his new digs in Philadelphia and Dallas plays the Bruins to round out the debut of the great return.

The network will then present five weekends of action leading up to the Stanley Cup playoffs when they will provide a fair bit of coverage, including prime time exposure of games 3-7 of the Stanley Cup final. NBC also has the contract for the Turin Olympics and plans on featuring the US Olympic hockey team as one of its main programming options.

The last time NBC and hockey got together was on April 6, 1975 when Minnesota and Chicago took to the ice. Best known for the Peter Puck features of the day, NBC would eventually let the sport leave its programming grid. From there hockey has been on a gypsy like path with stops at CBS, ABC, FOX and ESPN over the years.

This year it finds itself on the Outdoor Living Network as its cable partner, as well as numerous local packages for the American teams. The return to NBC brings with it the usual gimmicks, those kinds of things that American networks love. Saturday hockey on NBC will feature goalie cams, mics on the players and roving reporters right down at ice level between the two team benches.

NBC is not paying any rights to the NHL for the product, it's a form of a barter system in place where the NHL will earn revenue from commercials aired during the broadcast. But for Gary Bettman just getting back on American network television will be considered a victory, he's hoping the speed and action of the reborn NHL will more than help to sell the spots and attract the audiences.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Working for Food

Fans of the Ottawa Senators at Scotiabank Place may have reason to maybe invest in a larger pair of jeans. The Pizza Pizza chain offers up free pizza to all fans in attendance when the Sens win and score more than six goals at a home game.

In four of the last six home games the Sens have sent the faithful to the take out window for a slice, giving the folks at Pizza Pizza a nice bump in their own attendance, all be it with a bit of a hit on the bottom line.

Originally things were even easier for the high flying Sens, the original deal called for the free pizza to be dished out when the Sens put five or more goals in the net on a winning night. With the Sens closing in on double digits in the early part of the season, the Sens and Pizza Pizza renegotiated so as to give the pizza chain a fighting chance to keep some of its dough.

It's going to be close though for the bulk of the season, the Sens lead the league in goals and have averaged 4.65 goals per game while in the friendly confines of the home rink.

Mind you the folks at Pizza Pizza aren't overly concerned about the sudden rush on pizza courtesy of the Sens. They are quite happy with the goal total to sit at six, knowing full well that with every slice sold, no doubt a soft drink and maybe even a whole pizza leaves the store with another satisfied customer.

As long as the Sens keep on scoring, Pizza Pizza will keep on delivering.

Hawk fans pick their spots

Go figure this one out, Friday night in Chicago the Black Hawks played in front of their third sold out crowd of the season. This in a game that featured a team that was possibly worse than the Chi-Hawks heading into game time.

20,541 hockey observers took seats at the United Centre to watch their Hawks lay a whupping on the woeful Pittsburgh Penguins. Led by rookie goaltender Adam Munro in the nets, the Hawks picked up their second win in three games after losing ten straight as the struggling Penguins surrenderd 4 goals to once again end up on the short end of the scoresheet.

Andy Hilbert scored two goals for the Hawks, while Radim Vrbata and Martin Lapointe added singles for the cause. Colby Armstrong put the only marker on the board for the Pens in the 4-1 loss. Marc Andre Fleury once again was the sacrificial lamb in the Pens nets facing 35 shots on the way to the loss.

Pens coach Michel Therrien pulled out the word of the year so far for teams that can't seem to find the winning combination, Therrien claimed: "we're a fragile team. It seems when we face adversity our mental toughness has not been there."

The Pens have been a bit of a basket case for a couple of months now, the coaching change, the injuries and illnesses and the Sidney meltdowns all combining to render them possibly to be the least cohesive squad of the 30 teams in the NHL this year.

Chicago up until a couple of days ago might have given them a run for their money, but a surprisingly intense effort against the Canucks last week has seemed to help turn around the attitude for now in the Windy City.

One can't fathom what possessed the Chi Hawk faithful to fill the pews with a team like Pittsburgh coming to town, one can only assume that they figured it might be the closest thing to a guaranteed win night that they might get this year.

New Jersey Retro

It was turn back the clock night in Jersey Friday night, as the new NHL hailed for its high tempo offensive outbursts went back to the dark days of the trap, the Devils and Canucks turned in one of those text book Devil games from days many had thought had long gone by.

Lou Lamoirello, who still paces the bench while he searches for a new head coach watched his Devils put on a plodding display, matched equally stride for stride by the Vancouver visitors. Hailing the return to Devil's style hockey, Martin Brodeur and Brian Gionta suggested that this new/old look is something fans had best get used to. "If we are able to play this way and not take a lot of penalties, you'll see this more and more from our team. It's not just me. All the guys are excited that we are able to shut down good teams." crowed Brodeur as he backstopped his Devils to a 3-0 shut out of the Canucks.

The Canucks outshot the Devils 13-7 in the first period but couldn't put a goal past the stingy Brodeur, after the first the offensive chances dwindled as the Devils got 7 shots to the Canucks six in the second period and put the cork on this barnburner in the third as the Canucks could only muster 7 more shots to test Brodeur as he earned his 78th career shutout as the final buzzer sounded and everyone could go home to sleep, if they hadn't already dozed off.

Team Canada fans can take heart in the solid play of Brodeur who picked up his third shut out in five games, a nice warm up for the days of Turin to come in February. But for pure hockey fans watching the Devils and Canucks on television Friday night was a test in patience.

In short it was boring hockey, everything that fans were told was history in the new NHL. But with the Devils now on a five game winning streak playing the slow and plodding way, its not something that's going to be abandoned any time soon. All of a sudden the idea of playing the eastern teams more than once a year doesn't have that same urgency.

If you can make it there, you can make it anywhere!

One guy who made it! Mark Messier!

They had a love in at the Gardens Thursday night! The New York Rangers celebrated the many achievements of the leader who took them to the Promised Land. With a spectacle to rival a Broadway production, the Rangers and their fans paid homage to number 11. There were no dry eyes at Madison Square as Messier watched his legendary number 11 hoisted on a banner to the rafters of the fabled New York sports arena.

With his former team the Edmonton Oilers the opposition for the night watching the celebrations from their bench, the one hour and fifteen minute tribute remembered the great moments of Messiers tenure as the Rangers captain, motivator, team mate and legend. The Ranger greats of years gone by and his fellow travelers of the magical 1994 team were all there, standing together in honour of the Moose, a player who joins the legacy of
a Ruth and a Namath in a town that idolizes it’s heroes like no other.

The story of Messier on Broadway is the thing of NHL fable. He arrived from the western reaches of Alberta; the young gun with the five Stanley Cup championships on his resume would take the Rangers to that one elusive goal of dozens of teams from the past. He only won one Cup for the Rangers in his ten years as captain, but one was more than enough for the followers of the Broadway Blue shirts, a legion of fans that had been led to the door before, only to have it shut in their face.

The Cup run of 1994 solidified Messier’s place in the gallery of the sports Gods of New York. It became legend on a night in New Jersey; the brash captain declaring to the ever demanding New York media that he would guarantee his Rangers would not only defeat the Devils in a vital game six match, but take the series away from the cousins across the Hudson River.

In that memorable game six, Messier’s team seemed destined to fail their on ice general, unable to keep the pressure on the Devils and solve the riddle of an amazing Martin Brodeur, they trailed the Devils going into the third period. What followed in the following twenty minutes will be forever remembered by Rangers fans as a Messier miracle.

The Ranger captain single handedly took charge of the game; scoring three consecutive goals to knock the Devils on their heels and lift his team mates to the place he had promised all along, the Stanley Cup Finals.

With the Devils disposed of, the Rangers then turned their attention to the Vancouver Canucks who put up a valiant fight to the end, but in this Cinderella Man story, Messier’s team was the one to pick up Lord Stanley’s Cup in celebration and forever placing him and his team mates in the history books of city that never sleeps.

It’s said you need broad shoulders to play Broadway, none were broader than those that held the hopes of a hockey team, its home city and a sweater numbered 11.

(Photo is from the New York Daily News website)

Thursday, January 12, 2006

A trip to Hockeyville

Is your town the one. The place where hockey is lived with every breath, a part of the fabric of your society. Is it the one sport that unites your residents for the common good? If so then Kraft Hockeyville could be yours.

This first appeared on Hockey Day in Canada last Saturday, a couple of quick commercials though the day asking for you to nominate the town that best fits the mould of hockeyville.

The winning community will receive upgrades to the community arena, the shrine to shinny in many a hometown. Not only that, but the town judged to be the most hockey intense homefront in the land will also receive an exhibition game featuring two NHL teams and a chance to socialize with those that play for a living the game we love with a passion.

The rules are rather simple and the rewards great for the successful community.

Kraft Hockeyville is a CBC production, with a TV show in the works starting March 29th and continuing on through the NHL playoffs in June. Town after town will be hoping they are the lucky home for Hockeyville and of course host to the grand finale of a visit from the pros and some goodwill to your hometown.

The players will drop in to celebrate hockey with you and your fellow citizens, perhaps you could serve up some heaping servings of Kraft Dinner at the celebration banquet when your town becomes Kraft Hockeyville for 2006!

Sakic laces up for number 1200

Mr. MVP Joe Sakic, pulled on those blades again on Wednesday night, marking the 1200th game that the quiet leader has played in the NHL. He became the 64th player to reach that plateau in the history of the game.

For a while though it appeared that his momentous moment would be all the Colorado fans would have to celebrate, as Cristobal Huet once again stoned the opposition, taking a 1-0 lead into the last ten minutes of play before the roof caved in on him and his Montreal team mates.

Huet who last gained attention with a remarkable performance against the Ottawa Senators, once again had to hold the fort on his own for a fair amount of time, as his fellow Habs found ways to give away the puck and far too many opportunities . Stopping 35 shots (eighteen in the first period alone, compared to the Habs paltry four shots) before Colorado would tie the game on a Marek Svatos goal at 10:30 of the third period, Huet looked impressive but eventually the Avalanche pressure would yield the go ahead and winning goal as Ian Laperriere put the game away with 3:36 to go.

David Abeischer had another fine game in the Colorado nets, turning back 25 shots on the way to the Avalanche's sixth consecutive win and Abeischer's fifth straight victory in goal. He was particularly solid in the dying seconds of the game when Montreal pulled their goaltender for an extra attacker and a flurry of action in front of the Colorado net.

A milestone for Sakic and another big win for the Avalanche, all in all a pretty happy night in the mile high city.

Windy City Fire Sale?

A story out of Ottawa has the Chicago Black Hawks preparing to open up those garage doors and have a giant clearance sale of everything old, battered, bruised and unused.

Bruce Garrioch of the Ottawa Sun and Canoe, reports that Hawks GM Dale Tallon, having decided not to fire coach Trent Yawney will instead clear the decks, almost everyone is up for sale. Only Tyler Arnason and Mark Bell on the possible do not touch shelf, though possibly even they could be taken given the right offer.

John Muckler is apparently ready to peek in the door, with a covetous eye on super pest Matthew Barnaby and solid veteran Martin Lapointe, a player who would feel quite at home with Bryan Murray going back to their days in Detroit.

With Chicago suffering another horrendous season currently seven points away from being the worst in the league, attendance woeful and the team apparently disinterested in performing as a unit things are dark for Tallon and his coach.

New faces from new places might be all that they can bank on this year to try and at least give the long suffering Hawk faithful cause to show up for the rest of the season.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Milbury makes it eight for ten in New York

The stumbling, bumbling New York Islanders have marked yet another notch on the old coaching stick, apparently sending Mike Stirling off to semi-retirement half way through the NHL season. A little company for Ed Olcyck at the Unemployment office, as those teams floundering in the standings begin to hit that panic button and look for a solution, any solution to shake things up.

Inside sources on Long Island have given the media the heads up on an announcement Thursday, that Mike Milbury GM of the sad sack Isles will claim coach number eight with the departure of Stirling.

Milbury is one of those rare GM's who never seem to be held accountable for the troubles their teams face, like his counterpart in Boston, Milbury has faced more than enough controversy while at the helm of the Islanders and yet somehow lives to trade and fire another day.

He's traded away enough front line players (hello Todd Bertuzzi, Zdeno Chara, Wade Redden, Mike Peca, Ziggy Palffy, Roberto Luongo among many) to take a normal team deep into a playoff run. In return he's acquired such legendary laggards as Alexi Yashin, a guy who has shown much promise over the years, but little in the way of heart to go deep into a post season. The most telling of events of late the trading of then Captain Peca to Edmonton and handing the C over to Yashin who has not produced the required leadership such a move would expect.

It's expected that Milbury will promote from within to fill the spot on a temporary basis, with farm coach Brad Shaw the most likely candidate. It's said that Milbury will be offering Stirling another position somewhere in the organization. The only question is does Shaw or anyone else really want the job, rumours on Long Island have it that Brent Sutter of Junior gold medal fame might be offered the job in the offseason (run Brent, run, run run away) but would he want to walk into a mess like this, lets face it job security is not exactly job one at Islander central.

Over the years Milbury has removed almost a coach a year from behind the bench on Long Island, including removing himself from the position twice. In surely what must be a record for instability or incompetence.

The good news for Stirling if he's looking for silver linings, is that the last coach Peter Laviolette landed on his feet quite nicely. Laviolette left Mike and the mayhem of the Islanders, for what appears to pass for sanity in North Carolina. Laviolette's Hurricanes are presently the darlings of the NHL having recently dispensed with the Detroit Red Wings to move to one point behind Ottawa in the Eastern conference.

Funny, good enough for first in Carolina, but not good enough to coach a most underperforming team in New York. Something makes me think that the troubles on Long Island don't rest with the many versions of the coaching staff.

Update and correction: Update, Jan 12/06. Charles Wang owner of the New York Islanders announced that Mike Milbury would relinquish the General Managers chair as soon as a suitable replacement could be found. Milbury will move upstairs as they say, to a position overseeing all of Mr. Wangs entertainment properties. Correction. In the above item, we stated that Brad Shaw would replace Mr. Stiriling from the Islanders farm club, correctly he takes over from his assistant coach position.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

The Turning Point?

It was a game that started with a Morrison and ended with a Morrison, a storybook finish to a full day of hockey stories to warm enough hearts to last a winter.

Before it reached that happy ending for the local fans though, it had all the ingredients of yet another calamitous outing by the home side. The Canucks desperate for a win and a dose of self confidence quickly fell behind in their match with the Calgary Flames on the finale to Hockey Day in Canada.

The Flames appeared to be in control of the game for the first period and most of the second, taking a 3-1 lead into the third on the strength of Mikka Kiprusoff in the Flames nets and some strong play by captain Jerome Iginla and rookie sensation Dion Phaneuf.

It was the third period though that proved to turn the tide for the Canucks, who got back into a physical style of play with twenty minutes to go. Big hits in the Calgary end led to turnovers and a rash of penalty calls to the Flames late in the game aided the Canucks on their way to the 4-3 overtime win.

Led by Sami Salo with two goals, the Canucks battled their way back into this divisional rivalry, showing some grit and determination missing in many of their recent efforts. Anson Carter once again took advantage of some pretty passing from the Sedin brothers as he tallied his fifteenth goal for Vancouver this year helping to bring the Canucks back from the early depths of the game.

The winner went to Brendan Morrison, who took a rebound off of a Sami Salo blast from the point and put it into the net to secure the victory. Ironically it was a miscue by Phaneuf that resulted in the winning goal, unable to cover the Morrison side of the net in time to stop the winning shot. In a nice bit of book ending, the Morrison goal ended a game that begun with his Mother, Grandmother and children taking part in the opening face off. A script written in Hockey Day heaven that one.

Beyond the optics of a feel good ending to a feel good day though, is a feeling that this game could be the one to take this club out of the funk it has found itself in the last month or so. Far too often in the last couple of weeks there have been statements about the fragility and lack of confidence the team has exhibited of late. Today, the Canucks took the game by the horns and just plain got to work in that third period. The hits, the return to the corners and a more physical nature in front of the oppositions net, is going to do more for this team than all the psycho analytical tripe that has been bounced around the last couple of weeks.

Should the Canucks be able to capitalize on this important win, the turning point for the season could have taken place on Hockey Day in Canada, a day in which amazing things can seem to happen.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Tellqvist with the save, the save, the save, the save.....

It was the Mikael Tellqvist show in Edmonton, as the Maple Leaf back up, appearing in his first start in five games, shut down the fast skating Edmonton Oilers. Facing 38 shots the Maple Leaf goaltender made spectacular save after save, to give his Toronto team mates a split on their venture into Alberta.

With a 1-0 loss to Calgary on their minds from Friday night, the Leafs might have been forgiven for a bit of deja vu as yet another Alberta team poured on the offense. While the Oilers were setting up camp in the Leaf end of the rink for most of the night, the Leafs offense sputtered at times putting only 19 shots on Oiler goaltender Ty Conklin. However, three of those shots made their way into the Edmonton net, and as things turned out three would be more than enough with Tellqvist in the nets.

The first in the eighth minute of play when Edmonton defender Marc-Andre Bergeron had trouble containing a play on the blue line, the puck went up to Bryan McCabe who had just exited the penalty box, his shot did not result in a goal but the rebound went to Matt Stajan who did not miss on his opportunity. He was followed onto the Leafs scoring sheet by Darcy Tucker and Chad Kilger.

Uncharacteristic give aways would be the undoing of the Oilers in this one, a missed check here, a sloppy pass there all combining to give the Leafs enough of a break to keep the Oilers off balance. The Oilers mounted a comeback with goals from Shawn Horcoff and Ryan Smyth, but in the end the stellar play of Tellqvist ruled the day for the Maple Leaf Nation.

The 3-2 win shows signs of life for the Leafs who had been having troubles prior to Christmas, with their injuries starting to heal and the close games going their way now, Maple Leaf fans are beginning to breathe again, dreams of a playoff run once again dancing through their heads.

The Leafs now take their traveling road show into BC and a match up with the Vancouver Canucks on Tuesday night at GM Place, bringing to an end their venture into the western territories for the year, barring a Stanley Cup appearance in May.

You Can shoot on Huet, but you can’t score!

The injury depleted Ottawa Senators took their show into Montreal for Hockey Day in Canada, only to find that Montreal was not going to be gracious hosts. With goals from Saku Koivu, Francis Bouillon, Mathieu Dandenault and Radek Bonk, (scoring his first goal in 43 games) the Habs had their fans dancing in the aisles early in the game.

The Canadiens out played and out hit the Senators, storming to a 4-0 lead in the first period, chasing Ray Emery from the game and giving the pride of St. Martin D'Heres, France, Cristobel Huet a taste of life on the winning side of the NHL, his second straight win over Ottawa. A feat that had the Hab faithful chanting his name thoughout the game.

Huet put forward some solid play on behalf of his Canadien team mates, turning aside 40 shots from a frustrated Ottawa squad. The lone Ottawa goal a sneak in on the right wing from behind the net, more a case of a check not being picked up than anything else. Huet’s appearance in the net has begun to feed that favourite game in Montreal of who’s leaving town, the name apparently at the top of the conspiracy list, none other than Jose Theodore.

From the opening whistle the Habs took control of the play, the normally solid studs of defence in Ottawa of Chara, Redden and Phillips could not control the Canadiens who for the first period resembled those fast skating teams of the Beliveau era.

The play slowed down in the second and third periods, but the damage had already been done to Ottawa, a team which has shown some serious inconsistent play since the injury parade began to build up over the last month or so.

Ottawa’s Emery was left on his own once again, a similar scenario that played out less than a week ago, when the Thrashers took the game to the Sens and made Emery play through a stretch of terribly defense and anemic offense. In that game, Emery was a last second replacement for an injured Domenic Hasek. This time Bryan Murray had the option of rescuing Emery from the onslaught and put Domenic Hasek into the nets for the remainder of the game.

With Alfredsson, Havlat and Spezza missing from the offensive arsenal, the Sens are having much trouble in generating a steady flow of offense. Bryan Murray will have to retool his approach for the short term while the bruises, tears and sprains all begin to heal.

While it’s nowhere near the time for panic in Ottawa, the short term pain is probably still ahead for a bit yet. For Montreal, there are signs of coming out of the darker moments of a frustrating season.

Brick by Brick, row by row

It's a slow march to history for the Winnipeg Arena, demolition has begun on the grand old barn of sport for Manitobans as the Polo Park sports facility begins its path to the history books.

Winnipeggers have been dropping by the home of many memories to watch the demolition crews go about the process of removing a building that brought much joy and a fair amount of heartbreak to the Winnipeg sports scene.

The crews began their work a number of weeks ago, but it wasn't until this week that the crowd could see the true beginning of the end for the Arena. The walls have come tumbling down, exposing the seats and inner memories of the legendary Maroons Road rink.

Many of those stopping by to watch think back to the days of the Jets, the Blizzard of White Nights when Manitobans would dress in their Winnipeg white Jersey's creating a sea of white in the old arena. NHL Playoff runs, Junior championships and bonspiels all at one time or another held the spotlight in the building with the picture of the Queen smiling down on them. Soon all that will be left of the site will be the memories and ghosts of the games gone by.

Demolition is expected to take place through until May when the site will be finished and the land turned over to some other use. The entertainment mecca is now many miles to the east in the downtown area, but for generations of Manitobans the greatest moments in sport belong forever to the Winnipeg Arena.

It's Hockey Day in Canada

With impeccable timing, Hockey Day in Canada is back to warm the hearts of even the most casual of hockey fans.

The CBC has turned a novel little idea into a day long celebration of a game that defines a nation. Hockey Day in Canada returns to the Mother Network today, set on the shelf last year due to the NHL lockout, the CBC brings the celebration back in all its glory.

Hockey Day headquarters this year is Stephenville, Newfoundland the western Newfoundland town picks up the torch from Shaunavon, Saskatchewan which last hosted the conclave of all that is good about hockey back in January of 2004. Stephenville will make the perfect host for this years production, a town that has been hit by more than its fair share of bad economic news of late will band together to ensure the success of the day. The focus on the small Western Newfoundland city has already brought a measure of excitement to the place, the locals ready to put their best foot forward to showcase their hometown.

Hockey has always been a part of Newfoundland lore, back in the day the Newfoundland Senior league was THE LEAGUE in the province, the rivalry between the townies of St. John's, the Baymen of the Eastern coasts and the West Coasters has produced some legendary hockey over the years. And if the stars fall into place it may once again thrive as it once did. It's a rich hockey heritage that Newfoundlanders will bring to the show today, a love of hockey that matches any city or town in the land.

This years event features the usual trifecta of Canadian based hockey teams, with the Senators and Canadiens kick starting the celebrations at 2 pm EST, 11 am PST, the first of three NHL games featuring Canadian teams. The 7:00 pm EST 4 pm PST game brings the Maple Leafs and Oilers together, while the nightcap showcases the Canucks and Flames live from GM Place.

In between the CBC will transport us near and far across the nation, checking out minor hockey games in such locales as Florenceville, New Brusnwick, Parry Sound, Ontario, Winkler, Manitoba, Calgary, Alberta and Burnaby, BC. The focus as always will be on the young players, youth hockey and its volunteers and parents. It is effectively a thirteen and a half hour salute to those that give of their time for the love of a game.

Hot on the heels of Canada's Juniors celebration of a World Junior Hockey Championship, it should be a great celebration of a sport that has such special meaning to the nation. The broadcast will trace the path of many of today's hockey pros and how their formative years in minor hockey across the land, brought them to the level they are at today.

Hockey Day usually proves to be one of the most successful of projects put together by the CBC, an event that for one day anyways shows the public broadcasters true strengths in making a contribution to local communities across the land.

Such was the value of the day that last year when the CBC bailed on the project TSN stepped in and did a very admirable version of the celebration, all be it without the professional content. That in itself was testimony to the importance of the game to the national fabric.

The CBC however is the original producer and the folks there are more than happy to be back in the director's chair to bring the spectacular to televisions across the land. They created the franchise so to speak, it's been their story to tell over the years, each year creating memorable moments from such locations as Iqualuit, Nunavut, Windsor, Nova Scotia, Red Deer, Alberta and Toronto Ontario and of course Shaunovan last time.

Nobody lives hockey as much as Canadians do, Hockey Day is as close to a national holiday as the sport ever gets. Enjoy the festivities.

Friday, January 06, 2006


Their coach hasn’t lost a game since he became involved in the program. This year’s team did not lose a game through an entire tournament. The Nation didn’t miss a game for two weeks. It was the perfect mix, with the perfect outcome for the land that lives and breathes hockey.

Thursday night a joyous crowd at GM Place and an exuberant nation cheered on their teenage heroes to another Gold Medal in the World Junior Hockey Championships.

A team which the “experts” had already suggested was too young to expect too much out of, settled in to hockey Sutter style and just went out and over two weeks took what they believed was rightfully theirs.

Led by a calm and collected goaltender named Justin Pogge, Team Canada held off an early Russian flurry of shots, time and time again Pogge stood his ground, refusing to yield a shot to the twine behind him. He faced fifteen shots alone in the first period, holding down the fort while his fellow team mates tried to get their legs. With each successive save, his team began to feed off of his strength and eventually wear they began down the Russian machine, playing their typically hard nosed, all for one and one for all style of play.

Scoring twice late in the first period the Canadians then began to take control of the play, the energy in the stands and the good vibes of a nation tuned in at home willing them on with every shift.

The Russians would battle back, refusing to sit down and watch the play and if not for a bit of unfortunate luck might have made a dent on the scoreboard. A goal which surely was in but not counted, certainly took a bit of steam out of the Russian squad, but championship teams can overcome such difficulties. The Canadians never really let the Russians get back into the game as time wound down. Yes that goal should have counted, but to suggest that the Canadians would fold after it and relinquish medals within their reach, is a disservice to the display of team work put on by those in the Red and White.

By the time the night was finished four Canadians would score five goals to seal the victory for the home side, Steve Downie, Blake Comeau and Kyle Chicpchura scored singles, Michael Blunden netted two to round up the scoring parade, Downie’s goal was the first and as things would turn out was the eventual winner,

The Canadian win was a fine example of team work over individual effort, checks were picked up, players taken out, and hits were taken in front of the Russian net, all in the cause of showing the Russians and by extension the hockey world that Canada understands the game better than any.

The 5 – 0 final score is probably not indicative of the play of the game, Russians hit crossbars and posts and probably should have been rewarded with a few goals, but the style of play from Canada dictated the game by the end of the first period. The Russians forced to play the more physical hockey that Canada showcased, could not adapt as quickly as they needed.

More importantly, the Russians became a team of individuals as the game progressed; the Canadians stuck with the Sutter plan and after sixty minutes of play were rewarded with a victory and their coach a place in the record books.

As Team Canada's Ryan O'Marra put it, "we had more emotion, more passion and more inensity. We played Canadian hockey". Sutters lessons, were learned well by these young men.

Sutter’s win was his twelfth straight victory as bench boss of the nation’s youngest and proudest. The win provided back to back championships for a country that now probably expects to win each and every time they step on the ice.

In his day job, coach Sutter is the guiding force behind a team called the Rebels, on this Golden January night in Vancouver he was the motivational guide of a band of Patriots. To a player, they saluted their coach at games end; a guy that it seems is much more than just a coach.

The job is his again next year should he wish it, the perfect candidate for what is becoming the perfect job in sport. Sutter understands his responsibilities quite well; he has a love of junior hockey that goes well beyond what happens between the boards and on the ice.

He not only makes individuals into a team, he shapes young teens into young men. He and his team embodied all that is good about sport in Canada, the dedication, the desire and yes the results. But you know nice as they are, the gold medals are merely the icing on the cake here.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Canada to defend gold medal in Junior finale

Team Canada no longer qualifies as the underdog at the World Junior Championships, with a convincing 4-0 defeat of Finland on Tuesday night, the Canadians advanced to the Gold Medal match for the fifth straight year. Set to defend their Gold Medal championship of 2005 on Thursday night against a familiar foe, the Russian juniors.

Justin Pogge picked up his second shutout of the tournament, turning aside 19 shots as Canada played text book Sutter hockey, playing the man, reducing the turnovers and taking advantage of the scoring opportunities as they became available.

This Team Canada certainly takes the team approach to heart, rarely out of position, there are no real me first players in the line up, Canadians never ventured too far up the official scoring standings in the tournament, keeping to the defensive style of play designed by Sutter and spreading out the scoring among the many forwards and defensemen brought to the training camp.

The win was Brent Sutters 11th straight World Junior victory, undefeated in International play, it's a mark that puts him at the top of the winningest Junior coaches list all by himself. A hard task master at times, he seems to be able to seek out the commitment from his charges and get them to play the style of hockey that Canadians have become know for. Hard aggressive in your face kind of play, with solid defense and impressive goaltending when required.

Finland's goaltender Tuuka Rusk faced 43 shots in the defeat, 20 hours after he faced 53 shots from Team Sweden, suffice to say defensive play is not a strength that the Finns have grabbed onto just yet. Interestingly enough for Toronto Maple Leaf fans, both Pogge and Rusk have been drafted by the Toronto Maple Leafs, giving them a pretty impressive looking tandem a few years down the line.

Finland will take on the USA in the Bronze medal game, after the Americans were out hit and out scored by a well rested Russian squad. The Russians put five goals behind American Goaltender Cory Schneider, though to be fair to the American he was left on his own far too often to face a heavily talented Russian squad. The US defencemen tried their best to stem the flow of the Russian attack, but with sloppy and at times non existent back checking from their forwards they were far too often out numbered in their own end.

The Americans appeared to run out of steam at key times, owing in part to their need to go through the quarter finals against the Czech Republic on Monday night. They never seemed to have much jump in the Russian match up, frequently beat to the puck and guilty of sloppy passing and confusing play in their own end at times.

The game deteriorated towards the end as both teams seemed to be more interested in running each other into the boards and taking cheap shots, than in finishing the game off in any kind of offensive showcase.

At one point things threatened to get out of hand as the players clutched, grabbed and pushed around Russian goaltender Anton Khudobin's crease area, but eventually cooler heads prevailed and the game ended at a score of 5-1, without further incident.

The Vancouver crowd appeared to be heavily pro Russia on this night, something not seen very often in a Canadian arena. The main target of the fan's wrath was American defenceman Jack Johnson who plays with a fair amount of attitude. Most recently involved in a last minute incident with Canadian Steve Downie, Johnson heard boos for the bulk of the evening every time he touched the puck. The crowd would cheer loudly each Russian goal and gave the popular Na na na song serenade to the Americans as the game wound down.

While one can understand the crowd cheering on the Russians who play a wonderful style of hockey, the unseemly anti Americanism at times seems a tad bush league. The Americans after all play pretty well the closest style of hockey that Canadians would recognize, to boo them constantly and cheer the huge hits on some of their finesse players doesn't quite seem to be the timbre of a true hockey fan. One day we'll just have to get over our various complexes in regards to our neighbour to the south and accept a hockey game for what it is, just a great example of two styles of hockey clashing on the ice. In the end, an awful lot of Canadians earn a living playing our game in American cities, to boo them as we did in this tournament doesn't seem to say very much about us as hockey fans.

The loss will be a bitter disappointment to the American side, which had come into the competition perceived as one of the favourites. And as the tournament got underway the positive press reports proved to be true as the Americans dominated most of the competition, however a turning point came with a 2-2 tie against the Swiss and then the loss to Canada on New Year's eve.

The Canada/Russia match up is probably the best scenario TSN could have hoped for, though to be honest either an American or Russian match up against Team Canada would have proven to be a ratings winner. Saturday nights Canada - USA game topped the ratings over even Hockey Night in Canada. The renewed rivalry between Canada and Russia though will make Thursday night just a little bit extra special and probably reward TSN with another excellent night. It will make for an interesting comparison of styles the free wheeling, fast breaking Russians against the defensive minded and tough hitting Canadian team.

Strap on your helmet and settle in, this one could be a beauty!

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Rookie of the Month for December

January 3-- He's becoming the key ingredient for a young and still learning squad of players, but Alexander Ovechkin gives everybody the impression he's quite possibly the next big name to watch for. Ovechkin leads all NHL rookies in scoring and holds down 13th place overall with his 46 points, almost evenly split with 24 goals and 22 assists thus far in the season. For all his hard work.

His play elevates the Capital attack whenever he's on the ice, the Caps young wunderkid gets a point on 54% of all the Capital scoring. Take away his play on the left wing and there's a very good chance that the Capitals scoring potential drops dramatically.

Frequently mentioned in the same breath as Sidney Crosby, Ovechkin seems determined to remind NHL observers that there is more than one name to watch, and more than one name to consider for the Calder trophy.

Players of the Week for January

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

January 30 Forward, David Vyborny, Columbus
January 30 Goal, Marty Turco, Dallas
January 23 Forward, Alexander Ovechkin, Washington
January 23 Goal, Henrik Lundqvist, N.Y. Rangers
January 16 Forward, Eric Staal, Carolina
January 16 Goal, Martin Brodeur, New Jersey
January 9 Forward, Ilya Kovalchuk, Atlanta
January 9 Goal, David Aebischer, Colorado, and Antero Niittymaki, Philadelphia
January 2 Forward, Alexander Ovechkin, Washington
January 2 Goal Manny Fernandez, Minnesota

Finger on the button

The latest loss by the Vancouver Canucks has many of the locals in a semi state of panic. With Monday night's 4-1 defeat to the bottom dwelling St. Louis Blues, the Canucks should be thankful they are on the road, the reaction to their recent efforts is bordering on hysteria in Canuck land.

Callers to the Dan Russell show on CKNW following the Canucks rather effort free game against the Blues, suggested many options for GM Dave Nonis to consider. The three most favoured suggestions were to get Roberto Luongo without delay, fire Marc Crawford and make a blockbuster trade to shake up the roster before the rot sets in.

Vancouver fans are dedicated to the art of the bandwagon and when things go wrong in Canuckland they are quick to make changes for the sake of the change. It was a common refrain heard by Brian Burke as he put together the current core group of Canucks during his reign, but this is the first time that Nonis has had to hear from chorus as things go wrong.

Injuries have taken their toll on this team this year so far, a starting goaltender gone for the season, defencemen in and out of the line up with alarming frequency giving the Canucks blue line a very Manitoba like feel of late.

The Big guns on offence have been terribly inconsistent all season, if Bertuzzi is having a good game then it seems that the Sedins will be taking the night off. If Markus Naslund has a successful night, you can pretty well guess that nobody else on the team has decided to put it into drive that night. It's hard to put a finger on what is wrong with this team right now and more importantly what its going to take to shake things up and get some more desired results.

The long January road trip is just underway and already it's shaping up as a trip that may bring the Canucks back home falling further and further behind the pack in the Northwest. With losses in Minnesota and St. Louis over the weekend and trips to Dallas and Chicago on the way. It could be a nasty reception waiting for them when they return home for the weekend and Hockey Day in Canada festivities with the Flames. With 11 road games in January, the Canucks had best find a way to win a few here and there, the trick will be to try and come home at least .500 by the end of the extended road trip and get back to their winning ways at GM Place.

Absence isn't making the heart grow fonder in Vancouver, the more they lose on the road the more the fans get nervous. The dominant team of the early season run has given way to a tentative squad, one that squanders chances and can't seem to find the right combinations to make things happen.

It's all making for a dark start to the New Year for the fans, a start that has many Canuck fans making resolutions for change sooner than later.

Monday, January 02, 2006


The game started shortly after 3 o'clock in Atlanta and by about 3:25 it appeared that the Ottawa Senators had left any New Years resolutions to keep on winning, back in the Canadian capital.

The return of Dany Heatley was not an enjoyable reunion for the player now in Senators colours as the Atlanta Thrashers handed the Sens a serious lesson on Monday afternoon.

From even before the game the situation for the Sens was tough, as Domenic Hasek (who was hooked up to a microphone which he forgot to turn off!) advised Sens backup Ray Emery that he was going to start just minutes before the game. Hasek hurt his back prior to the warm up and Emery was hurriedly put through the pre game paces to face the Thrashers.

Unfortunately for Emery, his team mates decided that the day after the New Year should be a stat holiday as the Thrashers out skated, out hit, out hustled and as the total of 8-3 shows out scored a Sens team that seemed to test the patience of head coach Bryan Murray.

Former Sen Marian Hossa acquired in the off season trade for Heatley gave the home side cause for celebration as he added two goals and an assist to the 8 goal total, with Vyacheslav Kozlov picking up three other goals while Ilya Kovalchuk and Serge Aubry picked up goals, as did Greg de Vries the oft forgotten part of the trade that rocked Atlanta.

Chris Neil and Chris Kelly put markers on the board for the Sens. Whiled Dany Heatley scored one goal for the Sens as well, to remind the folks in Georgia that he too can still score goals. But on this night he and his fellow Sens couldn't score enough of them to make a difference.

Emery had a rough night in the nets making only 19 saves on 27 shots, but while he did not have his best night, he certainly had lots of company on that bus. The Sens came out flat and never seemed to get their game into gear. The Thrashers full value for the thrashing on this night!

Crosby comes a callin'

The Sidney show makes a Toronto stop on Monday night as Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins skate into the Air Canada Centre to face off against the Leafs and no doubt the aura of Donald S. Cherry. The game is the first of a two game visit to the old home and native land for the young Pittsburgh star.

Crosby has been facing some pretty tough criticism from the Hockey Night In Canada analyst, the most recent broadsides coming when he was named an Alternate Captain on the Pens by new coach Michel Terrien.

Cherry's impressions of the young phenom have not been particularly glowing, going back to a goal scored in Junior and a string of incidents where Crosby complained to referees about his treatment on the ice.

Despite Cherry's hesitations though, stats are bearing out the success the young Nova Scotian is having in the NHL, as he heads into Toronto Crosby is the second leading rookie scorer and on many nights seems to be the only offence the Pens can muster as they muddle their way through the NHL season.

Another percolating issues is Team Canada's decision to leave Crosby's name off the Olympic Team roster for February's Turin Olympic hockey tournament. Crosby may put on a bit of a show for the Rogers Sportsnet Ontario audience Monday, perhaps giving the Hockey Canada officials second thoughts about their decisions.

Regardless of the motivations, Monday should be a big game for the Penguins and their young star, there will be more than the usual attention generated by an early January match up and with the media concentration of Toronto it could prove to be the most intensely watch game for the Pens so far this year.

Headlines of January

The stories making the news on a daily basis.

January 31 Thin ice for Quinn?
January 30 Bad News For Canada, Worse News for Vancouver
January 29 Pronger's Buzzer beater leads to OT
January 28 Canucks win one in Colorado
January 27 One final deal with the Devil
January 26 Canucks skid continues in the Motor City
January 25 Habs Bullish on Bulis
January 24 Farewell to the Magnificent One
January 23 Leafs turn it around: Lose only by a goal!
January 22 Quinn on the hot seat
January 21 Dominated by more than the Dominator
January 20 Back to Back battle of Ontario
January 19 A positive that's really a negative
January 18 Palffy packs it in
January 17 Doan on offence
January 16 Bertuzzi's game back on track
January 15 Marty's milestone
January 14 Julian Jettisoned
January 13 What could have been for the Maple Leaf Nation
January 12 Celebrating Messier
January 11 Preparing to hang Mark Messier
January 10 Welcome Home, now get out of here!
January 9 Wingnut on the wing
January 8 Woeful Hawks lose again
January 7 Crosby blows gaskets in Pens losses
January 6 Leafs streak stopped at six
January 5 "We Played Canadian Hockey!"
January 4 Collapsing Canucks
January 3 Gold Medal Bound
January 2 Underdogs No More
January 1 Heatley returns to Dixie