Friday, October 10, 2008

The curtain goes up in North America

The 2008-09 NHL season is underway and for Toronto and Vancouver fans the season can end today, for on opening night for both teams the fates were kind and the success was solid.

With a national audience watching across the CBC, the NHL kicked off its North American debut with a double header on the still song less Hockey Night in Canada (though we did meet the two finalists for the song that will take over the Saturday night tradition very shortly)

The Leafs managed to upstage the Red Wings on banner night, as the Wings unveiled their Stanley Cup banner, trotted out the fabled trophy to centre ice, showered their ancient heroes with attention and then promptly found themselves outworked by a Maple Leaf team that perhaps hasn't had the time to read its obituary, pre written this year, in the pre season.

The Leafs provided their new head coach with his first win right out of the gate, a good way to get in the good books of the man who will be doing the bulk of the evaluating in this transition season.

The key to the Leafs 3-2 victory was an ability to stay out of the penalty box, thus reducing the Red Wings opportunities on the power play, it didn't hurt that Vesa Toskala (cryptically listed as team captain on the pre game roster sheets) had a solid game in the Maple Leaf nets, turning aside all but two of the 26 shots fired at him by the Red Wings.

By the end of sixty minutes, Red Wing fans were off to the Fox theatre in downtown Detroit to groove to the vibes of Def Leopard, apparently the sound of the NHL this year. The NHL hosted a season opener concert at the Fox on Thursday, perhaps a final commitment from last years season opener in London, England.

The Leafs would have to catch the video on the way back to Toronto, with the rising Montreal Canadiens due in on Saturday for the renewal of their long time rivalry, the time for celebrating will have to wait, tempting as it may be for the Leafs to let loose after a trying training camp.

While Def Leopard was pounding out the hits a the Fox, the Flames and Canucks were warming up on the west coast and as things would develop that is about the point where Calgary should have called it a night.

Prior to what became a Vancouver rout, the Canucks observed a celebration of the life of Luc Bourdon, the young Canuck with so much potential who tragically was killed in a motorcylce accident in the off season.

The Canuck presentation was a well done tribute, which featured Bourdon's immediate family, the season ticket holders who received his sweater at last years shirt of the back game (they returned the sweater to the Bourdon family on Thursday night at centre ice) and an acoustic rendition of Big League, which was certainly a poignant selection for the night.

As the lights came back on and Opera man led the crowd in O Canada, the buzz in the building turned back to hockey and the Canucks fed off of it all night long. Calgary had a good first period and that was it, the Canucks regrouping in the first intermission and taking complete control of the game from the early portions of period number two.

By the time they were finished on the night, Luongo had his first shut out of the season and the first as captain of the team, Alex Burows, Bourdon's closest friend on the team had two goals, the rest of the Canucks four more and the Flames left Vancouver soundly thumped both on the scoreboard and on the ice.

The return of Todd Bertuzzi to Vancouver, cloaked in his Flames uniform was a non story, Bertuzzi was hardly an impact player on this night, though to be fair he had lots of company from the team in red and white, on a night where Mikka Kirpusoff was all but abandoned by his team mates (and coach it seemed who left him in the nets for all six goals).

Vancouver's 6-0 victory will reinforce the success that the team had in the pre season, where there were a number of convincing wins to soothe the always anxious Canuck fan base. And while many will still be waiting to see how long things last on the winning side of the ledger, the first night out was more than a rewarding experience for the GM Place crowd.

The Canucks renew acquaintances with the Flames on Saturday, the home ice debut for Calgary and we suspect a game that will be much closer on the scoreboard and far more intense than even Thursday night provided.

For one night though, fans of two teams that many suspected would fall on hard times this season can celebrate late into the night, the leafs were nowhere near as bad as many thought they would be and in fact provided some prospect of a competitive squad if only for one evening thus far.
And for Vancouver, the season debut took the heat off of Mike Gillis. The rookie GM who made some high profile changes to the line up in the off season, stumbled as Mats Sundin seemed to spurn his attentions and had to feel the heat of the Vancouver media, fearful that the Canucks were moving backwards instead of forward.

It's but the first game of the season, but for two of Canada's largest hockey markets all is well in the hockey kingdom, the home side is winning, their play entertaining, now all they have to do is carry it through until next May...

No comments: