Saturday, February 27, 2010

Showdown Sunday!

A few more minutes on Friday night and it very well may have been a very different match up this final Olympic Sunday in Vancouver, Slovakia which for all intents and purposes looked relegated to the Bronze medal game by midway through the second period, battled back and provided some nervous moments for Canadians, coming within a goal post or two of sending Canada into overtime and whatever fate that might have portended.

In the end, Canada's path towards the gold medal game remained in view, a furious final two minutes testing the faith of the heartiest of Team Canada fans but with a victory in hand, the stage was set for Sunday afternoon at the Canada Hockey Place.

Where two of the fiercest rivals in sport today will once again renew acquaintances,  as the USA and Canada join battle for Olympic gold.

Canada with twin visions of a hard fought loss to the Americans one week ago combined with the knowledge of just how fast that American attack can lay waste to long sought dreams (ask Finland) will need to summon up every last second of desire and seek to contain an American squad that can match them for speed, physicality and all important goal tending.

Not since a little border skirmish called the War of 1812 has there been this much attention generated towards the meeting of these two nations. The prices for tickets for Sunday's showdown going well beyond Super Bowl benchmarks, the price of a suite at Canada Hockey Place listed at 138,000 dollars enough for a sizeable dent on a mortgage in many Canadian cities (in some an entire house), individual seats range anywhere from 15,000 to 1,000 dollars depending on how close you wish to be to the action.

For Team USA the quest is clear, come out fast knock the Canadians off their game and frustrate their gameplan execution at every instance, the Canadians who were found frequently in the American zone last Sunday have but one ambition, put puck behind Ryan Miller.

It was Miller who last Sunday stymied the Canadians, leaving them to shake their heads by games end sending their coaches to the video room to try and unravel the mystery to the back of the net, expect more traffic in front on Miller on Sunday afternoon, hoping to reduce his vision on those howitzers from the point,  looking to bounce in rebounds if such a thing is provided.

For Canada's Roberto Luongo, this is the shot he's been shooting for, the opportunity to lead his country to gold on their own ice, in his very own rink, the script could not be any more fascinating for a finale.

We've been treated to some fascinating hockey over the last thirteen days, the speed of the game amazing, the passion from the players riveting, the drama of the results mesmerizing.

It is only fitting that the final act of these Vancouver Games should bring together two so similar teams, two teams that play the game in the same style, with similar values and the same passions, Wednesday Canada was treated to another chapter in a storied rivalry with Russia, a game that exorcised many of the past demons of Canadian hockey   built up over the decades.

Sunday, a rivalry that has grown over the decades as well will resume, not bitter enemies but respectful rivals, with a shared joy of the game and a equal desire to be top of the heap. It should be a most memorable afternoon with which to bring down the curtain on Vancouver's showcase to the world.  

Globe and Mail-- It's Canada-USA again, for all the bragging rights
Globe and Mail-- Canada hasn't been as Crosby-centric as predicted
Globe and Mail-- Goalies have the game - and the gold - in their hands
Globe and Mail-- Luongo gets his shot at gold this time
Globe and Mail-- Canadian fans embrace rivalry with United States
Globe and Mail-- Babcock: 'Olympics more intense than NHL playoffs'
Globe and Mail-- United States looking to make history versus Canada
Globe and Mail-- Americans ready for clash in hostile conditions
Globe and Mail-- Luck could play a role in Canada-USA hockey game
Globe and Mail-- USA vs Canada: The rubber match
National Post/CBC-- Pressure game for Canada, U.S.
National Post/CBC-- U.S. is all that stands in Canada's way
National Post/CBC-- Might want to make sure it's actually Ryan Miller next time
National Post/CBC-- Babcock wants win, not miracles
National Post/CBC-- Staal 'thrives for these situations'
National Post/CBC-- Scouting the gold medal game
National Post/CBC-- Ron Wilson says he has nothing to prove
National Post/CBC-- Canada will win 5-3, predicts Don Cherry
Toronto Star-- Cox: Luongo, Miller joust one for the ages
Toronto Sun-- Babcock bracing for big game
Toronto Sun-- Canada doesn't want to see another Miracle
Boston Globe-- US built a team top to bottom
Boston Globe-- US-Canada, Part 2: This time it's for hockey gold
Boston Globe-- Thomas delighted by debut
New York Times-- U.S. and Canada in Fight for Olympic Hockey Gold
New York Times-- Narrating Canada’s Quest for Gold in Men’s Hockey
Detroit Free Press-- Pressure is on Canada at Games' end
Detroit Free Press-- It's no miracle if U.S. beats Canada
Detroit Free Press-- All the emotion surrounding USA vs. Canada makes game one for the ages
Detroit News-- Lunch-bucket Americans have nothing to lose vs. Canada
Detroit News-- Heading to the U.S.-Canada hockey game? It'll cost ya!
Detroit News-- Youngest U.S. hockey player raising Kane
Chicago Tribune-- Kane having time of life at Olympics
Chicago Tribune-- Breaking down the U.S. vs. Canada
Chicago Tribune-- What’s on the line? Just everything
Chicago Sun Times-- USA vs. Canada: Scouting the men's hockey final

Friday, February 26, 2010

Fifty years of ghosts chased away in one night

Wednesday nights total domination of the once feared Russian hockey machine provided no shortage of instant therapy for the ever anxious Canadian hockey fan. For those with particularly long memories, Wednesday night's victory brought to an end a fifty year drought in Olympic hockey, giving Canada it's first victory over a Russian squad since the 1960 Olympic games, the unofficial beginning of the long running Cold War of the ice.

Beyond soothing the jangled nerves after last Sunday's disappointing loss to the USA and a too close for comfort match with the Swiss earlier, Canada's 7-3 victory in the quarter final has finally put down those undercurrents of panic among the Canadian fan.

Canada's performance on Wednesday was about as perfect a game as one could ever hope to find, the first twenty of the sixty minutes among one for the ages as the Canadians came rushing off the opening face off, leaving the Russians reeling by the end of the first period.

Line after line played the body, took the shots, made the passes and absorbed and delivered the hits, a text book example of all that Canadians hold dear when it comes to how they want to see the game played. For a bonus as though to remind the hockey world that reports of our demise were premature, Canada finally found it's scoring touch after a preamble of games had proven to be more frustrating than instructive.

If Hockey had the knock down count, the game would have been over by the mid point of the second period, a wobbly Russian favourite clearly overwhelmed by the onslaught. The names of the stars of the NHL silent on the scoresheet and on the ice as Ovechkin, Malkin, Kovalchuk, Datsyuk were all but invisible, contained and dominated by Canada's forwards and defencemen who shut down some of the most impressive names on paper, who couldn't bring all that potential to the ice when it was needed the most.

Canada's ability to shut down the powerful Russians while turning on the offence should banish the talk of "what's wrong with our game" for at least a few years now, such is the faith that Team Canada has shown towards it's rising stars in this tournament, many of whom played a key role in Wednesday's victory.

It was a night for a complete team to shine, from the youngest of players eager to show that the decision to select them to the team was a wise one, while the oldsters on the squad reaffirmed the faith of Steve Yzerman with their own stellar performances.

The speed of Team Canada was astounding, the hits punishing,  those twin pillars of Canadian hockey played in a fashion that found favour with the Canada Hockey Place crowd who came perhaps nervously ready to party and by games end once again had dreams of Gold medals dancing in their heads.

There's no doubt that Canada saved their best game for when it was needed the most, when survival was on the line, and now two more dates with destiny beckon, each offering the chance for reward or the bitter bile of disappointment, from Wednesday night's performance the early money should be on reward.

The night brought a team together as an imposing unit with a clear mission in mind and focused on how to get there. At the same time, it was a night that united a country in revelry, reassured that all was well in the land from where the game has come.

When the television numbers come in, we suspect that CTV will find that they controlled the nation's television sets for a good chunk of time, a captive audience more engaged with the night as each of Canada's 7 goals lit up the scoreboard.

Canada next plays the Sovakian squad on Friday night a 6:30 start in Vancouver, over confidence at these times is a as dangerous an opponent as the one on the ice, but one gets the impression that Canada has learned that lesson from the early rounds, with the realization that only with hard work, dedication and an adherence to our style of play, will a gold medal be provided for the homefront medal case.

That work ethic was in full view on Wednesday, we expect nothing less than a repeat performance on Friday and if all goes according to plan, another on Sunday afternoon when a gold medal will be but sixty minutes away.

Globe and Mail-- Canada thumps Russia to advance to semifinals
Globe and Mail-- A game for the foot soldiers
Globe and Mail-- Boyle puts aside Olympic nerves in big game
Globe and Mail-- On a rare night, Canada gathered to watch one game
Globe and Mail-- Canada can't afford to overlook Slovakia
Globe and Mail-- No pressure on dangerous Slovakia in semifinal
Globe and Mail-- Luongo makes the best of his golden opportunity
Globe and Mail-- Loss to Canada ends rough Olympics for Russia
Globe and Mail-- The noise and the glory
National Post/CBC-- Still much work to be done
National Post/CBC-- Team Canada will strike gold: Cherry
National Post/CBC-- KHL players not to blame for exit: president
National Post/CBC-- Canada flattens Russia in Olympic hockey
National Post/CBC-- Russian president may cancel Vancouver visit
National Post/CBC-- A compelling, convincing victory
National Post/CBC-- This is the team we were waiting for
Toronto Star-- Canada comes at Russia like ‘gorillas coming out of a cage’
Toronto Star-- Young: Slovaks have Canadians' attention
Toronto Star-- Slovak hockey success a well-kept secret
Vancouver Sun-- As juniors and as men, Crosby and young Canadians pursue greatness
Vancouver Sun-- Canada breaks a 50-year-old Russian curse
Vancouver Sun-- Team Canada dominates in win over top-ranked Russia
Vancouver Sun-- Weber makes Ovechkin vanish, Russia folds shortly after under pressure
Vancouver Sun-- Russians reduced to rubble in a hurry by 'Energizer bunnies'
Vancouver Province-- Opportunistic and dangerous, Slovaks can’t be underestimated
Vancouver Province-- Canada handily defeats Russia 7-3 in Olympic men's hockey quarterfinal
Vancouver Province-- Just as hockey-mad as Canada, or more

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Not out of the woods yet, but into a clearing

Canada's suddenly extended path towards gold got off on the right skate on Tuesday night, as Team Canada finally broke the mental block between wanting goals and getting them with an 8-2 victory over Germany.

It once again took a bit of time a rather tentative first period brought back memories of the Swiss game, where Canada was firing off shots but not finding a lot of success on the scoreboard. But with a few connections on the ice the Canadians found the form that the nation had been waiting for and provided a very resolute offensive display.

Led by Jarome Iginla, who found success with Sydney Crosby and Eric Staal, likewise the San Jose connection also moved the puck well, with Joe Thornton finally making it onto an Olympic scoring sheet.

With Vancouver Canuck Roberto Luongo taking to the nets in front of his home crowd, the Canadians quickly set the pace for Germany, one which saw a majority of the play in the German end of the rink, with wave after wave of Canadian lines crossing the blue line to take the test of the German defense.

In the end the amount of time spent in front of German goaltender Thomas Greiss paid off, as once the goals began to go in, there really was not much doubt as to which side would be advancing to Wednesday night and for Canada a rendezvous with an old nemesis the Russians.

While more than a few of us probably thought that this test would come a little closer to the Gold medal game, it's the nature of Canada's play in the previous games that brought them to Wednesday's win or bid farewell match.

It once again offers up the drama to the storyline, to long time rivals with two of the marquee players of the professional game today match up in a winner moves on format. It's nerve wracking but exciting at the same time, a prime example of the drama of sport and the tension it can provide.

Canada which has stumbled in the early going, has a chance to erase that slate completely on Wednesday, a few twists of a puck or a less amazing goaltender or two in the opposing nets and there wouldn't have been the need for this dramatic midweek confrontation.

But that's just the way it all turned out, while nerves for Canadian fans may be a little frayed hockey is the winner with the way it's turning out so far, the building momentum towards the gold medal game of Sunday, a target that Canada can't focus on at the moment, instead it's one game at a time, the next one perhaps the greatest test of this teams mettle yet.

If that mettle is up to the task, then that gold medal may yet be close at hand.

Vancouver Province-- Yes, we can but dream

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Iggy three, Canada five, Norway zero!

Canada's trip down the trail for gold got underway Tuesday night at the Canada Hockey house, as the host nation's Olympians in men's hockey took to the ice to face Norway.

For one period of play the debut provided for a fairly even match up, the Canadians seemingly still working out their lines and working off their unfamiliarity took the first twenty minutes to get a feel for the tournament and their opposition.

But once that first intermission was complete, hockey fans received a sample of just how impressive this line up of Canada's could be in this tournament.

The San Jose connection was left intact, with Dany Heatley, Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau picking up where they left off in the NHL season, finding more than a few opportunities to score, but perhaps spending too much time trying to create the perfect passing play. Scoring chances slipped by in the first period due to one pass to many, or the need to create the perfect set up. It was a flaw that clearly was addressed by Mike Babcock and his coaching staff in that first intermission.

The tentative start by the Canadians gave way to domination by the time the second period had come to an end as Canada, led by three goals by Jarmoe Iginla went on to shut out the Norwegians by a score of 8-0, giving the hometown's hero Roberto Luongo his first shut out in the Olympics, though he wasn't particularly tested hard on the way to that success.

While the San Jose players lived up to the anticipation, it was the Iginla line, which included Sydney Crosby and Rick Nash that had heads turning at Hockey house. They began to click midway through the second and never looked back after that, providing wave after wave of encroachment into the Norway zone making for many more chances that could have seen the scoreboard move beyond the ten mark.

As it was, eight was more than enough and by games end the line up combinations seemed to have sorted themselves out and the players for the most part were beginning to get into sync.

San Jose fans will remain content in watching their trio perform as one line, destined we imagine to gain their share of goals before this tournament comes to an end.

Flame fans while pre-occupied in their cheers for Team Canada today, can only dream of what an Iginla, Crosby, Nash combination would be like in a Burning C sweater, alas it's a fanciful concoction of only the best of fantasy pool drafters, available on ice only in the colours of Canada for a limited time only.

But for the next two weeks, we'll take that line up every time they hop onto the ice.

Montreal Gazette-- Canada wins opener

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Olympic Men's Hockey Tournament schedule and results

Tuesday brings the opening games of the Olympic Men's Hockey Tournament, with host nation Canada seeking to redeem the ghosts of Turin and claim the gold in its own rink. We'll track the competitions progress here with scores and summaries as the games progress.

Preliminary round

Saturday, February 20

(Noon PT, 3 PM ET) Norway vs Switzerland
(4:30 PT, 7:30 PM ET) Latvia vs Slovakia
(9:00 PT, Midnight ET) Germany vs Belarus

Friday, February 19

(Noon PT, 3 PM ET) Belarus 2 vs Sweden 4
(4:30 PT, 7:30 PM ET) Czech Republic 5 vs Latvia 2
(9:00 PM PT, Midnight ET) Finland 5 vs Germany 0

Thursday, February 18

(Noon PT, 3 PM ET) USA 6 vs Norway 1

Wednesday, February 17

(Noon PT, 3 PM ET) Finland 5
vs Belarus 1
(4:30 PT, 7:30 ET) Sweden 2
vs Germany 0
(9 PM PT, Midnight ET)
Czech Republic 3 vs Slovakia 1

Tuesday, February 16

(Noon PT, 3 PM ET) USA 3 vs Switzerland 1
(4:30 PT, 7:30 ET) Canada 8 vs Norway 0
(9:00 PT, Midnight ET) Russia 8 vs Latvia 2

Gold medal quest begins Tuesday for Team Canada

It's his home rink, so Roberto Luongo will lead his nation onto the ice and take to the nets for Canada's first game of the 21st Olympiad men's hockey tournament, a much anticipated debut for Team Canada in the the pressure cooker Olympic experience.

With Team Canada settling in for their one and only practice prior to the tournaments start, all eyes were on the practice goaltenders with an occasional glance towards Ryan Getzlaf, or in particular Ryan Getzlaf's foot.

The Olympians began to arrive in Vancouver on Sunday evening, just in time to hear word of Canada's first gold medal as a host nation in the Olympic movement, a handy bit of news that knocks off one more item from the pressure list that these international gatherings seem to provide for Canadian athletes.

So with that particular monkey off their back, they could settle in for an instructional session from coach Mike Babcock and get familiar with the various line combinations that he and his coaches have thought up for the Olympic tournament.

Canada Hockey House, the re named home for the hockey tournament will be jammed to the rafters as Canada takes to the ice on Tuesday with a 4:30 start (Pacific, 7:30 in eastern Canada) with the home side's fans ready to welcome their Olympians to the host venue.

Luongo's start comes after a less than successful outing in Minnesota, where he and his fellow Canuck's gave every indication of having other matters on their minds as they dropped a contest to the Wild.

Putting him into the nets on Tuesday is a wise decision by the coach, for one it allows the emotional release that the fans will provide for their team to have even more intensity with the hometown goaltender in the nets, putting that anticipated wall of noise to maximum volume before the team has to get down to the very serious business of navigating the tournament schedule.

In a pure hockey decision, it also allows Luongo to get his game back on track after Sunday's distraction, allowing him to get the feel of the tournament as the Canadians face one of the less intense of teams in the early days of the competition.

It's anticipated that Martin Brodeur will get the Thursday start against the Swiss team, another measuring stick for the Canadians as they work to get off to a quick start and develop the on ice chemistry that will be required by the time the medal round eliminations come along.

While Canadians learn and revisit some of the less known aspects of the Olympics in the winter time, the main focus for many will be the success of Team Canada in this hockey tournament, much has been made of the pressure to perform and the rather unusual boasting of our quest to own the podium, but for many Canadians the hockey tournament is the Holy Grail of Gold medals.

The competition will be strong, the Russians, the Swedes, maybe the Finns potential obstacles to the playing of O Canada by tournaments end, and never far from their minds the Americans, a team that has been keeping the lowest of profiles in the run up to the Olympics.

With Brian Burke providing a masterful job of reducing the pressure on his young squad, allowing them to settle into the event and bide their time. Much of Canada's competition in the medals so far in this Olympiad has been a battle between Canadian and American competitors, Burke's hockey team no doubt will like to continue on with that ongoing trend.

Those two squads will meet on Sunday in the final game of the opening round of the tournament, a game which could provide no shortage of drama and interest and will offer a good measuring stick for how both teams are progressing heading forward.

Though both would be wise to take care of business on Tuesday and Thursday first, lest Sunday become a key battle early on in their Olympic experience.

Globe and Mail-- How Canada can win
Globe and Mail-- How Canada can lose

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

As Gainey exits, questions remain as to the Canadiens direction

While Canadians from coast to coast to coast were following the Olympic torch, in Montreal a torch of their own was being passed along, this one an event that will resonate long after the glow of the Olympic cauldron in Vancouver fades at the end of the month.

On Monday, Bob Gainey, an icon of the franchise and apparently not comfortable with the idea a long commitment to his new bosses, turned the reins of Les Canadiens over to his assistant, Pierre Gauthier. The decision coming but weeks before a trade deadline and as the season heads into its homestretch has landed as though a thunderbolt in the heart of Quebec's hockey mad believers.

While stating that he will remain for now as a special advisor to Gauthier, it is a puzzling exit strategy for the now former GM and the Habs new ownership which brings to an end his long running association with the only team he ever played the game for.

He leaves a team that has been his life for a good portion of his professional career both on the ice and off, from those heady days of Stanley Cup victories to the disappointing years that seemed to suggest that the Habs had but the history books now for their better days. Along the journey there were personal tragedies in his life that would test the strongest of us, a shared pain with a community that asks a lot of their hockey heroes but offers an equal amount of respect when the times become painful.

It's that opportunity to leave behind the pressures of Montreal and take more time to be with his family that perhaps deflects much of the surprise that his decision has provided to the hockey world this week.

By leaving as he does now however, he does allow his replacement with the opportunity to put his stamp on the team heading into the final drive towards the playoffs.

His departure from the main office comes after a rather vigorous rebuilding of the teams roster in this past off season, a process that hasn't rewarded Gainey with instant success, as the Canadiens struggle to find their chemistry with a collection of players culled from various sources.

Some of the pieces have fit in nicely, as this years new arrivals pick up their play and immerse themselves into the lore and weight of the storied franchise. Others however have struggled, Scott Gomez anticipated as part of renaissance of fire wagon hockey has instead appeared burdened by the pressure that Montreal can bring to bear on a player, his offensive numbers so far this year in Montreal, like they were in New York, are a far cry from what he accomplished in the defensive yolk that was New Jersey.

Even the returnees have been hit and miss, the most obvious candidate goaltender Carey Price, who has yet to seize the number one position as his own, finding rough patches again this season that leave Habs fans anxious for that break out year when he will become dominant.

The task of nurturing all this acquired talent will now belong to Gauthier, as he looks over what is working and what is not and decides if Montreal has any moves to make as the trade deadline arrives in March, a process that is hindered to a degree by the embargo on trades during the Olympic break set to start this weekend.
The latter stages of the Gainey years will be remembered for some ice negotiations that didn't come to pass, the Lecavalier drama of last year and the off season developments with Kovalev tempted the fans but didn't deliver in the end.

The recent handling of the Georges Laraque dismissal, left the Canadiens in the unusual position of having to defend their reputation as a team that knows how to ease out those who may have seen time pass them by. It provided for a media blizzard that seemed to leave Gainey off his balance, festering as it evolved off the ice, played out in a media that loves the story and found the narrative compelling.

His decisions of the last off season have left his most trusted associate Gauthier with a number of large contracts to contend with, little movement space in this era of the salary cap and a number of conundrums to deal with in the way of assessing if his talent is a long term plus or if they offer the opportunity to build for the years to come.

With the Habs currently in seventh place, Gauthier will have to decide if the six point difference between 7 and 13 is something that by seasons' end will find the Habs in the playoffs, and even if they do, are they in the position for a long run in this years Stanley Cup playoffs. If not he needs to prepare for the next one by way of some deadline deals to stock up on future prospects.

While he's been Gainey's assistant for six and half years, on Tuesday the job was his and his alone, one of the toughest of jobs in one of the leagues toughest markets.

As Gainey knew, and all of those before him, while the pressure and responsibility rests with one person, the passion and interaction of the fans and media in one of hockey's most vibrant cities means that you're never really alone in the room and every move, every word will examined for much more than just a roster decision.

It's that passion that makes the Montreal GM's position one that offers challenges that few others in the league can come close to, there really is no honeymoon period in Montreal, you are judged on your moves and your teams success.

This will mark the third time that Pierre Gauthier has become the GM of an NHL team, suffice to say it will be an experience that can never be matched elsewhere among the remaining 29 teams of the collective.

Saturday, February 06, 2010

A loss more important than any result of a hockey game

The Hockey community is sharing grief with Brian Burke this morning, as the North American hockey world, participants and fans alike digest the sad news of the passing of Brian Burke's youngest child Brendan.

A tragic car accident on a snowy and slick Indiana highway took the life of the 21 year old son of the Maple Leafs president and GM along with a friend, 18 year old Mark Reedy of Michigan who was in the car with him at the time.

For any parent, this is the worst possible circumstance that life can throw at you, the need to bury a child so young, one with such promise and vitality with a life still unfulfilled.

On a day such as this, the competitiveness of the sport, the results of a game are of no consequence, of little value really, barely worth a thought compared to the larger picture .

It was only a few months ago that Mr. Burke's son Brendan took the courageous step of revealing his sexual orientation, a move that served to help break down barriers in a sport that is hesitant to take on that torch, still very much steeped in a culture that dates back by generations.

It was a telling moment about the nature of Mr. Burke the father, as he shared in his son's declaration, a very public endorsement of his son's rights, coming from a man who cherishes his family privacy yet realized how much of a pioneer his son was to become.

A number of news articles of the time last fall, showcased the pride that Brian Burke had in his son, the same kind of sentiment that mothers and fathers have for their children as they navigate the troubled passages of young adulthood.

There really are no words that can do justice to the hurt that the Burke and Reedy families feel this day, only the realization that life is at times seems so unfair and that the memories of the joys that their sons brought them in their short time on earth, will prove a comfort over time.

Anyone who has a child will keep the families in their thoughts today, seeking to understand the fragility of life and that sometimes there are no answers, only a need to offer our sympathies.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Headlines of February 2010

Tracking the headlines for the month of February

Monday, February 01, 2010

No deal too small, no deal too large, here at Honest Brian's trading emporium!

"You've got to know when to hold em, and know when to fold em, know when to walk away and know when to run... "-- the new motto for GM's everywhere, now that Brian Burke has launched the trading frenzy festivities.

All that was missing on Sunday was one of those cheesy television commercials done along the lines of the old stereo shop ads, where Brian Burke dressed up in some western garb would sit on a barrel and wheel and deal til there was no more dealing to be done.

Sunday, the Maple Leaf's President and General Manager fired off the starting gun for this year's trading deadline frenzy and he did it on a sleepy Sunday afternoon, leaving only Dave Hodge and his panel on the Reporters to handle the interpretations, a reward for rising so early on the back end of the weekend for Hodge and his panel.

It would have been the kind of wheeling and dealing that the sports networks, TSN, Sportsnet and the Score would have loved to have had dropped on their desks during their annual wall to wall trade deadline coverage, but this year, it could be that by the time we get to the deadline in the first week of March all the dealing will have been done.

One wonders if Burke finally signed off on his hard work after viewing his team's complete implosion on Saturday night, surrendering a three goal lead and then playing the pylon to the Sedin and Burrows practice show of the second and particularly the third period of Saturday's nationally telecast game.

Vesa Toskala found that his bags may very well have been packed before the three stars were announced Saturday, he and Jason Blake shipped off to Anaheim bringing J. S. Giguere to Toronto to be reunited with his one time GM and his old goal tending coach, the expectation being we imagine that he will provide a bridge for the learning curve of Jonas Gustavsson, while shoring up the Leafs troubling lapses in the nets this year .

And while moving Blake's salary and Toskala's ineffectiveness might have been enough following Saturday nights destruction, Burke had already served up the main attraction of the day. That being the acquisition of the enigmatic Dion Phaneuf, the hard hitting, cannon firing shot master of the Flames who has struggled rather much this season and seemed to be just the right candidate for a change of scenery, though few actually ever thought it would happen in Calgary.

Phaneuf, despite his struggles this season has been on of the anchors of the Flames franchise since he moved up from the junior ranks. With his legendary body checks and a shot that strikes fear in all who step in front of it, he seemed to be the kind of player that a team would build its franchise around. Yet, he hadn't stepped up this season so far, with some suggesting his omission from the Olympic roster had weighed heavily on him this year serving as the distraction to a less than remarkable season thus far.

With his move to the Leafs, he instantly becomes one of the keys in Brian Burke's instant re-modelling project (just in time for the federal tax credit program perhaps) which will see him as one of the anchors in the Leafs of the future. Burke also picked up a pair of young prospects from the Flames, Freddie Sjostrom and a highly regarded defensive prospect Keith Aulie, more or less the padding in the parcel around the Dion shipment.

It was a bold move for Burke and one that could very well pay off with high dividends providing Phaneuf can get out of his funk and adapt to the rather intrusive nature of the fishbowl that is Toronto's media scene.

Heading to Calgary is an interesting mix of young an old, high end salaries and soon to be free agents, all apparently arriving to shake up an under performing Flames team. It's of interest to Flames fans to note that Darryl Sutter went on with the deal immediately after perhaps the Flames most complete game in the last six weeks a major thrashing of their northern cousins the Oilers.

Moving into the Flames line up will be Niklas Hagman, Jamal Mayers, Matt Stajan and Ian White. It's anticipated that Stajan may be introduced into the line with Jarmoe Iginla, and that really is about the only interesting aspect of the trade, if only to see if he can provide the spark to get Iginla and the Flames back on track.

Of the remainder of the new Flames, Sutter has acquired in Hagman, a journeyman forward, a player in Mayers, who only last week went public with his demand for a trade (never a team building exercise) and a young defenceman in White who shows much progress (God knows anyone who could at least show some courage on the Leafs blue line is a prospect) but at the moment isn't of the caliber of a Phaneuf. The rumour mill in Calgary was on full alert Sunday with reports that Sutter wasn't finished yet either, with Olli Jokinnen the most discussed asset that could soon be an ex Flame.

Burke with his moves on Sunday, eliminated some of the luggage he inherited from the previous regime, moving them to teams that at the start of the season were considered to be in the top echelon of potential playoff contenders, so to improve they, Calgary and Anaheim take the discards of the near cellar dwelling Leafs, it is to make you wonder just where they may be heading now.

It's not a wonder that many suggest that Burke won the day, showing the steely resolve to pull the trigger on trades that instantly bring a bit of credibility back to the Leafs. And while it's doubtful that the deals today will turn the Leafs into a playoff participant this year, it offers up a glimpse of the future. Not to mention that it may move them up from the embarrassment of surrendering a number one pick to the Bruins at the draft in June, and that, for this year, may actually be as important as anything else.

Toronto Star-- `Vital building block'
Toronto Sun-- A flickering Flame