The World Juniors: From Start to Finnish

Get ready for a tournament rehash, top to bottom!  Plus: I fix the disparity of international sports once and for all.

As Canada raised the World Junior Championship trophy and put their gold medals around their necks for the first time in seven years, I was happy I watched this team in the tournament from start to finish.  The team was one of the deepest teams Canada has put out in recent years, featuring multiple top prospects and few current NHLers.  The main draws on the team included presumptive number 1 pick Connor McDavid and son of former NHL goon Max Domi.  Neither player disappointed as Domi won the top forward of the tourney and McDavid went nuts and scored key goals and racked up points with reckless abandon.

Among the subplots:

Canada facing virtually no challenge until the final – Even when potential number one picks McDavid and the US’s Jack Eichel went head to head, there did not seem to be a lot of energy or intensity.  Canada was clearly the best team in the tournament and they had the easiest road to the finals in recent memory.  From game one where they won by a full touchdown, all the way through the semifinal where they tuned up Slovakia 5-1, no game ever seemed in doubt at any point. Finland was an intense game but I never felt like it was in doubt at any point.  Canada was simply the best team in the tournament and there was no one who could prove otherwise.  Even in the final they were up 5-1 at one point and seemed to be on cruise control.

How is Domi not even invited to the “Arizona” Coyotes camp? – Domi was one of the best players in the tournament, hands down.  He played with energy and passion and his skills were very evident.  How did a horrible team (and I watched them lose 7-1 to Vancouver) not even give this guy a chance?  Maybe he needs to get a bit bigger, but he is obviously a talented player who can contribute to a pro team right now.

Canada has a lot of talent, and some big boys – Physically Canada looked like men among boys.  From Nurse through McDavid they were a big, big team who pushed everyone else around.  Part of the victory is skill, the other element this year was raw power and Canada dominated the tournament.

McDavid or Eichel? – The much hyped showdown between these two was sort of blah, and neither really separated himself (over the course of the tournament it seems McDavid grabbed the edge).  McDavid came into the tournament under an enormous amount of pressure after breaking his hand in a silly fight and everyone seemed to be waiting for him to prove himself.  He did?  I still do not know how I feel about McDavid; he was not the best player on team Canada, and he may not have been the best player on his line.  Most of his goals were gritty and tough but overall he kind of vibes a big Phil Kessel in style of play.

Canada won! – Explanation not necessary.

Russia fought hard – The game was seriously in doubt for the Canadians right up to the final seconds and much is due to Russia’s grit and skill.  They can score in a hurry and they proved it.  Also: their defensemen who blocked Canada’s open goal would have been a huge hero had they tied the game.  Great effort.

Now: how do you fix international sports?  The good teams have to play a series of semi meaningless games against countries who may have learned the sport the previous week (see Dream Team vs. Angola etc).  How do we fight through this disparity?  How do we even the playing field a little bit?  How do we make those opening round games more interesting and ensure full effort from even the best players?  The answer is simple: take the spread, say Angola is -25 points to the USA, and give the USA a score of -25 to start the game.  They are giving 25 points right off the bat to make up.  How crazy is that?  What if they were 40 point favorites?  How intense would that be as they furiously had to catch up?  Or hockey where a goalie can get hot and Team Canada is starting at -3 or -4 and need to score in the last few seconds to catch up.  Now, before you throw your computer out the window I am not proposing that this system continue through the knockout round, but it would definitely spice up the first few “warmup” games and give us more chances to see the best players in the world, actually play their best.

Because, really, at the end of the day is that not the point of international competition?  Michael Phelps never gets to take it easy, so why should Kevin Durant or Sidney Crosby?  Maybe they will have adopted my system by the time Finland in 2016 rolls around and as Canada defends the gold medal (or maybe, most likely, not).

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The 2014 Sporties Awards

Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the 2014 Sporties our annual celebration of the best of Sport and the Sports world.  Let’s dive right in shall we:

Game of the Year – Last year of course featured the absolutely bonkers Auburn / Alabama game in addition to the Brady vs. Manning Bowl in which Brady staged an incredible comeback.  This year the contenders are much fewer and farther in between.  There were a couple of crazy baseball games and a couple of crazy football games.  However, the most exciting game I watched?  No question it was the bonkers World Cup match between the US vs. Portugal game which came down to the absolute wire and featured some of the top players in the world playing out of their minds.

Shocking World Cup Moment of the Year – Brazil gets tuned up by eventual champs Germany.  It was relentless, wave after wave of unstoppable strikers and you began to feel worse and worse for Brazil fans.  Simply awful.

Championship Dominations – One theme of the year was definitely beat downs in the finals: the LA Kings, San Antonio Spurs and Seattle Seahawks all cruised to victory over, in some cases, more ballyhooed opponents.  I will also not neglect to mention the Canadian hockey team and their punishing win over the US in the Olympic Finale.

Series of the Year – The best series of the year took place in hockey, and featured the LA Kings vs. Chicago Blackhawks in a war that served as the real Stanley Cup final.

Breakout of the Year – The biggest winners of the World Cup was the Men in Blazers who are single handedly bringing soccer to the masses of America through their insanely brilliant show.  During the biggest sports event in the world, the two men locked themselves in a small room nicknamed “Bob Ley’s panic room” where they proceeded to break down football and culture simultaneously.  When they got home it was a quick shift to NBC Sports where they continued to have the highest rated podcast and a shockingly well rated TV series.  They are stone brilliant and they are now both a must watch, and must listen.

Pod of the Year – After the praise I just gave the Men in Blazers, you would rightfully assume they have won the Pod Award…but this is actually a battle that stretched beyond the sports world!  Three of my must listen pods: the aforementioned Blazers, Hollywood Prospectus and SerialHollywood Prospectus is highly entertaining and funny, and includes the occasional deep dive into the movies of David Fincher or the music of Taylor Swift.  It is fun and light and takes pop culture analysis to a whole new level.  Serial tells the story of a 15 year old murder allegedly committed by a young man named Adnan Syed.  The podcast is hypnotic and brilliantly conceived as we wander through the murky depths of a story where we may not want to hear the outcome.  A truly powerful experience; and a very addictive one as I powered through four pods believing I was only on the first one.  Wait?  Isn’t that only three pods when I actually mentioned four?  Yes, because it is high time someone gave praise to the true return of the Starters.   Last year I was almost out on them, as their 44 minute shows were simply not enough time to properly appreciate them.  Given that their time as “The Basketball Jones” was astounding and creative, it felt a little bit as if they were being contained in a small box that stripped away all their talent.  This year I was on the edge of being out completely when I heard they were cutting down to 22 minute shows.  I was done: I tried, but all their zany antics had been stripped away simply because there was not time.  In some ways it was good because it focused their great and insightful basketball minds.  However…it was putting them in a box.  I was done.

And then I heard the news.  On Fridays, the Starters would be unleashing “the Drop” a return to their old, off the walls ways.  Welcome back boys.  Before the first pod I waited with trepidation and had not looked forward to a pod like that for some time.  When I listened, all my fears vanished.  The boys were back.  In the following weeks, they have truly returned to their off the walls roots where their crazy energy and unstoppable hilarity continues.  What a glorious return.  Another year and you might be the pod of the year: right now it is the Blazers for their consistency.

Sports Books of the Year – I read some great sports books this year, many about football (American and otherwise).  The best: League of Denial by Mark Fairinua and Steve Farinua  / Showtime by Jeff Pearlman / Michael Jordan by Roland Lazenby / The Football Business by David Conn and Against Football by Steve Almond.  Another must read is the William Hill Sports Book winner: Night Games by Anna Krien which takes the microcosm of the misdeeds of the Australian Rules Football league and expands it through the sporting world.  An interesting take on the lengths teams will go to in order to protect their players and the depths players will sink to in order to fit in.  An important achievement and must read book.

Team of the Year – The Kansas City Royals because no other team did what they did, with the expectations that team had coming into the season.  Even in defeat they are worthy.  Runners up: San Antonio Spurs, Team Canada and Seattle Seahawks.

Off Field Moment of the Year – LeBron James returns to Cleveland…as read by Frank Caliendo playing Morgan Freeman.  Runner Up: Wait, is that Vladimir Putin and Sepp Blatter?  What could they possibly be discussing?  Is it possible for all the evil in the modern world ensconced in one luxury box?  Another runner up: remember when Bob Costas got pink eye in Russia?

Sportie Man of the Year – No one and I mean no one, gives Sidney Crosby enough credit.  He deserves to be the Sportie Man of the Year because he guided one of the most dominating hockey teams through a grueling slate to the finals.  It did not look good and certain points but the best players truly shine when it matters most and the way Crosby dominated at both ends of the ice in the final was astounding to watch.  He deserves more recognition for the way he dominates his sport in an especially competitive time: remember when Ovechkin or Crosby was a serious question?  Now it is likely Crosby or Toews.  Crosby though is our Sportie Man of the Year.

Mega Sports Blast

A lot has happened in sports in the last little while, which can only mean it is past time for a mega blast with quick takes on everything that has gone on.

The Cavs cannot win simply playing hero ball – Watching Cleveland play against Denver was an interesting exercise in seeing a stagnant offense both inhibited and freed by the wealth of players on the court.  LeBron could not be stopped when he drove on three consecutive plays to the basket after a series of dribbles and high picks by Kevin Love.  There are too many shooters on the floor for any kind of double teams to take place.  Still the ball movement was completely stagnant and LeBron seemed oddly detached for a guy who was completely dominant.  Love seems to be a bit lost right now finding his place and Kyrie Irving needs to understand what it means to win instead of simply ensuring he gets to score his twenty-two points per game.  Against the Pelicans they were way better, LeBron recording an astounding triple double (including 32 points) and both Love and Irving playing well.  To succeed this team may need the ball in LeBron’s hands – something he was hoping to avoid in coming to Cleveland – in order to facilitate movement.  These things take time and patience, but with the prime and legacy of the best player in the world at stake, time and patience may be something Cleveland finds in very short supply.

Chelsea are unbeaten, at the right time – As their main rivals for the Premier League title continue to play like shells of their former selves (Man City) and other teams are falling off bit by bit (Arsenal, Liverpool), Chelsea continues to rise.  They are a frighteningly consistent team, who are not afraid to play from behind and are not afraid to go into the last few minutes with their backs against the wall.  Their mid-field depth is astounding: Matic, Willian, Hazard, Oscar, Cesc and Schurrle are all fighting for playing time when any of them would be the top choice for any other squad in the premiership.  The depth has been astounding but what has been more impressive is how Chelsea have used their signings to make the team more complete; not simply to make a splash.  Obviously both Fabregas and Diego Costa have played wonderfully, but they have also served to make other Blues players more dangerous (Eden Hazard has been playing some of the best football of his career).  Additionally, it is more than past time that right back Ivanovic properly takes his place as the best right back in football; seriously, who else would take over him?  Even more impressively, Chelsea’s back line of Ivanovic, Cahill, Azpeliqueta and Terry have been consistent and strong.  There has been no major injuries and they have had time to develop a deep bond.  Could they run the table?   No, but a runaway league title is not out of the question at this point.

The Canucks are bad…and should admit they should be worse – Band aiding your team for several years is not the way to get better.  The Canucks have had some strong signings (Vrbata) but otherwise look like the same 8 or 9th best team in the West which continues to be the worst place to be in the league.  You have no chance of winning the Stanley Cup and you have no chance of getting better through the draft.  Had the Canucks hung on to one of their starting goalies perhaps they could have moved up…especially in this draft with the next Sidney Crosby potentially coming down the pipe (Connor McDavid).  Look at how the Avalanche or Chicago got better: by building through the draft and giving players an opportunity to develop the right way, not by scrapping with Minnesota to sneak into the playoffs and then getting run over by a California team.  The time to be bad is now and the Canucks are probably years from realizing it.

JJ Watt is the best player in the NFL…by far – JJ Watt is an incredible talent and his impact on the football field is far beyond that of any other defensive player and is on the same level that Tom Brady and Peyton Manning have.  Seeing what he has done on the field this year is amazing and it is unfortunate he will not be up, rightly, for MVP consideration.  Please appreciate him, and what he does.

Will the NFL’s best team please stand up? – Is Arizona the best team in the NFL or is it New England?  Or is it Indy?  Or is it…(insert 3 loss team here).  We do not know, because it seems as if parity is more and more prevalent.  Anyone could win the title this year and that is an awesome thing.

Are the days of talent ending? – Cam Newton, RGIII, Mike Vick…all are players who get by on their natural abilities.  Peyton Manning, Philip Rivers, Tom Brady…all are players who seek to get better each and every day at what they do.  The best quarterbacks in the league seem to be those who strive to better themselves each day and work, intelligently, at learning their craft.  Tom Brady throws the ball to where it needs to be, avoids contact and makes plays when it matters most.  Cam Newton relies on his skills and does not seem to be interested in learning the intricasies of the game because he can run fast and throw the ball far.  Mike Vick played the same way each but has become better over time, learning to make two or three reads (one of the reasons he played so well against Philly) and becoming a stronger player.  Colin Kaepernick (one of the smartest players in the league) will be similar to Brady I think with how he uses his brain to get better.  Or at least I hope he will…

When My Hockey Team Grows Up…A Tale of Two Rebuilds

Watching the unfolding series between the Minnesota Wild and Colorado Avalanche, one cannot but help be struck by how good the young Aves team are.  They attack the net with ferocity, move the puck beautifully and are commanding in virtually every aspect of the game.  First and only question: how the hell did this happen?  When we last checked in with the Aves they were a feel good story, a team that turned it around faster than anticipated, but one that was still a few years from contending. Now – holy smokes, this is a real hockey team with a legit chance to go deep.  

As my beloved Vancouver Canucks begin what will likely be a long rebuild, I cannot hope, desperately, that they develop their new young acquisitions like the Aves have – put simply, I want my team to be the Aves when they grow up.  What exactly, you ask, have the Aves done?  They gave their young players like Landescog, and O’Reilly, Johnson and most notably, Nate McKinnon, a chance to play together.  The team did not worry about veteran leadership, hoping instead that the players would build on their immense talent and youthful connections as the season wore on.  Then, they paired these young stars with a coach known for developing young players and getting the most out of his squads: legendary goalie Patrick Roy.  Keep in mind, the team was drafting in the top three this past season and is now the best team in a very deep Western Conference.  Pretty amazing.  Watching the connection between Mackinnon and his linemates on Saturday night was something else.  Their puck movement was breathtaking and they dominated the Wild in a game that was never anywhere resembling close.

At the other end of the spectrum lies the perpetually rebuilding Edmonton Oilers.  The team has a seeming wealth of top picks, and a frightening amount of depth but simply cannot put it together.  There is almost too much talent at the front end and none at the back.  They have the same sort of guys Colorado has, but simply cannot win hockey games.  They are a bad team that shockingly finds themselves in the top of yet another draft.  Their new coach, Dallas Eakins (by all measures a pretty good coach) simply cannot find a way to get the best out of the oft injured Hall, Nugent-Hopkins and Eberle.  Another hugely telling piece of the story?  Injuries have prevented the Oilers young stars from gelling and attaining their frightening potential.  Last year, at the end of the season, if you had to choose one of these teams to make the playoffs there would have been no hesitation picking the Oilers.  Hall has made the leap into a top ten player, and there was nowhere for the team to go but up.  Instead they remain stuck in the bottom three of the West.

Alongside my beloved Canucks.  I could not have been happier to see Mike Gillis go – really all he did was make our team progressively worse while somehow giving away all our assets without stockpiling any prospects (unless you count Bo Horvat and I do not).  We have to bottom out, and bottom out hard.  We need to fix our scouting and make sure we draft quality young players who have not already peaked (see Edler, Alex) or sign unworthy players to cap killing contracts (see Burrows, Alex and tell me who else would have paid a 15ish goal scorer 20 mill over 4 years, anyone?  Anyone? Did not think so).

In Vancouver we need to pick the right GM and coach and then begin to develop young players through the draft.  We are okay with being back for a couple or four years!  Just please, please, please, do not let us become Calgary, constantly bandaiding past their prime guys and fighting for the 8/9th spot in the West.  Too bad for the playoffs, too good for a good pick.  The NHL equivalent of purgatory.

Please hockey gods (and future Vancouver GM) please let us get worse, so we can get better…like the Aves and not the Oilers.

Why the NHL Lockout is Truly Horrible

The current NHL lockout is horrible for everyone for a number of reasons: the league was gaining some serious momentum with young stars like Crosby and Stamkos, the league is in financial trouble, contraction seriously needs to be on the table, and of course this is one of the most talent rich periods in history (the most talent rich times otherwise being the 50’s, 70’s and mid to late 80’s).

However, for Canucks fans this lockout is particularly galling for the following reasons:

1) We are missing a season of the primes of our (aging) super stars – Vancouver has a lineup built on offensive excitement with guys like Daniel and Henrik Sedin and a second unit capable of huge plays from gritty star Ryan Kesler.  However, they are not getting any younger and Vancouver is now two seasons removed from our epic collapse in the 2011 Stanley Cup Finals – and yes, let’s be honest Vancouver, it was a complete and total collapse.  We were up 2-0 and had home ice advantage where we were virtually unbeaten not to mention…(and I’m going to stop here or this post will be twenty thousand words which no one really wants).  Back to the main argument: Championship windows are very small and have a tendancy of slamming shut rather abruptly.  After their bad loss at the hands of the LA Kings last April the window is smaller than ever for the Canucks.  We do not have much time left with our current core and we are already starting to jettision players who previously would have been untouchable just a couple of years earlier, which brings us to:

2) Luongo looms over the franchise like an albatross – When we signed Luongo to a franchise record 12 year $68 million contract it seemed like a great idea at the time.  For one thing everyone was doing it: Rick Dipetro anyone?  For another Luongo gave us a chance to win every single night, he was one of the elite players in the league and he was headed for 2010 where he backstopped Canada to a gold medal.  Now?  The media and fans of Vancouver have destroyed him, and the rest of the league has caught up to his very, very glaring weaknesses – like the fact that when he flops down he takes roughly two minutes to get back up so that he gets beaten by every high shot every taken or that crowds can get to him (like Boston in Game 6 where from the outset it was clear he wanted no part of it at all.  Had we started Cory Schneider that night there would be a banner in Vancouver, hanging in the rafters stating: 2011 Stanley Cup Champions).  Last season in the playoffs it became clear that no one needed a change of scenery more than Luongo and that the Canucks need to roll the dice with the much, much, much cheaper Schneider.  As my brother, Just Ross complained at the beginning of last season “we have like 8 years left of Luongo?  As he gets worse and worse?”  At the time it seemed like we did.  At the conclusion of last season he decided to waive his no-trade clause and has requested that Vancouver deal him.  Then the lockout came into play and now Luongo is sitting in Florida while he waits for it to shake out.  The rumors of trades to Florida, Tampa Bay and Toronto continue on a daily basis but nothing can happen until the lockout ends.  Luongo and the team are in stasis just waiting and hoping for something to happen.  For both the team and the player we need to hope something does.

And finally…

3) It may be another season where Vancouver could win the Cup – Few fan bases have been as tortured as Vancouver who have played in 3 Stanley Cup finals in their forty-two year history.  In the first they lost to the Islanders dynasty, in the second they lost a brutal game seven to the Rangers that touched off riots and in the third they lost a brutal game seven to the Bruins that touched off…well you get the picture.  We have a team capable of winning now – two straight Presidents Cup Trophies as the leagues best regular season team – but we are running out of time.  I want, more than anything to see a Cup for my city.  We deserve it and desperately need it; even if people from Surrey do not at all.  A season unplayed is a season without a Champ (the last lockout cost Eric Lindros his shot at a title.  There was no chance the Flyers lose that year) and while I am not saying the Canucks are a lock by any means (we have a ways to go) we need that chance to win.  Our aging core of vets is rapidly running out of time and this could be their shot.

Canucks fans need this to end as much as anyone and is anyone else tired of watching “classic movies” on Saturday nights instead of hockey?  Come on league and NHLPA we need to get this done and bring our boys back from overseas (the number of players signing over there is a good indicator of where we are with the lockout: deep with little hope).  Most of all we deserve a chance at the Cup.  This just might be our year which would make no hockey this year all the more sad and ironic.

Catching Up

For the past couple of weeks I was on vacation in Italy / France (yes, I was in Italy during “the match – but more on that later) and missed a lot of huge stories from the world of sports.  In this post I will run through a gauntlet of info and opinions so please bear with me while I tackle old news.  Starting of course with…

Steve Nash to the Lakers – In many ways this is a dream scenario, and in many ways this is my ultimate nightmare.  The Lakers have made a couple of moves in the past few weeks that I am struggling to balance and make sense of: they picked up Steve Nash and one of my local town heroes Rob Sacre in the draft.  Two of my favorite guys on the same team…with my least favorite player in NBA history, Kobe Bryant.  Now the news is the Lakers are making a hard charge at the Dwightmare.  This is a tough one.  I desperately want Nash to get a ring / I desperately do not want Kobe to get one (keep in mind I respect the man immensely but do not want to see him get another ring).  If Dwight “Shawn Kemp-esque family man” Howard joins the mix – a man whom I have no respect for – I do not know what I will do.  My head will explode.

DWill and the new look Nets – The Nets made some moves, the biggest of which involved keeping “superstar” Deron Williams and trading for “max contract albatross” Joe Johnson.  Are they a playoff team now?  Sure.  Did they make a good choice not getting the Dwightmare?  I do not know.  They could be a good team but will not approach elite levels.  Yet, in a very weak East this year they could easily steal a 3 slot if Williams has the season we are all waiting for him to have.

Ray Allen says eff you to the Celtics – The Miami Heat made a huge move to keep up with everyone else in the league and picked up two of the best three point shooters of all time in Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis.  Wow.  Allen throws a huge finger at the Celtics and ends up making significantly less money to play for a much better team.  Fantastic.  He wants to win and he just might end up with more titles than Pierce and Garnett.  Lewis will provide instant offense off the bench and makes the Heat much more dangerous than ever.

RVP to Juventus / Man City / Man United… – From what I gathered from the Italian papers (and keep in mind my grip on the language is nonexistent) he is going to Juventus.  At least according to what I assume were witty puns the writers were using.  No need for other teams to stay in the running then I suppose.  City though, seems to want him just to keep him away from United.

Paris St. Germain makes some moves – PSG picked up Thiago Silva and Zlatan Ibrahimovic from AC Milan in what can only be called a bizarre move by the Italian Club.  Might just make PSG a Champs League contender.

I wish I could read Italian / French – On the cover of Italian Vanity Fair?  Mario Balotelli.  On the cover of French Vanity Fair?  Zinedine Zidane.  Pure gold and I could not understand any of it.

Spain impressive – Watching “the match” in Rome was nuts.  The streets were packed with flag wearing people and jerseys were everywhere.  The most common name?  Balotelli.  People genuinely love him in Italy and he responded with a fantastic tourney.  Spain was just better, exponentially so.  They controlled the game from the outset.  And then Fernando Torres snagged the Golden Boot.  Amazing, truly amazing.  As the Men in Blazers stated “he has had the best worst season ever”.  Spain cemented their place as one of the greatest teams ever.

Summer Sports Reading – What to do during these sports less months?  Read about sports of course!  Here are some suggestions (broken down by sport):

Basketball – The Book of Basketball by Bill Simmons / Loose Balls by Terry Pluto / Unfinished Business by Jack McCallum / Wilt by Wilt Chamberlain.

Hockey – Net Worth by David Cruise and Allison Griffiths / The Game of Our Lives by Peter Gzosnowski / The Game by Ken Dryden

Baseball – The Devil Wears Pinstripes by Jim Caple

Soccer – Fever Pitch by Nick Hornby / Among the Thugs by Bill Buford / 40 Years of Shite

Football – Boys will be Boys by Jeff Pearlman

Enjoy the reads and hopefully we will have some final news on the Dwightmare shortly.

Happy Summer!

 

Are the LA Kings a team of Destiny?

After watching the LA Kings go through my beloved Vancouver Canucks as if they were simply not there, they have begun appearing more and more like a team destined to win the Stanley Cup.  Part of me wants to believe this because they beat my team and I would feel a little better if we lost to the Stanley Cup Champs (even if we did not put up much of a fight).  Why do the Kings feel like one of those teams destined to hoist the Cup – they have everything they need to win:

1) They are riding a hot tender – Few goalies have been better than J Quick in these playoffs.  He outdueled the other goalkeeper of the postseason (Mike Smith) in five games which were not really all that close.  Quick is coming into his own at exactly the right time at has been the backbone of a team that had to make a major trade just to sneak into the playoffs.

2) Their offense has come alive at the exact right time – Adding Jeff Carter as a rental helped the Kings finally find some offense…but not much, at least until the postseason kicked off.  Suddenly Dustin Brown and Carter and Richards and even Penner were lighting the lamp.  The Kings were putting up 3 or 4 goals a night.  Crazy.

3) A good draw – Playing the Devils in the Stanley Cup finals is a great East-West draw for the NHL (sure the Rangers would have been better) but the Kings have played well as a team while the Devils are a cobbled together cast of role players.

I think the Kings snag their first ever Stanley Cup.

Welcome to the Club Boston

After having to watch my Vancouver Canucks get kicked out of the Playoffs by the LA Kings on Sunday, it was quite an unexpected pleasure to witness Boston lose in OT to the Washington Capitals.

During this game the following occured:

– My beautiful and amazing girlfriend sort of half cheered for Boston to lose, frequently reminding herself of how much we Vancouverites hate them.  Midway through the third, as the teams traded furious rallies and scoring chances she said “I think I dislike Washington more than Boston.  How can that be?”  One word: Ovechkin.  Firstly, he is Russian.  Secondly, he has never lived up to his potential.  This could have been a statement game for him, in which he proved once and for all he is one of the best players in the game by carrying his team to round two.  Instead he was fighting for ice time.  Thirdly, he is Russian.

My dad and I (and everyone else in Vancouver) had been hoping Boston would lose on Sunday before the Canucks so we would at least have that (and not the Cup they conspired with Roberto Luongo to steal from us).  It did not happen.  However, there is nothing more painful than an OT game seven loss.  Except of course losing a game seven in your own rink and then watching your city burned down by hoodlums.  At least Boston lost on home ice…though they did not seem too broken up about it.  The city just cruises from contender to contender (the Pats were just in the Super Bowl) and has seen championships in all four major sports in the last ten years.

– Not enough images of crying people in the stands after the game.  Vancouverites want to see these things.

– At least Boston does not repeat.  That + first round exit = too much pain.

– Miami had better win the title this year.

Night? Day here…

Canucks fans (and those from the Pens!) have some serious pondering to do about their team.  After disappointing first round exits, the two squads seem to have some major questions to answer.  Yet, both teams can take heart in their mini-comebacks for the last couple of games of the series.  Daniel Sedin made a massive difference for the Canucks, and the Pens played under control in games 4 and 5 which helped them play into game six.

However…

Both of the presumptive Stanley Cup faves are out in the first round and now one of these four Western Conference teams will eventually play for the Cup – Nashville, LA, St. Louis or Phoenix.  What are Canadian fans to do?

On Sunday I was hoping that if (god forbid) the Canucks went out, at least Boston could do us the courtesy of being eliminated by Washington first.  They did not but I remain hopeful that they will lose their series in a horribly embarrassing way.  Vancouverites can now content themselves with endless Schneider v. Luongo debates and fake trades that other teams will never do (Luongo for LeCavilier? Anyone for Mason Raymond???).  Great.  Just great.

At least Chicago got eliminated last night.

Hey Pens Fans, Want to Commiserate?

For the first time in his tenure as the Captain of my home town Vancouver Canucks, I am proud of Henrik Sedin’s leadership abilities.  For most of his career the passing oriented twin has been maligned as disappearing in crunch time (his brother has faced similar scrutiny) and after he took an absolute bone-rattling hit last night I thought the Canucks were finished.

How could we possibly get anything going with our two best players (and Sedins)concussed?

And then it happened.  Hank walked back down the tunnel and took his spot on the bench.  At first I was nervous that he was actually really hurt and was going to try and play through the pain due to the fact that the Nucks were down 2-0 in the series and desperately needed a spark.  This was his chance to have a “(Insert star here) returns to the court / ice / field and inspires his teammates to playoff glory” moment.

Yet the Canucks fell short, but Henrik did everything short of getting the team the win.  Shortly after returning from what looked like a sure concussion, Sedin played a two and a half minute shift in which he was out hustling everyone to the puck right up until the bitter end.  It was probably the best non-scoring shift I have ever seen in my life – and I might still be selling it short.  In the third period he was literally on every single line and dominating on the puck.  He just could not score.  The Canucks as a team looked lifeless for 95% of the game.  Sedin, did not.  He did not disappear as he could have (and we all expected him to) but rather stepped up and I have never been prouder.  I have often stated that I think the Canucks would be better off with a Captain who is fully consumed by winning (like Ryan Kesler) but Hank really showed me something last night.

Sort of like the Captain of the other favorite who is the last man on a rapidly sinking ship, Sidney Crosby.  After an ugly game Crosby told reporters he had been out of control on the ice because he “did not like a single guy on the their team”.  In some ways I want my leader to be like that, and it shows Crosby as a guy who harkens back to the old days of bitter rivalries before the players texted and twittered each other.

Hold your heads high, Crosby and Sedin, because win or lose you have proven to be the leaders who drive your teams forward, even into the inevitable defeat that must surely come.