Hockey Headlines

Monday, 22 August 2016

Distorting The Facts

For the last few months, I have avoided the conflicts and lawsuits that seem to be following the NWHL around. There have been all sorts of rumours and speculation about the league and its finances, and I have done my best to avoid the discussions that concerned these rumours and speculation. Today, however, I found myself watching what seemed to be an interview done with NWHL Commissioner Dani Rylan that was nothing more than a distortion of facts and the spreading of half-truths.

Former BuzzFeed president Jon Steinberg launched Cheddar, a "finance news network aimed at the under-40 crowd" found exclusively on Facebook earlier this year, and Dani Rylan appeared on the Facebook Live broadcast of Cheddar this morning. Her intention was to promote the NWHL to those people watching the broadcast which numbered at 110 viewers when I was watching, but it seemed that all she was interested in doing was stretching truths and facts into whatever spin she needed.

Here's an abbreviated video from the Cheddar Facebook site. I'll disseminate what Miss Rylan said in the full interview that I watched below.


Ok, let's break this down, shall we?

Rylan mentioned that expansion was a possibility in the future with potential owners "approaching us all the time". I believe that this statement is entirely untrue. Three of her four franchises have already moved to new arenas this season that have a smaller seating capacity than where they previously played. If the league was truly looking to get bigger by a whole team, they wouldn't be downsizing 75% of the league.

Secondly, the loss of two major investors who have filed lawsuits seeking their investments back would most likely scare off other investors. The fact that there is proof of bills not being paid or falling into default would also scare off potential investors. No one wants to throw money into a sinking ship, so the expansion talk is entirely untrue. Yes, she flashed up the map with the stars on new locations, but there is a 99.9% chance of that never happening. Heck, she couldn't even keep a team in New York City where her league offices are located, so where are these expansion franchises going?

Rylan stated that the league was averaging about 1000 fans per game last season. That's a great number for a league in its first year, so why are teams downsizing? The Boston Pride are the reigning Isobel Cup champions, and they have moved to a facility that is outside metro Boston and only holds 660 people maximum. If the league truly is growing its fanbase, the league shouldn't be moving to smaller and more remote facilities.

One can make an argument that costs will be lower at a more remote facility, but that goes against all logic. If the league is growing and more people are showing up, arenas are usually keen to encourage teams to return since they make more money as well. Instead, the league has pulled up roots for three teams and moved them to smaller facilities. It makes no sense unless there are costs that need to be controlled because finances are tight. Maybe that attendance figure of 1000 fans wasn't entirely true?

Rylan made the bold claim that "one-third of the league plays for their respective national teams". This is a disgusting distortion of a fact. We already know that the Russians aren't coming back to the league and it appears that Nana Fujimoto also has walked away. Tatiana Rafter and Sarah Casorso have yet to suit up for Team Canada. So who exactly are these national teams?

The truth is that of the 68 rostered players - 17 players per team - one-third of them would be the 22 US national team players and Janine Weber. Weber plays for the Austrian national team. 23 players of 68 total players is one-third of the league, but only two national teams are represented and Americans make up 96% of that one-third. She would have been better off stating that one-third of the players in the league have represented America on the international stage. That would be entirely truthful and accurate. Instead, she distorted the truth about her league to make it sound more prestigious.

Rylan stated, "We are a media company." Do the players know about this? The NWHL is not a media company whatsoever. They produce content that is carried on some medium - internet, TV, radio, etc. - but they are not a media company. I get that Miss Rylan isn't an English major, but you cannot claim to be something you're not. Otherwise, HBIC is a media company. And I can tell you that it is not. Nor will it ever be unless I am gifted some large amount of money or the keys to some media company. I produce content, but the medium is the internet. Confusing the two terms is a major blunder.

Rylan stated that the NWHL is seeking the same types of commercial and sponsor deals that the men get. I appreciate this honesty because it would help the league immensely, but there are problems with her statement in that even her main sponsor in Dunkin' Donuts hasn't given the league the cash infusion it truly needs. Sources indicate that the deal negotiated with Dunkin' Donuts provided the league with $80,000 cash - not even enough to cover salaries for one month of play - while Dunkin' Donuts got prime real estate on jerseys and a ton of free publicity with the players using their individual $400 gift cards.

While she may be seeking the same types of deals that the NHL and the minor-pro leagues get, there's a major difference in that they have lasted the test of time and have generated a major fanbase in each of the markets in which they reside. Keep seeking these deals, though, as they will help your league. Just don't be surprised if they don't materialize.

In talking about these new commercial and sponsor deals that she is seeking, Rylan stated that the fans of the NWHL give the "same number of impressions" when compared to men's hockey. This is entirely a lie. In fact, it's laughable. If she thinks she generates the same number of "impressions" as the AHL or the ECHL does with their sponsors, she's delusional. There are zero metrics for her to base this statement in any sort of truth. She doesn't even reach the same number of fans on a seasonal basis as the ECHL averages per month. Therefore, this is a bold-faced lie.

Rylan's claims of players in the NWHL making salaries "almost comparable to minor-pro leagues" is technically true, but also a distortion of the facts. The average NWHL player will earn a salary around $15,000 for a 24-game schedule or about $625 per game. That's not bad money for a startup league, but there are some items not covered by the team that the lower-tier minor-pro leagues cover.

The SPHL, the league that Shannon Szabados plays in, pays its players somewhere between $300 and $325 per week due to the weekly $5600 salary cap, but apartment rent and most meals are covered by the team. They also help find jobs for the players in the communities in which they play which do not conflict in any way with the team's schedule. Looking at that, it's $300 clear above rent and most food, making it easier for the players to live on what appears to be a meager player's salary. Add in some extra cash from the jobs they work in their off-ice time, and some of the players get by fairly nicely.

The NWHL doesn't provide for housing or meals from what I have been able to gather, and I have yet to see them find job placements for any player. If they have, those announcements have been kept very quiet which is contrary to good marketing. In order to attract players, you'd think that the league would want to celebrate its achievements in helping players. Instead, we hear crickets. Suddenly, $625 per game doesn't really feel like a lot of money when you factor in rent, food, and transportation to and from games.

Look, I know that Dani Rylan is going through some tough times right now both as the league's Commissioner and on her own. The lawsuits from failed friendships and investors have to weigh on her somewhat, and there are rumours that additional lawsuits are on their way as companies begin to take action for bills unpaid or delinquent. However, the last thing she should be doing is distorting the facts about her league in order to make it sound better.

I'm concerned about the future of 68 women who could arrive at a rink one day to find out that games have been cancelled. In the end, the women on the ice are the ones who will suffer, and it's not fair that they have to bear the burden if things don't come out positively for the NWHL.

The show that Dani Rylan appeared on was called Cheddar. It's almost appropriate with all the cheesy lines she was using on the program.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Sunday, 21 August 2016

The New Kids

Today was a big day for the CWHL as the five teams added some youngsters who they believe will carry them to the Clarkson Cup at some point during their careers. There were some big names who were available, but the CWHL Draft isn't like your NHL Entry Draft. The CWHL allows for the ladies who have registered to be drafted to pick two franchises to whom they can be drafted. The reason for this is to allow the women to pursue job opportunities in these cities so that they may make a living. In saying that, let's take a look at who went where in the CWHL Draft!

LES CANADIENNES DE MONTREAL
Record: 21-3-0, lost in Clarkson Cup Final.
Needs: Not a lot.

Les Canadiennes were the toast of the league last season, boasting the top four scorers in the league and the top goaltender. While they did fall short in the Clarkson Cup Final against the Calgary Inferno, Les Canadiennes are deep and talented in almost every position.

Selections
Sarah Lefort - LW - Boston University (NCAA)
Cassandra Poudrier - D - Cornell University (NCAA)
Ariane Barker - RW - University of Montreal (CIS)
Brittany Fouracres - D - McGill University (CIS)
Marion Allemoz - C - University of Montreal (CIS)
Taylor Hough - G - McGill University (CIS)
Melanie Desrochers - D - St. Lawrence University (NCAA)
Amanda Makela - G - Buffalo Beauts (NWHL)
Nachi Fujimoto - D - Sapporo International University (Japan)

Analysis
If Les Canadiennes needed more depth, they got it with this draft class. Sarah Lefort is a dynamic scoring threat and certainly put up incredible numbers in the NCAA over her four years. Despite being drafted by the NWHL's Buffalo Beauts, the former captain of Canada's U22 team decided to stay in Canada and play the game. Les Canadiennes will be much better for that decision. Lefort broke Marie-Philip Poulin's scoring record at BU, and will mostly be reunited with her former Terriers teammate.

Poudrier was captain at Cornell, and has steadily become a solid contributor at both ends of the ice. Barker and Allemoz played together with the Carabins, helping them to a CIS Championship this past season. Allemoz also captains the French national team, so Les Canadiennes get another excellent leader. Brittany Fouracres led McGill's blue line in scoring, and Taylor Hough was one of the better goaltenders in the nation last year. Desrochers led St. Lawrence in scoring on the back-end, Makela moves from a backup with the Buffalo Beauts to a competition for ice-time with the Canadiennes, and Fujimoto comes over from Japan where she played with Japan U18 National Team and is looking to add experience prior to the 2018 Olympic Games.

Montreal will definitely be the team to beat on the ice in the CWHL this season with the additions they made today. While they may not post the same incredible record as last season, I expect them to be at the top of the standings once the playoffs roll around again in 2016-17.

CALGARY INFERNO
Record: 16-6-2, won Clarkson Cup.
Needs: Not a lot.

Calgary really came on strong towards the end of the season. All facets of their game seemed to rise to the occasion with the start of the playoffs. While they were pushed by the Brampton Thunder, the Inferno really turned it on in the Clarkson Cup Final to bring home their first championship.

Selections
Emerance Maschmeyer - G - Harvard University (NCAA)
Katelyn Gosling - D - Western University (CIS)
Iya Gavrilova - C - University of Calgary (CIS)
Misty Seastrom - D - Calgary Senior Women's Hockey (SAWHA)
Akane Hosoyamada - D - Syracuse University (NCAA)
Cara Schlitz - D - Peace River Sharks (PCFHL)
Caitlin Zevola - F - Spruce Grove Saints (AJHL)
Claudia Tellez - F - Mexico National Team (IIHF)
Debbie Beaudoin - F - Vancouver Griffins (NWHL)
Rina Takeda - D - Mikage Gretz (Japan)
Stephanie Nehring - G - University of Guelph (CIS)
Toni Ross - G - University of Regina (CIS)

Analysis
The Inferno are the defending Clarkson Cup champions, so finding holes in their lineup isn't easy. However, they drafted the best goaltender and arguably the best player in the draft in Emerance Maschmeyer to pair with Delayne Brian. In other words, Calgary has a helluva pair of netminders. Toss in two outstanding CIS netminders in Nehring and Ross to push for playing time, and Calgary might have the league's best goaltending as a whole.

The Inferno also drafted arguably the best CIS player in Iya Gavrilova, an outstanding defenceman in Katelyn Gosling, and went with a couple of wily veteran players in Misty Seastrom and Debbie Beaudoin. They added international players Claudia Tellez and Rina Takeda who will look to gain experience, and added Alberta-born players Akane Hosoyamada, Cara Schlitz, and Caitlin Zevola for depth. Overall, the champs look strong as they begin their first season as "defending champions", and they should challenge Les Canadiennes for top spot in the league.

BRAMPTON THUNDER
Record: 16-7-1, lost to Calgary in semifinal.
Needs: depth scoring.

Brampton came up one point short of hosting a playoff series, and came up one game short of heading to the Clarkson Cup Finals. While there's no consolation in losing to the eventual champions, the depth of the Thunder was tested in the series against Calgary. Despite having two of the top-three netminders in the CWHL in Erica Howe and Liz Knox and balanced scoring, the Thunder will be looking for more scoring.

Selections
Laura Stacey - RW - Dartmouth College (NCAA)
Shannon Macaulay - F - Clarkson University (NCAA)
Nicole Brown - LW - Quinnipiac University (NCAA)
Jaimie McDonell - F - Princeton University (NCAA)
Taylor Woods - F - Cornell University (NCAA)
Kristen Barbara - D - York University (CIS)
Darlene Clapham - D - Western University (CIS)
Jessica Hartwick - D - Ryerson University (CIS)
Melissa Wronzberg - F - Ryerson University (CIS)
Emily Grainger - D - University of British Columbia (CIS)
Jetta Rackleff - G - Rochester Institute of Technology (NCAA)
Jessica McAuliffe - D - York University (CIS)
Nicki Robinson - F - University of Saskatchewan (CIS)
Kelly Campbell - G - Western University (CIS)

Analysis
Scoring needs were addressed in the first three picks that Brampton made. Stacey, Macaulay, and Brown can score, and they'll all challenge for roster spots out of training camp. McDonell and Woods are good depth scoring threats, and Wronzberg and Robinson will be expected to bring a lot of energy to the forward group if they hope to land a roster spot.

Defensively, Barbara, Clapham, Hartwick, and McAuliffe won't wow you with stats or flashy plays, but they are all defensively responsible and provide excellent depth for the Thunder blue line. Grainger has shown flashes of offensive ability in Canada West, but she's also a very responsible defender who makes the safe and smart play more often than not. Kelly Campbell will push Knox and Howe in the crease as she's a former CIS champion while Jetta Rackleff will be a bit of a project, but she has shown the ability to steal games in her collegiate career.

TORONTO FURIES
Record: 6-16-2, lost to Montreal in semifinal.
Needs: defence, scoring depth.

The Furies suffered through a rash of injuries to a number of their scoring stars, and those injuries really took a toll on the team's record. In saying that, they have the make-up to much better than a six-win team, and adding some solid defenders and some scoring depth will really improve the Furies' outlook this season.

Selections
Renata Fast - D - Clarkson University (NCAA)
Erin Ambrose - D - Clarkson Univeristy (NCAA)
Michela Cava - F - University of Minnesota-Duluth (NCAA)
Jenna Dingeldein - F - Mercyhurst University (NCAA)
Danielle Gagne - F - Ohio State University (NCAA)
Erin Zach - C - Rochester Institute of Technology (NCAA)
Vanessa Spataro - LW - St. Cloud State University (NCAA)
Ella Stewart - D - Elmira College (NCAA)
Victoria McKenzie - F - UOIT (CIS)
Carlee Eusepi - D - Clarkson University (NCAA)
Jaclyn Gibson - F - UOIT (CIS)
Nicole Kirchberger - C - Buffalo State College (NCAA)
Jessica Platt - D - Kellis Squad Senior Team (LLHL)
Alessandra Armstrong - G - Ryerson University (CIS)

Analysis
I'd say Toronto shored up their defence quite nicely by adding three players from Clarkson to their blue line including the dynamic duo of Fast and Ambrose. They'll move the puck and bring speed and defensive responsibility to the Furies' back end, giving the Furies a competent breakout at any moment. Michela Cava is a good depth forward who has the potential to be a first-line player if she continues to work hard, but she'll be another good addition to the Furies lineup. Jenna Dingeldein is a very underrated scoring threat as well, and she could be a breakout star in the CWHL.

The depth that Toronto put together in getting Gagne, Zach, and Spataro also shows that the Furies are building for tomorrow. Those three players are solid contributors now, but should grow into scoring roles with the Furies as they adapt to CWHL play. McKenzie, Gibson, and Kirchberger will provide excellent depth up front while Stewart, Eusepi, and Platt give more defensive depth. Armstrong is an interesting pick with the Furies' final pick, but she provides more depth at the goaltending position.

BOSTON BLADES
Record: 1-23-0, missed playoffs.
Needs: Pretty much everything.

A one-win season was the result of the mass departures of the US Women's National Team players to the NWHL, so there are major holes all over the lineup. Goaltender Genevieve Lacasse and defenceman Tara Watchorn are the two stars of the team, but the rest of the lineup is fairly thin. GM Krista Petronick had her work cut out for her, but Boston will rebuild over the next couple of seasons through the draft. They started that rebuild today.

Selections
Kayla Tutino - F - Boston University (NCAA)
Chelsey Goldberg - C - Northeastern University (NCAA)
Cassandra Opela - D - University of Connecticut (NCAA)
Meghan Grieves - RW - Boston College (NCAA)
Dakota Woodworth - C - Boston University (NCAA)
Margaret Zimmer - F - University of Connecticut (NCAA)
Alexis Woloschuk - D - Boston University (NCAA)
Sato Kikuchi - D - Nippon Sports Science University (Japan)
Taylor McGee - D - Pennsylvania State University (NCAA)
Melissa Bizzari - F - Boston College (NCAA)
Kate Leary - F - Boston College (NCAA)
Lauren Dahm - G - Clarkson University (NCAA)
Amanda Fontaine - G - Sacred Heart University (NCAA)
Megan Fitzgerald - LW - Hamilton College (NCAA)
Alexandra Karlis - C - UMass-Boston (NCAA)
Jennifer Currie - LW - UMass-Boston (NCAA)
Jacqueline Perez - F - Norwich University (NCAA)
Sydney Collins - F - University of Rhode Island (NCAA)
Kristen Levesque - F - University of Rhode Island (NCAA)
Sarah Quigley - G - Buffalo State University (NCAA)
Deanna Meunier - G - SUNY-Cortland (NCAA)
Wendy Abramenko - F - Charleton University (NCAA)
Stevie Burger - D - Babson College (NCAA)
Marley Selfridge - G - Boston University (NCAA)

Analysis
If that seems like a ton of players selected, Boston is basically starting from scratch. There's a lot to like in all those picks. Speed, scoring, defensive responsibility, and depth. Boston needs all of that and then some. In saying that, though, they will have some great players to build around as they move forward.

Boston's rebuild will be an all-in game plan where everyone who makes the team next season will be expected to contribute in some way. Tutino should score and could be a star in the making, Grieves will be expected to chip in with some offence and speed, and Zimmer should be able to generate offence off the wing. Opela, Woloschuk, and McGee will provide sound defensive play in the Blades' zone. Overall, this is a good start in getting the Blades back to respectability.

76 women were drafted into the league. Many of them will be stars next season and in the coming seasons. Which pick will have the biggest impact? That will be answered shortly, so make sure you get down to the games and cheer on these women!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Saturday, 20 August 2016

Only One Would Prevail

Like the women yesterday, the men's tournament at the Rio Olympic field hockey competition came down to four teams. Three European teams and one South American team would compete for the three medals up for grabs, and these four teams are some of the best on the planet. The second-, third-, sixth-, and seventh-ranked teams according to the FIH would compete for these three medals. The only question we have to answer is which team would stand alone at the end? We're not going to waste any time in answering that query!

Argentina vs. Germany

Argentina advanced to the semifinals with a 2-1 victory over Spain in the quarterfinals. The seventh-ranked Los Leones finished in third-place in Pool B with a 2-1-2 record. Germany advanced to the semifinals with a 3-2 victory over New Zealand in the quarterfinals. The third-ranked team on the planet finished atop Pool B in the preliminary round with a 4-0-1 record. These two teams met in the preliminaries and came away with a 4-4 draw, so the rematch would carry a lot more importance with a berth in the gold medal game on the line. Germany needed a win in order to defend their 2012 Olympic gold medal, so there was a lot riding on this game.

This game was dominated by one team, and that started early in the game. Gonzalo Peillat scored at the nine-minute mark and the 12-minute mark off penalty corners to put Argentina up 2-0, and the lethal scoring threat helped his team push the pace against the Germans through the opening quarter.

Peillat capped off the hat trick at the 28-minute mark with his third penalty corner conversion. At points in the match, the commentators referred to Peillat as "the magic man" for his prowess, but it was clear that he came to play on this day. Entering half-time, the Argentinians held a commanding 3-0 lead over the Germans.

Argentina didn't hold back with the lead as they continued to pressure Germany in the third quarter, and they were rewarded in the 36th minute when Joaquín Menini scored from inside the circle to make it a 4-0 game. Germany looked stunned as they tried to mount some offensive pressure, but Los Leones were riding high with their new-found confidence against the third-ranked team, and they denied any and all chances that the Germans had in the third frame.

The Argentinians weren't done, though. Two minutes into the final stanza had Lucas Vila with some room in the scoring circle and he didn't make any mistake in finding the back of the net for a 5-0 lead. Germany, in needing something on which to build momentum, finally netted a goal when captain Moritz Fürste drag flicked a ball past Juan Vivaldi on a penalty corner to cut the deficit to 5-1 at the 51st minute.

The Germans decided to pull the goaltender in needing four goals to equalize, and they poured on the pressure. Christopher Ruhr chipped in a second German goal at the 57th minute, but it was far too little and far too late for this comeback as Argentina held on for victory with the 5-2 score! The Germans would not be defending the gold medal, but they still had a chance at hardware in the bronze medal game. Argentina would compete for its first Olympic gold medal!

Belgium vs. Netherlands

Belgium finished atop Pool A with a 4-0-1 record in the preliminary round. The sixth-ranked team downed India 3-1 in the quarterfinals to advance to the semifinals. Netherlands finished in second-place in Pool B with a 3-1-1 record, and the second-ranked team advanced to the semifinals with a dominant 4-0 win over top-ranked Australia in the quarterfinals. These two teams didn't meet up in the preliminary round, but they have lots of history against one another with Netherlands holding the edge in the head-to-head meetings. Would that continue today?

The two teams played cautiously through the first frame with neither really pressing as they looked for holes in each other's defences. With the repeated meetings these two teams have played, it felt very much like a chess game early on, but there were chances as the quarter moved along and players found seams. However, the score at the end of the first fifteen minutes was 0-0.

The second quarter was entirely different. In the 25th minute, Belgium was awarded a penalty corner. The initial shot was stopped, but Jerome Truyens corralled the rebound and found the back of the net to put the Belgian squad up 1-0. Four minutes later, John-John Dohmen redirected a pass as he cruised into the scoring circle to put Belgium up 2-0! However, the Dutch wouldn't let Belgium run away with this game before the half as Mink Van der Weerden converted a penalty corner of his own in the 29th minute. After a half-hour of play, Belgium led 2-1 at half-time.

The two teams traded chances and opportunities throughout an entertaining third quarter as both pressed for more goals, but the netminders stood tall. The frantic pace would continue in the fourth quarter, and the Belgians would capitalize early when Florent Van Aubel tipped a pass that eluded goalkeeper Jaap Stockmann for a 3-1 lead at the 46th minute!

The Belgians chose to continue to press, and it almost was costly as netminder Vincent Vanasch was forced to make a huge save off a Dutch counter-attack to keep the two-goal lead intact. However, the Belgian strategy was a wise one as they controlled the ball and kept the Netherlands in their own zone for minutes at a time. When the final whistle sounded, the Belgians had earned a berth in the gold medal final with an upset 3-1 win over the Netherlands! There will be new gold medalists in Rio as the Netherlands will play for bronze!

Netherlands vs. Germany

I doubt that the second- and third-ranked teams on the planet expected to be playing for the bronze medal when this tournament opened as these two were the finalists in London, but here we are as the Netherlands and Germany took to the pitch to determined who would earn the bronze medal. These two teams met in the preliminary round with Germany winning 2-1 on August 12, so would there be a second victory for Germany or would the Netherlands exact some revenge in the biggest game between these two this year?

The first and second quarters were tight-checking affairs with few real scoring chances as the defensive efforts on both sides were great. The closest we got to a goal in the first half was when German Florian Fuchs beat netminder Jaap Stockmann on a play, but the ball was swept away from the goal line by the Dutch defenders to keep the game knotted at 0-0 through 30 minutes of play.

Five minutes into the second half, we finally broke the deadlock. Jorrit Croon, a 17 year-old player from the Netherlands, found the back of the net with his shot to put the Dutch up 1-0. Germany, though, would answer back before the end of the quarter. Martin Haner got an opportunity inside the scoring circle and he made no mistake at the 42nd minute to tie the game at 1-1!

The final quarter was intense as both teams looked for the winner, but neither team opened up enough to allow good scoring chances. We nearly had a winner when Linus Butt had an opportunity, but credit Stockmann for making a huge save in the waning minutes to keep the game knotted up at 1-1. Nicolas Jacobi kept the Germans alive with a couple of key saves in the final minutes, meaning we wouldn't see a winner in regulation time. Like the women's bronze medal game, this game needed a penalty shootout to decide who would go home with the accolades!

In the opening round of the shootout, Netherlands' Billy Bakker was denied by Jacobi while Tobias Hauke found room past Stockmann to put the Germans up 1-0! Both teams would score on their next three attempts to make it 4-3 for the Germans going into Round Five. The Netherlands had to score to keep their medal hopes alive, and they sent Sander de Wijn to the penalty spot for the attempt. Seconds later, Jacobi stopped the flick by de Wijn and celebration broke out on the German bench as the Germans took the shootout 4-3 to win the bronze medal at the 2016 Rio Olympics!

Belgium vs. Argentina

Belgium has one men's field hockey medal: a bronze from 1920. Argentina has none. Someone was going to add some new hardware to their mantles and/or trophy cabinets with a victory in the gold medal game at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games. Belgium really surprised a lot of people with their balanced attack and scoring while Argentina showed that they can score with the best teams in the world. One of these two teams would stand atop the podium at the end of this game!

The game started quickly with Belgium pressing and it didn't take long for them to show up on the scoreboard. Tanguy Cosyns deflected a pass past Juan Vivaldi at the three-minute mark to put Belgium up 1-0. The furious action between these two high-scoring teams continued, and it was Argentina who would capitalize next.

At the 12-minute mark, Argentinian captain Pedro Ibarra scored on a gorgeous behind-the-back penalty corner play that had Belgium completely baffled for the tying goal. Three minutes after that, Ignacio Ortiz found room in the scoring circle to make his shot count, and Los Leones would carry a 2-1 lead into the break.

The second quarter saw Los Leones continue their assault on the Belgian goal, and it would be superstar Gonzalo Peillat converting another penalty corner with a fantastic flick past Vincent Vanasch at the 22nd minute for the 3-1 lead. The two teams would continue to trade chances, but the whistle for half-time would see Argentina carry that two-goal lead into the intermission.

Belgium seemed to be a little more desperate as the third quarter progressed, but their determination would be rewarded with eight seconds remaining in the quarter. Gauthier Boccard hammered home a beautiful strike to bring Belgium within a goal at 3-2 as the two teams prepared for the final fifteen minutes.

Chances were had at both ends. The teams pushed the pace through the entire quarter. Belgium, needing the equalizer, pulled Vanasch for the extra attacker with three minutes to play. They continued to press, but Argentina held the fort long enough for Agustin Mazzilli to find enough room on the pitch to score an empty-net goal with 16 seconds to play for the 4-2 advantage. With no time left to score a pair of goals, Los Leones celebrated wildly at the sound of the whistle as they captured their first gold medal at any Olympics!

After that amazing and entertaining gold medal game, here are the final standings for the men's side of the tournament in Rio de Janiero.

FINAL STANDINGS
Rank Country Record Differential Points
Argentina
5-1-2 +8 17
Belgium
6-2-0 +18 18
Germany
5-1-2 +5 17
4th
Netherlands
4-2-2 +14 14
5th
Spain
3-2-1 +6 10
6th
Australia
3-3-0 +5 9
7th
New Zealand
2-3-1 +8 7
8th
India
2-3-1 -2 7
9th
Great Britain
1-2-2 +4 5
10th
Ireland
1-4-0 -6 3
11th
Canada
0-4-1 -15 1
12th
Brazil
0-5-0 -45 0

With the tournament coming to a close and the Olympic Games closing tomorrow, I have to say that this competition was excellent. I really enjoyed the games and the action on the pitch, and I'm hoping that Canada can gain a few more supporters and some extra dollars to continue to build on their appearance in Rio. The men played their hearts out, and I really think they're on the precipice of moving up the rankings if they had a little more support.

If you're interested in the game, hit up the Field Hockey Canada website and see if there's a way for you to help. It could be a volunteer position or paid employment or possibly even as a player on the pitch! We have four years until Tokyo, so let's see if we can get Canada a win or a medal on the Olympic stage!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the field!

Friday, 19 August 2016

Champions Crowned

There were medals handed out today for the final four teams in the women's field hockey competition at the Rio Olympic Games. The final teams in the competition are some of the best in the world as the second-, third-, fourth-, and eighth-ranked teams in the FIH rankings were playing for the three medals. The top-ranked Hockeyroos from Australia suffered an upset loss to New Zealand in the quarterfinals, so grabbing the top ranking in the FIH was wide-open for one of the four remaining teams. Who would prevail? Let's find out!

Netherlands vs. Germany

The Netherlands downed Argentina to advance to the semifinal game while Germany beat the United States to end any chance of the two best teams from the Americas winning a medal in Rio. Netherlands, ranked second by the FIH, finished first in Pool A while Germany, ranked third in the world, finished third. In their meeting in the preliminary round, Netherlands defeated Germany 2-0.

Both teams came out with incredible pace in this game as they looked to strike first. Germany would make that happen when Lisa Schutze's flick off a penalty corner found room past Dutch netminder Joyce Sombroek in the 11th minute.

The Netherlands would respond early in the second quarter when captain Maartje Paumen used a drag flick off a penalty corner to even the score at 1-1 in the 16th minute. These two teams were certainly more cautious in the second quarter than they had been in the opening frame, and the tie would carry into half-time.

In the second half, the Dutch sent wave after wave of attack at the Germans only to be denied each time. For a moment, it appeared the Oranje had broken the deadlock when Ellen Hoog scored high on Kristina Reynolds, but the goal was disallowed due to the height of the strike. The score remained 1-1 through regulation time, so this game would be decided by a penalty shootout.

Germany's Janne Müller-Wieland and Netherlands' Willemijn Bos traded opening goals in the shootout. Marie Mävers gave Germany the lead, and Ellen Hoog would be denied on the second shot. The Germans would denied over the next two shots, and Netherlands' Margot van Geffen would even the shootout at 2-2 on the Dutch's fourth attempt. With both shooters being unsuccessful on the fifth and final shots, the shootout would go to sudden death!

With the pressure high, Netherlands coach Alyson Annan-Thate crouched on the sideline as the Dutch looked to advance to the final to try to defend their two previous gold medals and attempt a rare three-peat in the Olympic world. Once again, Müller-Wieland scored and once again Bos replied. Sombroek, named as the FIH's best goalie in 2015, showed why she earned that distinction with a huge save on Mävers to potentially set up a Dutch celebration if Hoog could convert her chance.

Hoog, having extensive international experience, used the same move she used in London, hammering a reverse stick shot past Reynolds for game-winning goal! With the victory, the Netherlands move to the gold medal game while Germany will play for the bronze medal!

Great Britain vs. New Zealand

There was far less drama in the second semifinal game as Great Britain met New Zealand. Great Britain defeated Spain to advance while New Zealand upset Australia to get into the semifinals. Great Britain, ranked fourth in the world on the strength of England's play, finished first atop Pool B while New Zealand, ranked eighth by the FIH, finished second in Pool A. They did not meet in the preliminary round.

Both teams played somewhat cautiously through the first quarter, and the game would remain scoreless until the 22nd minute in the second quarter. Alex Danson hammered home a rebound off a penalty corner to put the Lionesses up 1-0, and that score would hold true through to half-time.

The third quarter saw the Britons suffer a couple of injuries that set their attack back, and the Black Sticks nearly capitalized. Netminder Maddie Hinch came way out of her goal to challenge the attacking Black Sticks and the ball got past her, but the Lionesses were able to clear the ball from the scoring area before any damage was done as the one-goal difference held up through 45 minutes of play.

Three minutes into the final frame, Helen Richardson-Walsh was sent in on a breakaway during a counter-attack, and New Zealand captain Kayla Whitelock was forced to foul Richardson-Walsh as she tried to prevent the goal, but she conceded a penalty stroke. Richardson-Walsh made no mistake on the free shot, and the Lionesses went up 2-0.

Lily Owsley's work on the pitch earned her a path to the goal, but she was also fouled to set up another penalty stroke. Alex Danson was selected to shoot, and she fired home the third goal for the Britons at the 52nd minute, almost guaranteeing zero chance of a Black Sticks comeback. When the final whistle sounded, Great Britain had the 3-0 victory and a berth in the gold medal game while New Zealand would play in the bronze medal game!

Germany vs. New Zealand

We already know how both of these teams got here, so let's go straight to the action!

Germany and New Zealand played a somewhat cautious first half with New Zealand being more of the aggressor, but both Germany's Kristina Reynolds and New Zealand's Sally Rutherford held clean sheets through the opening 30 minutes of play. Reynolds was clearly the busier of the two, but the German defence held strong as they looked for counter-attack opportunities.

They would get that opportunity four minutes into the second half when Charlotte Stapenhorst finished off the counter-attack after tipping home a shot inside the scoring circle, and the Germans owned a 1-0 lead. Four minutes later, Lisa Schutze found some room and flicked a shot past Rutherford to make it a 2-0 game! New Zealand, sensing that the Germans may shut them down like the Britons had, upped the tempo and were rewarded with a penalty corner at the end of the quarter. Olivia Merry's shot deflected off a German defender's stick and got past Reynolds for the goal to make it 2-1 at the end of the quarter! We would be in for an exciting finish!

New Zealand pressed hard for the equalizer in the fourth quarter. They had chances, but Reynolds and the German defence turned them away. With four minutes remaining - an eternity in field hockey - New Zealand pulled their netminder for an extra attacker to try and find that second goal. Despite the pressure, Germany found ways to clear the ball and keep it away from the attacking New Zealand players. In the end, the 2-1 score would hold as the final score, and Germany are your bronze medal winners at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games!

Netherlands vs. Great Britain

The top teams in both pools met in the gold medal final. Netherlands were looking for their third consecutive Olympic gold medal, and it seems that star player Ellen Hoog has a ritual that she follows that has ensured success of her and her teammates.

Hoog and teammate Naomi van As watch The Notebook before tournaments and before the respective finals of those tournaments as part of their routine. The movie came out in 2004 in the same year that Hoog made the Dutch national squad, so she has made a point of adding The Notebook to their day every time they suit up for tournaments and gold medal games. Would it help today?

The pace to this game was incredible, and it made for an amazing gold medal match. Captain Maartje Paumen was stopped on a penalty stroke minutes into the game as the two teams looked primed for a heavyweight battle! Ten minutes into the game, Sophie Bray made a great play to get into the scoring area, but her shot was stopped by Joyce Sombroek. Lily Owsley was in the right position to flick home the rebound and Great Britain took a 1-0 lead - a lead they would take into the break between quarters.

The Dutch would respond immediately after the break when Kitty van Male chipped the ball past Maddie Hinch into the back of the net, and we were knotted up at 1-1 in the 16th minute. In the 25th minute, Netherlands would be awarded a penalty corner, and Pauman made up for the earlier stop by converting the shot for the 2-1 Dutch lead! That lead would last less than a minute though as the Lionesses roared back and Crista Cullen would find the back of the net in the 26th minute! Through 30 minutes of the gold medal match, we had the two teams deadlocked at 2-2!

The two teams continued to attack in trying to break the tie, and the Netherlands would find the cage first. Off a penalty corner in the 37th minute, Kitty van Male wired a shot into the net unobstructed, and the Dutch would regain the lead! The Britons would apply more pressure after the goal, but the whistle would end the quarter after 45 minutes with the Dutch leading 3-2.

The offensive pressure applied by the Britons paid off in the fourth frame. At the 52nd minute, Great Britain was awarded a penalty corner. The initial shot was blocked by a Dutch defender, but Nicola White corralled the rebound and swept it into the cage for the 3-3 tie! The Dutch were looked anything but downtrodden after the goal as they attacked the Britons once more, but they would be turned away. The counter-attack by the Lionesses resulted in chances as well, but the final whistle would sound after 60 minutes with the score still at 3-3. The gold medal would be determined by a penalty shootout!

I'll be honest: I'm not a fan of shootouts deciding medals. However, this is the rule of the land in field hockey, so let's get to it.

Both teams were denied goals through the first two shooters, but Joyce Sombroek committed a penalty on the third British shot, resulting in a second attempt on the third shot for Helen Richardson-Walsh. Richardson-Walsh made no mistake on the do-over as she put Great Britain up 1-0 in the shootout. Laurien Leurink was denied by Maddie Hinch, and the Lionesses held the lead moving into Round Four. Both shooters would be denied again by the world-class netminders, so it was off to the fifth and, potentially, final round for the two teams depending on the results of the final shooters.

With Great Britain shooting first, they had an opportunity to end the shootout on their fifth shot. Hollie Webb would step to the penalty spot for Great Britain, and her flick found its way past Sombroek and into the back of the net for the deciding goal! Great Britain wins the game 2-0 in the penalty shootout, and dethrones the defending two-time Olympic champions!

As a note, there were a couple of stories about Helen and Kate Richardson-Walsh becoming the first openly gay couple to win gold medals at the Olympics. Let me just say this: their sexuality means nothing to fans of the game, and those that reported this "historic" moment should be ashamed. These two women are amazing athletes and stars in the sport of field hockey which is what the Olympics are about. I, for one, commend them on their abilities and the fact that they are Olympic gold medalists today and forever. They are model athletes for this sport, and their gold medals reflect that dedication and ability. There is absolutely no reason to reflect on their marriage, their personal lives, or their sexuality when they are champions of their sport. Shame on those that made their story personal as opposed to celebrating what their team accomplished.

The Lionesses went undefeated in the tournament in winning the gold medal, and they certainly deserved the gold medal after showing the world how good they are. As a guy who has come to appreciate the finer points of the game of field hockey, this team showed class and respect throughout the tournament, and are fine examples of the Olympic spirit! Congratulations to Team Great Britain, your 2016 Rio Olympic Games champions!

The following table shows how the remainder of the field finished.

FINAL STANDINGS
Rank Country Record Differential Points
Great Britain
7-0-1 +13 22
Netherlands
5-0-3 +13 18
Germany
4-2-2 +2 14
4th
New Zealand
4-3-1 +4 13
5th
USA
4-2-0 +8 12
6th
Australia
3-3-0 +4 9
7th
Argentina
2-0-4 +5 6
8th
Spain
2-0-4 -8 6
9th
China
1-2-2 -2 5
10th
Japan
0-4-1 -13 1
11th
South Korea
0-4-1 -10 1
12th
India
0-4-1 -16 1

Congratulations go out to all the teams, but especially to gold medalist Great Britain, silver medalist Netherlands, and bronze medalist Germany! An excellent tournament by all standards!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the field!

Thursday, 18 August 2016

The Hockey Show - Episode 204

The Hockey Show, Canada's only campus-produced hockey radio show, features a live "studio" audience tonight! Ok, we're not really in a studio, but we'll be live from The Hub Social Club at University Center on the University of Manitoba campus tonight where you can join us in the hockey chatter and enjoy some delicious food! We're pretty pumped about this, so join us for the radio show live and in living colour!

We have a couple of announcements to tackle prior to getting into the hockey chatter, so we'll clear those out of the way. We'll have a discussion about the jersey sponsor patch for the World Cup of Money Hockey and Gary Bettman's comments about sponsor patches appearing on NHL jerseys, Daniel Alfredsson having his jersey retired by Ottawa, the changes made by the Lake Erie Monsters and why their new name and look are rather disgusting, and Jacob Trouba and Johnny Gaudreau playing in the World Cup of Money Hockey without contracts and if their appearances there could have an effect on their negotiations with Winnipeg and Calgary, respectively.

Among with some inexpensive wings, some of the other business we'll have on our plates tonight - pun intended - will include some prize giveaways, some fan interactions, and Beans may set a new record for wings consumed. If you want to win some gear, chat some hockey, and enjoy some great food and beverages, join The Hockey Show tonight at the UofM's The Hub Social Club!

With us nowhere near the studio phones tonight, the phone lines will be closed, but you'll be at The Hub Social Club anyway so why would we need to answer the phone? Just make sure your radio in the Winnipeg region is set to 101.5 on your FM dial if you can't make it or listen live between 5:30pm and 6:30pm CT on your web-enabled device at the UMFM webpage!

Email all show questions and comments to hockeyshow@umfm.com! Tweet me anytime with questions you may have by hitting me up at @TeebzHBIC on Twitter. You can also post some stuff to Facebook if you use the "Like" feature, and I always have crazy stuff posted there that doesn't make it to the blog or show.

Tonight, we have fun at The Hub Social Club, the UofM's most happening place on campus, as we talk hockey, eat wings, drink beverages, and chat with our audience on The Hockey Show tonight only on 101.5 UMFM!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!