Hockey Headlines

Saturday, 23 July 2016

Some Changes To The Game

With less than two weeks to go before the opening of the Rio Olympic Games and the field hockey event on August 6, 2016, Hockey Blog In Canada is shifting into Summer Olympics mode, aka field hockey central. I'll be upfront in telling you that watching the game and figuring out some of the rules will be a challenge if you can find highlights on your local TV lineup. North American teams generally aren't expected to medal thanks to the dominance shown by a few teams, but the Canadian men and American women will be in Rio to compete for gold! In saying that, let's get you primed for the hockey event at the 2016 Summer Olympics!

In 2008 for the Beijing Olympics, I wrote a big piece on how the game is played. I suggest that you read that for the general rules about the game before diving into this piece. It will explain the basics so you understand what's happening on the field. There's also a historic piece on who are normally the favorites at these events, so take a peek at that one as well.

From the first linked article, I had written about how the game is managed with respect to time. I wrote, "The game is divided into two 35-minute halves with a five-minute half-time." In order to facilitate better coverage and analysis, the International Hockey Federation (FIH) has instituted changes for the Olympic event this year. Whether or not they improve the sport's play is debatable, but there is certainly some belief that these changes will increase the intensity of the game and the overall flow when generating offence.

Before I go further, field hockey is unique in that the game is played on a sand-filled turf field that makes the surface harder, but slows the ball's roll considerably. Because of this, games would resemble soccer in that flurries of offensive attacks would often be interrupted by long breaks of teams trying to force the other team into a mistake. That's not a complaint, but it did allow the upper echelon of teams to gain a lead and simply wear out their opposition by passing the ball around in the non-attacking area and forcing their opposition to chase the game.

To close the gap between the top teams and the rest of the field, the decision was made to reduce games from two 35-minute halves to four 15-minute quarters with 2 minutes of rest after each period. Halftime would go from five minutes to fifteen minutes in length. Much like in basketball, the breaks will allow for better analysis by TV crews and the additional breaks should provide more rest and opportunities for teams to adjust their lineups thereby improving the play of the game.

Thanks to the heat in Rio, the sun not only affects the players as it bears down on them, but can be reflected by the field's blue-coloured turf as well. As you may recall, the 2012 London Olympic Games debuted the blue turf, and it was well-received by both players and officials for its play. By instituting the more frequent and regular breaks, players can stay hydrated and cooled off when these breaks were only normally afford by a player substitution in previous events.

Additional changes for the 2016 Olympic Games include the implementation of 40-second time outs following both penalty corner awards and the scoring of a goal. This should push the level of play higher as both teams can adjust to their opposition's tactics in these breaks. The timeouts will also prevent teams from using additional seconds of the running time so that all games respect the 60-minute total game time. And since overtime was eliminated in round-robin games in tournaments by the FIH in 2013, any tied matches will go to a penalty shootout in the round-robin to determine a winner.

These changes are seen as positives in the field hockey community, and it sounds as if the Olympic Hockey Center at Deodoro will be well-received by the community. Being that the Rio Olympiad is the first tournament to see the new four-quarter format, it will be interesting to see how this format is received by the television community, but the length of matches shouldn't be affected by these changes when it comes to scheduling blocks of time for TV broadcasts.

For a sport that is looking to hold onto its Olympic status, there's hope that these changes will make watching and enjoying the game both from a player's perspective and a fan's perspective much better. While we'll probably hear feedback throughout the Olympic Games about these changes, the important numbers will be the fans through the turnstiles and watching on TV and the scores on the scoreboard!

The event starts August 6 - will you be watching?

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Friday, 22 July 2016

My Friday's Accomplishment

It take some work and some luck to make some of the things on this blog work. The luck is that I usually can find the coding I want somewhere online for whatever I'm needing - the menu above, the ticker above, et cetera - and the work comes in tweaking it for what I want it to display. Once you've got everything set, it feels good to say "I did that" and own it. The frustration, however, is figuring out how some stuff works when you're an amateur coder. Things don't always go as planned and, occasionally, you find yourself scrapping an idea altogether before it even makes it onto the webpage.

Today's example is exactly one of those situations. I've been trying to figure out how to add a custom soundboard to this blog for use on The Hockey Show. Most soundboards are made with Flash, but there has been an increasing push-back from a number of places due to Flash's ongoing problems with stability. Apple, for example, supports no Flash applications whatsoever, so I was already facing the problem that the soundboard would be unusable on any iDevice.

When using Windows, I'm a loyal Firefox guy. I have Chrome and Internet Explorer for testing my blog's creations on those two browsers, but I write and code in Firefox on this blog. News broke earlier this month that Firefox will automatically block Flash without warning you due to a major vulnerability.

Suddenly, that soundboard was looking like a dream from a decade ago when Flash was still hip and fun for videos and software. Learning bits and pieces of Flash along the way is basically all for naught now. Needless to say, I had to find another alternative.

I'm not the world's greatest coder by any means, but I get HTML. It's a common language across all web browsers, and it works well when written well. With that in mind, I went and found some basic code for a soundboard and then I programmed it how I wanted it.

Here's the ongoing project!

As you can see, I've got some sound bytes and sound effects already programmed into the soundboard. What we at The Hockey Show are looking for are additional sounds that you think would fit into hockey discussions and/or snippets of music that can be played in key moments. We'll take all suggestions into consideration, so please suggest an idea if you can!

If you want to find the soundboard quickly, it's located up under the "Extras" menu. Feel free to use it if you like for whatever purpose you may need it. It works on all browsers on all devices - PCs, Android, iDevices - as far as I can tell, and it seems to work through all the major browsers that I could find.

The Hockey Show will have its own unique sound effects now, and you can influence additional choices with your ideas since this blog is of the people, by the people, and for the people. Drop ideas in the comments, and we'll see what we can do with your suggestions!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Thursday, 21 July 2016

The Hockey Show - Episode 200

The Hockey Show, Canada's only campus-produced hockey radio show, returns tonight to celebrate a major milestone as we have reached reached 200 shows! It's a pretty big milestone considering we're not that far away from kicking off our fourth season, and it's pretty amazing to see all of the hockey we've talked over 200 weeks of doing this show. We've welcomed some big names and some up-and-coming names, we've talked about all the major stories from the hockey world, and we've delved into topics that don't get a lot of coverage. Tonight's show will feature a few prizes, hopefully a few guest drop-ins, and, as always, a load of hockey talk!

Tonight, Teebz, Beans, and TJ will discuss Brad Richards calling it a career after 15 years with the Rangers still paying him $5.05 million this coming season and $1.05 million through 2025-26, Wayne Gretzky signing with the New York Rangers 20 year ago today, the late Gordie Howe being mentioned at the Republican National Convention, Mark Scheifele's comments on Subban-vs-Weber debate on Toronto's TheFan590, former Canadiens' number guy Matt Pfeffer not owning his comments, and we'll talk about Teebz and TJ spending a day out in Neepawa for a very good cause. If we do get a few guests dropping in, we'll toss those topics aside and have some fun, but listen from start to finish for a few opportunities to take home some prizing! We have a bunch of stuff in the ol' shwag bag, so there's a chance to win something good if you know your trivia!

Tonight, we want to hear from you with prizes on the line, so give us a call at 204-269-UMFM (269-8636)! Make sure you tune your radio dial in the Winnipeg region to 101.5 on your FM dial or listen live between 5:30pm and 6:30pm CT on your web-enabled device at the UMFM webpage! 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. We celebrate 200 incredible shows on UMFM tonight on The Hockey Show and can be heard only on 101.5 UMFM!

PODCAST:July 21, 2016: Episode 200

Until next time, keep your sticks on your ice!

Wednesday, 20 July 2016

What To Do With Russia?

The recent revelations made by WADA and lawyer Richard McLaren about Russia's systemic doping problem have shook several sports and their governing bodies to their cores. From 2011 until 2015, it seems that the Russians had a very elaborate and secretive doping plan in place for athletes across every sports discipline until whistleblower Grigory Rodchenkov stepped forward and pulled the curtain back on the entire debacle. There is increased concern over results form every major sports event that was held in Russia in that time, and there's a cuse for concern about the entire Sochi Olympic Games and the results seen there. With the Rio Olympic Games bearing down on the IOC and the world, the push from the athletic community outside of Russia is to ban the whole Russian team. As wise as that question may be when it comes to fair play and competitiveness, I think the bigger question is what does the IOC and the world do with Russia as a whole?

I'll link WADA's report, prepared by Mr. McLaren, right here for those that want to navigate it. It's a 103-page document that is exhaustive in its reporting, but there are snippets worth checking out. If you have the time and want to learn how to read proper legalese, here's your link.

The first time I had read in-depth of system-wide doping happening in Russia was a John Brant article in The New York Times Magazine that exposed the lives of Russian track star Yuliya Stepanova and her husband, Vitaly Stepanov, on June 22, 2016. It was five days previous to that article's publishing when the news broke that the IAAF had banned the Russian track-and-field from competing in Rio due to a massive doping scandal. It's in Mr. Brant's article, however, that you learn that this doping procedure was in place as far back as 2009 and, perhaps, even earlier based on his statements.

When you think that it could have been happening as early as 2008, possibly in Beijing for that Olympiad, there are a lot of athletes who were fighting an unwinnable battle for medals they were not medically-enhanced enough to win. That's not to say that some didn't overcome the odds and beat out the Russians who may have been cheating at the time, but there's at least seven years worth of doping that the Russian had been practicing - perfecting? - prior to WADA's findings and Rodchenkov's admissions of cheating.

In that time, there were two Winter Olympiads that the Russians sent hockey players to, and multiple international events that had them achieve some form of credible success. Richard McLaren has stated, "the system was set up following the 2010 Winter Olympics, and was in place until 2014" in his report and in interviews, so it seems like the worst of the systemic doping procedure was applied to the vast majority of Russian sports after the Vancouver Olympiad.

That makes sense when you consider the boasting that Vladimir Putin did prior to the 2014 Sochi Olympics about how Russian athletes would restore pride to Russia with many gold medal performances. Russia did indeed do exactly as he predicted: they won the most gold medals with 13, and had the highest medal count of all the countries with 33. Norway (11) and Canada (10) were the only other countries to hit double-digits in gold medals after all was said and done, and the national pride that Putin spoke about before the Olympics was delivered just as he promised.

How did this happen? According to McLaren's report on page 10,
"The Disappearing Positive Methodology was used as a State directed method following the very abysmal medal count by the Russian Olympic athletes participating in the 2010 Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver. At that time, Sochi had already been designated as the next Winter Olympic venue."
Just as I stated above, the systemic doping procedures were put in place in order for Putin to make good on his boasts of national pride being restored. There is enough evidence in McLaren's report that points to this being a directive that would have had to come from offices much higher than the individual sports' authorities themselves.

How does this relate to hockey? According to the chart found on page 41 of McLaren's report, there were a minimum of 14 positive doping test results that disappeared. I say "a minimum" because Mr. McLaren was not able to have access to all of Russia's records, so he only had a chance to record these 14 cases in the sport of ice hockey. There certainly could be more, but 14 is a definite number of players who were doping at the ice hockey event in Sochi.

Let's assume that the NHL players in Sochi were following guidelines as set out by the IOC and the NHL to be able to be included in the event. That would leave nine Russian men who played in the KHL for the 2013-14 season. I'll also note that all 21 Russian women were playing in the Russian women's league during the 2013-14 season including CIS stars Iya Gavrilova and Sasha Vafina as well as NWHL player Yekaterina Smolentseva. In total, there are 30 players who played the 2013-14 season of hockey in Russia who could have been part of this doping scandal, and it appears that nearly 50% of them were.

It probably didn't help Putin's cause when the men lost to Finland 3-1 in the quarterfinals, and there was certainly some finger-pointing at the time of the loss when it came to blame. The Russian women fared no better either, finishing with a 2-0 loss in the quarterfinals to Switzerland. At least in the case of the women, they knew it would take a miracle to capture anything more than a bronze medal.

When you look at the numbers, though, it would make sense to say that either three or four men and ten or eleven were caught doping if the numbers are true, and I'm using the 14 definite cases that disappeared as the magic number. We need to drill down further to see if there might be some players who can still be counted out of the positive results because there are players who had left North America for the KHL without being in the system since 2010.

The nine Russian men's players include defenceman Ilya Nikulin, forwards Viktor Tikhonov, Alexander Svitov, Alexander Popov, Alexei Tereshchenko, Alexander Radulov, Ilya Kovalchuk, and Yevgeny Medvedev, and goaltender Alexander Yeryomenko. It seems too obvious to lump the superstars into the doping group, but it would be irresponsible not to include them. While we might never know the answers as to who were the guilty parties from these nine men, only one of these men played less than a year in Russia prior to the Sochi Olympics - Ilya Kovalchuk. That would make him an unlikely candidate in the scandal.

No, it seems like this doping scheme was built on long-term doping methods. Maria Sharapova had admitted to taking mildronate, also known as meldonium, since 2006, but tested twice for the drug in two separate tests in January and February 2016, prompting the ITF to hand down its two-year suspension to the tennis star. Meldonium was added to the banned substance list on January 1, meaning that the Russians had been ahead of the doping game for some time.

Following that news, the entire Russian U18 team that was suspended for testing positive for meldonium in April, preventing them from competing at the IIHF Under-18 World Championships in Grand Forks, North Dakota. The availability of meldonium in Russia makes it sound as if it's widely available like aspirin or ibuprofen. Patrick Reevell and Christopher Clarey of The New York Times reported,
For decades meldonium was given openly to Russian athletes, along with vitamin supplements, and many trainers have complained about the ban while asserting that they would comply with it. Sold as Mildronate, meldonium is not approved for sale in the United States or the European Union but is sold over the counter in Russia and some Eastern European countries. A study by a Russian anti-doping center found that more than 700 Russian athletes were on meldonium last year before the ban, according to the Russian newspaper RBK.
It was reported that Sharapova had been using meldomium for approximately ten years to battle a number of medical ailments, and there's belief that the science and investigation into meldonium finally caught up to a number of these Russian athletes who had been using the drug for a variety of reasons. According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, meldonium "demonstrates an increase in endurance performance of athletes, improved rehabilitation after exercise, protection against stress, and enhanced activations of central nervous system (CNS) functions". Yeah, that definition sounds exactly like cheating, doesn't it?

Look, I can't tell you what the exact right answer is for Rio or for any other event going forward other than double-blind testing where the same samples are tested by independent WADA-certified labs without knowing the results from the same sample in the other lab. This will drive up costs and certainly delay results depending on where those labs are located, but it seems to be the only way to ensure that samples can be verified as clean with respect to drug-testing. Maybe that's what has to happen until better testing solutions can be found, but it seems like ensuring the tests to a laboratory in a somewhat morally-compromised country will only result in better methods of cheating.

I'll tell you this, though: it didn't help the Russians on the ice. And maybe that's the one intangible that can't be cheated: when the talent level is identical or close to being identical, hard work and teamwork will always overcome an individual's cheating in a team sport.

As for the Russian track-and-field team not competing in Rio and the possibility all Russians will be banned? Well, you made your bed. Enjoy lying in it, you dopes.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Tuesday, 19 July 2016

Saskatchewan, Not Republican

There's no denying that Gordie Howe will always be associated with the Detroit Red Wings when it comes to his NHL career. Sure, there was a brief stint prior to his days in Detroit with the New York Rangers along with his Hartford Whalers days at the end of his career, but he spent a lot of time in the red-and-white in the NHL. Had the Red Wings not forced him into retirement after a wrist injury in 1971, there's a good chance he would have played another decade in Detroit rather than jumping to the WHA and the Houston Aeros. But why fuddle the narrative with details, right?

Well, it seems that the Republican Delegates at the National Republican Convention in Cleveland, Ohio tonight did a little name-dropping in an attempt to keep pace with the boasts made by the other states in attendance. I apologize for bringing politics into this, but hang on until the 45-second mark when Ronna Romney McDaniel starts dropping names.
Look, I get that you need to keep up with the Joneses around you, Miss McDaniel, but why bring Gordie Howe - a Canadian - into your assembly? Can the man not rest in peace rather than being associated with this farcical congregation? And what about all the other amazing people who have called Michigan home and are born-and-raised Americans who weren't singled out by Miss McDaniel?

I don't know what Mr. Howe's politics were and I can't ever recall him endorsing one party over another in either country. I'm quite sure, though, that he wouldn't have endorsed Donald Trump's policies of building a wall between Canada and the US. Mr. Howe was a tough son of a gun, but he certainly wasn't crazy.

Politics and sports shouldn't be thrust into the same conversation. Ever. Don't name-drop a guy that the Red Wings forced out of hockey.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!