Thursday, 3 April 2008

An International Flavor

I'll admit that I am as patriotic as the next guy or gal, whether the next person be Canadian, American, German, or Russian. There is a sense of pride when a player pulls the national jersey on, and skates onto the ice. Maybe I'm a bit of a homer in that I cheer loudly for Team Canada whenever they take to the ice, field, or court. I am extremely patriotic for the Olympics, the World Junior Championships, and this time of year: IIHF World Championship time! The sledge hockey players are playing in Marlborough, Massachusetts, the women start their trek for a gold medal tomorrow in Harbin, China versus Russia, and the men take to the ice in Quebec City and Halifax on May 2!

The IPC Sledge Hockey World Championship has gone well for the Canadians thus far. As I had noted in a previous article, Canada defeated Italy 11-0 on March 29. They posted their second victory by downing Germany 6-3 on March 30. They followed that victory up with a 3-1 victory over Japan on April 1. They recorded their fourth victory in as many games by defeating the host Americans 3-0 yesterday, giving the undefeated Canadians a spot in Saturday's gold medal game. Their last preliminary round game goes Friday night against Norway. The Norwegians are also undefeated, meaning this game will be a preview of the gold medal on Saturday.

For more information on the Canadians and their quest for sledge hockey gold, please check out the Hockey Canada link. Keep it going, boys!

The women open the 2008 IIHF World Women’s Championship on Friday versus Russia in Harbin. The Canadians are the pre-tournament favorite to win gold, while the Americans and Swedes are looking like medal favorites as well.

Jennifer Botterill of Winnipeg will become only the sixth woman to suit up for her 150th game for the National Women's Team when she takes to the ice tomorrow, joining Hayley Wickenheiser, Danielle Goyette, Jayna Hefford, Vicky Sunohara and Cassie Campbell as the only Canadian women to reach that mark. The 28 year-old has played with the National Team since 1997-98. Her success at the World Championships has been well-documented as she was named Tournament MVP twice - in 2001 and 2004. Congratulations, Jennifer!

Canada is playing in Pool A with the Russians and the host Chinese team, one of three pools of three teams. Pool B features the Americans, Germans, and Swiss teams. Pool C features the Finnish, Swedish, and Japanese teams. The teams that finish first in each of the pools after the round-robin will then move on to the qualifying round.

Canada is looking to win its second straight World Women’s Championship after winning last season's tournament in Winnipeg. Canada has won nine of the ten World Women’s Championships thus far, and are looking to make it ten after this year's tournament.

Some quick notes about the Canadian Women's Team:

- Charline Labonté will back up Kim St-Pierre in the Canadian nets. Labonté, as you may have read on this very blog last month, just came off wining the CIS Women's Hockey Championship with the McGill Martlets.
- Defenceman Becky Kellar of Hagersville, Ontario is the oldest player on the Canadian roster at 33 years of age. The youngest player is forward Rebecca Johnston of Sudbury, Ontario at 18 years of age.
- Valerie Chouinard of Matane, Quebec is listed as the team's alternate player, while Shannon Szabados of Edmonton, Alberta is the third goaltender.
- Peter Smith of Lachine, Quebec is the man behind the bench. Smith also won a CIS Championship this season as he coached the Martlets to their title.
- The entire Canadian roster can be found here.

The Canadian men are waiting for the NHL playoffs to be finalized before they begin selecting players, but GM Steve Yzerman already went ahead and selected a coach. The Columbus Blue Jackets' Ken Hitchcock will lead the Canadians into battle in Quebec City and Halifax, and I think this is an excellent selection by Yzerman.

Hitchcock, the Edmonton, Alberta native, will make his sixth international appearance. He was an associate coach at the 2006 Olympic Winter Games which ended early for the Canadians. He was in the same role at the 2004 World Cup of Hockey where the Canadians brought home the championship. He was on the bench in Salt Lake City at the 2002 Olympic Winter Games where Canada won gold. He was at the 2002 IIHF World Championship and "Hitch" was also an assistant coach with Canada’s gold medal-winning National Junior Team at the 1988 IIHF World Junior Championship.

"We are extremely excited that Ken will join us as head coach for the 2008 IIHF World Championship," said Yzerman. "Ken’s wealth of international experience should prove to be a tremendous asset to our team as we go forward towards what we hope will be a gold medal on home ice."

I'm quite certain that, if he decides he wants to play, Rick Nash will be going to Quebec City and Halifax. His legacy there has already been cemented. Vincent Lecavalier, Martin St. Louis, Paul Kariya, Shane Doan, Brad Boyes, and Jonathan Toews will most likely get invitations. I can see Manny Legace, Pascal Leclaire, and Dwayne Roloson being asked to tend the nets. Possible other players that could be asked to join would be Sam Gagner, Nathan Horton, Jay Bouwmeester, Dan Boyle, Derek Roy, Bryan McCabe (dear god, no!), Mike Comrie, Mark Recchi, and Dustin Penner. It will be a tough job for Yzerman without a doubt, but there are a lot of great players who won't be playing in the post-season this year.

Are you feeling it? I'm excited. Playoffs, World Championships, and the Frozen Four - does it get any better than this? I'll be doing an in-depth look at the NCAA's Frozen Four tomorrow as the four remaining teams take to the ice in Denver. I'll also recap the Women's Frozen Four which took place in March.

To the NCAA ladies, I apologize, but there is just an extreme amount of hockey going on at this time of the year. Don't worry, though! I'll be talking a lot about you guys as well!

Until tomorrow, keep your sticks on the ice!

1 comment:

All Puckered Out said...

Nice mention of our internationally dominant sledge hockey team. I've skated with some of them and they're a great bunch of guy's, dedicated to the sport and always supportive to developing players. Ottawa is having their sledge hockey tourament at Ray Friel Arena April 18-20th. 12 teams from Ontario, Quebec and the USA will be competing. While the play will obviously not be quite as high calibre as the world cup in Marlborough it will be spirited and it is open to the public. My son and I will be on the ice. See you there!