Hockey Headlines

Friday, 28 February 2014

The Amazing Vegas Spidermen

Today's article has a dual purpose. I had not, before this evening, seen The Amazing Spider-Man starring Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone. I can now cross that off my bucket list, but I'm not posting a review. There wasn't any hockey in it. However, it ties in very well with tomorrow night's promotion in Las Vegas as the Wranglers will be donning their red-and-blue uniforms for one night as they battle the Idaho Steelheads in the second of five-straight games against them.

The Wranglers will wear the above Spider-Man-themed jerseys when they take the ice tomorrow, and they're doing it for a good cause. While some would say that this little game of dress-up is nothing more than a minor-league promotion, the Wranglers may actually save lives tomorrow. While they won't be on the streets in spandex, they will auction off the Spider-Man jerseys after the game with the proceeds going to benefit the Children's Hospital of Nevada at University Medical Center.

Pretty good deed, right? One lucky fan in attendance will also win a jersey off a Wranglers' player, someone will go home looking like Spider-Man, but smelling like a hockey player. There are pros and cons in every superhero story, I guess.

The jersey, as seen above, features the Wranglers' alternate logo on the chest and patches for the sweater sponsor, Diamondback Land Surveying, and the Children's Hospital of Nevada at University Medical Center. The font used for the names and numbers is pretty unique, and I have to say that for a one-off promotional night, I like them. And kudos to the Wranglers for making replica Spider-Man jerseys available in both adult and child sizes that will be available in the Team Shop. I'm guaranteeing there will be a lot of little Spider-Mans in the crowd tomorrow night!

The Las Vegas Wranglers may be last in ECHL's Pacific Division this season, but they are certainly going to be heroes to a number of kids on Saturday night in raising a pile of money for the Children's Hospital of Nevada at University Medical Center. They may not make the playoffs, but they'll help a number of families in Nevada. And that's what being a hero is all about.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Thursday, 27 February 2014

The Hockey Show - Episode Seventy-Seven

The Hockey Show is all about wrapping up the Olympics tonight, and we'll feature two guests as we close down our look on the hockey's biggest tournament and look forward to the rest of the NHL season, the CIS championships, and some other hockey notes. We were going to have an Olympic roundtable tonight with a number of panelists, but the panel dissolved as people confirmed scheduling. I'll talk a little about that tonight as we shout-out to those who had to be elsewhere.

Amongst the topics we shall discuss tonight:
  • Russia's failure to make it to the semi-finals.
  • The surprising Finns and their game against Team USA.
  • Team USA's lackluster performance in the bronze-medal game.
  • Sweden's performance in earning the silver medal.
  • Nicklas Backstrom's use of a banned substance, and why he should or should not get a medal for his efforts.
  • Canada's thrilling victories over the US and Sweden.
  • Do we see NHLers in South Korea?
  • CIS information as the Bisons men's hockey team plays against the Calgary Dinos this weekend with a Canada West Final berth on the line.
  • Sean Avery is Dancing With The Stars' newest hopeful. We'll laugh at the thought of this.
  • Teebz hates trade deadline speculation.
  • Anything else that comes up!
Joining us on the program tonight will be CIS/MJHL official Jeremie Gauvin and, when she becomes available, CIS player-turned-broadcaster Isabelle Germain! All of the hockey chatter goes down tonight at 5:30pm CT on 101.5 UMFM, so tune in! We'll be watching the ol' Twitter feed as well, so feel free to tweet your thoughts on anything hockey-related! See you tonight!

PODCAST: FEBRUARY 27, 2014: Episode 77

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Wednesday, 26 February 2014

TBC: The Game Of Our Lives

NHL is finally back after the Olympic break, and it feels good to know that after watching some of the best hockey the world has to offer, we'll be treated to the NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs in about a month when the hardest trophy to win in sports is awarded. Some would say that today's book review would have been more appropriate after the Canada-USA match for both the men and the women, but it will happen today nonetheless. Teebz's Book Club is proud to have reviewed The Game of Our Lives, written by Peter Gzowski and published by McClelland and Stewart. Mr. Gzowski's look into the 1980-81 Edmonton Oilers team is a fascinating examination of a team that was growing into its dynasty led by its young stars in Gretzky, Coffey, Messier, Anderson, Lowe, and Kurri. While Mr. Gzowski's work in Canada is highly-regarded, this book might be one of the best examinations of a hockey team and its stars ever produced.

As stated above, Mr. Gzowski lived a full life as one of Canada's premiere interviewers. Born in Toronto on July 13, 1934, Mr. Gzowski studied at the University of Toronto, but never graduated from the institution despite receiving multiple honourary degreees later in his life. He made waves when he was named as the editor of MacLean's magazine at the young age of 28 after having written for the publication. Mr. Gzowski would move to The Toronto Star in the 1960s where he would serve as editor of The Star Weekly until it was sold in 1968. He moved into radio in 1969, joining CBC for Radio Free Friday. In 1971, he was named as host of CBC radio's This Country in the Morning. In 1976, he jumped to television, hosting 90 Minutes Live on CBC as well, but returned to his radio roots in 1982 to take over his former program once more, now named Morningside. Through it all, Mr. Gzowski continued to write, penning 18 books through his lifetime. Mr. Gzowski last acted as Chancellor of Trent University from 1999 to 2002 when he passed away on January 24 after a battle with emphysema caused by smoking. He was just 67 when he passed on.

What struck me in reading The Game of Our Lives was how Mr. Gzowski wrote. He writes like he's a caring grandfather who speaks with passion and a twinkle in his eye about his subject. He's articulate, he's descriptive, and he engages the reader in the story by asking questions you or I would ask. He's very in-tune with his audience, and Mr. Gzowski's writing style will keep readers' attentions as they follow the story of the 1980-81 Edmonton Oilers.

The Oilers themselves are very engaging, and seem to enjoy this new-found celebrity status they seem to have acquired when a writer offered to follow them and document their progress for a season. GM Glen Sather is prominently featured as he runs the day-to-day operations of the club while trying to figure out how the Oilers, who start out slowly in '80-81, can find their stride. The players, including Gretzky, are referred to often by their youth, but Mr. Gzowski shows the inner workings of this team as the book progresses. Owner Peter Pocklington always seems to be larger-than-life in The Game of Our Lives, but never out of reach when Mr. Gzowski needs a comment or team-centric advice.

Perhaps more than anything, Mr. Gzowski details the growth of Wayne Gretzky's game from wunderkind in his first season with the club to emerging superstar to the greatest scorer in 1980-81. Gretzky, who seemingly was the darling of Edmonton after bursting onto the NHL scene in 1979-80, is shown to be humble with his fame. He does a lot of work with the companies to which he has signed his name, and really seems to enjoy being one of the guys within the team rather than the highly-paid, high-scoring superstar that some believe he is. There is a human side to both Wayne Gretzky and his teammates that Mr. Gzowski really emphasizes in The Game of Our Lives that make the players seem far more like you or I than professional athletes. He especially takes a liking to Andy Moog, it seems, for the goaltender resembled Mr. Gzowski with his baby fat and non-lean body than he did the rest of the Oilers.

There are some fascinating tales in the book, including a section on how Gretzky seems to slow the game down with his mind, looking multiple steps ahead of what was unfolding in front of him like an expert chess player would. It's an entirely fascinating look at how exceptional athletes slow the game down in their mind, but I'm not going to post an entire chapter here. However, a passage that stuck out to me was about what would be termed a hazing ritual now.
Almost every year there are stories about a shaving gone wrong. In the 1980-81 season, a Winnipeg rookie was so badly razor-burned that his legs turned black and blue and couldn't walk. Occasionally, someone has the hair on his head removed, or parts of it. But mostly the area of concentration is the loins, and mostly the attitude involved is one of brotherhood and sport - as it is, for example for the University of Toronto fraternity that still jovially welcomes new members by imprinting its insignia into their arms with a branding iron.
While none of that would even be allowed today, it just goes to show how much the world of sports and hockey has changed over the thirty years. Could you imagine being branded with your school's insignia? Yikes!

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed The Game of Our Lives immensely as it was an excellent study on the Oilers as they matured throughout a season filled with difficulty and highlights. While Mr. Gzowski used a number of parallels to his own life as he grew up on the frozen ponds of Ontario, and really shows through a number of interviews with some of the greatest men to play the game - Howe, Hull, Gretzky, Beliveau - that having fun is still the bets way to play the game. Because of Mr. Gzowski's excellent writing, the examination of he did of the Oilers, and the presentation of the story in the book, The Game of Our Lives undoubtedly receives the Teebz's Book Club Seal of Approval!

This book speaks volumes about the game in Canada, and it really should be on the bookshelf of every hockey fan. Find it at your local bookstore or check it out at your local library. You will not be disappointed with Mr. Gzowski's The Game of Our Lives!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Give Him His Medal

I'm going to go on record here and say that the IOC needs to live in the real world. I get that Nicklas Backstrom's drug test came back showing that he was over the allowed limit for pseudoephedrine. I understand that he's been taking this allergy medication for seven years. I also understand that athletes have been known to abuse ephedrine in order to gain an edge on the competition as it is a stimulant. However, the dosage being taken by Backstrom for his allergies combined with the effects of the allergy drug - it wears off slowly - would, in my view, cause this false positive reading that the drug testing found.

Let me preface this entire thing by saying that I certainly do not condone the use of stimulants by athletes, and that this entire problem could have been prevented had Backstrom simply took the time to read the label or check Google. The over-the-counter name of the drug Backstrom was using for his allergies is Zyrtec-D, but the actual pharmaceuticals involved are "a combination of cetirizine, an antihistamine that reduces the natural chemical histamine in the body, and pseudoephedrine, a decongestant that shrinks blood vessels in the nasal passages". Pseudeoephedrine is a banned substance at the Olympics, and the Swedish doctors looking after the team had to have known that.

The dosage that Backstrom was taking sounds pretty standard: one pill once per day. That's a fairly innocuous dosage for sure, but the drug works slowly by design in order to relieve those taking it of their allergy symptoms all day. Again, nothing new there in terms of how allergy drugs work.

If we go back to February 19 when Backstrom's sample was submitted, Sweden played Slovenia earlier in the evening. This would mean that, depending on when Backstrom was taking his daily dosage, there could have been lingering pseudoephedrine in his system as the drug is set to be released throughout the day for up to twelve hours.

According to this information, Zyrtec-D contains "120 mg pseudoephedrine hydrochloride in an extended release layer". If the IOC's limit is 150mg of pseudoephedrine in a sample for an athlete, Zyrtec-D is basically at the limit already. If one was to take two pills within a 24-hour time period, there's a pretty good chance that the total amount of pseudoephedrine in one's system would be above the 120mg of the dosage due to the time-release formula of the drug!

Ironically, Backstrom seems to be avoiding any blame in this. "Who do I blame?" Backstrom told The Canadian Press. "Well, I followed the doctor's recommendation."

Sure. That's convenient. Naïve, but convenient. I agree that the doctor definitely has to know what is being administered to the athletes in terms of drugs, dosage, and effects. No one is saying the Swedish doctor shouldn't take some of the blame in this case, but as an athlete at the Olympic Games you have to know what you're putting into your body. It's almost common sense for an athlete to know what he's taking as a supplement or drug and what the effects are of those additives.

Here's what I do know. If there is 120mg of pseudoephedrine in every dose of Zyrtec-D, and Backstrom was found with 190mg in his sample, he's far from abusing the drug and he certainly isn't using it as a stimulant for any purpose other than to help him breathe. This is simply a case of a drug's time-release system keeping older pseudoephedrine in his system along with a new dose taken on the day of testing.

Is it over the IOC's acceptable limit? Yes. But he's not using it to gain an edge, and that's where some rational thinking comes into play on the IOC's part. He's been taking this drug as part of his routine for seven years. He's not loading up on pseudoephedrine hours before a match, and his tested level of 190mg seems to confirm that.

False positives aside, I'm not absolving Backstrom of blame here. He still is responsible for what he puts in his body. But when the guy is simply trying to breathe, denying his Olympic silver medal over 40mg of a common over-the-counter drug seems a little outrageous.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Monday, 24 February 2014

Uniquely Las Vegas

Las Vegas has always been on the radar of the NHL, if you ask some with insider information. It has played host to several NHL exhibition games, but it has always had a main hockey tenant in the ECHL's Las Vegas Wranglers. The Wranglers, for all they've done in the city, always seem to be forgotten despite having between 4800 and 5000 people show up for games. With today's news that the Wranglers would be moving their games to the top of the Plaza Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, hockey will reach new heights in Sin City and make the Wranglers' ECHL games something entirely unique in hockey.

According to reports, the Plaza Hotel and Casino just finished a $35 million dollar renovation in 2011 that saw the hotel build new guestrooms and suites, a remodeled casino floor and lobby, and new restaurants, bars and entertainment options. While a hockey arena or hockey venue wasn't on the list of renovations, you can add that to the list of "new entertainment options" available at the Plaza starting next season!

"The Wranglers have been a prized sports team in Southern Nevada for many years, drawing loyal fans from throughout the valley. We can't imagine our community without them, and so we're pleased that we can play a role in keeping them in Las Vegas by providing them with a home at the Plaza," said Jonathan Jossel, managing director of Tamares Group, parent company of the Plaza, in a statement.

Now you might be asking yourself, after reading Mr. Jossel's statement, how did this come to be? How is it that an established ECHL team is moving to the roof of one of Las Vegas' iconic hotels and casinos instead of playing in a hockey rink?

Wranglers President Billy Johnson and Wranglers owner Gary Jacobs confirmed to the Las Vegas Sun on New Year's Eve that Boyd Gaming, who run Orleans Arena in Las Vegas, were not going to renew the agreement they held with the Wranglers, putting the team in a bit of a bind in not having a home for the 2014-15 season. Boyd Gaming issued their decision on December 14, 2013, putting the team's future in Las Vegas in question.

"They said we were not financially viable," Johnson told John Katsilometes of the Las Vegas Sun, who added that the signage around the Orleans Arena promoting the team had been stripped from the property in the early summer. "But they didn’t tell us formally until just before the holiday season."

Personally, it sounds like Boyd Gaming wants some of those 36 nights of home games back for events. I understand the competitiveness in Las Vegas to have big acts roll through casinos, and perhaps the management of the Orleans Hotel and Casino think they can attract some of those acts by having a 7000-seat available for weekend nights now. That's entirely within their right as the owners of the arena, and they can make the decision to try to attract big acts to fill that arena.

The Wranglers, having developed a solid following in Sin City over its eleven-year existence, went searching for a new home in Las Vegas, striking up conversations with various casinos and resorts in and around the city, before striking an agreement with the Plaza Hotel and Casino. But they don't have an arena, so the Wranglers needed to be a little creative.

The Wranglers will build a facility in a lease agreement with the Plaza that will seat apparoximately 3500 fans. Of course, designs can change, but that's the initial idea. This new rink will be built on the fifth-level pool and event deck on existing space connecting the two hotel towers. It appears the rink will be surrounded by "a fabric shell on a metal structure - a heavily reinforced tent, if you will" that will house not only the hockey team, but be a multipurpose facility that will allow the Wranglers the freedom to book other attractions at the tent-arena.

In other words, the Wranglers will enter the five-year agreement with the Plaza on a space lease agreement, and the partnership would see all visiting teams stay at the Plaza, and any shows that the Wranglers book would have a hotel suitable for both the act to stay at and any fans that may want to see the show. There is still some debate on parking and any associated fees that may be imposed there for hockey fans, but it sounds like both the Wranglers and the Plaza are happy with this partnership.

"We believe that this partnership will be good for the Wranglers, good for the fans and good for downtown," Jossel added in his statement. "We are looking forward to working with the Wranglers and their management and to providing more detailed information in the coming weeks and months."

"We're really looking forward to being part of the energy downtown and having a meaningful presence on Fremont Street," Johnson told Katsilometes in a phone conversation today. "We have a venue that is suitable for a professional hockey team and will serve our fans very well."

For a team that is averaging about 5000 fans, it sounds like Wranglers hockey might be one of the more difficult tickets to get next season in their 3500-seat facility. Hockey, though, is moving to Fremont Street as part of the Fremont Street Experience, and, from all I've gathered, Wranglers hockey is one heckuvan experience! And it may very well be one that I take in live next season!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Sunday, 23 February 2014

The World's Best Teams

Need I say more? No, not at all. However, here are the players who earned a gold medal by being part of one of these two incredible teams.

The 2014 Canadian Olympic women's hockey gold medal-winning team included: Brianne Jenner, Caroline Ouellette, Catherine Ward, Charline Labonté, Geneviève Lacasse, Gillian Apps, Haley Irwin, Hayley Wickenheiser, Jayna Hefford, Jennifer Wakefield, Jocelyne Larocque, Laura Fortino, Lauriane Rougeau, Marie-Philip Poulin, Meaghan Mikkelson, Meghan Agosta-Marciano, Mélodie Daoust, Natalie Spooner, Rebecca Johnston, Shannon Szabados, and Tara Watchorn.

The 2014 Canadian Olympic men's hockey gold medal-winning team included: Alex Pietrangelo, Carey Price, Chris Kunitz, Corey Perry, Dan Hamhuis, Drew Doughty, Duncan Keith, Jamie Benn, Jay Bouwmeester, Jeff Carter, John Tavares, Jonathan Toews, Marc-Édouard Vlasic, Martin St. Louis, Matt Duchene, Mike Smith, Patrice Bergeron, Patrick Marleau, Patrick Sharp, PK Subban, Rick Nash, Roberto Luongo, Ryan Getzlaf, Shea Weber, and Sidney Crosby.

These teams made a country proud, and once again claimed the game of hockey for four more years for Canadians. Well done to all the athletes! WE ARE WINTER!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Saturday, 22 February 2014

Kane Not Able

It was another devastating loss for the Americans in what seems to be a new play called "Heartbreak On Ice" in Sochi. After watching the American ladies go from being 3:30 from a gold medal to finding themselves with a silver medal against Canada, the Canadian men played some of the stingiest defence to send the American men to the bronze-medal game after their 1-0 loss. Today, the Americans played a rather listless game, looking uninspired in a 5-0 loss to Finland to end their Sochi Olympic Games in fourth-place after it was thought that they would challenge for a gold medal.

As they pack up their belongings tonight with thoughts of NHL glory, there won't be any additional metal going home with them. I do want to say that I'm not here to point out the obvious in the disappointment that both the team and its fans must feel. That would be wrong on so many levels, and I feel that anyone who celebrates another person's sadness or misfortune probably needs some sort of psychological examination. After all, there are highs and lows in life at all times.

I feel for Patrick Kane. He was given two penalty shots, and he came up empty twice. After hitting the post behind Tuukka Rask on the second penalty shot, he returned to the bench and showed his frustration in spades. You could tell he wanted the second one in the back of the net badly after he missed the net on the first one, especially when that would have cut the deficit the Americans were facing to 2-1. Instead, the two-goal lead stood, and Tuukka Rask and the efficient Finnish defencemen took care of the rest. Had Kane converted both, we might be discussing an entirely different ending.

Ryan Suter had a rough outing as well. His two turnovers led to the two Finnish goals that came 11 seconds apart in the second period, so you know he's feeling a little down as well. The NHL's leader in ice-time had been having a great tournament as the anchor on that American blue line, but his two mistakes cost the Americans in a rather big way today. I feel for Ryan Suter as well, especially since I'm a defenceman.

If there was only one bright spot today, it was 43 year-old Teemu Selanne. Selanne looked rejuvenated out on the ice after scoring the first goal for the Finns. His second goal saw him drop his stick as he raised his arms, and he hugged his teammates tightly. He will retire as the top scorer in Olympic hockey history with 43 points, and will hold one silver medal and three bronze medals from the six Olympic Games he's played in. Those six Olympic appearances also ties him for most appearances as an Olympic ice hockey player. He had stated before the Sochi Olympics that these Olympic Games would be his last as a player.

"I took the puck after the game and gave it to him and I think it’s in his pants right now," Finnish teammate Olli Jokinen told The Winnipeg Free Press. "At least he has the medal and the puck for a memory."

If Teemu isn't interested in playing for Finland in South Korea at age 47, today's win will be one heckuva memory. Two goals, and he goes out on a high note with a win in the bronze-medal game. That's a pretty good Finnish to an Olympic career!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Friday, 21 February 2014

Defence Wins Olympic Championships

How about that? Jamie Benn, shown above, scores the only goal Canada needed as Canada downed Team USA 1-0 in Olympic men's hockey today. The guy who wasn't invited to the Canadian summer orientation camp scores the biggest goal of this year's Olympic Games for Team Canada thus far. Call me impressed, but I want to point out that this game was played to perfection by the men in red. Head coach Mike Babcock, who has been stressing for a week that the lack of scoring done by the Canadians shouldn't worry anyone, showed why he believed in that idea today as Canada played some of the best defensive hockey this country may have ever seen on the international stage.

Long before this tournament started, there were comparisons made between the favorites to win the gold medal. You heard them all:
  • Finland had exceptional goaltending, but they may be hurt by injuries and lack of scoring.
  • Sweden was a balanced team with a good goaltender.
  • Russia has immense talent, but will carry with them the weight of a nation's hopes and expectations of a gold medal.
  • The United States was young, fast, and had solid goaltending, but had a young, inexperienced blue line in terms of international experience.
  • Canada is bringing an all-star team, but what sets them apart from the rest of the competition is the skill level of their defencemen.
We've seen how that defence corps, particularly Shea Weber and Drew Droughty, have carried this team through the preliminary round with their scoring. Today, we saw a total team effort in shutting down the white-hot American offence that had all the trademarks of a Mike Babcock game plan. Canada gave up chances, but they limited them to few and far between. Team USA found a few seams in the Canadian defence, but adjustments were made and those seams were closed off. The three men behind the Canadian bench - Mike Babcock, Claude Julien, and Ken Hitchcock - got a defensive game out of their team that will go down as one of the best in Team Canada history.

The seven defencemen used today should be dressed on Sunday. No offence to PK Subban and his talent, but if it ain't broke, don't fix it. The forward lines should remain the same, and their commitment to back-checking and defence should not be overlooked. I heard two people today say that they thought Sidney Crosby had his best game as a professional player in terms of his commitment to defence. That, readers, is a massive compliment to Sidney Crosby who has been criticized for his "lack of scoring", and those comments should speak volumes about the buy-in that Mike Babcock and his coaching staff are getting from all the players on Canada's roster.

For Team USA, this has to be a somewhat-devastating loss. They came in having scored goals at will in eliminating the Czechs in the quarterfinal. They had gotten good goaltending from Jonathan Quick throughout the tournament, including today, and looked to be a favorite over the offensively-challenged Canadian squad. Heck, giving up a single goal in the semifinal game in the Olympic men's hockey tournament to a country like Canada would make any team ecstatic! But if that goal is the only goal scored in the game, that stings.

It's been said before on this blog, and the mantra will be repeated here once more: defence wins championships. In a short tournament with single-game eliminations, that factor becomes so much larger because a hot goaltender and solid team defence can result in upsets. Sure, Canada is having some trouble scoring goals, but who expected a 56-save performance from an AHL goaltender in a 2-1 Latvian loss to Canada? Again, a good defence will beat a great offence more often than not because of how difficult it is to score goals when you factor in the talent of some of these teams.

Canada advances to the gold-medal game to face Sweden. The Americans will meet the Finns in the bronze-medal game. The gold medals will be awarded on Sunday. Expect Canada and Sweden, who play similar styles of games in these Olympics, to play to a one-goal game that may require an extra period to determine a winner. With Tuukka Rask injured and the Americans stinging from their loss today, expect that game to start as a tight-checking game before a few goals are scored.

In the end, Canada's defence should set them apart as I predict they win the gold medal.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Thursday, 20 February 2014

The Hockey Show - Episode Seventy-Six

The Olympic Hockey Show is all about the ladies tonight as Beans and myself will talk about the women's Olympic gold medal game that happened today. Just so we're clear, there will definitely be spoilers. With Columbus back home in the United States thanks to Reading Week, we'll welcome another American lady to the show to discuss the state of the women's game tonight!

There have been some articles written over the last week that have both supported and criticized women's hockey, and the three of us will talk about these articles with respect to the women's game. We'll talk about Noora Raty's potential retirement from the women's game and her search for a netminding job in the men's game. Nicole's insight will be invaluable as she covers a lot of NCAA women's games from Wisconsin and has seen Raty play in-person. There should be a ton of debate on the women's game tonight, so join us for what should be a spirited debate after the biggest game in women's hockey this year!

We'll be on the air at 5:30pm CT tonight, so tune us in on the radio at 101.5 UMFM in the broadcast area or listen live on the UMFM website! You can tweet us while we're in the midst of the discussion tonight at @TeebzHBIC. As always, the podcast will go up within an hour of the conclusion of the show, and the link will be here for download. If you're a fan of women's hockey, especially at the Olympics, this is a show you won't want to miss!

PODCAST: FEBRUARY 20, 2014: Episode 76

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Warm Up The Gulag

In the first match-up of hockey superpowers at the Sochi Olympics, Russia met Finland today. There was an immense amount of pressure on Russia to do well in the men's hockey tournament with their star-studded lineup and the games being on Russian soil, so it was do-or-die for the Russians based on expectations. Even Russian President Vladimir Putin had been preaching the "gold-or-else" mantra that seemed to follow this team. Like Canada in Vancouver during the 2010 Winter Olympics, no other medal would do. The game between the Finns and Russians would send one team into the medal round while the loser would be sent home empty-handed.

There will be no celebrating in Sochi or Moscow tonight. There will be no gold, silver, bronze, frankincense, myrrh, or anything else brought to Russia regarding the men's hockey tournament. Russia, for all of it's talented stars, lost to Finland by a 3-1 score today. Malkin, Ovechkin, Datsyuk, Kovalchuk, Radulov, and the rest of the highly-touted team will return to their respective clubs with nothing to show for the biggest hockey tournament held in Russia since the 1972 Summit Series. Russia lost to Finland today to end their tournament.

THE RUSSIANS LOST THE BIGGEST TOURNAMENT ON RUSSIAN SOIL IN 40 YEARS. Let that sink in for a moment.

There have been rumours swirling about the NHL-KHL rift in the dressing room for the Russians. There were reports that the KHL had had a heavy influence over the running of this Russian team in order to see if they could influence players to come to the KHL. There were many questions about the personnel and strategies used by Russian head coach Zinetula Bilyaletdinov when it came to rolling lines. There were questions as to why Semyon Varlamov was starting more games than the reigning Vezina Trophy winner Sergei Bobrovsky. In short, it seemed that the Russian "Dream Team" was nothing more than a pipe dream as they iced a team that looked more comfortable just attending the Olympics than competing in them.

The one player who I thought deserved a better fate after all he's done in his career was Pavel Datsyuk. "Inside I feel absolutely empty," Datsyuk told reporters through an interpreter. "Disappointed we lost with home advantage and we can't score today. Hard to win if you're not scoring."

Datsyuk was the best player each and every time that Russia took to the ice. Along with his KHL linemates in Ilya Kovalchuk and Alex Radulov, Datsyuk's line was Russia's best in the tournament without question. His two goals and four assists tied his for the team lead with linemate Radulov, and it appeared he was always was creating when on the ice. If anyone deserved better results, it was Datsyuk in my eyes. However, hockey is a team game and Datsyuk's team is going home empty-handed.

Ovechkin? One goal in the opening game. Malkin? Ditto for him. Linemate Alexander Popov - who was somehow paired with these two stars while Alexei Tereshenko, Valeri Nichushkin, and Alexander Semin all played third- and fourth-line roles - recorded zero points. Russia's top line had two goals against Slovenia and was never heard from again in their five games. Ovechkin, who leads the NHL in goals with 40, scored once. Something just wasn't right with this team.

While I joked at the start about the gulag, I'm quite certain that Zinetula Bilyaletdinov won't be coaching Russia in the future. Alexei Kasatonov, the former member of the Big Red Machine and current Russian general manager, will probably be questioned over this failure to win gold, and he may be removed from that position with the Russian loss. In short, the management and coaching staff will pay the price for Russia's failure.

Concentration camps will remain closed, thankfully, but work will need to be done in Russian hockey. No one, from Vladimir Putin down to every Russian fan, will be happy with this result, and there will certainly be a review of the entire system after today's crushing loss.

This team was no Big Red Machine despite the pre-tournament rumblings about how great they were. They more closely resembled the Tin Man from the Wizard of Oz. For all his strength, the one thing he lacked was a heart.

Sounds like the Russian men's Olympic hockey team, doesn't it?

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

The Latvian Threat

In what would be considered the first true upset of the tournament, Latvian's men's hockey team knocked off Switzerland today, giving the eleventh-seed in the tournament their first berth ever in the quarterfinals of the Olympic men's hockey tournament. Led by a number of former NHLers, the Latvians played a very poised defensive game in handing the Swiss an early ticket home with a 3-1 loss. The Latvians, who went winless in their group, won their first game of the tournament in stunning fashion, and a lot of the credit for this win has to go to Buffalo Sabres head coach and current bench boss of the Latvian squad, Ted Nolan.

If one needed a quotation that sums up the Latvian mindset, there was an exchange between President Snow and Seneca Crane in The Hunger Games that might be best-suited for this Latvian squad.
There are 1200 registered hockey players in Latvia. The current squad has one NHL player, and Zemgus Girgensons is just 20. They finished dead-last in both Torino and Vancouver, and looked like they might be destined for another finish without a win in this tournament. Ted Nolan, however, was reportedly the spark, as President Snow stated, as he instilled the idea of hope in the Latvian players. After falling 1-0 to Switzerland in group play, Nolan told his squad that there was a chance that they could do the unthinkable.

Then they went out and did it. 3-1, and a date with the Canadians.

"He's been a huge part of us," former Bruins and Senators winger Kaspars Daugavins told ESPN's Pierre LeBrun about Nolan. "We never had a coach that actually believes in the players. It's always been like army-style where everybody just has to work hard and you never get a tap on your shoulders, saying, 'Good job, buddy.' He brings a different spirit on the team. He actually makes us believe that we're actually a good team. I've been to a lot of world championships and an Olympics before, and we never had a feeling that we can actually win something. We just went out there and played."

They played with an edge today. They looked hungry, and exhibited a willingness to do whatever it took against the Swiss team who looked overwhelmed by Latvia's resolve. They scored timely goals in snapping Hiller's two-game shutout streak, and goaltender Edgars Masalskis stopped 32 of 33 shots, some of the rather spectacular variety. If nothing else, it was a gritty win that had all the trademarks of a Ted Nolan-coached team.

How is it that a First Nations coach from Canada has led a Baltic nation to their best finish ever in the Olympics? "I just believe in paying it forward, I guess," Nolan told Puck Daddy's Sean Leahy. "When I was a kid, not too many people believed in myself or gave me an opportunity. We had to fight for everything we got, and coming from where I came from, it kind of teaches that it’s important that everybody has an opportunity and to believe in themselves."

If there was anyone who believed in Latvia against the Swiss, it was Latvia. That's really all that mattered, too, because if you don't believe in yourself, why should anyone else believe in you? And while the cards are heavily stacked in Canada's favor in Wednesday's game, you never know what may happen in a one-game tournament. After all, hope springs eternal, and it starts from the top down.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Monday, 17 February 2014

The Sport Will Judge Itself

So we'll have another Canada-USA battle for the gold medal in the Olympic women's ice hockey tournament which was entirely expected. There will be a discussion at some point within the IOC regarding the competitiveness of this tournament since every Olympic Games since 1998 when women's ice hockey was introduced has featured a Canada-USA final. The US hammered Sweden 6-1 today while the Canadians dispatched the Swiss by a 3-1 score. Thursday will see these two old foes once again engage in battle for the gold medal.

Of course, there were whispers amongst the critics about the lack of competitiveness in the women's game, but the public opinion was ramped up again. Ken Campbell of The Hockey News wrote a piece today that literally rips down all the good we saw in women's hockey this year. Instead of extolling the skills shown by players like Finland's Noora Raty, Switzerland's Florence Schelling, and Sweden's Pernilla Winberg, Campbell takes swipes at the women's game once more.

We're talking about removing a sport from the Olympic Games that has seen major steps taken outside North America in the last eight to twelve years, and it appears that most are fine with it being removed. Hardly anyone that is not involved in the sport in some way has come to its defence. And so there was talk about removing it due to the uncompetitive balance between the two North American teams and the rest of the planet.

SERIOUSLY?!? I find it hard to believe that a lot of people making bigger decisions than I with regards to the sport can't see the harm that will be done if women's ice hockey is removed from the Olympic Games. If you want to talk about competitive balance, perhaps we need to look at another winter sport that was on trial today, and probably will be for a long, long time.

The Ice Dancing event happened yesterday and today, and we saw what appeared to be a flawless performance from the Canadians, Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, last night in the short program. They were deducted marks, however, for their Finnstep, a move invented by Finnish skater Petri Kokko. Regarding the move and the routines performed by Virtue and Moir in comparison with the leading American team Charlie White and Meryl Davis, Kokko tweeted out,
Ok, so there might be a little confusion in the judging, but I happened to be home today thanks to a provincial holiday, and I was lucky enough to catch what might be the rant of the Olympics by Sportsnet360's Sid Seixeiro. This is epic.
WOW. That was INCREDIBLE! And to be honest, I agree with Mr. Seixeiro that, if the allegations are true, ice dancing as a sport is entirely corrupt and should lose its Olympic status immediately with extreme prejudice.

The L'Équipe article that Mr. Seixeiro refers to is linked here, but the English version of the story, written by Beverly Smith for The National Post and canada.com, makes it very clear that there may have been an agreement to keep Tessa and Scott off the gold medal position on the podium between the Russians and Americans.

Conspiracy? Maybe, but perhaps we should look at the history of the sport in general before we go raising theories about collusion between countries. As Christie Blatchford wrote in her article, "... one knowledgeable (anonymous) poster on insider skating sites has noted, 'Ice dance is the Cosa Nostra' of sport. Its history is sufficiently sordid that claims of nobility ring laughably hollow."

At the 1998 Nagano Games, Canadian judge Jean Senft recorded a phone conversation with Ukrainian judge Yuri Balkov. Balkov asked Senft to vote for Ukrainian skaters in exchange for Balkov backing Canada's ice-dance team of Shae-Lynn Bourne and Victor Kraatz. Suspicious of the request, Senft recorded the conversations between herself and Balkov, turning the recordings over to the International Skating Union. Balkov was suspended for his actions. For one year. Seems right, doesn't it?

In 2002 at the Salt Lake City Games, Jamie Sale and David Pelletier claimed a disappointing silver behind their Russian rivals. That is, until French judge Marie-Reine Le Gougne admitted she had scored the Canadians lower than what they deserved as part of a deal with the Russians so they could win gold thanks to an agreement made by the head of the French federation, Didier Gailhaguet. Her low marks for the Canadians would guarantee that France would received high scores in ice dancing. After breaking down in a tearful admission to the chair of the Technical Committee, Sally Stapleford, Sale and Pelletier would eventually be awarded a second set of gold medals alongside the Russian pair of Elena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze. Both Le Gougne and Gailhaguet were eventually suspended from the sport for three years by the International Skating Union which never made any serious investigation into the events. Seems about right, doesn't it?

In less than twenty years, we've had two confirmed major international scandals involving ice dancing, and another allegation of one happening at these Games. Women's hockey has a few blowouts, admittedly, but there haven't been any double-digit wins in Sochi. There have been some definite one-sided games in the last twenty years of women's hockey, but we've never once seen a team throw a game. And yet people still want to cut women's hockey from the Olympics yet let the ice dancing scandals live on.

I'm not here to take anything away from the athletes who have chosen ice dancing as their discipline. Tessa Virtue, Scott Moir, Charlie White, Meryl Davis, and all the other figure skaters are incredible athletes, and they deserve a sport where they are put on the world's stage for all to appreciate their athleticism and skill. But the crap that goes on within the world of judging the sport tarnishes everything they have done and will do.

"That's sort of out of our control," Tessa Virtue said today after the medal ceremony. "It's part of being in a judged sport. There's not much you can do about that."

And that's why women's hockey should remain as part of the Olympics. It's not a sport that requires outside judgment of any kind. The sport and the athletes will be judged by their finishes and the efforts that put them in those standings. If Team USA beats Team Canada, the score will reflect the effort given on that day. I'm entirely sure neither team is going to throw the game. No team, since the inception of women's hockey at the 1998 Nagano Games, has even thrown a game in any way, shape, or form. There's too much pride on the line to do that, even in the blowout games.

Removing women's hockey from the Olympics removes women's highest honour from the players. The gold medal is women's hockey's Stanley Cup. And like the NHL, there are teams that are perennially in the running for the Stanley Cup. Right now, Team USA and Team Canada are the Boston Bruins and Montreal Canadians of the late-1960s and early-1970s. They're dominant, they're always winning, and they beat up on the weaker expansion teams. Occasionally, there's a Philadelphia who comes along and upsets one of these teams, but women's hockey is no different than the Expansion Era of the NHL as it stands. Montreal wins, Boston wins, and everyone else tries to emulate them.

"Of course it can be a problem for the rest of the world that they are so powerful. I think we should try to look up to them and try to improve our game," Swedish assistant coach Leif Boork said after their loss to the Americans today. But if there are no Olympics for anyone to strive for, why would Sweden bother improving? You've taken the biggest prize away from them, so what's in it for them?

Look, I don't know how to fix ice dancing. I'm not versed in the sport enough to even know how to score it better, let alone fix the judging scandals. I do, however, know that it took seven years of hockey before a non-Original Six team won the Stanley Cup after the expansion. We've had five Olympics with women's hockey, and we've seen improvement from all teams not based in North America.

Let's stop with the rhetoric of how uncompetitive the women's game is, and how removing it from the Olympics is a good idea. Removing the women's game from the Olympics kills any progress made, and will set the game back in every country outside North America back to zero. If there is nothing to play for, no one will play.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Sunday, 16 February 2014

Learning From The Best

It was a chilly morning as I descended upon the MTS IcePlex today for what I consider one of the best hockey programs on the planet. Scotiabank Girls HockeyFest took place at the IcePlex today, and there were a pile of young ladies at the event in skates and jerseys to learn some stuff from two gold medalists that were running the on-ice drills. Needless to say, there were a lot of excited girls and parents on-hand at the rink today thanks to Hockey Manitoba and Scotiabank!

Sami Jo Small returned to her hometown of Winnipeg to participate as one of the leaders today, and it was great seeing her once again. Her enthusiasm for this event and her positivity around the girls is infectious, and there were a ton of smiles seen as she interacted with the girls today. Sh is truly an ambassador for the game of hockey, and her contributions to furthering hockey in this country should not be underestimated in any way.

Joining her on the ice was three-time Olympic gold medalist Cherie Piper! Cherie was born in Ontario, but she continues to help Sami Jo Small at her Winnipeg hockey school in the off-season. Cherie was awesome to speak with as she prepared for the day, and she really brought an up-tempo pace to her drill. She was funny in the stories she told, kept the girls moving at a good pace, and looked like she was having fun out there. She may not be from Winnipeg, but she'll always be welcome here!

Sami Jo and Cherie met the three groups of young ladies this morning, introducing themselves, telling a few stories, and laying out their expectations for the girls as they prepared to run them through some drills. All of them included basic fundamental skills: skating, stick-handling, and, most importantly, learning while having fun. The Hockey Manitoba instructors were excellent in ensuring that the girls had fun while completing the drills, and there were lots of smiles seen on the ice from both players and instructors.

Personally, I love this event. According to a recent Scotiabank Community Hockey Poll, "nearly seven-in-ten (68%) hockey parents say that girls have the same opportunities as boys to play organized hockey in their community. When asked what inspires their daughters to play, parents says their top reasons are her friends play (62%), they are fans of a professional hockey player (43%) and the success of the Canadian women's Olympic hockey team (43%)." Having a pair of gold medal-winning Olympians as instructors at Scotiabank Girls HockeyFest is another reason why over 300 girls turned out in Winnipeg today for their chance to meet their heroes. Getting a one-on-one interaction with their heroes is what will keep these girls in hockey.

"When I was growing up and playing, these types of opportunities didn't exist for young female athletes," Sami Jo Small said, "so this event is really a great opportunity for these girls to learn both life and hockey skills that I hope they remember throughout their lives."

Most will never forget meeting their heroes, let alone remembering the skills, and I will always be happy to cover this type of event whenever it happens. The smiles seen today are a sign that women's hockey has a bright future in this country thanks in part to Scotiabank Girls HockeyFest.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Saturday, 15 February 2014

Thursday Night's Workspace

I have been meaning to post this information for some time, but I just couldn't find a spot to squeeze it in. I am pretty grateful for GM Jared and PD Mike for their efforts in helping us craft a solid little radio niche for both my and Beans' thoughts on the game of hockey. So tonight, I'd like to pull back the curtains on the whole setup and show you where we work at the University of Manitoba on Thursday nights.

The actual studio is pretty basic, but it's home on Thursdays. We have six microphones for a host and up to five guests, so musical groups can be brought in for interviews with all band members and large roundtable discussions can be had with a panel of guests. There is a small note on Microphone #5 right now because Microphone #5 is a little under the weather. GM Jared is working on curing Microphone #5, and it appears that it will be back on the air shortly.

There is a telephone, so we can have call-in segments with guests via phone. We can take calls from fans and receive music requests from listeners when offered. There is an iPod connection for those who want to use an iPod for their musical choices, and there is a line-in option for those who carry their music and sound clips via laptop, tablet, or other device.

Also seen, there's a computer set up in the studio as well. The monitor on the lower-left is the everyday computer with internet access the most hosts will use for checking Twitter, Facebook, the internet in general, email and any other web-based application. We use it to check Twitter as we're on the air, for example.

The monitor on the upper-right, however, is a little different. This connects to the preloaded songs, commercials, and PSAs that are programmed for the day's broadcast. If, for example, someone pre-records a show for the day's broadcast, Jared or Mike will load it into this program where it can be played at its suitable time. If someone misses a show due to circumstances outside their control, songs that fit the show's theme and playlists will be loaded to play in the show's absence. Finally, any and all commercials and PSAs that the station uses will also be loaded in and played throughout the day at their required times. In short, this computer could run the station's broadcasting day on "auto-play" if there was some need.

Below that monitor on the upper-right is the CD sound system with two CD players in case there are those who prefer the plastic-disc method of music to the digital format. We actually still receive a vast quantity of the music found on the station via compact disc, but the numbers are slowly shifting to the digital format thanks to the ease of sending the files and the speed in which they can be accessed. Attached to the CD sound system is a DVD drive so that some of the shows about films can use clips from those movies.

Speaking of CDs, here is the New Release Wall inside the studio. That sits just behind the control board to the back left of where I shot the photo. And directly behind the director's chair is the turntable station where those with vinyl can spin their tracks directly to the air. It's a pretty cool little setup, I must admit.

Everything we do runs off the sound board from which the microphones and the add-ons are controlled. Yes, I know "sound board" isn't a technical term, but it's what I'm calling it and it suits what we need to do: make sound that can be broadcast. The microphone controls are on the left, the CD stations are next to the right followed by the main show log computer connections. To the right of that are the computer and line-in connections, and the phone is to the very right on its own.

The blue button is the "auto-play" button - hit it, and it auto-plays the next item on the upper-right monitor. Technically, that's the manual "seven-second delay" if someone's chatter might get us in trouble. While we've never used it on The Hockey Show, it has been used by other hosts on other shows. For a number of reasons.

Outside the studio, it's pretty much a storage facility for all of the music we've received in CD form over the years. Station volunteers are welcome to use any of the music found in the library on their shows, and volunteers can sign out a CD if they like for their personal use. In the back right behind the shelves, there are listening stations set up for listening to CDs and there is a staple of the success of the radio station on the right in the coffee maker. Beside the coffee maker is a microwave, so GM Jared and PD Mike basically have what they need to survive a day at the station. Further past the coffee maker and microwave is the door into the station.

Turning 45-degrees to the right from that view, we have the volunteer computer stations. This is where a lot of updating happens for blogs, Facebook accounts, and Twitter feeds. It's also where the volunteer coordinator logs an exceptional amount of time. Amanda works diligently to ensure that all of the volunteers are kept in the loop regarding what may be happening with shows, and she runs most of her training sessions from this station. Joining her shortly will be a marketing and sales employee as the station looks to increase its footprint on the radio market, so the computer to the right will be occupied by this new person most days. The window looks in on the studio, and the thermostat on the left of the wall is, well, a thermostat.

Directly to the right of the volunteer computer station is Program Director Michael's desk. And 180-degrees from the volunteer computer station is General Manager Jared's desk. I didn't take photos of these simply because these are their personal workspaces as the two full-time employees of the station, and I respect their privacy. They're good dudes.

Turning 45-degrees to the right again will lead you into the Auxiliary Production Room. This is basically just a smaller version of the main studio without the auto-play computer. In here, this is where most hosts will record non-live interviews, commercial spots, PSAs, and do editing of their shows for podcast purposes. Hosts also can pre-record shows in here that can be saved for a future date. The Production Room literally is the place where the glue is made that holds the station's various components together!

So there's a quick tour of where we do The Hockey Show on Thursday nights. It's a pretty cool place to work/volunteer, and everyone really has a passion for it. If you have any questions, feel free to ask because doing radio is a lot of fun, and I'd be happy to give you any tips I've learned along the way!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Friday, 14 February 2014

Responding To Comments

I'll be honest when I say to you that I don't mind a harshly negative criticism of my blog. In fact, some are so downright crude and vile that I find myself laughing while wondering what causes people to lose their minds while reading what I wrote. And while it takes some ability to let these angry comments roll off one's back, there are the occasional comments that simply make me wonder about humanity and where we are headed as a society. For the vast majority of people who comment, I am quite happy to be the recipient of constructive criticism and helpful advice, especially when I've made a mistake. Comments like those received today, however, show we may still have a few gene pools that are a little shallow.

The article that drew the ire of the two online critics was my article about my hatred of the black alternate uniforms introduced by Canada for the Olympics, aptly titled I'm Defecting. If you know anything about me, it's that I can't stand black uniforms, especially if that color is a tertiary color in the color scheme of the team in question.

Hockey Canada, whose logo cannot be worn at the Olympics due to IOC rules, still manages to get its third color worn on the ice as an entire third jersey despite there being no black in the Canadian flag whatsoever. Team USA with the red, white, and blue? Two uniforms. Team Russia with the red, white, and blue? Two uniforms. Team Sweden with yellow and blue? Two uniforms - one yellow, one blue. Team Canada with the red and white? Three uniforms. Forgetting my hatred for black jerseys in general, does anyone see a math problem here?

Anyway, back to the comments. The first comment, posted by the popular screen name "Anonymous", started off fairly nicely, playing off my comments in the I'm Defecting article about turning in my passport. However, then Anonymous starts denigrating US cities before starting in on me.
please turn in your canadian passport, move to buffalo or some other dump in the US and leave your computer here so i dont have to read this garbage ever again. cant believe i wasted 5 minutes of my time reading this waste of space your calling a blog
Look, I've been to Buffalo and it's not a bad place to live. I'm not sure why this commenter has a bone to pick with Buffalo or "some other dump in the US", but perhaps it should be the hater of our neighbours to the south that should turn in his or her passport?

In any case, the commenter chose to use five minutes of his or her life to read my personal opinion of what I think of Canada's decision to employ a black jersey. Thank you, anonymous commenter. I appreciate that you took the time to read through the article. That's more than some of the angry people have done, so thanks for that. While there wasn't a lot of constructive criticism, I'll certainly take your recommendation under advisement.

The second commenter, who left a name that I won't use in case he feels some remorse over his comment that I will post, was a tad more crude. And while I appreciate some crass comedy, there are just some things about which you shouldn't make jokes.
listen buddy its a 3rd jersey, they're using them to play Austria...... canada will not be wearing black ( cross my fingers) in the gold medal game. Pus im pretty sure they picked black so P.K wouldnt be the only black player on the ice. so can you stop wasting peoples time with these useless blogs.just enjoy the Olympics and stop being a b---h
Picking apart this comment for spelling and grammatical errors would be petty of me, so I won't. Instead, let's look at the bigger issue of the race card being played.

First off, why would anyone even consider PK Subban's race as being a reason to wear a black jersey? There is nothing funny about that whatsoever, and to even allude to it is inconsiderate, not to mention overtly racist. Does pointing out that PK Subban being a black man help the discussion in any way?

Secondly, I'm not sure whose time I wasted, but Racist Commenter and Anonymous Commenter may want to discuss all this time they seem to wasting on me. I use my blog to post my thoughts on the game of hockey, and it's available for anyone to read. Some people actually use the comment section constructively, and I regularly reply to comments that are well thought-out and intelligent.

If you want to see your comments posted on HBIC, there's a simple formula. I will not post comments that contain profane language, racist comments, sexist comments, or comments that are demeaning to the appearance of a person. This blog is about my views on hockey and everything that comes along with it. You're welcome to disagree at any time, but things need to remain civil if we're to have a discussion.

I think everyone can agree on that.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Thursday, 13 February 2014

The Hockey Show - Episode Seventy-Five

The Olympic Hockey Show returns tonight to 101.5 UMFM with a ton of news to update everyone on. There have been a pile of games at the Olympics already played, and we've seen the best teams hit the ice and win games thus far. We'll talk about all the Olympic action tonight as we look at each and every team!

We'll also have a modified version of the Russian Roundup on tonight as we throw a Swedish Sweep into the mix! Why, you ask? The AHL All-Star Game took place, and the AHL's best players this season battled Swedish Elite League team Frolunda in both the AHL Skills Competition and the AHL All-Star Game! We'll look at that experience in the one-time Swedish Sweep!

We'll also touch on an interesting piece written by Friend of the Show Jessica Scott-Reid featured in The Hockey News all about Barys Astana and the three Manitobans playing for them in the KHL. Nigel Dawes, Dustin Boyd, and Cam Barker are all from Manitoba, and all three are having a major impact on the team this year in terms of both personal and team success! Jessica wrote a great piece on their contributions and struggles in the Kazakhstan captial, and we'll talk about that!

There's lots to tune in for tonight on The Olympic Hockey Show, so rotate that dial to 101.5 UMFM at 5:30pm CT and we'll get you caught up on everything you may have missed! Phone calls are always welcome at (204) 269-8636 (269-UMFM), and I'm watching the Twitter feed at @TeebzHBIC!

The podcast is up and found below, and the streaming radio feed above will be updated before Friday morning!

PODCAST: FEBRUARY 13, 2014: Episode 75

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

LIVE BLOG: Norway Versus Canada

Some of you may be asking where The Hockey Show preview is. It's coming, kids. We're still doing the show tonight. However, this morning sees me down at a local Boston Pizza as we LIVE BLOG the Norway-Canada game from the Sochi Olympics! The teams are currently on the ice, so we'll be breaking into the live blog shortly! Come on down to Boston Pizza on Pembina Highway in Winnipeg, order yourself some grub, and settle in for the best hockey the world has to offer on the large screens!

PRE-GAME STUFF

  • PRE-GAME: As noted, Team Canada scratches against Norway include Colorado's Matt Duchene, Montreal's PK Subban, and Phoenix's Mike Smith. All are first-time Olympians.
  • PRE-GAME: Kelly Hrudey says Tavares looked nervous in the practices alongside Crosby on the powerplay. Gonna guess that won't be a problem once the game gets going.
  • PRE-GAME: Team Canada women's hockey team has arrived. They'll play Monday in the semi-final after downing Team USA 3-2 yesterday.
  • PRE-GAME: Glenn Healy is between the benches for the game. Thank whomever you pray to that it's not Pierre McGuire. Slightly better, but still not McGuire-awful. 
  • PRE-GAME: Mike Babcock seems focused. And it sounds like he doesn't give a damn about equal playing time or who plays with whom. It's all about playing well and recording the win!
  • PRE-GAME: Canada opened the Vancouver Olympic Games by downing Norway 8-0. Same result? Better? Does Carey Price give up a goal?
  • PRE-GAME: Don Cherry calls a 7-1 win for Canada as they work out lines and figure out the big ice. Do you agree with that score?

FIRST PERIOD

  • Lars Haugen gets the call for Norway. They finished 10th in Vancouver, and have 13 returning players for the Sochi Olympics.
  • Alex Pietrangelo with the first good chance for Canada. Haugen turns it aside. Good start to this game for both teams.
  • "West Coast Express" of Getzlaf, Perry, and Marleau on the ice. Ironically, joined on defence by Drew Doughty. Babcock going regional on this line.
  • Four minutes in, and the Toews line is being matched against the Zuccarello line for Norway. Patrick Thoresen of the KHL could be dangerous. 
  • Carey Price looks sharp thus far. 
  • People seem to be worried if Canada doesn't score in the first period. Americans had one goal in the first period against Slovakia. Just relax, everyone. 
  • Tollefsen lays out the first big hit on John Tavares. Who had money on Tollefsen with the first big hit? Yeah, me neither. 
  • Norway with about eight guys on the ice. They take the penalty, sending Canada to their first power play of the Olympics. Call your scorer! 
  • I know that they are playing on the big ice, but this Canadian power play seems to be struggling with the off-sides. C'mon boys! 
  • Haugen proving the adage "You goalie is your best penalty-killer" to be true with that save on Crosby. Canada needs to just start putting pucks on net. 
  • For everyone who is worrying, Canada and Norway played to a 0-0 tie in the first period in Vancouver. Seems to be going as planned here in Sochi. 
  • Consider yourself lucky that the CBC is in Sochi, fans. Apparently Pierre McGuire is absolutely unbearable with his commentary on NBC right now. 
  • Full credit to Norway for not backing down from the Canadians. But the size of Canada may wear down the Norwegians over time. 
  • Norway is collapsing a ton of players around Haugen. Might be time to drive deep, send it back to the point, and let the defencemen tee it up. 
  • Canada sending more rubber towards Haugen now. He's a good KHL goalie, and he needs to be tested. More shots is the right cure for that donut on the scoreboard. 
  • Ryan Getzlaf trips up a Norwegian player, and will sit for a couple of minutes or less. And he feel shame. Canada to the first PK of the night! 
  • Carey Price wants this game. He's made a number of good saves after not seeing a lot of action in the last ten minutes. 
  • Scoreless first period is a replay of the Canada-Norway game in Vancouver. Canada leads in shots 9-8, and both goalies look solid. Coach's Corner on CBC next!

FIRST INTERMISSION

  • Don Cherry says things are fine. I'm gonna go with Grapes.
  • Grapes talks Tollefsen. Sounds like he'd like Tollefsen if he were Canadian.
  • Cherry watched Russian practices all week?
  • Cherry illustrates the four-man Russian blue line. Interesting.
  • Grapes gets to talk Bruins hockey as Bergeron gets some airtime. 
  • Don Cherry says "no panic". Live it, Canada. Stay calm.
  • Doughty led Canada in ice-time at 8:07 through the first period.
  • Patrick Marleau had three of Canada's nine shots. 
  • In case you hadn't heard, Sweden's Henrik Zetterberg has been diagnosed with a herniated disc in his back. Sweden has not announced whether he will play in their next game. 
  • Mats Zuccarello played over eight-and-a-half minutes in the first period for Norway. He was on the ice for the entire Norwegian power play.

SECOND PERIOD

  • Kunitz gets a shot on net. Welcome to the Olympics!
  • I shouldn't have to remind anyone, but Haugen is a good goalie. I like the traffic Canada is sending to the front of the net now, though. 
  • No offence to Canada, but I saw that Rick Nash shot coming from a mile away. Canada needs to get Haugen moving. He squares up far too well. 
  • Canada carrying the play in this period. Far better possession. This should please Mike Babcock as they move forward. 
  • Shea Weber finds some space on the delayed penalty, and Nashville's defenceman hammered home a beauty! 1-0 CANADA!
  • Credit to Jamie Benn on that play for creating and drawing the penalty as well. Keith and Bergeron draw the assists on the first Canadian goal!
  • Canada asserting itself in this period.They look much more confident with the puck at this point. Especially the fourth-line!
  • Puck rattles off a swollen Norwegian goal post. Haugen and three other defender-netminders kept the puck out as Canada swarmed. Ice is starting to tilt. 
  • Number of shots taken by Norway in this period? Zero. 
  • Canadian hockey fan in a black jersey is now working with the Russian cheerleaders. Unfortunately, cheerleading is not a medal event in Sochi. 
  • Tollefsen tried to erase Jamie Benn from existence.  Both players shook off that hit and are back on their feet.
  • If you're not watching TSN2 (and you're probably not), the Russian women's team leads 2-0 over Sweden. Alexei Yashin looks like a genius right now. 
  • Every time Canada has the puck below the face-off dots, there are four Norwegians standing in the crease. Collapse much? 
  • Jamie Benn, also of the Canadian "fourth-line", rips a wrist shot high, and Canada lights the lamp once more! 2-0 CANADA!
  • FYI: that is Canada's 13th shot this period. Norway has none thus far.
  • Patrice Bergeron is looking for a player of the game award after that pass on Benn's goal.
  • Bergeron only has World Junior, World Championship, Olympic, and Spengler Cup gold medals at home along with a Stanley Cup ring. The guy is a winner. 
  • Canada back to the PK. Bergeron is back out there. Canada needs to figure out how to clone this guy for internationl hockey purposes. 
  • Canada is 2-for-2 on the PK. And back to controlling the game.
  • Duncan Keith whistled for holding. No worries about the Lady Byng here. 
  • Canada will go into the second intermission with the 2-0 lead. Not quite the 8-0 win from Vancouver yet, but we still have 20 minutes to play.

SECOND INTERMISSION

  • Crowd here at Boston Pizza has really picked up. Only a few random open seats in the lounge! Head down if you're reading this!
  • Canada's Jennifer Jones downed Miriam Ott earlier this morning to push her record in Olympic curling to 5-0! Go Team Canada!
  • I'd talk about figure skating, but I'm pretty clueless on the whole thing. All I know is that Patrick Chan made one mistake today in the short program. He's second!
  • Other scores from today: the USA downed Slovakia 8-1; Russia beat Slovenia 5-2; Finland beat Austria 8-4. Teemu Selanne left that game with a minor tweak.
  • Both Canada goals came off the ice on Haugen's blocker side. Might be a weakness that Canada can exploit in the third period.
  • I'm not sure that Jeff Carter is the answer on Crosby's right side yet. They might want to look at changing that up in the coming days.

THIRD PERIOD

  • Duncan Keith starts the third period in the penalty box.
  • Olimb's pinballed shot on the PP finds room behind Price. 2-1 CANADA.
  • Duncan Keith leaves box. Feels shame.
  • And a pinching Drew Doughty restores the two-goal lead as he goes backhand high on the blocker side on Haugen! 3-1 CANADA!
  • Replays on the Norway goal shows Thoresen making contact with the puck. Might be a scoring change coming up. 
  • Yes, I've slowed down a bit. Lunch is interfering. 
  • Glenn Healy talks about the use of Canada's blue line. I made that observation in the first period. Canada needs to use the points on the collapsing defence. 
  • Luongo looks bored. He's lining up water bottles and sport drinks for Price as he makes his way to the bench. Someone get him an ottoman. 
  • Crosby and his line gooning it up in front of Haugen. They've been quiet. 
  • Crowd here at Boston Pizza with good chatter, but relatively quiet. Like the team they're cheering for in Sochi. 
  • Dirty Norwegian slew-footed Perry. Perry will be fine. Canada to the PP. 
  • Canada PP strategy: one-timers for Weber. Clean up the rebounds. 
  • Chris Kunitz with a hit from behind, and he's gonna sit for at least two. First impact of the game for Kunitz. 
  • Offsetting minors as Norway was whistled for an invisible slash. Canada cannot convert on the power play, though. 
  • Everyone talks about Bouwmeester's skating. How about his scoring? Otherwise, the figure skating and speed-skating venues are elsewhere. 
  • Two-and-a-half remaining, and it appears both teams are content with the the 3-1 score. Canada still taking shots, but nothing looks dangerous. 
  • Glenn Healy: "Canada has continued to execute." Is he watching the same game? 
  • Bergeron whistled for tripping, and he doesn't even protest. Norway will close out the last 1:39 with a PP unless, of course, they make it interesting. 
  • Norway calls a timeout. You have to wonder if they are making plans to ask some of the NHLers for autographs or stick exchanges. 
  • That'll do it, folks! Horn sounds, and Canada escapes with the 3-1 victory in a rather uneventful opening game. Tomorrow, Canada and Austria will battle!

POST-GAME STUFF

  • Canada wins 3-1 in a rather uneventful game. I'd imagine Mike Babcock will be happy, but will certainly tell everyone that they have stuff to improve upon for the Austria game.
  • Shea Weber, Drew Doughty, and Patrice Bergeron are your three stars in 1-2-3 order. No arguments there.
  • In women's hockey, Russia downed Sweden 3-1, and will face Switzerland in the quarterfinal on Saturday. Finland and Sweden will renew rivalries in the Scandinavian quarterfinal.
  • Women's quarterfinals will go Saturday. Canadian women won't see action again until Monday in the semi-finals. 
  • Martin St. Louis finished the game +1 with no points. Just saying. 
  • Canada was never really in trouble in this game, and Carey Price looked fairly sharp. There's some work to be done, though. 
  • Bergeron was asked by NBC about playing a different role on the wing by Mike Babcock. His response? "Whatever it takes." That's why this guy wins. 
  • Shea Weber on what he liked: "We got better as the game went on." Agreed.
  • Shea Weber on what he didn't like: "We were too fancy." AGREED!
Ok, that's going to do it for me. Thank you to everyone who stopped by, and make sure you tune into The Hockey Show tonight on 101.5 UMFM at 5:30pm CT as we break down all the Olympic hockey action, talk about the AHL All-Star Game, and mention a fantastic article in The Hockey News by Friend of the Show Jessica Scott-Reid!

Huge thanks to Boston Pizza for hosting me today, and we'll be back later this evening for more fun, more great food, and a few good beverages after the show!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Wednesday, 12 February 2014

Don't Call Me "Shirley"

Parents, I want to preface this article with this warning: this is not your typical HBIC article. I apologize if any of this is offensive - some of it most likely is - but it is a very real piece of hockey culture. I admit that I had a hard time coming to grips with some of the stories I've quoted below, but these are real stories from printed material. If you feel that this is a topic not suited for your children to read, I apologize. Please have them click here to play the old-school NES game Blades of Steel. I was playing it last night, and it's pretty fun once they figure everything out. They'll have fun there. And I apologize once more for this PG-rated article. But I must push forward....

I have had the pleasure, in my time, of observing women that hang around players or the rink in the hopes of attracting a player. "Puck bunnies", as they are affectionately called, have been a part of hockey folklore for some time, and most people tend to look down on them. I'm not here to judge because, honestly, I'm not without sin myself. However, a conversation at work today drew me to a brand-new curiosity as I learned that there were bonafide "designated hitters" that prided themselves on the fact that they were the best at puck bunnying or, as baseball people put it, being "Baseball Annies".

The conversation started out with a discussion on all the players who chose to leave their wives and families at home for safety. Being that we're amateur conspiracy theorists, a colleague of mine piped up with the thought that maybe the Russians could use this to their advantage in their quest for Olympic gold in men's hockey. As laughter ensued, he began telling a story of how rookies with the Chicago Blackhawks were introduced to a certain lady who would welcome them to Chicago, if you catch the drift. Quickly, laughter turned to questions by some of the younger folk, and I was off to my desk to verify if this story was true.

I'll admit that I was completely unaware of a lady in Chicago who prided herself on breaking in the rookies. "Chicago Shirley" was her name according to many hockey players, and as I searched for information about this "Shirley" gal, I found out that she was quite well-known across the NHL. In Brad Kurtzberg's book, Shorthanded: The Untold Story of the Seals, he writes,
[George] Pesut also recalled one of the girls who liked to hang around the team. "We had a girl who we knew called 'The Steel Worker,'" Pesut said. "Each team had their groupies. There was 'Chicago Shirley' for example. But 'The Steel Worker' was at every practice we had. When the season was over, she would go to A's games. She said the Buffalo Sabres were her favorite team because she liked the French Connection. 'The Steel Worker' knew our practice schedule better than we did. I remember once we called a spur of the moment practiceand she was there. Once, Joey Johnston stopped in the middle of practice and took the guys to the bench. Joey Johnston told the guys we couldn't go on with practice because 'The Steel Worker' was late and she had never missed a practice before."
Wow. That's impressive that she never once missed a practice, but who is she? What did she do that she could be at every practice - even spur of the moment practices - in a moment's notice? Who is this "Steel Worker"?

It turns out that baseball is quite aware of this phenomenon. Apparently, some female reporters in some cities who cover the team are part of this "Shirley" phenomenon, and actively seek out ballplayers for "interviews". While there is a line of professionalism that one isn't supposed to cross, apparently some do and keep records on the interactions. In the book The Wrong Stuff, written by former ballplayer Bill Lee and Richard Lally, Bill writes,
There was a female writer in Oakland who did a study on ballplayers in bed. When she was through, she told me that even though ballplayers have great hands on the field, most of them were lousy in bed. Especially the superstars, who seemed to think that the moment they dropped their shorts the earth would start spinning off its axis.
Yowza. That's terrible! The one thing that struck me was that the Seals had a woman at their practice, and the female writer in Mr. Lee's book was from Oakland. Sports reporters are fairly in tune with a team's practice schedule, and she may have been assigned to cover the team. Again, this is all speculation, but it seems highly coincidental, no?

In any case, Mr. Lee had a run-in with "Chicago Shirley" as well, and he noted a rather surprising detail at the end of his paragraph.
I met the most famous of all groupies, Chicago Shirley, during my first visit to Comiskey Park. She had achieved a legendary status in baseball, and by now was something more than just another Annie. I realized that when I later met Detroit Shirley, Milwaukee Shirley, and a Shirley from Cleveland. Shirley had become a franchise, with outlets all over the country. Just like McDonald's.
If you're shaking your head by now, you'll be glad to know that I honestly am feeling the same way as you. However, Lee goes on to add more fuel to the fire. He writes,
The most memorable Annie I had ever met was a woman who followed our club to Baltimore for a weekend series against the Orioles. Our paths crossed under unusual circumstances. I was seated in the hotel bar when one of my teammates came over and told me I had to check out the scene in his room. When we got there, I found this woman taking on what looked like half of the ballclub at once. I was invited to partake, but it was one of the few times I was not interested in experiencing something exotic firsthand. I would not ever venture into that alley. It may not have been the voice of God that was calling us in there, it may have been the millions of bacteria armed with baseball bats, waiting to bang us on the head. Or any other part of our exposed anatomy. Hours after this initial "meeting," I saw the same girl downstairs in the bar, looking to get picked up. I couldn't believe it. I just had to go over to her and ask, "Aren't you ever satisfied?" I wasn't criticizing, I was just curious. She just liked to have a good time. When I asked her what she considered a good time, she said, "The Pittsburgh Penguins. All three lines."
Holy cow. No offence, but that's why these groupies are seen in a negative light. If "All three lines" didn't make you shudder after the initial laughter, you might just be a professional athlete.

"Chicago Shirley" appears to have retired long ago if a passage from Peter Gzowski's The Game of Our Lives is to be believed. Published in 1981, Mr. Gzowski writes,
Chicago Shirley is the most legendary of the NHL's groupies. She has broken in rookies in all sports since the early 1960s - some say even before that. Once, when asked who, of all the athletes she had known, had pleased her the most, she said "the 1968 college football all-stars." But hockey has been her specialty, and [Edmonton head coach Ron] Low had intended to point her out to some of the new members of the lodge. Now he says: "You wouldn't have wanted to see her anyway. She's gone to fat. Sex must be fattening after all."

So where did the name "Shirley" come from in terms of identifying these ladies? I can't really answer that. There seems to be no definitive information on the subject. However, baseball groupies, affectionately called "Annies", actually had the name become more popular thanks to a famous baseball movie. Susan Sarandon played Annie Savoy in Bull Durham, a story about a minor-league catcher who has seen it all and has to mentor a hotshot pitcher. Savoy reads up on each season's roster of the Durham Bulls, focusing on one player of the Bulls to whom she grants her baseball knowledge and her alluring ways. Baseball people now call their groupies "Annies" thanks in part to Susan Sarandon's portrayal of the character "Annie".

Why "Annie"? As per director Ron Shelton, "I'm not sure where in my psyche Annie came from, but her name was a tip of the hat to "baseball Annies." Her last name was on a matchbook by my computer from the Savoy Bar - which is a question nobody's ever asked. Writing her character was a fairly unconscious process, but I did believe that she and Crash deserved each other at the end of our tale."

In the interest of wanting to know a little more, I'd actually like to speak to any of the women to which these men were referring. I want to be clear that I'm not here to judge or condemn, but I am curious. Total anonymity is guaranteed if we speak, and no details about anyone seen behind the privacy of closed doors will be revealed. I simply want to know more about this "Shirley" phenomenon and how these women gained access to the teams. Please get in contact with me here if you were a "puck bunny" or "Shirley", or contact me if you know someone who was or is. Again, I just want to talk without any stigmas or prejudices made.

If you happen to know about how the name "Shirley" came about as a description for these groupies, leave me a comment! As for Russia tempting the other teams with seductive women, I'm pretty sure that no team in today's day and age would try a stunt like that. Especially on a stage as big as the Olympic Games!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

**Updated due to Anonymous' comment! Thanks!**