Saturday, 31 December 2016

Finishing Off 2016

2016 ends a rather horrible year for celebrities and world news with the strike of midnight tonight. We've lost some amazing musicians, actors, philanthropists, scientists, and generally good people in 2016 as well as seeing crises escalate in Syria, Russia, Europe, and the US. The economy was up and down which is fairly normal, but inflation once again outpaced salary increases as people pinch their pennies tighter. It was a rather tough year on the whole, but hockey will send us into the new year of 2017 with an amazing story that involves the man in the Hurricanes t-shirt above.

In case you missed it because it was on super-early this morning, Canada started the day off with a gold medal! In the Spengler Cup Final, Canada met up with HC Lugano of the Swiss League in a rematch of last season's Spengler Cup Final. Lugano started things off quickly as Dario Bürgler ripped a slapshot high on the short side on Zach Fucale just 31 seconds into the contest to out the Swiss side up 1-0. Manitoba's Chay Genoway would respond at 5:02 to tie the game, and Canada's speed and skill began to take over this contest.

Second-period goals from Marc-Antoine Pouliot and Cory Emmerton while shorthanded before the three-minute mark of the second period put Canada firmly in control of this game. Andrew Ebbett added a fourth Canada goal late in the period while Canada's penalty kill held the Lugano side at bay while up a man. Canada went into the second intermission looking like a team that had played together for the entire season as opposed to four games while Lugano needed some offence in the third period if they were to erase a 4-1 deficit.

Bürgler would finally break the Canadian penalty-kill with his second of the game at 4:08, but a Nick Spaling goal with 17 seconds to play would ice the game after a fourth outstanding performance from Zach Fucale in the Canadian nets to give the Canadians the 5-2 victory and their second-straight Spengler Cup!


The opposite results dominated the Canadian performance in Toronto as the Americans and Canadians met at the World Junior Championship. I have to hand it to the Americans who used their power-play effectively to go up 2-0 in the first period before dominating the Canadians below the hash marks at both ends of the rinks to earn a 3-1 victory over the highly-touted maple syrup squad and, more importantly, top spot in Pool B for the quarterfinals which will see the Americans play Switzerland while Canada will now tangle with the Czech Republic.

I was thoroughly impressed with the goaltending-by-committee that the Americans did in blocking shots and taking away passing lanes in a tight formation in front of Joseph Woll. They played tenaciously in their own zone, rarely giving Canada space to make plays, and were quick to break out of their zone with good passing once they caused a turnover. That excellent defensive zone pressure and play were, for me, the difference in the game between the two teams.

On the offensive end, Jordan Greenway, a tank-on-skates Minnesota Wild prospect, bullied the Canadians below the hash marks as he often found his way to the front of the net with the puck despite two red jerseys standing in front of him. The Americans found seams in the Canadian defence, they took the puck to the net, and they didn't settle for shots from the outside. Kudos to the Americans for doing the little things that make teams successful.

Team USA earned this victory, and it was well-deserved with a solid execution of a game plan.

After that game, the Jets and Islanders met for a New Year's Eve tussle at MTS Centre, and this one was a tire fire if you're a Jets fan. The Islanders came into the game having lost to Minnesota in which they pushed one of 2016's hottest teams to overtime with a third-period rally, so the Jets would have to be ready to play another error-less game if they wanted to get by a team whose record doesn't show its full potential.

Instead, the Jets gave up six goals on 24 shots between two goalies, falling 6-2 to the Islanders.
How a team can utterly dominate a good team like the Blackhawks before falling into lapses of confusion and bewilderment against the Blue Jackets only to see everything fall apart against the Islanders is why following the Jets as a fan is hazardous to one's health. This team is wildly inconsistent, and I am going on record here on the last day of 2016 to say that the Winnipeg Jets will not participate in the postseason again this year. Bold move, Cotton, but they simply don't have the consistency to run with the teams in the Pacific that play consistent hockey to earn a wild-card berth. 'Nuff said, and moving on.

That's where the image at the top of the page comes into play. The Carolina Hurricanes aren't having a very successful season either, but they are producing some feel-good stories for fans to follow. The man in the Hurricanes t-shirt is equipment manager Jorge Alves, and he is signing a contract to backup Cam Ward for the night after Eddie Lack came down with sickness prior to their game against the Tampa Bay Lightning. Alves is 37, and he's been the equipment manager of the Hurricanes since the 2012-13 season.

Why is this significant? According to reports, Alves practices with the team on a consistent basis, so he's faced NHL shots in practice. While the Hurricanes take it a little easier on the non-NHL goalie than they do when facing Lack and Ward in practice, the fact that Alves participated in practices should have made his job a little easier tonight.

While he's played a little in the ECHL and SPHL, Alves has never led a team onto the ice in the NHL until tonight. The Hurricanes did the classy thing and sent Alves out first for the pre-game skate!

Pretty cool, right? Oh, but it doesn't end there for Alves.
For 7.6 seconds, Jorge Alves got to live a dream by standing in an NHL net! You skeptics can try to downplay Alves' appearance any way you like, but he's now appeared in 7.6 seconds more NHL games than you or I. That, readers, is entirely awesome for a guy who might have shelved his netminding dreams in order to make sure others achieve their dreams. For the Hurricanes and head coach Bill Peters to give Alves his 7.6 seconds of glory as well as skating off the ice at the end of a game, that's one of the best stories to come out of hockey in 2016.

With that, we're off to 2017 and there will be a number of new stories written, both good and bad, on which HBIC will most likely comment. I'd prefer to see a pile of good stories in relation to bad stories, and we'll certainly get a number of these in February when the NHL unveils its "Hockey is for everyone" campaign. Let's all come together, fans of every walk and every team, and do some amazing things in 2017 for each other, for others, and for everyone.

Until next year, keep your sticks on the ice!

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