Mar 122010
 

I’ve probably watched Sidney Crosby score the Olympic gold medal-winning goal for Team Canada a hundred times – thank PVR for that – but I just ran into the following clip, which I think is just as cool. It’s an audio clip of Crosby’s goal as called by broadcasters from various countries.

I think it’s cool that, in each of the clips, you can hear Crosby yelling out Iginla’s name, demanding the puck. And of course, even caller to hear the different reactions after he scored.

Mar 022010
 

Apparently, the Canucks got together in Columbus to watch Team Canada win Olympic Gold against Team USA.

Like countless other Canadians, Alain Vigneault was a nervous wreck.

“Come on, Louie,” the Vancouver Canucks coach said for about the 100th time as overtime started in Sunday’s Olympic final between Canada and the United States.

From about 5,000 kilometres away, Vigneault was doing everything he could to will his goaltender, Roberto Luongo, and the rest of Team Canada to a gold medal.

And like every other Canadian, they celebrated when Sidney Crosby scored the game-winning goal in overtime. Check out the video (original from canucks.com):

Well, at least it looks like everyone celebrated except for Mikael Samuelsson. Suck it Sammy? Play nice, OB, play nice.

Feb 242010
 

[Editor's note: Tom Wakefield moved from Ontario to BC a few years ago. He's a Toronto Maple Leafs and Edmonton Oilers fan, but more importantly, he's a hockey fan and a friend of mine. He knows his stuff, folks, and we welcome this guest post on tonight's game. - J.J.]

*****

If you know anything about Leaf fans (some of you think you do, only a few of you might), you know that we invariably value players with less skill (insert mocking laughter here). We cheer Domi over Sundin; Roberts over Mogilny; the Burns era over the Quinn era.

I was 9-years old in 1987. Old enough to visit my brother Tim in Pickering and help babysit his children. Young enough to be sent to bed after the first period of each Canada Cup game.

The defining hockey tournament of my generation was enjoyed primarily through my trusty portable radio – a radio that incidentally lasted me 15 years.

And while I’ll never forget the magic of Gretzky to Lemieux, I’ll also never forget the appreciation I developed for Normand Rochefort and Doug Crossman – two journeyman defencemen who played the hockey of their lives during that tournament.

I wanted them to be Toronto Maple Leafs.

I raise this because, as a new generation enjoys perhaps the greatest hockey tournament of all-time, and a new chapter of Canada-Russia is written tonight, I don’t believe enough is being said about Canada’s 4th line.

While the “San Jose” line has been opportunistic and the Getzlaf line a failure, Canada’s most consistent unit has been Toews, Morrow, Richards. They’ve been physical, tenacious in their puck pursuit and reliable defensively.

Coach Mike Babcock isn’t a line-matcher, and Russia’s the home team. So we’re likely to see a lot of Crosby vs. Datsyuk tonight.

But I wouldn’t be surprised, in a close matchup like this one, if Toews and company play an important role.

Goaltending

As the Brodeur-Luongo debate rages (and it does rage outside Vancouver, and will rage even more if Canada loses tonight), much of the Roberto Luongo criticism centers on his inability to win big games.

Well, what has Russian goalie Evgeny Nabokov ever won?

Over the past five years San Jose has consistently been considered a Stanley Cup favourite and have consistently failed to measure up.

I had Canada and Russia’s goaltending rated equal heading into this tourney. We’ll see who outplays who tonight.

Personally, if I’m Russia, I have more confidence in Bryzgalov than Nabokov.

Defence

Niedermayer, Doughty, Keith and Boyle are all puck-moving d-men. More brains than brawn on the ice. Given the struggles Canada’s defence have had at times down low in the trenches behind the goal-line (how many goals against have started from won puck-battles behind the net?), is anybody else wondering if we needed four of the same type of defenceman?

Russian Superiority

Yes we haven’t beaten the Russians at an Olympics in 50 years. But this Russian team hasn’t played well so far either. In fact, the two teams tonight are remarkably similar in their struggles. It was only last game that the Russians found a scoring line (Ovechkin-Malkin-Semin), and their powerplay has been incredibly individualistic. They’ve also been prone to bad penalties (paging Alex Radulov). They are beatable.

Speed

Smart puck-movement from defence to offence (aka a clean transition game) can nullify a speedy forecheck. The keys are quick decision-making, accurate passes, good gap control and trust between forwards and defence. Canada hasn’t excelled in this area in the tournament so far, which is surprising, given the presence of so many puck-moving defencemen. If Canada wins tonight, they will have found a way to be better in this area.

Pre-tourney rankings

Offence: Russia
Defence: Slight edge Canada
Goaltending: Even
Powerplay: Russia
Penaltykill: Canada

Has anything changed my mind? Not really.

Canada wins a thriller tonight. Gotta stick with the pre-tourney pick.

Enjoy the game everyone!

Feb 232010
 
Roberto Luongo starts for Team Canada

Photo credit: Vancouver Sun

Leave it to a fan of Martin Brodeur and the New Jersey Devils, Grey Wyshynski (aka Puck Daddy), to write the best piece about the opportunity now presented to Team Canada goaltender and Vancouver Canucks captain, Roberto Luongo:

Luongo takes over for Martin Brodeur against Germany in the qualifying round on Tuesday, which is to say that that he’s earned a moment to attain something Brodeur’s had for 15 years: a legacy.

Is he ready?

This is Luongo’s moment. The moment he actually achieves the elite status that’s bestowed on him, sometimes begrudgingly, by the hockey world. The moment at which he becomes a clutch goalie in championship situations. The moment when Canada embraces him with the same cherished regard as it does Brodeur.

He doesn’t have to be perfect. He needs to be competent and timely, according to Coach Mike Babcock. “We’re in the winning business, winning a game at any level you need big saves,” he said. “You need momentum changing saves. And we’re looking for Loo to do that for us.”

Critics will question the decision to pull Brodeur, NHL career shutout leader, Stanley Cup champion, Olympic champion, and simply, one of the greatest goaltenders in the history of the game. He’s also 5-9-2 with a 2.93 GAA and 0.884 save percentage in the last month.

Critics will point to the fact that Luongo has never won anything. Neither had Dominik Hasek in 1998 and Henrik Lundqvist in 2006, and both led their teams to Olympic Gold.

For what it’s worth, Luongo enters tonight’s game with a 2-1 record in 3 previous games in the Olympics. He has a 1.01 GAA and a 0.947 save percentage in those 3 games. He beat tonight’s opponent, Germany, in Torino in 2006. It’s true that he doesn’t have the same experience or anywhere close to the same accomplishments than Brodeur, but at least from what we’ve seen of him in Olympic competition, Luongo has been able to perform competently. Maybe even more than competently.

Will that be enough for Team Canada to win Olympic Gold?

We sure hope so. We’ll see starting tonight.

Feb 222010
 

Understandably, the talk du jour is Team Canada’s 5-3 loss to Team USA. The loss means that Team Canada doesn’t get the bye to the quarter final round. It means they have to go through, potentially, Germany, Russia, Sweden and the USA (again) to win Gold – not exactly the path of least resistance.

Before I play the blame game, I want to start by giving credit to the Americans. Canada had a lot of chances – like they outshot (and probably outchanced) the American by more than a 2-to-1 margin – but Ryan Miller stood on his head. Despite being younger, the Americans looked more poised. Despite being less-experienced, they executed their game plan to a ‘T’. You can tell the Americans wanted it more, the prime example being Ryan Kesler’s diving empty net goal.

Home ice advantage be damned.

But obviously, Miller was the star of the game as he made 42 saves, many of them of the great variety. Unfortunately, we can’t say the same about Marty Brodeur after allowing 4 goals on 22 shots, and the great debate this morning was whether or not Brodeur should get a shot at redemption.

Here’s our answer, according to William Houston:

Luongo starts against Germany. Canada will go with an NHL format from here on, using 12 forwards and shortening its bench early if needed. Management was not happy with Babcock failing to call a timeout late in the game.

Before the Games started, I put up this post about Team Canada’s starting goaltenders. I’ll admit I picked Marty to start because of his track record, but at the same time, I was unsure because of his recent record since being named to the team. To be fair, neither were Luongo’s and Fleury’s records, but Luongo’s was easily the best of all three.

Stats since Dec. 30Roberto LuongoMartin BrodeurMarc-Andre Fleury
Record12-5-110-11-27-5-3
GAA2.502.593.02
Save %0.9180.9060.909
SO240

If Team Canada’s round robin games proved anything, it’s that Brodeur is still struggling. And after a solid shutout against Norway (albeit with little work), Luongo deserves another opportunity to start. Marty made the most of the same opportunity in 2002 when Curtis Joseph faltered early in the tournament. Here’s hoping Louie makes the most of his oppportunity now.

Feb 192010
 

I wasn’t surprised that the Swiss team played Team Canada hard last night in their 3-2 shootout loss. I was surprised though that Team Canada had a tough time against them.

Not that anyone expected Team Canada to walk all over the Swiss like they did against Norway on Tuesday, but likewise, I don’t think anyone expected the game to have to be decided by an extended shootout.

Like every other Canadian, I breathed a huge sigh of relief after Sidney Crosby scored on his second shootout attempt and Martin Brodeur stopped the Swiss’ fourth shooter. In a way, the win avenged Team Canada’s loss against the Swiss in Torino in 2006. And winning the game means that they could still win the group and get the bye to the quarter finals as long as they beat Team USA on Sunday. But losing the point – in this tournament, a regulation win counts for 3 points and OT and SO wins only count for 2 – means they could be seeded lower and face tougher opponents on the way to gold.

But that’s looking too far ahead.

For now, Mike Babcock and crew need to work on their execution and focus on Sunday’s game. There’s no reason that this group couldn’t have moved the puck up effectively against a defense which featured Mark Streit, Luca Sbisa and Yannick Weber. There’s no reason for their powerplay to only score once in seven PP opportunities. And the Americans are a much better team.

The good news is, they fully realize this:

“Good thing I have two days to figure all that out,” Babcock said with a smile. “I think the big thing is when you look at our whole group, we didn’t think we were as good as we are capable of being at all (against Switzerland). We didn’t think our D moved the puck like we could. We didn’t think we were a good five-man unit. We didn’t think we attacked their net and were relentless like we could have. We thought we got outworked at times. When you go through the whole thing, all of us have to be better.”

Damn right they have to be.

Feb 182010
 

For anyone thinking the Swiss should be easy pickings for Team Canada tonight, think again.

By now, everyone has been reminded of Team Canada’s loss to Team Switzerland in 2006. The Canadians lost 2-0 in that game; it was the first of three games where they were shut out.

It was the day the Mighty Chocolatiers conquered Canada.

Four years ago today, Switzerland beat Canada 2-0 at the Olympics in hockey. Yes, ice hockey. Others remember it simply as the day hell froze over.

“In Swiss hockey, if they talk about something special, they talk about that win against Canada,” goalie Jonas Hiller said Wednesday. “Even if you didn’t play, you were excited about what Swiss hockey proved to the world.”

It was an epic upset that defined not only Swiss hockey – and Team Canada’s disaster at the 2006 Games in Turin – but also how a lot of people narrowly viewed Switzerland. A nation of bankers and yodelers, they were supposed to be tough on snow, timid on ice when it came to winter sports.

Canada’s $100-million lineup of National Hockey League stars learned otherwise.

Team USA almost learned the same lesson on Tuesday. The Americans prevailed 3-1 over the Swiss a couple of afternoons ago, but not before the Swiss gave them a pretty darn good fight.

Martin Brodeur will start in goal tonight. It’s also expected that the line of Sidney Crosby, Rick Nash and Jarome Iginla will play together (at least to start the game). If Team Canada can pick up from where they left off on Tuesday – well, the final two periods anyway – then they should be okay. Anything less and they could be courting a disastrous repeat of ’06.

Feb 162010
 

There are two ways to read into Team Canada coach Mike Babcock’s decision to start Roberto Luongo tonight against Norway and then Martin Brodeur against Switzerland on Thursday.

Babcock explained that he was giving Luongo the first start mostly because he wanted to pay him the courtesy. But perhaps more telling, Babcock said: “Marty has played a lot of hockey and this gives him a couple of days’ breather. Marty will play against Switzerland [on Thursday] and after that I will make the decision. That’s what we came up with.”

First, the Olympic tournament is such a short tournament that I don’t think Team Canada would start a player simply as a courtesy. With only 3 round robin games and a bye to the quarterfinals at stake, I would imagine Team Canada would want to get off the gates fast and field their best team right off the bat. If you subscribe to this line of thinking, then you have to think that Team Canada has tabbed Luongo as the man to lead them to Gold.

Or, we could take this decision at face-value. Maybe Team Canada brass has decided that Brodeur is its starter and they do really want to give him a few extra days rest before letting him run the table starting on Thursday.

Normally, I would have subscribed to the latter. Even as a Canucks fan, IMHO the starter job belongs to Martin Brodeur. His credentials certainly justify it. That said, none of the three Team Canada goalies have been particularly great since being named to the team on December 30th, and of the three, Luongo has posted the better record and the better stats since then.

Stats since Dec. 30Roberto LuongoMartin BrodeurMarc-Andre Fleury
Record12-5-110-11-27-5-3
GAA2.502.593.02
Save %0.9180.9060.909
SO240

When you add the fact that Luongo is 21-7-1 at home this season with a 0.928 save percentage and a 2.13 GAA, then I’m not so sure anymore.

Feb 132010
 

[Editor's note: Jamey Guerrero is J.J.'s brother. During the 2010 Olympic Winter Games, he'll be visiting the Olympic sites, taking some pictures and sharing his stories.]

*****

According to CTV, last night’s Opening Ceremonies of the 2010 Winter Olympic Games was the most watched television program in Canadian history; it didn’t disappoint.

Sure there were glitches. For one thing, a mechanical problem prevented one section of the cauldron from popping up on the BC Place floor. But for the most part, the 3-hour long event was a spectacular display of colors, culture and Canadiana.

There were many highlights. The snowboarder jumping through the Olympic rings was cool. Telling the story of Canada through song, dance and a poem by Shane Koyczan was awesome. And getting five great Canadians – Rick Hansen, Steve Nash, Catriona Lemay-Doan, Nancy Greene and Wayne Gretzky – to light the cauldron was a nice touch.

The program may not have had the bling of Beijing’s, but it was just as emotional. It was distinctly Canadian, and it was very well done.

Feb 122010
 
Danielle Goyette, Canada's flag bearer in Torino 2006

Photo credit: canada.com

The 2010 Winter Olympic Games start today and I have to say that I couldn’t be prouder to be Canadian.

These Games have been seven years in the making. More if you count the time it took VANOC to put its bid together. Personally, I’ve been invested in these Games for almost a couple of years now. Much of my work – that is, my day job – has been on Olympics prep. To say that I’m excited for the Games to start is an understatement. But of course, my work is just a very, very small part of the event. Starting today, we start seeing the results of a lot of hard work by a lot of people.

The hope is that these Games will be a success. The hope is that the events are seamless and our Canadian athletes are successful. The hope is that we act like gracious hosts and that our visitors enjoy their time in our city. Most importantly, the hope is that these Games show off the best in all of us, for the two and a half weeks of the Olympic Games and through the Paralympic Games that follow.

GO CANADA GO!

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