Archive for February, 2006

February 28th, 2006

Back In The Saddle Again…

All times U.S. EST:

 
February 27th, 2006

Brett Nowak Retires

For those of you wondering who Nowak is, allow Lindsay Kramer to do the honors.

 
February 27th, 2006

Why?

Scranton Times-Tribune writer Jonathan Bombulie wants some help:

An interesting note from Sunday’s game: Dennis Bonvie had 14 penalty minutes, giving him 3,969 in his AHL career. That’s the most PIMs for any one player in any one league in the history of pro hockey. Tiger Williams had 3,966 in the NHL. I’m planning to do a story when Bonvie hits 4,000 for his AHL career, which should come in the next week or so. Anybody have any suggestions about what kind of questions I should ask Bonvie about the milestone?

I have one. Oh wait, nevermind.

 
February 27th, 2006

Slow News Day

When I first learned of the Toronto Sun’s idiotic decision to print a list of the 50 worst Maple Leafs of all time, I couldn

 
February 27th, 2006

Torino Getaway Notebook

I’m anxious to get the Olympics in the rear view mirror as quickly as possible, but not before sharing this post mortem from ESPN.com’s Scott Burnside. And far be it from me to begrudge some extra celebrating from the victorious Swedes, many of whom won’t be making it back to North America before the resumption of play tomorrow night (though it will apparently cost them, and The Puck Stops Here is displeased).

Over at the Buffalo News, Bob DiCesare is pondering the long-term effect of the inclusiuon of NHL players in the Olympics:

Ever since 1998, when professionals first competed, Olympic hockey had been a reminder of how far the NHL had gone astray. Skill came to the forefront as the larger international ice surface invited talent to flourish. Artistry abounded. There were full-ice rushes, lightning-quick transitions. Mesmerizing is what it was, a celebration of the sport the way it was intended to be played.

When the fortnight concluded, resignation began to set in. An end to the Olympics meant a return to the NHL. And a return to the NHL meant the suppression of all things that had made those two weeks a wonder to behold. The Olympics were a showcase, all right. A showcase for the NHL’s shortcomings.

The melding is complete. Olympic hockey has become the complementary force NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman envisioned when he first split the season to permit pros to participate. No longer is what happens on Olympic ice exclusive to Olympic ice.

I think a lot of readers would dispute DiCesare’s conclusion, and contend that what we see on NHL rinks now only bears a passing resemblance to the game on Olympic ice. But I think one thing ought to be clear: That Gary Bettman probably knew that by entering NHL players into the Olympics, he would bolster public pressure on the old line elements in the league who were resisting changes in the game. While it might not have been decisive (it’s clear that the lockout was the ultimate lever in this regard), I can’t but conclude that it contributed to the eventual changes in the NHL product.

One of the consistent critiques of USA Hockey is their failure to develop top line American players at the NHL level. But while everyone and their brother seem to like to point to up and comers like Phil Kessel, Zach Parise, Chris Bourque and a host of others, it’s Syracuse, New York native Robbie Schremp who’s tearing up the OHL. For a look at some others, click here.

For a delightful rant from Jes, click here.

I wish I went to college when we could turn in blog posts in English class (or vice versa).

So what do we have to look forward to over the final third or so of the season. For Brian Biggane of the Palm Beach Post, it’s crowded division schedules, tighter officiating and less scoring:

Yes, scoring has been up by more than 20 percent this season, but as the playoffs approach and every point becomes more meaningful, defense always seems to become a bigger priority and scores typically drop.

Best of all, we’re only 10 days out of the March 9 trade deadline, traditionally the early version of Xmas for fans of Cup-contending teams. Stay tuned to TSN.ca and their Trade Tracker. Here in Washington, the Brendan Witt Watch has begun (I wonder if George McPhee will be able to hold out for a 1st round pick?).

Elsewhere, the estate of Jacques Plante is putting up his collection of memorabilia for auction, including a game-worn mask. Click here for the full list of items.

And finally, congrats to Mike @ RangerPundit for getting through his procedure with flying colors. We’re glad you’re back.

 
February 27th, 2006

Pros In The Olympics: View From The Owner’s Box

Click here for Washington Caps owner Ted Leonsis’ take on NHL players in the Olympics. And click here for a look at the business end of that proposition from Mavericks owner Mark Cuban in a post from 2004.

 
February 26th, 2006

Quote Of The Day

“Sometimes hockey has no country.” Borje Salming

Thanks to Hossim for the inspiration.

Once again, congratulations Sweden.

 
February 26th, 2006

Rattling Donald’s Cage

Mark Cuban is screwing with Donald Trump again.

I hope somebody gets to Howie Mandel before tomorrow night.

 
February 26th, 2006

Olympic Hockey Notebook, Day #13

Good morning from the U.S. East Coast, where I’m among the 10-15 people who got up early to watch the Gold Medal game between Sweden and Finland live. It’s 1-1 midway through the 2nd period.

I don’t know about anybody else, but I miss the NHL.

UPDATE: As hockey games go, that was a pretty good 3rd period. I feel terrible for Saku Koivu. We’ve been seeing sticks snapping like twigs for the better part of three seasons now, and that’s really the first time I can recall seeing it affect the outcome of a game.

In any case, congratulations to Team Sweden, a deserving Olympic champion.

Now everyone please get back to North America in one piece so we can enjoy the NHL stretch drive.

POSTSCRIPT: After reading some of the comments, I thought I should clarify and extend my remarks. I wasn’t banging on NBC, or slamming the quality of Olympic play initially. I was just commenting on the inherent insanity of folks like me who insist on getting up at the crack of dawn to watch hockey live from Europe.

I mean, I’ve done it before, and I’ll do it again,. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t understand that this sort of behavior is peculiar in certain precints around the globe.

 
February 26th, 2006

Another Life Destroyed Behind The Iron Curtain

In a column about the historical backdrop behind yesterday’s Bronze Medal game between Russia and the Czech Republic, Johnette Howard of Newsday uncovers a tale that I’d never heard before:

Back in 1950, Bohumil Modry, a goalkeeper for the world champion Czech national squad, was arrested at the Prague airport when the team was about to leave for London and accused by Communist Czech authorities of leading a conspiracy to pull off a group defection. He was sentenced to 15 years in prison and served his time in a uranium mine. Radiation poisoning caused his death at the age of 47.

After playing hunt and find for a while, I found this account in the Google cache of a discussion board that lays out many of the details of the arrests, as well as the subsequent show trials and imprisonment of a number of the players.

Read it now. For a short biographical sketch on Modry, click here.

 
February 26th, 2006

Hanging With The Sports Junkies

If Bill Simmons is the spiritual father of sports blogging, then the Washington-based Sports Junkies are his counterparts in podcasting.

Today, the Washington Post Magazine takes a look at their decade-long rise in FM radio. Know this, I’m rooting for them.

 
February 25th, 2006

Olympic Hockey Notebook, Day #12

We’ve got one more off day before the Gold and Bronze medal games, a two matchups that promises some awfully good hockey. Yes, the Scandanavian showdown looks to be exciting, but the Bronze medal game today between the Russians and the Czechs, with the loser going home with nothing, should be just as desperate.

So, with 24 hours to go before the end of the Olympic tournament, thoughts are turning to the future of NHL participation in the Games. These two letters to the editor from the LA Times caught my eye:

1-4-1. Wow, I bet Herb Brooks is spinning in his grave over the effort, or lack of, the U.S. team put forth in Italy. How about giving the game back to the kids so maybe we could see another father or mother share in the joy as Jim Craig’s dad did?

JOE MASSARO
Rancho Cucamonga

Well, it appears as long as USA Hockey continues to use millionaires we can stop waiting for any miracles.

DON RUSHFORTH
Chino Hills

This meme is getting around.

I’ve been on record for a while to bring the World Juniors to the Olympics for some time now. Terry Frei, thinks the Games should restrict participation to players under the age of 25 — something that would have put players like Alexander Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby to the Games while the NHL kept playing.

In a perfect world, I think that idea could really work. But something tells me the fans in Pittsburgh and Washington wouldn’t like that, and I’m sure the owners of any teams that rely on even one younger player wouldn’t go for it either.

I’m afraid the choice here for the league is rather stark: Either keep the current format in place and cancel the World Cup; or just go with the kids, whether at the World Junior level or in the minors and below.

UPDATE: The list of walking wounded piles up, now including Jaromir Jagr and Simon Gagne.

POSTSCRIPT: I should mention that Team USA’s Mike Modano, who made some intemperate remarks in the immediate aftermath of the American loss to Finland in the quarterfinals has backed off a little bit, expressed some regret and made it clear he wanted to work behind the scenes to help USA Hockey do a better job. He ought to be taken at his word.

 
February 24th, 2006

Running The Comets

My old college budddy Marc Masferrer just posted a Q&A with his cousin, Andr

 
February 24th, 2006

Putting A Torpedo Into Houston 1836

I’ve had my head buried so deep in Olympic hockey that I failed to notice an absolute travesty taking place deep in the heart of Texas, where a small knot of politically correct buffoons have browbeaten MLS into changing the fantastic name of their new franchise:

Many Hispanics have voiced their dislike for the controversial name, claiming it carries an anti-Mexican sentiment and lends itself to be a divisive tool among Houstonians.

Although 1836 was meant to symbolize the year Houston was founded, it also has links to other significant events some Mexican-Americans might find offensive. Those include Texas’ independence from Mexico, the Battle of the Alamo and the defeat of Gen. Antonio L

 
February 24th, 2006

Olympic Hockey Notebook, Day #10

Enough on the teams that aren’t here. Welcome to the semifinals. As always, all times local, my picks in bold:

4:35 p.m. Sweden vs. Czech Republic (7-3, SWE)
9:05 p.m. Finland vs. Russia (4-0, FIN)

For all the talk that there aren’t any North American teams left in the tournament, it’s funny that a number of players have noted that of all the European squads, Finland plays a style that most closely resembles the North American game. And when that style of game is firing on all cylinders, it gives the Russians fits.

But there’s just one thing that bothers me: Evgeni Nabakov has been the best goalie in the tournament by far. Today, I think he’s the difference. And I have to think that Russia’s youngsters: Kovalchuk, Ovechkin and Malkin* have an extra jump right now that will serve them well.

It’s a shame Pittsburgh couldn’t find a way to get Malkin to North America this year. Hopefully, by next season, the Pens will have the deadwood stripped from the lineup, and Malkin can get the ice time he deserves alongside Crosby.

So fear the Penguins. Just not yet.

The early game is a very tough pick. In recent international tournaments, the Czechs have been hard to read, and the Winter Games have followed that pattern. They sputtered through the preliminary round, and then found a way to strangle the Slovaks like a boa constrictor finishing off its prey. But the Czechs have been inconsistent, and I think they’ll hold to form.

As always, more later.

OTHER COVERAGE: Check out the following for more on today’s games:

Chicago Tribune
LA Times
Philadelphia Inquirer

Earlier this week, plenty of folks raised their eyebrows when Swedish coach Bengt Gustafsson said he was thinking of dropping his last preliminary round game so he could be matched up against the Swiss in the quarterfinals. And Jaromir Jagr thinks that’s ok:

“What would you do if you were the coach? It’s a tough call. Of course, you want to play very well, don’t get me wrong, but I thought they did a good thing,” said Jagr. “It doesn’t matter how many games you win, as long as you win. You don’t have to win the first one or second one, you have win the last one.”

“I don’t think the coach said, let’s lose.

“But if you don’t put 100 per cent effort in even if you want to win, you’re not going to win. The teams are very close.”

Why am I not surprised? I loved this passage from Shelly Anderson’s column in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:

Defenseman Darius Kasparaitis, as we all know, is a hockey player you love to have on your team but hate to go against.

During the Olympics, the former Penguins player is a teammate of future Penguins player Evgeni Malkin on the Russian team. That won’t be the case in the NHL, where Kasparaitis plays for the New York Rangers.

So, when I asked Kasparaitis this week what Penguins fans can expect to see when Malkin arrives in the NHL, he grinned.

“I don’t know,” Kasparaitis said. “He’s going to see me first.”

I don’t know, Malkin is looking like a tough kid.

UPDATE: Sweden advances with an easy win over the Czechs. Up next, Russia-Finland, where the blood is bad to be sure.

Here’s Colby Cosh on how the Olympic tournament has officially announced the arrival of Alexander Ovechkin:

Canada’s loss to Russia is, in one sense, a great day for hockey; it marks the decisive step in the ascension of Alexander Ovechkin to the plane of Great Terrors. For me, this is the most treasured wing of the sports pantheon–that of the practically unstoppable, explosive athlete who reduces opponents, as an individual, to a state of obsession and snivelling fear.

(snip)

Ovechkin is there now; it doesn’t matter much that he is only 20, because these guys don’t waste much time letting you know. My reptile brain spent the game screaming the anti-Terror anthem: stop him, stop him, SOMEBODY STOP HIM.

Not. Gonna. Happen.

Hurry home, Alex. We miss you.

UPDATE: Finland up 3-0 after two periods.

UPDATE: That’s a final, 4-0 Finland, setting up a Scandanavian showdown for Sunday. That’s going to be fun.
________________________________________________
*As Ben Wright notes, Malkin has been suspended for today’s game.

 
February 23rd, 2006

Mike Modano And The Brett Hull Shuffle

Team USA center Mike Modano decided to take the low road out of Torino today:

Mike Modano packed up his stuff and left Italy on Thursday morning, skipping a final meeting with his Olympic teammates after they were eliminated a night earlier in the men’s hockey quarterfinals.

USA Hockey spokesman Dave Fischer said the longtime Dallas Stars forward — who sharply criticized team management after the Americans’ elimination Wednesday — was the only member of the 23-player squad not to gather at the arena where the Americans were knocked out by Finland.

On the bright side, because Modano had to make his own travel plans, rather than fly a team charter, he was able to make good his escape a day early.

This sort of behavior is becoming a pattern for USA Hockey. First, Brett Hull got benched during the 2004 World Cup, so he left the team in a huff rather than stick around to just be a healthy scratch. And now Modano, after getting benched in the 3rd period of Team USA’s quarterfinal game with Finland, has bolted early too.

One day, Modano will be honored as one of the greatest American-born players in hockey history when he’s inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame. Perhaps by then we’ll have forgotten this story.

 
February 23rd, 2006

Sports Guy’s Readers On The Stevie Francis Trade

Instead of writing an actual column about the monumental stupidity of Isiah Thomas that manifested itself with his trade for serial malcontent Stevie Francis, Bill Simmons is just letting his readers do the writing for him.

I can’t argue with the results:

“Does traffic in New York slow down as it passes Madison Square Garden so people can get a better look at the car wreck?”

Excepting any more would be a spiritual abuse of the doctrine of fair use. Needless to say, it’s not the only howler. I’m guessing Thomas puts a contract on Simmons’ life sometime over the weekend.

 
February 23rd, 2006

Olympic Hockey Notebook, Day #9

It’s an off day for Olympic ice hockey in Torino today (good news if you’re Teemu Selanne’s dentist), which means there’s plenty of time for reporters all over North America to asses exactly what’s wrong with the national programs in the U.S. and Canada.

We’ll start with Team USA. Here’s Tom Powers from the St. Paul Pioneer Press:

Feb. 22 is the most significant day in U.S. hockey history. Not because of anything that happened Wednesday in the U.S.-Finland game. Instead, Feb. 22 marks the anniversary of the Miracle on Ice game vs. the Soviet Union at Lake Placid, N.Y.

“I wouldn’t have even known that,” said Pete Laviolette, coach of the U.S. men’s hockey team. “We’re kind of out of the loop with the news. I haven’t seen anything that’s been going on in 10 days.”

Well, it occurs to me that he should have known that. Any American coach who stands behind the bench during an Olympic hockey game probably should have that date tattooed on his chest.

It’s another example of how Olympic hockey in general and Team USA in particular are messed up.

That view is shared by ESPN.com’s E.J. Hradek (subscription required):

In the end, maybe USA Hockey should just shut down the program and start pumping that cash into the many youth programs around the country.

Right now, there are more kids playing hockey in the United States than ever before. Still, the next Modano is nowhere to be found. That tells me something is wrong.

With all due respect to Hradek, I think that’s un fair. Sure, more kids play hockey in the U.S. than ever before, but it’s safe to say that the vast majority of our top athletes don’t get anywhere near a sniff of hockey. Despite growing roots in the Sunbelt (Cornell’s starting goaltender is a Dallas Stars fan from Texas), hockey is still a regional sport in the U.S. Like it or not, that’s going to hurt our national program.

But it was this line from Hradek that spun me around:

In operation since the late 1990s, the program has produced several good hockey players. Of course, those players — like DiPietro or young Predators defenseman Ryan Suter — might have developed just fine in their own local environments. Almost 10 years into the program, however, it has yet to produce anyone even close to Crosby or Ovechkin.

That’s a cheap shot. No matter how much money USA Hockey spends on player development, there is never a guarantee that it will produce a player like Ovechkin or Crosby. Players like that are born not made, and Hradek knows it.

Granted, USA Hockey might have to make some administrative changes, something Mike Modano, who was benched for the third period of yesterday’s loss to Finland, decided to talk about in the locker room after the game:

“I’ve been with USA Hockey a long time,” said Modano, who’s played in the system since 1988, “and it’s time some things probably changed.”

His specific complaints: Players having to take care of flights, tickets, hotels, everything for family members. Normally they don’t have to, and it shouldn’t have been a factor now.

Many of us who remember February 1980 and Lake Placid grew up with the same dream: Maybe one day I could be lucky enough to represent my country and wear the Team USA sweater. For an American hockey fan like myself, I can’t think of a greater honor.

So when you lose while wearing that sweater, you suck it up and take some responsibility, not complain about the fact that your agent might have to learn how to use Expedia. Save that stuff for behind closed doors, and take a lesson from Allen Iverson (funny, I know) who after the U.S. was knocked out of contention for the basketball gold in Athens in 2004 stepped up and didn’t make any excuses for poor play.

Better yet, take a lesson from guys on Team Canada like Joe Sakic, Jarome Iginla and Wayne Gretzky. Men who faced the music and made it clear they were willing to shoulder the blame themselves.

Up in Canada, some folks think it might be time for Gretzky to step aside. They’d be wrong. Here’s the Globe and Mail’s Eric Duhatschek from an online chat he did yesterday:

under his stewardship, the team ended a 50-year gold medal drought in 2002 in Salt Lake City and then went on to win the 2004 World Cup. Gretzky is stubborn; that’s one thing we’ve learned from watching him over the years. He took some heat back in 2002 for his team’s selections

 
February 23rd, 2006

Gretzky: Ovechkin Most Exciting Player In The Game, But…

Here’s one moment from yesterday’s postgame Team Canada press conference that I couldn’t help but notice:

It took the mention of [Alexander] Ovechkin to bring a slight smile to [Wayne] Gretzky’s thin, chewed lips.

“He’s the only guy I’ve ever coached against who blew me a kiss,” he recalled of an NHL game this season.

The modest levity was welcome. But when someone asked Gretzky if he thought Ovechkin was the best player in the world today, The Great One showed that he’s still protective of his own reputation astride the game.

“Right now he’s the most exciting.” Pause. “When he wins four Stanley Cups, I’ll put him up there.”

I wonder what Ovechkin’s reaction will be when he hears this?

Thanks to our old buddy Reemer for the pointer.

 
February 22nd, 2006

Romanian Hockey Fight

From February 14, 2006 in the Romanian League Final:



Thanks to my partner Joe Tasca for the pointer.

UPDATE: As one of my readers pointed out in the comments, this video is from a game in 2000, not 2006.

UPDATE: And hello to all of our new visitors from Finland. Minä odottaa te iloita minun blog.

 
February 22nd, 2006

Olympic Hockey Notebook, Day #8

Ah, elimination games. Desperation. Hockey that matters. Welcome to the quarterfinals. All times local (add subtract 6 hours for U.S. EST, my picks in bold):

4:30 p.m. Switzerland (A2) vs. Sweden (B3) (, SWE)
5:30 p.m. Finland (A1) vs. United States (B4) (, FIN)
8:30 p.m. Russia (B2) vs. Canada (A3) (2-0, RUS)
9:30 p.m. Slovakia (B1) vs. Czech Republic (A4) (3-1, CZE)

After Sweden head coach Bengt Gustafsson’s crack about wanting to lose so Sweden could draw the Swiss, I’m pulling for the Swiss to make him eat his words (Hop Suisse!). Too bad it won’t happen.

If Team USA were to beat Finland today, I’d be surprised, but not shocked. Still, that won’t happen either. And I owe Rick DiPietro an apology, as his goaltending hasn’t been a problem. In fact, it’s been more than good enough to win.

The last two matchups have the potential of leaving some blood on the ice. When it comes to international hockey, there are a couple of different axes of rivalry. There’s Sweden-Finland; there’s the Czechs and Slovaks; Russia vs. any former Soviet satellite; and then there’s Canada-Russia-USA. I like Canada to wake up in time to make the semifinals. And the Slovaks get to dump their next door neighbors. It’ll be a hot time in Bratislava tonight.

UPDATE: Some fun stuff from North of the Border. Click here for a special message from the clergy (via Battle of Alberta). And Colby Cosh reader Craig Burley had this to say about those who are being critical of the play of Team Canada’s Rick Nash:

“Rick Nash can rush down the wrong wing and rip a shot four feet past the top corner, leading to a three-on-two the other way, better than any other winger in hockey. He adds more breathless excitement to a hockey game than any other player I can think of.”

Looks like nerves are getting rubbed a little raw…

For the lowdown on the OT/Shootout format for the elimination games, click here.

Sisu Hockey thinks the current Olympic format stinks:

Clearly, the round robin followed by single elimination is not the best way to evaluate hockey teams when there is such parity among the contenders. So, what is the alternative? The Olympics can’t go with Stanley Cup style best-of-seven series, for obvious reasons. I think the WJHC’s had it right 10+ years ago with a full round robin format, where each team plays each other team once, and the final standings determine the medallists. All games are “worth” same amount. This would remove the incentive to throw a game (unless a number of teams formed a conspiracy). With eight teams invited, the Olympics could present 28 games (7 per team) over 14 days – a schedule much more sensible than the present one.

For those of you who agree, worry not. I’m sure the brainiacs who run the IIHF will come up with yet another different format in time for Vancouver in 2010. Thanks to Paul Kukla for this link to real time scoring.

UPDATE: Some other interesting links:

Dom Hasek won’t be ready to return to action with Ottawa following the Olympic break.

While it’s clear the league and the players want to return to the Olympics, a number of owners are lukewarm about the whole idea.

And from the Penguins Web site, comes an interview with one of the team’s trainers, and how his job has changed since the NHL returned to action in October:

Since the NHL has evolved into a game of quickness instead of toughness, Penguins head athletic trainer Mark Mortland is seeing more muscular injuries in the players

 
February 21st, 2006

Carnival Of The NHL #19

Thanks to Matt Saler for hosting Carnival of the NHL #19 over at On The Wings. This is the second time Matt has hosted the Carnival, and it certainly won’t be his last. Thanks for another fine job.

Which means we’re looking for a host for edition #20. Applicants will be accepted on a rolling admissions basis. Send yours in now!

 
February 21st, 2006

Tonight On AOL’s Sports Bloggers Live

From my buddy Jamie Mottram:

Tonight’s show goes live from 7-8 PM ET at sportsbloggerslive.com and features…

 
February 21st, 2006

Olympic Hockey Notebook, Day #7

Welcome to the last day of the preliminary round in the Men’s bracket, and even though the eight teams advancing to the quarterfinals are pretty much set, the exact order of finish is still up in the air. Here’s today’s schedule, already in progress:

11:35 a.m. Latvia vs. Kazakhstan (5-2, KAZ)
12:35 p.m. Switzerland vs. Italy (3-3)
3:35 p.m. Finland vs. Germany (2-0, FIN)
4:35 p.m. Canada vs. Czech Republic (3-2, CAN)
8:05 p.m. Sweden vs. Slovakia (3-0, SVK)
8:35 p.m. United States vs. Russia (5-4, RUS)

In Group A, Finland is already locked into the top spot as they take on 5th place Germany. The real question is how the next three squads will place. The 2nd place Swiss could have locked up that position with a win over the 6th place Italians, but that plucky crew manged a 3-3 tie (for an explanation of Switzerland’s surprising success, click here). And in the last Group A game, 3rd place Canada plays the fourth place Czech Republic, with both teams having an opportunity to overtake the Swiss with a win.

We’ll start at the bottom in Group B, where barring a victory of gigantic proportions for Latvia over Kazahkstan, Team USA will probably finish fourth, and get the Finns in the quarterfinals. Where things get fuzzy is the potential order of finish from 1-3. While the Slovaks are undefeated and in first, they need a win or tie with the Swedes to lock up first in the group. If the Swedes (who the IIHF will be watching very closely) and the Russians win, it will come down to goal differential.

Stick around for updates as the results come in.

UPDATE: Over at Canucks Corner, Tom Benjamin has some thoughts about the Olympic ice surface and how it’s affecting play in the tournament. I agreed with Tom’s assesment, but then I read these comments from Mike Modano that seemed to go against what we’d both determined.

LUNCHTIME UPDATE: Finland topped Germany 2-0, locking the Finns into the top spot in Group A and setting them up for a quarterfinal matchup against Team USA. Canada stormed out to an early 3-0 lead en route to a 3-2 win over the Czechs. The final seeds in Group A are: #1 Finland, #2 Switzerland, #3 Canada, #4 Czech Republic. The Swiss earned the #2 seed over Canada by dint of their 2-0 win head to head.

As for Group B, Team USA is locked into #4 thanks to Kazahkstan’s 5-2 win over Latvia (Borat rejoices!) with the other three seeds to be determined after the last two preliminary round games — Sweden-Slovakia and Team USA-Russia (where Robert Esche will get his first start of the tournament). Stay tuned.

It looks like Team USA Women’s coach Ben Smith has had enough:

“I don’t know quite what my role will be with USA Hockey in the future,” he said after the game. “I hope to continue in some form, but I think we need more women in our leadership positions. I hope that day is coming, and I hope it comes soon.”

Smith’s contract with USA Hockey expires this Summer.

EVENING UPDATE: Well, Team USA took the gas pipe again in a game that didn’t matter, losing to Russia 5-4. And with Slovakia’s 3-0 defeat of Sweden, we’re looking at a very exciting set of quarterfinal matchups on Wednesday:

Finland (A1) vs. USA (B4)
Switzerland (A2) vs. Sweden (B3)
Canada (A3) vs. Russia (B2)
Czech Republic (A4) vs. Slovakia (B1)

Wow. I may have to slip out of work tomorrow afternoon. Canada-Russia? The Czechs and the Slovaks? Blood on the ice, baby!

 
February 20th, 2006

Olympic Hockey Notebook, Day #6

Well, the women wrapped things up today, with Team USA winning the Bronze Medal Game over Finland, 4-0. And congratulations to Team Canada, who grabbed their second straight Olympic Gold with a 4-1 win over Sweden that wasn’t even that close.

It’s all smiles for Canada, Sweden and even Finland tonight, but for Team USA, going home with Bronze is going to be a bitter pill to swallow. One has to wonder whether or not it might be time for head coach Ben Smith, who has guided Team USA to Gold in Nagano, Silver in Salt Lake and now Bronze in Torino, might need to step aside.

Ahead of the tournament, it was easy to give Smith the benefit of the doubt when it came to critics who charged he was a marinet that didn’t bring his best team to Torino when he left veterans like Cammi Granato off the Olympic roster.

But now that Team USA has slipped to a Bronze Medal finish, the only defense of Smith that I can think of would be that the roster from 2002 couldn’t beat Team Canada on U.S. soil in Salt Lake City, what makes his critics think that roster would be able to beat Team Canada in Torino?

I’m not so absorbed with Women’s Hockey in the U.S. that I could suggest a credible replacement, other than an obvious emotional choice of Mark Johnson, the ex-1980 Gold Medalist and now head coach of the women’s team at the University of Wisconsin.

Only four years to Vancouver.

 
February 20th, 2006

Today’s Bill Simmons Moment

The spiritual father of sports blogging spent the weekend at the NBA All-Star Game in Houston, and finished it up by watching Michael Jordan and Charles Oakley trash talking and playing cards at the Four Seasons.

Which set up this classic moment:

And MJ kept getting louder and louder, and he and Oakley were cleaning up, and we’re all watching them while pretending not to watch, and then suddenly …

MJ’s wife shows up.

Uh-oh.

Uh-oh indeed. Somehow I don’t think the reaction is the same when Janet Gretzky shows up at the bar.

 
February 19th, 2006

Olympic Hockey Notebook, Day 5

Just settling in for Team USA-Sweden, and I’ll have random reflections going forward.

I think Team USA needs this game very badly. Stick around.

UPDATE: Daniel Alfredsson just jammed one home for Sweden, 1-0.

Though Team USA is 1-1-1 so far, that doesn’t reflect how well the team is playing. As I noted yesterday, this team is generating more speed and demonstrating more offensive creativity than I had anticpated before the tournament began.

The problems are simple: The team can generate scoring chances, but it can’t seem to finish them (thya always seem to be a split second behind when they’re in the offensive zone). The goaltending from DiPietro has been solid, but not spectacular. And the team is giving up too many odd-man chances off turnovers in the offensive zone.

UPDATE: During a delayed penalty, Mike Modano finished off a feed from Chris Chelois and Craig Conroy to tie it up at 1-1.

I get really loud when Team USA scores. Hope the neighbors don’t mind.

UPDATE: Team USA gets a 5-on-3 and can’t convert. They’re lucky to still be tied, as DiPietro had to stop a shorthanded chance by P.J. Axelsson.

FRUSTRATION UPDATE: Team USA fails to convert on another 5-on-3. This is going to be a killer in the end. It’s like getting a pair of turnovers in the Super Bowl and failing to score on either one.

SWEDEN TAKES THE LEAD: Mikael Samuelsson bangs home a rebound to make it 2-1. And the way the U.S. offense has played in this tourney, I think this will probably be the final score.

IT’S A FINAL: 2-1 Sweden, the second straight 2-1 loss for the U.S. in the tournament. And the U.S. is doing everything right with the exception of finishing their shots.

 
February 19th, 2006

The Gretzky Legend, Tarnished Again

Dear God, will it ever end?

Wayne Gretzky, the best hockey player in history, had his legend further tarnished on Thursday when it was discovered he ate a bag of Cheetos and had a chocolate chip cookie at lunch nearly a week ago.

 
February 18th, 2006

Olympic Hockey Notebook, Day 4

Slept in late, and woke to this news.

Wow, interesting tournamnet. More later.

UPDATE: Great moment during the Sweden-Latvia game: Two Latvian fans dancing in the aisles with the Olympic cheerleaaders, as the cheerleaders do their best to ignore their existence.

I’ve had that sort of experience in a bar or two over the years.

UPDATE: If you’re not watching Team USA-Slovakia, turn the game on NOW. The guys are flying and there are no commercial breaks except between periods. Never much better than that.

UPDATE: Wow, Team USA dodges a bullet on a Marian Gaborik shot that rung off the crossbar.

This is the best first period of ice hockey I’ve seen in a while.

UPDATE: Thumbs up for NBC’s Ray Ferraro, who made sure he mentioned that he was married to ex-Team USA captain Cammi Granato before giving his take on why the team won’t be playing for the Gold medal this time around.

For more background, click here.

UPDATE: The two best players on the ice tonight in Torino for Team USA have to be goalie Rick DiPietro and his New York Islanders teammate, Jason Blake.

DiPietro has made a number of crucial saves, and Blake has used his speed to carry the fight deep into the Slovakian defensive zone…

And Marian Hossa just scored a power play goal. 1-0 Slovakia. Great work by Gaborik, Pavol Demitra and Hossa with the finish.

UPDATE: Before the tournament, I was pretty much convinced that Team USA could only play its best hockey when it was played with a mean streak. But today, I have to say I’ve been really surprised at the American’s team speed. They be more dangerous than I gave them credit for.

UPDATE: Brian Rolston scores a power play goal on a laser of a shot from the right point. It’s 1-1.

BONZAI UPDATE: From behind the net, Miroslav Satan finds Peter Bondra who bangs it home for a 2-1 Slovak lead.

TRANSITION UPDATE: The Slovaks close out Team USA, 2-1. Switched over to Czech Republic-Finland, and just caught Jere Lehtinen giving the Finns a 2-1 lead with 5 minutes remaining in the 2nd period.

ZIDLICKY SQUARED: Marek Zidlicky ties it up with a cannon shot from the top of the slot, 2-2.

UPDATE: I missed the hit Jarko Ruutu laid on Jaromir Jagr, and it was classless — not a surprise with Ruutu. In between periods, Joe Micheletti talked to Martin Rucinsky, and he wasn’t pleased: “We all know Ruutu and that’s the way he plays. And you know… hopefully we’ll get some payback.”

Essentially, Ruutu blindsided Jagr, and crushed his head against the boards. Ruutu got five minutes (click here for a photo of Jagr being helped off the ice).

Later, Martin Straka would go after Ruutu. Still time to tune in the third period.

UPDATE: Teemu Selanne just scored his fifth goal of the tournament to give the Finns a 3-2 lead less than a minute into the third. After gathering the puck of his own errant pass, Selanne came from behind the net, skated into the left wing faceoff circle, wheeled and fired the puck in between Tomas Vokoun and the nearside crossbar.

FINLAND TAKING CONTROL: Jere Lehtinen scored during a commercial break to stretch their lead to 4-2.

FINAL UPDATE: Finns close it out, 4-2 over the Czechs. Finns now on top of Group A all alone. A shocker.

JAGR UPDATE: Some late news from the AP on Jagr, including this interesting factoid:

Jagr appeared to be wearing a thin, old-style helmet that he wore earlier in his NHL career — a style the league no longer permits because of the amount of protection provided.

Comfort trumps safety once again.

 
February 17th, 2006

Olympic Hockey Notebook, Day 3

The Turin games just delivered another dose of the unexpected today, as Sweden defeated Team USA 3-2 (SO) in Women’s ice hockey, sending the Swedes to the gold medal game against the winner of the Finland-Canada semifinal later today. The loser of that game will face the Americans in the Bronze medal game.

The heroine for Sweden was goalie Kim Martin (isn’t it always the hot goalie?), who stopped 37 shots. But before the finger pointing starts (Cammi Granato, white courtesy phone), we ought to take note that while we’ve just witnessed a loss for USA Hockey, we’ve seen the sport take a giant step forward.

That’s because one of the biggest stories in the Women’s tournament has been the issue of competitive balance, and how a decided lack of it constituted a long term threat to the place of Women’s ice hockey at the Winter Olympics.

One of the most powerful critiques of women’s sports has concerned depth of talent and competitive balance. But as you might imagine, you can’t develop much depth in a sport that’s only been bestowed international recognition comparitively recently. And you can’t expect it to happen overnight outside of North America, where attitudes about women and sports are considerably less enlightened.

But now that we’ve seen Team USA fail to make the finals of an international competition for the first time, and folks are already calling today’s game Sweden’s “Miracle on Ice,” we can be pretty sure that lots of little girls from Göteborg to Stockholm to Lulea will be taking up ice hockey along with their brothers. And that’s nothing but a good thing.

As we’ve noted before, the men are taking the day off, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t any news on that side of the bracket. NHL VP Bill daly told the AP this morning that the league isn’t committing to participate in the Olympics past 2010 in Vancouver. And with both Dominik Hasek and Patrick Elias coming up lame, and Flyers owner Ed Snyder growling about Peter Forsberg going to the Games, it’s not hard to see why.

One thing is clear: It’s the players who want to go:

The players favor future participation in the Olympics, but not participation in the World Cup of Hockey. When the new CBA was negotiated last year, the players demanded Olympic participation as part the agreement.

Looks like the World Cup of Hockey is the odd man out. That’s the tournament I’d rather see, but part of me understands why the players would rather step out on the Olympic stage instead. Besides, my concern is about players breaking down, and if it’s the World Cup that has to go, I can understand.

Looks like Terry Frei is on board.

He’s an interesting aside from JJ at Canucks Hockey on the machine that is Team Canada:

From the parts of the game I saw… it’s amazing to watch Team Canada and see how disciplined they are on the ice. Their work ethic is incredible, their shifts are automatic. Everyone is pulling their own weight and allowing others to do the same.

On the surface that quote might seem a bit innocuous, but for anyone who has seen a motivated Team Canada take on a competent international opponent with high stakes on the line, you know just how true it is. From the opening faceoff to the final horn, at its best, Team Canada takes control of a game and never lets go.

I don’t think that it’s any accident that Team Canada’s two most recent setbacks in international play, the 1996 World Cup and the 1998 Winter Olympics, came at the hands of a goalie who was playing like he was superhuman. In 1996, it was Mike Richter. In 1998, it was Hasek. And the only time they’ve been challenged in recent memory was in the final of the 2004 World Cup, where they held off Finland, 3-2. And even in that case, Canada never trailed during the entire tournament.

With the way things have developed so far, it seems like the Finns might have the best shot to challenge them.