By now, if you are a Vancouver Canucks fan, or even a casual NHL fan, you have certainly heard of the all too soon death of Rick Rypien.
To most of his fans, Rick Rypien is the epitome of heart & soul. He was the guy, no matter the opponent, he would step up and go for it. Whether it was someone his own size like Brad May, or a heavyweight like Zack Stortini the man known affectionately as "Ripper" took them all on. Most hockey fans considered Rypien, at only 5'11, 184 lbs the "pound for pould toughest guy in the league".
Rypien seemed to have 1 of those "little guy makes it despite the odds" stories. Starting back in the AJHL with the Crowsnest Pass Timberwolves Rick showed that he was willing to fight anyone, with 147 PIM in his only season for the Junior A team, before moving up for 1 game to the WHL's Regina Pats.
Despite being undrafted in the WHL, Rypien's work ethic impressed the Regina Pats enough to give him a chance In 3 full seasons (and his 1 game 1st season) Rypien earned 179 GP 47 G 77 A 124 PTS 491 PIM in his time in the junior league. Rypien also proved to show leadership skills, so much so, the team named him team Captain, as well, he won the team MVP award once, the Molson Cup award for most 3 star selections & was named the teams "most popular player".
After his junior career completed. Rypien, undrafted by the NHL, earned a tryout invite with the AHL's Manitoba Moose (the farm team of the NHL's Vancouver Canucks). In Manitoba Rick had a rough 1st season, ending after only 8 games with the minor-pro team.
In the summer of 2005 Rick signed his first NHL contract with the Vancouver Canucks & had the chance to make the big club. Despite not making it to the NHL out of training camp, Rick worked hard in Winnipeg & eventually got a call up to the big club in December, and got into 5 NHL games. In his 1st game December 21, 2005 he scored a goal on his 1st shot. For a kid who couldnt even get drafted into the WHL, this was a major accomplishment. Unfortunately, in his 5th game, he would suffer a broken leg that would sideline him for a large chunk of the season.
The next couple of seasons would see Rick go up & down from the farm team to the Canucks. But almost without fail, the rugged winger would be sidelined by a vast variety of injuries from injured fingers to torn groin to a sports hernia. It was at this time when Rick took his 1st personal leave from the team. Looking back now, many wonder if this was the first major warning sign of what history would have in store for him.
In the 2009-10 season & last season, it seemed that Rypien may have finally put his past issues with physical & mental issues behind him. Then he had an unfortunate incident in Minnesota where he grabbed a fan. Shortly after that, the league suspended him for 6 games.
Upon his return, Rypien found it tough to get back into the line up full time. he managed 1 more career point after that, in a game vs. the Ottawa Senators on a Tanner Glass goal. On November 17th, 2010, Rick would play what most didnt realize at the time, his last NHL game against Sidney Crosby (whom he had 3 partial or full shifts against that game) & the Pittsburgh Penguins. He only had 3:50 of ice time in the game, and afterwards was given a 2nd leave of absence from the team for personal reasons. It was at this time that media and fans really started to wonder & worry about Ricks personal health. It was his 2nd leave of absence from a game he seemingly loved, this 1 was following an issue where he abused a fan. Lots of rumours were swirling of what his "issue" was. Some thinking drugs, others thinking emotional. Till this day, no one from the organization or Rick himself has said exactly what it was.
In March, he returned to hockey. He reported to the Manitoba Moose for conditioning. The NHL even helped with his return, giving the team a pass on the mandatory 2 week conditioning stint rule. This allowed the team to keep him with the Moose. It gave the team some salary help, it gave Rick a stable place to play and get his game back on track. It seemed like a good fit. On May 1st, 2011, Rick Rypien played his last pro game. A playoff match in round 2 of the AHL playoffs for the Manitoba Moose against the Hamilton Bulldogs.
As an unrestricted free agent for the 2011-12 season there was lots of potential for Rick's future. On the 2nd day of UFA season, he signed with the Winnipeg Jets. Showing his commitment & appreciation to owners of the team, who previously owned the Manitoba Moose, the team that gave him his 1st pro chance. Unfortunately for Jets fans, they will never get to see what Ripper could do on the ice for their team.
It hurts to know on a personal level that a guy I saw quite a few time, who was always personable, friendly and even a couple times, joking with us was suffering so much. He twice tried to deal with his issues at the risk of jeopardizing his career. Luckily, the team stood behind him and gave him the room they hoped he needed. Somehow, with all this support & help, it wasnt enough.
I realize this is reading more like a novel. I meant for this originally to just be a quick couple paragraphs & a thank you to Rick for all he did with our team & how he treated the fans off the ice. But I just kept writing more & more, because his story is just so hopefull & heartbreaking.
I got to see Rick play a couple times. Oddly, I only ever had 3 shots of him (that I am aware of). Only 1 in game shot, and a couple of him stretching in warm up. I added those in to the pics below.
This evening, just hours after the news of his death, some fans went to Rogers Arena and started a tribute to honour & remember him. I walked by there around midnight. maybe only a couple hours after the monument had been created. Several written messages adorned a pillar on the grounds of his NHL home. Some tea-candles had been placed in a pattern to read "R37R", his intiails, surrounding his jersey number. I am sure by the time I get back there later today, it will be a much larger tribute.
Rick, I wish someone could have found a way to make you happy, to make all the personal issues you were dealing with seem easier to deal with. My condolences to the Rypien family, to Ricks friends, and of course the rest of his fans who are saddened by this terrible loss.
EDIT - It has been brought to my attention there is a planned "celebration" of Rick's life & career for 2 PM, Wednesday August 17th, 2011 outside Rogers Arena. If you can make it, I suggest going.
part 2 of the list..
5TH HENRIK SEDIN - ART ROSS TROPHY & HART TROPHY WINNER
I dare you to find a single person anywhere on the planet, including in Sweden, in Vancouver, or even in the Sedin household who would have boldly stated at the start of the 09-10 season the leagues MVP & scoring champion would be 1 of the Vancouver Canucks longtime twin brothers.
While the brothers Daniel & Henrik have certainly stepped into that elite star level in the past couple years, even I, one of their biggest supporters since day 1, could not have guessed, let alone believed 1 of them would win the Art Ross Trophy & later that year, be awarded the Hart Trophy.
The more amazing part is, the common (and previously proven on multiple occasions) misconception that the brothers are less effective when seperated was blown out of the water when Henrik had to play without Daniel at his side for 19 games due to an injury to his brother early on in the season.
Henrik Sedin became the Vancouver Canucks 1st ever scoring champion, 1st ever Hart Trophy winner & the teams newest Captain in the year 2010. Making Hanks scoring title more amazing was the down to the wire fight he had with two of the games biggest icons, Alex Ovechkin & Sidney Crosby & his memorable 4 point final game, which was of course topped off by his final point of the year, a no look tip pass to his brother for Daniels 3rd goal of the game, Henriks 112th point & a TSN Play Of The Year win.
For a franchise that has been often tagged with a label of failure & underachievers, having a player win 2 of the major awards at once is one of the biggest moments in this franchises long & frustrating career. With the exceptions of this teams Stanley Cup Finals runs of 1982 & 1994, nothing in this franchises history comes even remotely close to the accomplishment of Hank last season.
The start of the 2010-11 season has seen the Sedins work their magic even more, with both brothers currently in the top 10 in league scoring it looks like 2011 will again be a big year for the Canucks future top 2 all-time point scorers for the franchise.
4th CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS- STANLEY CUP CHAMPIONS
It wasnt that long ago that the only way the Blackhawks & Stanley Cup Champions were ever mentioned in the same sentence was when they were facing the Detroit Red Wings in a game during the season.
But since the death of Bill Wirtz, the cancerous soffocating owner of the team, the Hawks had started to soar. With draftees like Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane & Duncan Keith in recent years, the fans started to think things might be turning around.
In 2010, they turned around alright. The Hawks went from the "up & coming" team to THE TEAM as they went on to win their 1st Stanley Cup in 49 years off the stick of their cornerstone player, Patrick Kane in overtime of game 6 of the finals over the Philadelphia Flyers on 1 of the most anti-climactic ends to a hockey championship ever.
The Hawks other wonder foward, Jonathan Toews, was awarded the Conn Smythe Trophy for Playoff MVP after a 29 pts in 22 games performance.
The Hawks started the playoffs against the Nashville Predators, a series they once trailed 2-1, but eventually won 4-2. Next up was the Vancouver Canucks, a team who most assumed would be ready to get revenge for the Hawks upsetting them the year prior. But they never were really in the series, and would eventually be knocked out by Chicago 4-2. The San Jose Sharks, who for several years had been continually considered "Cup contenders" got the closest they have gotten since the lockout, but would be swept by the flying Hawks 4-0.
In the Stanley Cup finals, the Hawks faced the Philadelphia Flyers. A team that came into the playoffs barely, and would become only the 3rd NHL team to win a series after being down 3-0 when they beat the Boston Bruins earlier in the playoffs. As it turned out though, Chicago was just too much for them. Despite the first 4 games being tied 2-2 & only 1 goal difference between the teams, it was starting to look like the Hawks might be getting better. In game 5, they showed their bite, winning 7-4 & knocking the wind out of the Flyers sails. Philadelphia put up a strong fight in game 6, but were defeated in OT when Patrick Kane slipped a shot past Michael Leighton that fooled everyone outside of Kane for several seconds.
With only ONE playoff round in 11 years, just 2 years prior, few expected the Hawks to make this surge this quick, but after a surprising run 2009 that saw them get to the Conference finals before bowing out, a lot of eyes were focused on them in the spring of 2010 & they dd not disappoint.
Unfortunately for the Hawks, the NHL Salary Cap hit them hard after their Cup win & several very notable pieces of the team, including their #1 goalie, a notable power forward (who also makes the list further down) & a couple other skill players have departed, leaving the Hawks as a good, but not great team now.
3rd- PAT BURNS NOT SELECTED TO THE HOCKEY HALL OF FAME
Imagine if you would, the idea of Phil Jackson, Pat Riley or Don Shula being deathly ill, retired for more than 3 years from their profession, the HOF committee being abundantly aware they likely will not survive a year...and excluding them from the Hall in the most recent selection.
If you think its unimaginable. This is what happened this year to the only 3 time winner of the coach of the year award in the NHL, Pat Burns. Burns was diagnosed with terminal cancer awhile ago, this past year he was eligible for the Hall. The Hall was made very aware by massive campaigns to have Burns put in the hall before his impending death, of his situation. However the committee, who are not held accountable for their actions by ANYONE, pulled the most classless of actions in snubbing Pat in favour of a man who was himself already deceased.
The largest complaint amongst Burns supporters were, Doc Seaman could have waited till another year, as he had already passed away, Burns, still currently alive & clearly dying soon, could at least get to experience the ceremony. But the Hall didnt seem to care. The lack of respect they showed Burns by neglecting to include him (a person EVERYONE knows is going in anyways) while he was still alive has made many analysts, players & fans sick to their stomach & it has really tarnished the committee & made people show them little to no respect.
With the most ever coach of the year honours in the league, a Stanley Cup title & constantly deemed one of the greatest coaches of recent times all under Burns cap, the Hall seemed like a no-brainer...unfortunately, people with less than no brain were in charge of picking.
2nd- WOMEN PLAYERS IN THE HALL OF FAME
A couple years ago, the HHOF made an announcement that women could now be elected into the Hockey Hall Of Fame on their merits in their sport, and would no longer be compared to the mens game for the rare spots in the hall.
This year, the HHOF Committee made the major decision to include the 1st women's hockey players in the Hall. Canadian Angela James, long considered the "Wayne Gretzky of hockey" before Hayley Wickenheiser would take over in this more media covered era went in along side American Cammi Granato, the captain of the 1st ever Olympic Champion women's hockey team.
Cammi & Angela went in along with NHLer Dino Ciccarelli. While the poorly informed fans yelled at the top of their lungs the injustice of several NHLers being ignored in place of the womens stars, those that understood the process applauded the HHOF Committee at their inclusion, yet chastized them in the same breath for not selecting more NHLers with a backlog of big stars waiting & more to come. What some seem to still not understand, even months later is... that Granato & James were never "stealing" spots from the NHLers, as they were selected on their own merits in their own category, like builders.
The two stars made names for themselves in the sport in different ways. Cammi, the captain of the only American Olympic Gold medal winning team, was raised into a hockey family that included former NHLer Tony Granato. Her career included a successful College career, lots of time with the U.S. National team & a short stop at the end of her career in the WWHL.
Angela never got to play in the Olympics, as she was cut for the final roster of the first ever squad to go to the Olympics in 1998. Till this day, questions of whether the slap in the face to her may have bitten the silver medal squad the Canadians went with in the butt are asked. James career was spent playing against boys, and eventually in the league that would eventually (thru a couple name changes) become the CWHL many years later. She got to play for Team Canada a few times on the World stage, but never in the Olympics. The moniker of "The Wayne Gretzky of womens hockey" was often placed on her before the newer generation adopted the same title for the now best player in the game, Hayley Wickenheiser.
Many have wondered how the Hall can be so incompetent in excluding Burns from the Hall, yet so intuitive as to include women's players, in the very same year.
With women's hockey having large boosts this year with the Olympics, the emergence of the CWHL as their premiere league and now the inclusion of players in the Hall Of Fame, 2010 was a pretty great year for the sport of women's hockey.
In future years, the likes of Heaney, Nieminen, Goyette, Wickenheiser and more will enter. In most cases, it will be thanks to Cammi Granato & Angela James taking those first steps in that they will find their road in much more accepted.
1st - OH CANADA!!
It is an event that only happens every 4 years & in recent versions the NHL's finest have taken to the worlds largest winter sports stage.
The 2010 Olympic Winter games took part in my hometown, Vancouver, BC, Canada this past year & with the worlds eyes on our city, our home teams did not disappoint.
Canada won both the women's & mens Gold medal. While the womens tournament was a bit lopsided from the top 2 teams to the mid tier teams, the mens event, unarguably the marquee event of the Olympics, was some of the best hockey ever seen. Upstarts like Switzerland (who took Canada to a shootout in the round robin tourney) & Slovakia (the 9th ranked IIHF team coming in) caused the big boys of the tourney headaches & showed that there might be hope for these nations in the near future.
With millions of Canadians nervously watching, holding on to a fleeting 1 goal lead, American Zach Parise caused a near national mass suicide when he tied the game up with 25 seconds left in regulation. In the end however, it did nothing more than make a dramatic storybook ending, even more storybook. The stick of Sidney Crosby would inevetably be the most important in Vancouver, as his overtime winning goal past American goaltender Ryan Miller, would send not just a city, or even the province, but the entire country into a frenzy. The bronze medal would see Olli Jokinen score the game winning goal to give Finland the bronze over the upstart Slovakian team, powered by the incredible goaltending of Jaroslav Halak.
The women's tourney saw a new superstar emerge for Canada, as Marie Philip Poulin, an 18 year old became the hero, scoring the only 2 goals in the Gold Medal game, while Olympic rookie goalie Shannon Szabados shut the door at the other end allowing Canada to win their 3rd straight Gold medal 2-0 over the U.S. team. In the bronze medal game, Finland would knock off the 2006 silver medalist Swedes in overtime with a Karolina Rantamaki bankshot that fooled Swedish goalie Sara Grahn.
In the mens tourney, things were considered great. For the NHL, the Canada vs USA final was a dream match for the powers that be. The only way the leagues midget troll of doom would have been happier about the outcome was if it were played in Hawaii or San Diego. However on the women's side, the dominance of Canada & USA again has angered the powers that be of the IOC & they have made ridiculous threats on the women's side of the sport to become more competitive or lose their spot.... despite the mens tournament being FAR more lopsided in its infancy.
Canada, USA, Finland was the gold, silver & bronze medal finshers in both tournies. That is the first time the same result for medals happened on both sides of the tournament.
The year 2011 is already a couple weeks old now & stories may already be developing that in fact opening day of the year could have seen 2 top 10 stories in the same game when Alex Ovechkin did a faceplant trying to take a shot on the soggy, possibly unsafe conditions of Heinz Field for the Winter Classic, and the possibility the games biggest marketing tool could have been knocked out of the line up for awhile in the same game as Sidney Crosby took a serious hit that has sidelined him for a few games since then.
The World Hockey Summit started in Toronto Monday. With it came a meeting of many of the greatest minds in the sport, all at one event, talking about ways to innovate & improve the game.
Of course, men's hockey will dominate much of the talk as expected. However, the great minds of the sport will also talk seriously about the women's game. In fact its such a notable topic of discussion at these meetings, that on the summits official website http://www.worldhockeysummit.com/
it was women's hockey & their need for a pro league that is the 1st story shown before the event opened Monday.
Attention to the women's game is high right now. With comments from IOC dinosaur Jacques Rogge back during the Vancouver 2010 Olympics suggesting the women's hockey tournament could be dropped from the games... despite it growing internationally, advocates & critics alike jumped on the words of the IOC boss.
Of course critics were quick to point out how its "always the U.S. & Canada" in the championship games. Sadly, this is the ONLY argument this side of poorly informed, and frankly, outdated neanderthals can really make about the women's game, so they cling onto it desperately like the last lifeboat leaving a sinking ship.
Its true, the women's game has been dominated by the Canadian & American girls. They have won every World Championship, Olympic Championship & major tournament that has had both nations in it since the inaugural World Womens Hockey Championships back in 1990.
Its also true that at this past Olympics, the other countries, most notable Sweden & Finland, the "next two" in women's hockey seemed to take a step backwards in their development. At the 2006 Olympics there was hope on the horizon of the next tier of teams closing the gap after a shocking silver medal performance by Sweden. However since then, the Nordic countries seem to have taken a step backwards again. Sweden even managed to be bumped out of any medal game at the 2008 Worlds when Switzerland upset them and went on to a 4th place finish.
Going into the 2010 games, Finland seemed to be making waves & showed signs of maybe being the contender to put a scare in the mega-powers this time around. they had earned a win over the U.S. in a tournament last summer. Sweden had a win over Canada the year prior. They might seem like baby steps, but this was the largest chinks in the impressive North American armour yet. It looked like the Nordic countries were going to be some type of threat at the Olympic games.
Instead of a closing of the gap, the gap seemed to be widened to levels not seen in a few years. With a 13-1 win over Sweden & a 5-0 win over Finland, Canada had run the European contenders right out of the buildings by a combined 18-1 total. USA had a similar romp of them, beating Sweden 9-1 and Finland 6-0 for a total of 15-1. The North Americans had beat the top 2 Euro teams 33-2 All the anti-women's hockey crowd agreed, women's hockey should go.
On the other side of the coin, the advocates of the game. The level headed group that realizes great strides had been made...and whom had some pretty strong defense of the women's game, when compared to the feeble beginnings of the mens game. You see, the men were themselves, a little lopsided in those early years...infact, they were even worse.
In the 1st Olympics in 1920. Canada won gold by a combined score of 29-1 in 3 games. USA was second with a combined score of 52-2 (including a 16-0 win over Czechoslovakia in the silver medal game). Canada won games of 15-0 over Czechoslovakia & 12-1 over Sweden in that tournament. USA had similar domination with a 7-0 win over the Swedes, and 16-0 over the Czechs. Not to mention a 29-0 win over Switzerland. A country that would win 2 bronze medals in the first 6 Olympics. Two countries that now, are considered medal contenders every games, Sweden & Czech Republic, have won the last three Olympic gold medals that werent put around the necks of Canadian players. Imagine if Jacques Rogge was IOC bigwig in 1920. Hockey might have been scrapped. The development of the game in the now Czech Republic, Sweden, as well as Slovakia, Finland, Russia, Switzerland and many other countries might never have taken off...at the very least, it would have been stunted considerably.
By 1924 it wasnt even a challenge anymore. Canada would go to Gold again, this time with an insane goals for-against total of 85-0 in the group A round. Wins of 22-0 over Sweden, 30-0 over Czechoslovakia and 33-0 over Switzerland would surely have made Mr. Rogges blood boil if he were in charge. The U.S. only managed a 52-0 group b score. In there was a saddening 11-0 win over Great Britain, the team who would go on to win the bronze. The 4th place team in the tourney, Sweden, lost by scores of 20-0 and 22-0 in the medal round to Canada & the U.S. The gold medal Canadians had a goal for-against tally of 132-3 in the entire event. I mean really, why even have the games? Its clear these other countries will never level the playing field. USA is so strong, and Canada is even stronger. Clearly no one will stop them for many years.
That being said, in the 3rd Olympics. Canada ONLY won by a total of 38-0 in 3 games to take the gold. Sweden managed to keep the route to only 11-0 this time.
The 4th tournament, with only 4 teams, including 2 that had never medaled in a games prior, had fairly competitive games. Only Poland, who finished 4th lost a game by double digits, and only once did it happen, to Canada 10-0.
By the time the 5th Olympics rolled around. Teams were finally starting to catch up. Canada won their group a round easily, but with only a 24-3 score it was clear the lesser teams were now defending them better & had improved their scoring some. USA had it even tougher, finishing 2nd in their group to Germany, with only a 5-2 Goal for against total. It was in this tournament that Canada would lose its first ever game...and it wasnt to the Americans as you might have thought. Great Britain would beat Canada, not once, but TWICE. Sending Canada to a silver medal for its first time ever, the Americans went home with the bronze.
Not once was the idea of killing mens hockey at the Olympics considered back then. They were given time to develop the game & let competition between elite & poorer countries continue as one of the ways to improve & promote the game to the struggling nations that were still just learning the sport. There are now ranked countries by the IIHF in Mexico (32), Australia (34), South Africa (42), Mongolia (46) & United Arab Emirates (47) in mens hockey. Would ANY of these countries be playing, and recognized by the IIHF without the game being on the Olympic stage for all these years?? I doubt it.
This year, the women's game should have been celebrating all its accomplished. They had an Olympic year. The CWHL, 1 of 2 major women's hockey leagues based in Canada (along with the WWHL out west) had the first ever draft in a womens major league, and to top it off Angela James & Cammi Granato will be inducted into the Hockey Hall Of Fame this fall. Marking the first time women have been inducted to the HHOF as players.
Yet all the narrow-minded, sexist, money grubbing & greed based IOC can think of is, getting rid of an event because of a current competition disparity. In beach volleyball, the U.S. and Brazil have 7 golds, 5 silvers and 3 bronze between them in the 8 total events that have ever been played in that sport at the Olympics. No crying for it to be pulled. Yet it seems pretty clear, they are more than dominant in the sport. I guess its more acceptable to allow a sport to stay when 1 of the countries benefiting is a country that is somewhat of a 3rd world country. I guess it also helps when the girls in that sport take to the court in bikinis. Suddenly, competitive imbalance can be overlooked.
Hey IOC, if you want a more competitive women's tournament, I have a novel idea you will not be fans of...but it will likely work. Invest some of that obscene wealth that WE, the paying public helped line your organization with into the sport. Go to the next tier of countries & put money into their programs, make it a viable option for coaches & trainers to work in outside of Canada & the U.S.A. Stop putting all the onus on the athletes & teams to figure the problem out. Take some of the responsibility on yourselves. If you want Finland or Sweden to have a legitimate shot at standing ontop of the podium in 4 or 8 years, make their programs more stable. Give Switzerland, Slovakia, Russia and other countries a boost.
The blame doesnt go solely on the IOC's shoulders though. They get the brunt, because they made the idiotic statement. But they arent alone in this.
The IIHF does little to boost the other countries programs either. Sure, they help some, and legitimately, they probably are the largest contributors. But at the end of the day Canada & the U.S. are still probably getting more financial & resource help than the other countries. right? Right. Its also unbelievable how much the IIHF puts into mens hockey, a sport that runs off the efforts of multi-millionaire athletes compared to women's hockey, a sport run off the efforts of people who work non-hockey related jobs to pay the bills. I realize the men make you more money at the end of the day...but, they are also going to miss it the least. So take some of their earning power & invest it where its needed....in the women's game. I doubt at the end of the day Martin Brodeur, Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin or Ryan Kesler will be crying if they learned you took 25-50% of the income made off the mens tourneys and invested it into the women's game. The IIHF isnt going to go broke by taking some of its resources and putting it into an entire gender inside the sport. What are you afraid of IIHF? People might like the sport & it will start to chip into the mens popularity?? Dont worry, mens hockey will certainly always be king...at least for my lifetime. But instead, you could have TWO marketable, highly profitable products, instead of 1. All it takes, is some time, some effort, and some of that mountain of money you are sitting on.
Team Canada & Team USA. You both are funded by very well to do organizations. NEITHER OF YOU is going broke anytime soon. How about giving your competition a boost to get going?? Or are you afraid of competition? I get it, winning is better, its all that matters blah blah blah. I get that. I was a competitive athlete at one time, and I certainly didnt like losing. But at the end of the day, whats the sense of being the best at something if no one else cares??? Do you really want to be proud of being the best? Well, make better competitors. Give yourself legitimate, steady competition. If you give other countries help, sure, the pocketbook is thinner on your end...but lets be honest, what really are you in danger of losing financially?? So you might not be able to hire a 4th media relations consultant. Oh boo hoo. You already have too many suits roaming around the team with no necessary purpose already.
The NHL. All we hear of is how business is on the up & up since you royally raped your entire fanbase 6 years ago. There is the legitimate chance another lockout will happen soon. Its possible there may be another year without hockey because your egos cant be put aside. Heres an idea, that works on 2 levels. Invest in the women's league(s). The NBA has deep fingers into the WNBA, why cant the NHL act the same way? It is another way to market your game too. Dont be shocked to hear there NHL PR department, but some people are still mad at you and arent going to your games, despite still going to hockey games in other leagues. You want to win some over... start being notable contributors to those leagues...and the women's league is a good place to start. Get some NHL owners on board as owners in the league, and cross-promote. Who knows, when the big boys have a temper tantrum next lock out because you wont allow 45 year long contracts and are willing to sit for an entire season again, the ladies might be able to fill that gap for the fans... and you, the NHL, could get some financial kickback from the upswing in the attendance.
Other countries hockey federations, you are disappointing. Sure, you are not as rich as Canada and the U.S. We get it, funds are limited. But that doesnt mean you cant make stronger women's teams still.... hell, in some of the cases where your mens team is soft & the womens team isnt, maybe its time to put your efforts heavier into the women's program. Countries like Finland, Sweden, Russia, Switzerland and China had the same or better rankings at the Olympics with their women's teams than their mens...why not reward them for doing better by raising the level of support?? In fact, only Slovakia in the women's tourney had a lower rank than on the mens side...and considering Slovakia came into the Olympics ranked 15th in the IIHF women's rankings, I would say they performed quite well. Kazhakstan and Japan are both ranked in the top 10 in women's hockey, and are far away after thoughts in mens hockey...why not build those programs over your mens teams?? Great Britain 18th in women's, 23rd in mens. Your mens program IS NOT making an Olympics anytime soon...but the women's team..maybe with more focus on them, they could make it 2 Olympics from now. I have seen websites for teams in Britain in women's leagues...theres obviously an interest in the sport there, GROW IT!.
NHL players. Yes, that group of millionaire hockey players who so often talk in interviews of the love they have of the game still and how great they thought it all was growing up playing for free. Guess what, the women still do play for practically free. If even 2 players from each countries team invested even 2% of their contract annually to their opposite sexes teams programs, that would help considerably. I suspect at the end of the day the Finnish Women's team could find a good use for a few bucks from the likes of Teemu Selanne, Olli Jokinen or Sami Salo, each of whom hasnt made less than a million bucks in a season since the lockout. Do the NHL Swedes really think their female counterparts would object if Daniel Alfredsson, Nicklas Lidstrom or Henrik Lundqvist put some of the ridiculous fortunes they are sitting on, into their program to help strengthen it? I know its absurd to expect Jaromir Jagr to do anything that doesnt immediately benefit him, but maybe Tomas Kaberle or Dominik Hasek could help boost the Czech women's program, as well Mark Streit could give the Swiss women's team a boost, while maybe Marian gaborik or Marian Hossa could use some of their obscene wealth to help the Slovakian girls improve on their monumental 8th place showing last Olympics. Hockey players are supposedly the nice guys, the charitable types... yet at the end of the day, how much help do they give to the women's game? Dozens of current & former NHLers have sisters, daughters and wives who did or are playing the sport competitively. How hard is it to stand up & be proud of your family & put your money behind them??
The media also has a role in this. I so often see a story on women's hockey make a publication, and they never follow it up. Its a 1 off. Only time it makes the scoresheet in the paper or on TV is at the Olympics, or here in Canada, a World championship/4 Nations Cup maybe. We arent expecting you to know every women's player, from superstar to 4th liners over night. We are just asking, you pay attention and give it as much attention as other leagues you talk about in far more depth. The AHL and CHL teams get considerable attention by their local media outlets and even national broadcasters. The women's leagues however... rarely see the light of day in the papers, and even less often on the national broadcasters. Why? Some will say its because those mens leagues are more popular...and perhaps thats so..but thats also years of experience & marketing that give them that boost in that area. When Roller Hockey first got its own major league, it got play in all the local papers, it was always in the scoresheets, and it was covered well in The Hockey News. Where is/was that same respect for the NWHL, WWHL or CWHL over the years?? Time to stop acting like an old boys club & start expanding your wheelhouse of leagues you cover to include the women's game.
This last Olympics, Canada won Gold in both mens & women's hockey. USA was silver in both. Finland was bronze in both. I dare anyone to go up to the likes of Hayley Wickenheiser, Angela Ruggeiro or Noora Raty and tell them the medals they earned werent that impressive because the competition isnt there. I talked to some of the girls after the tourney, and there was a common statement on why the girls, on both the winning, and losing sides, thought the skill level between USA & Canada seemed to suddenly surge ahead again after the Nordic countries being so close just several months earlier... TIME. The Swedes & Finns didnt have the same amount of time together, as the Canadians and Americans did. They certainly didnt have the funding to hold the in depth camps those two countries did...and it showed at the end. Its entirely possible that Canada and the U.S. won the Gold & Silver medals solely because of money & having the time to gel as 1 group. Why cant Finland, Sweden, Switzerland and other countries get that same oppourtunity?? Because groups like the IOC, IIHF, NHL, NHL Players & their countries organizations arent willing to help even a playing field that is clearly tilted.
I am trying to wrap my head around when the IOC turned from an organization who was there to help promote & grow sports, to an organization who only cares about whether something is popular or if several countries already have well developed teams? Its absurd to think that they would drop women's hockey from the Winter Olympics, considering how thin those games are on events... but, this is the same committee who axed softball & baseball recently from the summer games.... so suddenly, the lunacy of dropping a marquee winter event doesnt seem so crazy with them.
I doubt my logical rant will make too many waves and be the catalyst for making the women's game grow quickly overnight. I dont think its going to be read aloud at the summit obviously.. I mean for one, I take too many shots at too many people. Odds are everyone there falls into 1 of the groups I just criticized. I will probably find myself here a year or more from now angrily stating the same things again. Afterall, I have said them before without anyone listening. I am hopeful someone will be at the summit, who has a thought maybe something close to mine, that will get to voice that thought to the panel. Maybe that thought will even snowball into an idea that will eventually start helping make changes to the women's game. I am hopeful, but I wont hold my breath. Because everytime I think the game is about to take large steps forward, it doesnt. Its so often just on the cusp, but it doesnt get that big push over that it needs. Maybe things will be different this time though. It is after all a big step to at least be a topic at the summit this time.
With every roster, I wont be surprised to have some wrong. But with Canada, I actually wont be shocked if I have a 1/3 of it wrong. There was just too many to choose from for too few open spots.
Team Canada, the host country. Canada will come in with enormous pressure on them to perform, not just by media who often act like a hockey championship should just be anointed to us, but moreso the fans, especially the unknowing fans who dont realize how lethal the other top tier countries really are. You would think 1 gold medal in 57 years would simmer our fans egos, but it doesnt. We expect gold from these guys & anything less will be considered failure. Despite them coming in ranked #2 in the world & only a couple years ago, were as low as 3rd. All that is irrelevant to the minds of Canadian hockey fans. In their minds Canada is here to pick up their Gold medals & the rest are just competing to see who shares the podium with them as silver & bronze medalists.
Reality is, the Canadian team actually looks strong on paper & thus will warrant such Gold medal predictions by the pundits & armchair analysts alike. I have complete confidence in GM Steve Yzerman to pick a strong team. I like the choice of him as a GM. I think he actually has an eye for the game & will be able to do something that his pre-decessors couldnt, put loyalties aside & pick solely on talent for the position.
Even though I know better than to toss aside the Russians, Swedes, Finns, Americans or Czech Republic as after thoughts, I too feel Canada SHOULD be the Gold favorites for 2010.
With only a few days till they announce their roster, here is what I think the team might look like.
Martin Brodeur- NEW JERSEY DEVILS (NHL) All time leader in wins & Shutouts, the backstop of the last Canada Gold Olympic medal, Marty has nothing to prove to anyone to make this team. Only question legitimately is, will be the starter?
Roberto Luongo- VANCOUVER CANUCKS (NHL) The winningest goalie in G.M Place...err Canada Hockey Place history will possibly be the starter in that very building. Great record at home this year helps his chances as well.
Marc Andre Fleury- PITTSBURGH PENGUINS (NHL) With the collapse of Steve Mason, MAF has leaped into the limelight for the 2010 consideration. He will still need a horrible miracle to get into a game, but he will at the very least be on the team.
Dan Boyle- SAN JOSE SHARKS (NHL) The most minutes of any Canadian defenseman means Dan has had all sorts of situations this season in SJ. He can QB a PP, play ES & kill penalties. He is a lock.
Chris Pronger- PHILADELPHIA FLYERS (NHL) He probably has helped Matt carle get a spot on the U.S. roster. Having a strong year in Philly....even if the team itself isnt.
Drew Doughty- LOS ANGELES KINGS (NHL) A month ago I must confess, I foolishly told someone I dont think Doughty will be on Team Canada. I was standing ona street & didnt have the wealth of info I have here infront of me & just foolishly thought there must be more top tier Canadian dmen than him. I was wrong.
Brent Seabrook- CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS (NHL) I revised this spot & took out Mike Green. Seabrook has lots of chemistry with Keith & was a strong consideration & I think in the end his defensive game will bring more than Greens offensive only game. So I have switched out Green for Seabrook in the end.
Duncan Keith- CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS (NHL) An often used dman for Chicago in all situations, Duncan will likely come here with the task of being a shutdown dman & Penalty killer. He has some offensive punch too if its needed.
Shea Weber- NASHVILLE PREDATORS (NHL) The hard hitting Weber will be expected to anchor the 3rd pairing.
Scott Niedermayer- ANAHEIM DUCKS (NHL) Even with the non-Niedermayeresque year he has had, Scott is still a solid lock for this team, if for no other reason than experience. The fact that statistically hes done well enough to warrant consideration helps the cause too.
Dany Heatley- SAN JOSE SHARKS (NHL) Hidden behind the strong start his teammate Joe Thornton is having is Dany. He'll be the top line left winger, regardless if his teammate centres him or not.
Sidney Crosby- PITTSBURGH PENGUINS (NHL) You cant make a Canada roster without Sid. Doing so is clearly a sign of 1 of two things. Either a severe hate for him, or mental instability. In either case the young Stanley Cup winning captain will be the centrepiece of the teams top line.
Jarome Iginla- CALGARY FLAMES (NHL) Probably the most well rounded player for Canada, Jarome will most certainly be on the top line, or 2nd line. Depending what type of forward pairings the coaches have in mind. In any case, he will certainly be a huge piece of any offensive attack Canada has.
Joe Thornton- SAN JOSE SHARKS (NHL) The leagues top scorer will likely take a back seat her e& play 2nd fiddle to Sid the Kid. Expect Joe Thornton to still be the set up man on the PP though. Might be no better passer right now.
Corey Perry- ANAHEIM DUCKS (NHL) A big body who eats up big minutes & is offensively skilled, Corey Perry will be a loc for the team along with his linemate & countryman Ryan Getzlaf.
Brad Richards- DALLAS STARS (NHL) Having another terrific offensive campaign, Brad Richards in my opinion has done all he can to make a case for being on the team. He could be the victim of "too many Centresitis" if they decide to thin the roster out from Centre based players. But he should be here still.
Mike Richards- PHILADELPHIA FLYERS (NHL) A penalty killing specialist by description, Mike also has offensive capabilities as well. He will be out on almost every PK situation Canada may get.
Rick Nash- COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS (NHL) 40 goals last year, on pace for more than that this year. A lock for their top 2 lines & PP units.
Patrick Marleau- SAN JOSE SHARKS (NHL) Great in all sections of the game, Patrick can be used on the PP, ES & PK. He'll likely be logging a lot of minutes. What line, that is still a question.
Mike Fisher- OTTAWA SENATORS (NHL) Yes, Canada needs checkers. So whats even better than a checking forward? One that has offensive flair as well. Mike Fisher will likely get 4th line minutes by the bunchloads, expect him to do a a lot of PK time too.
Dustin Penner- EDMONTON OILERS (NHL) I surprised a lot of people by saying this in conversation. Most of them dont think hes as legit as the point totals suggest. I have been big on him for awhile, and I think hs size is the final straw in adding him to the line up. Great 3rd line pressence & possible big body for the PP.
Ryan Getzlaf- ANAHEIM DUCKS (NHL) You cant pick Perry & leave Getlaf off. They are going to be paired together to see if they can mesh on the world stage as well as they do in the NHL.
Martin St Louis- TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING (NHL) All offense, Martin might get into the line up if some more offensive spark is somehow required. For the mostpart, he is probably watching from the press box though.
maybe- Marty Turco, Chris Mason, Brent Seabrook, Jay Bouwmeester, Stephane Robidas, Mike Cammalleri, Ryan Smyth, Brenden Morrow, Jonathan Toews.