One of the best goalies in Womens Hockey - Noora Räty may end up retiring from Hockey at 24 years of age - because she cant find a competitive & paying league to play in.
Imagine right now Carey Price, or Tuukka Rask quitting hockey right now because they could not find a team to play for in a league they felt was at their skill level. Absurd right? I mean if they were for some reason unable to play in the NHL, they would have the KHL as a viable back up. Rask could surely go home & play in Finland & be a star there. They have options. Lets also take into consideration, neither of them are even in the top 5 goalies in the game right now at 26 years of age.
This brings me to Noora Raty. For those who dont follow women's hockey outside of the Canada/USA battles, Raty has been for a few years now 1 of, if not at times, the best goalie in the world in women's hockey. She has backstopped Finland to wins over the U.S. in the World Championships, Four Nations Cup last year & the Hockey Canada Cup here in 2010. A feat that is few & far between for teams not from Canada.
Raty carried her college, University Of Minnesota to back-to-back NCAA championships. With a career mark of 114-17-8, including a 38-0-0 mark in her final year with 17 Shutouts. She holds the record for career shutouts & single season shutouts in women''s college hockey. As a teenager she won the Best Goalie honours at the Women's World Hockey Championships, twice. In 2008 she was given the MVP of the entire tourney. Noora Raty was the best goalie in the world, and she wasnt even out of her teens yet.
Winning an Olympic Bronze medal in 2010 will be the highlight of her international career. Her two NCAA titles will be the only major championships she will likely ever win in the sport. The reason is, Noora Raty, at just 24 years of age, will likely retire.
Early retirement isnt rare in women's hockey. Some do it due to injuries, others do it to start up families. But rarely has there been someone in the women's game, still near the peak of her career retiring because she cant find somewhere to play that still wants to. This is a situation unique to Raty right now, but not unique to the women's hockey players as a whole.
Despite the feverish crowds that Canada-USA women's games get on both sides of the border, there is no professional women's league. The only pro women's hockey league currently of note is in Russia, and Raty herself has stated, it isnt "the best". North America has a women's league. The CWHL, but it isnt pro. Players travel expenses and equipment are paid for, but they do not pay the players to play. Players are expected to carry on with real every day jobs, and play a sport they love, for essentially free. This is the top level of competition in North America right now for women's hockey, a free league that doesnt travel outside the eastern time zone.
Raty stated in a very public statement on twitter that she needs a league that can challenge her (CWHL could do that) and pay her (the Russian league can do that) but finding 1 that does both is not an option at this time. Noora could play mens hockey. An option she likely has considered. Perhaps she still will. But what about all the others? What about Raty proving herself against other women's players? Growing the game? This seems to be something Noora seems eager to do. She wants to be paid AND play against women.
Noora Raty's very public plea yesterday on twitter might not help a league form in time for her career, but hopefully it will be instrumental in getting things in motion for such a league very soon. Hopefully one that can pay players, and more importantly expland beyond an area so small you can drive from the furthest 2 points of the league in a few hours.
Women have a professional basketball league, backed by the NBA. Its in its 17th season coming up, has 12 teams. With a minimum salary of $35,000 a season.
Women have a professional soccer league. The NWSL and while it pays very little comparatively, it does at least PAY its players. Minimum $6,000 a season. But there are also professional leagues in Europe for them to go to that pay much, much better.
So why is there no professional hockey league for women in North America? I'm not saying it has to pay WNBA level salaries just yet, but it could, if it had the right marketing behind it.
Cue the NHL. Like the NBA's involvement in women's basketball, the NHL could vastly boost the image, and viability of a women's league. Association with regional teams would bring recognition and would almost instantly boost the sport. It would also allow payment for services. The NHL is a multi-billion dollar juggernaut in sports, yet, no involvement in trying to develop a women's league or game. They have no problem tossing money at markets that failed from the get go, and trying to sway fans over seas with tours there that include actual regular season games. Lots of money to waste on those ventures. But women's hockey? Nope. Despite the NHL using women's hockey stories to get a few more eyeballs on broadcasts, puck dropping ceremonies & traffic to their website. That, they can do. They have no problem USING women's hockey moments & players to promote hockey, just dont put any actual money into it.
Somewhere today in Sochi, Russia Tuukka Rask is probably going to have a meal that he didnt have to pay for, and will be indifferent to the experience or even annoyed that its not what he would usually have. Noora Raty might very well have that same meal, and just be glad she didnt have to pay for it, with the $0 she earns doing the same job, and so far, more successfully in less years on this planet. Tuukka Rask will get $7M U.S. this season. He is 1 of the top 20 goalies in the NHL, MAYBE even top 10. He will make $7M because a team felt having 1 of the top 20 at his position is worth that. Noora Raty is 1 of the top 5 in the world for women, even arguably, the best. Yet no one is paying her, despite the fact shes done more in her career than Tuukka (never played a second in the playoffs in the 2011 Cup year) who still has no major accomplishments in his career outside of a bronze at the World Juniors. Noora is also 2 years younger than him. Peter Budaj, the 3rd string goalie for Slovakia this tourney is making $1.4M as a back up for the Montreal Canadiens, the same team that employs Carey Price at $6.5M.
Surely, there can be a league, that values Noora Raty enough that she can make at least 10% of what the 3rd string Slovakian goalie in the Olympic mens tournament currently makes. But, I also thought there should be a professional women's hockey league as well. Maybe there will be. Maybe the NHL, with all the hair brained schemes its put together to try & create new revenue streams will finally go "hey, how about a women's hockey league?". They put a team in Phoenix Arizona, and in a swamp in Sunrise, Florida. Surely women's hockey is less of a risk than those zany ideas. Figure it out quick National Hockey League, before 1 of the sports greatest retires, at just 24 years old.
A little side note I found as I was looking to see if there was any last details I missed. Noora finished 63rd on The Hockey News 2013 list of 100 most influential people in hockey..... ahead of 37 mostly NHL based people. Are you listening NHL? There are women players of influence, you just need to open your eyes before its too late.
Heres a few photos of this hockey phenom from the two times I got to see her in Vancouver. During the 2009 Hockey Canada Cup & the 2010 Olympic Bronze Medal game.
NHL Trade Deadline Day Tomorrow. My guesses on where Roberto Luongo might find himself Thursday Morning
Roberto Luongo, at a Vancouver Canucks practice in January amid rampant speculation of being traded. 2 & 1/2 months later, he is once again in the same spot as NHL trade dead line day is tomorrow.
With the trade deadline now less than 24 hours away, the speculation on where a variety of players might be dealt is at a fever pitch. Roberto Luongo of course being the most discussed name in Vancouver.
This has me wondering, where might the Canucks all time leader in pretty much every goaltending category find himself come Thursday morning. I have narrowed it down to some of the more likely & perhaps, less likely situations for the man called "Luuuu".
- Toronto Maple Leafs
We've actually been hearing this since before the
dawn of time...or so it seems. Lui to Toronto makes sense for the Leafs. A team that is currently in a playoff position, but without a playoff goaltender. They also are kicking the tires on Miikka Kiprusoff, so we will see what goes on there. But Lui as a Leaf isnt an all too insane theory at this point. It will come down to if the Leafs have what the Nucks want in return.
- Vancouver Canucks
Chances are pretty good come Thursday morning Luongo could be staying put. Right now, this seems like the more probable situation with the way goalies have been dropping into the trade rumour mill lately & Gillis insisting on wanting reasonable market value back for his prize keeper. For now, the 1/1A set up in Vancouver has done decently and Luongo has kept the team player mentality by not griping about it publicly if he actually has any animocity to it. Perhaps he has come around to staying here for the rest of the year & has eased up on subtly e-mailing Mike Gillis articles on prospects from the Leafs & Panthers who have done well in a recent game.
- Florida Panthers
Ideally, this would be a dream come true for Lui. He
really would embrace a move to Florida, plus it would give him a few extra weeks vacation time to work on his poker game & think up some clever tweets. Florida is going nowhere this year, and could certainly be looking to unload some of their veterans who might want to see a playoff game or 2. Canucks would be eager to get a useful part back for Lui with a prospect or two. Florida has plenty of both currently. Florida could part with 1 of the several NHL capable in a year or 2 prospects they have with either Theodore or Clemmensen so the Canucks get an NHL capable back up in return. Both teams would surely be pleased with what they get.
- New York Islanders
This will be a far more realistic scenario if the Islanders also go out & get Miikka Kiprusoff & Ryan Miller tomorrow. My theory that Charles Wang has asked Garth Snow to stockpile goalies in the hopes of trying out a goalie rotation idea similar to baseball teams pitching rotations is quite realistic. With Nabokov, DiPietro, Poulin & Thomas already, they are getting close to this dream.
- River Rock Casino
Probably a less likely scenario, but in a fit of rage,
Roberto opts to retire immediately & focus on his budding poker career, only to return a week later after losing repeatedly when opponents learn to just hum Chelsea Dagger while at the table with him.
Maybe its because I just saw the new GI Joe movie last night, but what if Mike Gillis isnt actually Mike Gillis, but a clone made up of microscopic nanites that has been sent by Dean Lombardi or Chuck Fletcher? If the Sedins also get traded or waived, this theory should be immediately investigated. In any case, I suppose this COULD happen & thus Roberto might end up on waivers.
- Hockey Night In Canada
Lets be honest. Don Cherry is getting close to
retirement & HNIC is looking for the next larger than life personality to throw in there. With Brett Hull seemingly M.I.A. and Sean Avery being hated by everyone, including his own mother, the amount of likable & entertaining personalities in the NHL to throw at the public is a slim pool currently for CBC. Brendan Shanahan seems unwilling to step down from the job he has, despite failing it massively. While Craig Conroy probably couldn't fit whatever he is going to say every week into a 5 minute segment, so this means there is still an opening. With Lui at the help, the CBC could team up almost anyone with him & they would seem less boring... except for PJ Stock.
- Toronto Blue Jays
If he can pitch, maybe he will go to Toronto for a
different reason than to tend goal for a hockey team. Granted, he would be more suited as a catcher, and that too is something the Jays desperately seem to need
after watching the opening day game. He already has a catchers mask & is used to playing without a goalie stick. The change of positions doesnt seem too much of a stretch.
- TV or Movie Star
After Luis epic acting job on the TSN video of him & Schneider getting along earlier this year ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_Ap8tlQ3oZ0 ) it seems possible Roberto could just drop his stick
& blocker & pick up a script. I'm thinking a buddy comedy movie with Steve Carrell maybe.
Really, whatever team he is with Thursday morning, there will be a Starbucks in that city... so this is actually the most solid guess I have.
Whatever happens tomorrow, the fact is, Roberto Luongo will be somewhere Thursday & it will of be most likely of his own choosing since he has a No movement clause in his contract. It is also a near certainty that wherever he is Thursday some people will be happy & disappointed with it. Personally, I will be fine with him staying here. I like the fact that we have 2 #1 goalies. Its a position that you really cant afford to be thin on, and for now, we are not. If he moves on, I'll wish him luck wherever he goes.. I just might not cheer for whatever team he is on.
Uncertain where he will ply his NHL award & Olympic medal winning trade this season, current Vancouver Canucks superstar goaltender Roberto Luongo arrived in Vancouver today.
With the NHL lockout over (as soon as the NHLPA ratifies the deal this weekend) & training camps starting any day, the franchises all time leader in wins & shutouts returned to Vancouver to prepare for the possibility that he could still be a Canuck this season despite a plethora of reports, blogs & tweets stating he almost certainly will not be with the Canucks come the season opener in just over a week.
With trade rumours swirling around the multi-time all-star goaltender, the media in Vancouver were eager to get some comments from him on the situation. However... they were not THAT eager, as the group of print & television reporters almost missed the 6'3 man & the porter escorted trolley of bags & equipment going thru the passenger only portion of the terminal out a side door
The man often known as simply "Luuu" stopped for the 4-5 reporters for a 3-4 minute chat about the lockout, his relationship with Cory Schneider, his training regiment during the break and of course...his feelings on the trade speculations among other things.
Below is the interview as I heard it (sorry about background noise...airports are a loud place). None of the questions are mine, I let the people who are paid to do this ask the questions. Also added a couple of photos from before & after the interview took place.
After a marathon bargaining session that lasted longer than it took me to watch a complete TV series, the NHL & NHLPA have tentatively agreed on a new Collective Bargaining Agreement. The minimum length of it is 8 years, with a maximum of 10 yrs on the current deal.
Some of the early details of the agreement that have come out so far is this.
- 2013/14 season Salary Cap will be $64.3M
- Contract length maximum is 7 yrs for free agents, 8 yrs for players you already have.
- the lowest paid year of a contract cant be below 50% of the higest paid year.
No date on when training camps or the season starting date have come out yet. Length of this shortened season has also not been stated yet.
The marathon session, which started Saturday afternoon in New York City, ended early-morning on the east coast, after a 15-16 hour bargaining meeting with mediator Scot Beckenbaugh ended with the new tentative deal which still needs to be ratified by the NHLPA & signed off by a plethora of lawyers.
While many sports journalists & hockey insiders were feeling more & more optimistic as the night dragged into day, it wasnt till a tweet from Denver Post reporter Adrian Dater stating the lockout was over that the news was out there.
Within a minute of Mr. Dater making the tweet, practically ever hockey reporter that was awake was making similar statements on facebook, twitter & on T.V.
The real work for the NHL starts now however. While Canadian mad hockey cities will regretably come back in short order like the victim of an abusive relationship, wooing back fans in American southern markets where NFL football, the NBA & the fact MLB Spring training is just weeks away will dominate the sports landscape is going to be a task comparable to finding a respected hockey writer that will pick the columbus Blue Jackets to win the Stanley Cup this year. The damage of this lockout will be hard to pitch to fans of Anaheim, Los Angeles, Phoenix, Dallas, Florida, Tampa, Carolina, Nashville, San Jose and probably even the rest of the U.S. cities where any variety of NFL, NBA, college sports teams playing there have completely swallowed up any left over sports fans looking for a fix.
If any good comes out of this 3rd lockout in the NHL in less than 2 decades it is this... Teams like Florida, Phoenix, Carolina, Tampa, Nashville might not survive because of the lockout. Their feeble fanbases have likely been cleared out to just the most rabid fans. Relocation or contraction for these teams is needed.... and maybe, we might get that in the next couple years now.
In the next few days tonnes of NHLers & hopefulls will head to their teams respective training camps and the fans that still exist will have moved from ranting about how much they loathe Gary Bettman and Donald Fehr, and rant about how their team got screwed by the lockout because they lost so & so due to the lockout.
Now that hockey is back, you can start feverishly trying to analyze who might win the Stanley Cup this year. On that note, let me give you some help there.
Every post-lockout Stanley Cup winner has had these exact same traits.
- U.S. based team in the Eastern Conference
- Based in the eastern time zone
- never previously won the Stanley Cup
- Canadian Captain
So unless the Washington Capitals take away the C from Ovechkin or the Florida Panthers name a Canadian Captain, it will be the Buffalo Sabres captain Jason Pominville hoisting the Stanley Cup this season.
More fan tributes for the late Rick Rypien adorn the pilar outside Rogers Arena - and my take on the depression issue and how the NHL should be forced to acknowledge and deal with it
Its been a little over a day & a 1/2 now since Rick Rypien, the former Vancouver Canucks rugged winger was found dead in his Alberta home.
The fan tribute I photographed last night, with a dozen or so comments & trinkets had grown today to probably a 100 or so messages, several bouqets of various flowers, and more photos & fans visiting.
Wednesday afternoon (later today), there is an unofficial tribute memorial scheduled to take place in front of Rogers Arena outside the Roger Neilson statue where the makeshift memorial has sprung up. From 2 PM till 8 PM fans are welcomed to come down, and sign a book of condolences & thanks.
My last blog talked a lot about Ricks rise to the NHL from an unlikely past. Today however, I will talk more about Rick the person, his off ice issues, and those around him who tried to help and what this should mean for the NHL.
Rick was dealing with depression. Going on reports I have read from various articles & blogs today, this issue has gone back a decade. It was a serious & heavy topic for someone to deal with as a teenager. Looking back, his off ice issues of years gone by, very likely were emotional boiling overs of this past tragedy that he couldnt shake.
An email from a former team mate of Rypiens on the Regina Pats for 3 seasons alluded to a personal tragedy of the former Canucks player from back when he was a teenager. Don Washcuk said in an email sent to the Jason Gregor for OilersNation in this article.. http://oilersnation.com/2011/8/16/reality-good-and-bad
"I was fortunate to be a teammate of Ricks for the better part of three years with the Pats. At that time he suffered a horrific personal off-ice tragedy. As 17 and 18 year olds, we never knew how to act or help him through it. It was sort of just pushed aside and we never spoke of it. Perhaps if we were properly educated on these sorts of issues we could have recognized what was going on, and in some way made a difference. I have only great memories of Ryp and I offer my deepest condolences to his family. He will be greatly missed and perhaps we can all learn from this tragedy."
Knowing now, what fans & media know about how long Rick had felt these feelings, the events of yesterday are all more tragic. He was just simply unable to "deal" with something that life had given him. We all have things in our lives, especially by the time you are 27 that get you down, that make you hurt. For some, it is easy to just battle thru it & move on. For others, they dwell on everything. Each disappointment or problem weighs on them far more than anyone, including their friends & family, know. This appears to be the path Rick Rypien had been dealt. Regardless what level of NHL accolades he ever reached, happiness was never going to outweigh the sadness he felt for issues from his past that were out of his control.
The Vancouver Canucks tried twice to let him solve his inner demons. They gave him 2 no questions asked leaves of absence from the team. In the pro sports world, that is unheard of. Many athletes arent even given 1 chance, let alone 2. But the Canucks saw potential in Rick, they liked Rick, and they eagerly wanted him to not just be a valuable asset as a player for them, but a better person. The NHL as a whole tried to make Ricks return to hockey as uncomplicated as possible. They gave the Canucks a pass on a rule allowing teams to only have players on the farm for 2 weeks on conditioning stints. This allowed the team the mobility to leave him down there for the season, to give him a stable environment to get his game back on track, and to not force the team into a situation where they might be forced to put Rick in a situation he wasnt prepared for, whether that be back in the NHL or on waivers, and possibly go to a team where his safety nets were not the same, if any.
The fans & media as a whole gave Rick as much room as you can expect. Yes, some asked some questions. Some even asked some questions that were perhaps too much. But they were in the vast minority. For the mostpart, the fans gave Ripper the privacy he wanted to deal with a situation that no one knew or possibly understood.
Everybody did what they felt was best for Rick Rypien the person. In the end, somehow, it wasnt enough. Did Rypien feel he was undeserving of all the accolades? Perhaps? Maybe something deep down made him feel that anything he did, regardless how well he did it, was never going to be enough for someone, or something.
Rick Rypien SHOULD have been a success story. He was earmarked for the storybook ending. A little guy who fought all the odds against men bigger & stronger than him, yet somehow perservered. He overcame not getting drafted in the WHL let alone the NHL, he overcame injury after injury to resume his NHL career. These are the stype of stories that you generally see & in the end, it is a feel good story. This sadly, doesnt have that ending, and so far, few if anyone knows why.
When he signed with the Winnipeg Jets last month, most fans in Vancouver & Winnipeg, where he played his minor-pro hockey truly thought "good for you Rick, good luck, you will do well there". All parties were happy for him. Everyone thought it was another step in his amazing storybook story. That chapter however, never got written. Instead, somehow, the author of the book decided to end it with a cruel twist.
Even those of us who deal with depression cant say "I know what hes going thru" because you likely dont. Its a condition, a disease that everyone deals with and reacts to differently. The NHL will certainly be questioned about what it does to ensure their players are of good mental health, and that might be 1 shining beacon of positivity out of this tragic story. Rick Rypien's death might somehow open the door to discussing a situation that pro sports as a whole refuses to engage. Mental illness amonst their athletes. They are, afterall human. They are prone to the same personal, emotional & physical problems the general public is. In the general public, in Canada alone, there is about 3500 suicides a year (not to mention attempts, and just personal depression). That number is primarily male, and primarily in the age bracket of 16 to 44...the age range of NHL players. So with the NHL's entire workforce meeting these 2 criteria, shouldnt they be more aggressive in making their employees aware that there is hope As well making the players aware of the warning signs of a colleague who might not be well? If anything from Rick's death can be taken away as a positive, its the hope that the NHL will take his death seriously, will work harder to ensure this doesnt happen again, and that someone else down the road will be saved because of those efforts.
If the NHL is having trouble finding a shining beacon to show help can work, perhaps they should ask Hall Of Fame forward Bryan Trottier. The former Islanders legend considered suicide himself over financial problems. He however eventually got psyhiatric help, and is still here with us today, on the NHL Oldtimers Hockey tours.
Whatever the NHL does. They need to address this issue NOW. Their hand has been forced. Rick Rypien in his last action, took the fight to the NHL. Ripper rarely lost a fight on the ice. The NHL needs to assure that the battle he had off the ice for happiness were not in vain. They need to make Rick's death matter. Not just for his legacy, which deserves it...but for their own PR, and more importantly, their employees.
Below is a few more photos from the tribute memorial for Rick outside Rogers Arena (where his celebration of his career and life will take place later today). While I was there, I ran into the girls who set up part or all of the original display. Thanks to them for taking the time to start that for all the fans.
Remember TODAY (at least when this blog was posted) August 17, 2011 from 2 PM to 8 PM outside Rogers Arena near the ticket widows (right across from Stadium Skytrain station lower entrance) there will be a celebration of Ricks career & life.
So far 460 people have confirmed on facebook their intention to show up.
I will be the first to say, I didnt know Derek Boogaard at all. I thought I did a bit, but reading articles on the 6'8 NHL enforcer today, I really wonder "who is the man that I met so many times?".
Of course, most of you reading this will already be aware of the tragic news that Derek Boogaard was discovered in his Minnesota apartment yesterday dead of still unknown causes.
Boogaard was known on the ice as a tough as nails fighter who was arguably known around the league as perhaps the toughest player in the league. The "Boogeeyman" as he was known by fans & foes was a menacing force on the ice. Few if any opponents wanted to face him in his specific role as enforcer. In his chosen role, he was extremely good. Of course, he did lack other hockey skills that made him a limited range player, but he understood what was going to keep him in the NHL & didnt try to play too much outside of his skill set.
Off the ice, the Boogaard I had seen over the years started off as a pleasant, personable enforcer (as many are actually), but had at some point become less friendly with those of us on our side of the fence. He was terrible at engaging with autograph hounds, and no better when it came to fans. In his defense, his treatment of us, the professionals, quite warranted. We did probably give him his jaded outlook about interacting with fans by continually having a multitude of items for him everytime he came here. Fact was, he was a popular commodoty in Minnesota, and we knew it. So, as time would go on, Derek started to become less receptive to any requests. However, like many who get that jaded over autographs & photos with, he took the same approach to fans as well. Everytime the Wild came to Vancouver, there was 1-2 devoted diehard Wild fans there, at least 1 or the other came every game & Boogaard treated them with the same respect as us, despite it being abundantly clear, they were not like the rest. Its THAT Boogaard that most people here remember unfortunately.
Usually, this type of attitude off the ice is a strong indicator of the type of person someone generally is. Sure, you always hear all the great things about someone after they pass away. I mean I am sure even Sean Avery would have great things said about him if he died, maybe even Gary Bettman. Fact is, unlike them, Boogaard probably is/was a good guy, we just got a bad vision of him because frankly, we probably took advantage of him some. The fact that I can actually recall him being good with fans & hounds alike is something that I cant say of others. Somewhere deep down, he was probably still "that guy", we just never got to see it.
Boogaard will be missed. Fans of the New York Rangers, who enjoy tough guy hockey players will miss him. Many Minnesota Wild fans, where he developed his game & became a popular figure for some years will miss him. His team mates & ex-team mates surely will also miss him. His fans from across the league, who appreciated the type of game he played, will miss him. Hockey as a whole, will miss him. He afterall is 1 of a now rare breed of true enforcer. His loss is truly a loss for hockey as well. He wasnt just a player, he was a character, a player with moderate name recognition, a fancy nickname & 1 of the few remaining pieces in the NHL who still played hockey the way many remember & miss, with unabashed toughness.
Reading an article by Minnesota area writer Michael Russo today on the death of Derek Boogaard titled "So Long To The Boogey-Man" http://www.startribune.com/sports/blogs/121826023.html made me doubt I really knew the Boogeyman at all. His story about the 28 year old Saskatchewan native made me honestly well up a bit, something I would have bet money someone could not make me do. Its hard to envision a softer side story to Boogaard, yet Russo managed to put one together. He talked about various charities that will also be missing Derek, about how funny he was to talk to & about how he understood what his role was & was fine with it. I really wish we got to see this Derek Boogaard more, and not the one who would walk by us stone-faced & ignorantly ignoring everyone, including some of their most die-hard fans. Now we will never get that chance.
Of course the people who will miss Derek Boogaard the most are not the fans who only know him from his on ice work, its his friends & family who knew him off the ice. His 2 brothers, sister, parents & other family have lost a part of their family today. His friends have lost a part of their daily lives.
You did not have to be a fan of Derek Boogaard to appreciate the efforts he made on the ice & off it. He will be missed by family, friends, fans & the sport as a whole. Rest in Peace Derek.
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.
When the 2009-10 NHL season started, I can say with fair confidence, 1 of the teams in the finals was NOT on my radar. The Philadelphia Flyers.
While the Chicago Blackhawks were my strongest consideration for my Western Conference finalist, the Flyers to me were nothing more than a playoff spot filler. To me, the East ran thru Washington or Pittsburgh. With outside chances to Buffalo, Montreal and Boston.
That is all you really need to know of the Philadelphia Flyers right there. They have proven a lot of people wrong. Including me... 4 times now this season.
They made the playoffs on the last chance they could this season. They got in with a shootout win to eek into a playoff spot that I boldly told my friends in March there was no way they could win. Down the stretch this team, which seemed destined to a solid top 5 or 6 placing in the conference just weeks earlier, had plummeted & on some days, was out of the playoff race as teams like the New York rangers & Atlanta Thrashers kept poking their head into the final playoff spot momentarily. Yet, in the final week they fought back & dragged themselves to a do or die, winner take all affair with the NY Rangers on the very final day of the season. To the loser, a long frustrating off season of what could have been. To the winners, a date with the Atlantic division champs, New Jersey Devils. Hardly a great reward for such a triumph. The Flyers & Rangers played to a shootout. With Claude Giroux scoring on the 3rd shooter for Philly, it was up to unlikely hero Brian Boucher, an after thought to most analysts this season, and probably even that week, to make 1 more save. With the Rangers picking top end scorer Olli Jokinen, the challenge was going to be big. But Boucher did it & the Flyers would be moving on to the playoffs, proving me wrong once.
Playing against the Devils, after narrowly making it. I was confident the Flyers season would end here. They had to have emptied their gas tanks to get here. But the Flyers found a way to not just get by the Devils, they handled them quickly in 5 games. If anything, it seemed Martin Brodeur, and the Devils forwards were the ones who had run the gas tank to empty in the regular season. For a 2nd time, the Flyers proved me wrong.
In round 2 they got the Boston Bruins, a team I was less sure of, but still liked their chances over the Flyers. Where the Devils seemed to be struggling down the stretch behind the suddenly average goaltending of Martin Brodeur, the Bruins had young stud Tuukka Rask in net & he wasnt faltering. The Bruins rushed out to a 3 games ot 0 lead over the hapless Flyers. This series was over. So much for the cinderella Flyers. Then it happened. Something changed. The Flyers came into game 4 with a "we have nothing to lose" attitude, and guess what?? they didnt lose. With an OT winner from Simon Gagne, the Philadelphia Flyers moved from clinically dead, to on life support. But it was impossible to believe they were going to become the 3rd team in NHL history to return from a 3-0 deficit, right??? Game 5, they won as well, 4-0. In that game, their band aid solution starting goalie Brian Boucher (who took the role as #1 when Ray Emery went down 1/2 way thru the yr with a season ending injury) himself went down with an injury, meaning barely known Michael Leighton was thrust into the spotlight. From there on, it was the Leighton show. He would backstop games 6 &7 wins & the Philadelphia Flyers would make the Eastern Conference finals somehow. Proving me wrong for a 3rd time.
In the Eastern Conference Finals they faced another cinderella team, the Montreal Canadiens. While Michael Leighton was becoming a notable name in Philly, and really in tune hockey experts, the Habs had their own goalie of the moment backstopping them. Slovakian Olympian, Jaroslav Halak. With championship knowledge in his resume (he was on the Hamilton Bulldogs Calder Cup championship team a few yrs ago) & already having carried 1 underdog team to near greatness this year (Slovakia finished 4th at the Olympics, despite being on few if anyones radar going into the tourney, as a medal contender)Although the Flyers came in as the statistical "favorites", most people seemed to give Montreal the edge, myself included. With the exception of the game 3 in the series, the first game in Montreal, the Habs seemed dead in the water. Their gas tanks emptied like the Devils in round 1 & the Bruins in the last 1/2 of their series, and the Flyers just ran them over, finishing the series off in 5 games. Proving me wrong for a 4th time.
So here we find the Philadelphia Flyers, a team who driving down the stretch of the playoffs race lost 9 of 11 games thru March & early April, in the Stanley Cup Finals. More amazing is, with the exception of the 3-0 Bruins series lead, this team has won 12 of 14 games to get to this spot. Now, the Flyers face a team from the West that was expected to possibly be in this position, the Chicago Blackhawks.
Once again, goaltending for the visitor is expected to be strong. The Devils had Brodeur, the Bruins had Rask, the Habs had Halak. All have fallen to this sudden power house team. Will the Haws Antti Niemi falter too?
The Flyers are getting great performances from their top guys. The team is offensively being lead by Mike Richards, Daniel Briere, Claude Giroux, Simon Gagne & Chris Pronger. The guys you expect to lead, are. With the addition of Jeff Carter, this looks more like a cup contending team than the 1 that limped into the post-season without Gagne or Carter. The Flyers have been getting good support offense from defenders Kimmo Timonen & Matt Carle, as well as forwards Ville Leino and Scott Hartnell. Tough as nails checking specialist Ian Laperriere is back in the fold, giving other hard nosed players like Dan Carcillo and Arron Asham some back up on the defensive side of the forward unit.
This team really should be proud of everything they accomplish, wiin or lose. This is a team who realistically wasnt on many experts radar for a Cup berth, and certainly werent expected after losing notable names like Gagne, Carter, Emery & Boucher thru the journey. Yet somehow, they are here. They SHOULD be proud, regardless of the outcome. But you look down that roster, with guys like Pronger, Laperriere, Richards and Carter & you realize that this team is full of guys who wont be happy losing. This team will fight right to the bitter end, even if they are down 10-0 in game 4 of a series they are already down 3 games to 0 in. Winning the Prince of Wales Trophy isnt even a consolation prize to this group. With the higly competitive league the NHL has created, where teams rarely have chances to develop a dynasty, this very well could be the 1 and only shot for many of these guys. They wont want to waste it.
I dont think the Philadelphia Flyers will win. I think Chicago is the better team and they want this just as badly. I am picking Chicago in 6 games. But if the Flyers do win, after all they have done this year in proving me wrong...it shouldnt shock anyone, most of all...me.
Its almost June & only 2 teams are left playing in the NHL. The Philadephia Flyers, a team few people expected to still be playing, and the Chicago Blackhawks, a team many people, myself included expected to possibly be playing still.
When this season started, the Chicago Blackhawks (even though I didnt like admitting it, still fresh off the sting of them beating us in the playoffs the year before, I was still a bit bitter) were my team to win the West....of course, it wasnt a resound vote of confidence. I did have my fingers dipped in several bowls, including the Calgary Flames (before they tried to build a team out of 3rd & 4th liners).
It came as little shock to anyone that the Blackhawks finished tops in their division & 2nd in the Western Conference this year. A lot of people expected the Hawks to take over the reigns from the long time Central Division champs, Detroit Red Wings.
I had the team getting this far possibly...I just didnt know who the goalie was that was going to get them here. Upstart Finnish goalie Antti Niemi has stolen the job from the greatest goaltender ever from France, Cristobal Huet. That is saying a lot for Niemi. Afterall Huet stole the job from superstar Nikolai Khabibulin & subsequently was responsible for the former Cup champion being run out of town. Now Niemi might do the same to Huet.
Round 1, the Hawks had a date with the Nashville Predators. I never took the Preds serious all year long, and in the playoffs that didnt change. I expected the Hawks to dispense of them quickly, so you could imagine my surprise when the boys from the Windy City were down 2 games to 1 from a place that thinks when someone says "puck" it must be someone with a speech impediment swearing at you. But eventually calm was restored & the Chicago Blackhawks got out of round 1 4 games to 2.
For their next match up, they were going to try & recreate history. The Vancouver Canucks, the Hawks 2nd round opponents of a year ago were back looking for revenge. With an Art Ross winner & improved scoring all around, the Canucks were seemingly silenced offensively by the defensive pairings of Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook as well as Nik Hjarmalsson and Brian Campbell. The offense that was so explosive for the Canucks seemed missing, while the Hawks wasnt. Jonathan Toews stepped up in the series & started an offensive streak that is still in tact at this point. Dustin Byfuglien & Dave Bolland seemed too much for the thin & undermanned Canucks defense to handle. While offensively Patrick Sharp & Pat Kane did what was expected of them. The rematch ended the same way, on the same date a year later. Chicago Blackhawks win 4 games to 2
While the Hawks were running thru the west, another team San Jose Sharks were doing something most people didnt expect...they were also winning. With wins over the Colorado Avalanche after being down in the series, and a more shocking win over the surging Detroit Red Wings, who were starting to look like the Wings of old in the weeks prior, the Sharks seemed a formidable opponent for the strong Hawks team. The Sharks, known for being a great regular season squad, but always faltering come playoffs saved their predictable collapse for the Conference finals this time. The #1 team in the West in the regular season was beat down by the bigger and faster Hawks squad. While playoff choke artist poster child Joe Thornton was scrounging up 1 measely point in the 4 games, Jonathan Toews was busy getting 6 pts in that same time span, including game 2 GWG & assisting on 2 other GWGs. All the same suspects from the Canucks series were responsible in gutting the Sharks. Byfuglien, Bolland, Kane, Sharp, Seabrook & Keith did much of the damage. With the exception of Patrick Marleau & Dan Boyle, the Sharks were dead in the water from the word go of this series. The Chicago Blackhawks beat the top seeded Western team 4 games to 0 in the Western Conference Finals and took home the Campbell Bowl. With a sweep in the books, the Hawks started to set their sights on their ultimate goal...the Stanley Cup.
The Chicago Blackhawks are where many thought they would be. In the Stanley Cup Finals. Maybe just not against who lost thought they would be there against. They will face a foe that was 24 points behind them in the standings. A team that would have finished 11th in their conference. But the Hawks wont take them for granted I suspect. Afterall, the only meeting these two teams had this year, the Hawks lost, and not all that long ago, back on Mar 13th.
Chicago will hope for youngster Antti Niemi to hold up the incredible performance he has put in for just 1 more round, while hoping out of the blue wonder Michael Leighton doesnt do the same on his end for the flyers.
With Jonathan Toews running amuck, already tallying 26 pts, it really seems they dont need anyone else to get the job done. But others are getting the job done. Patrick Kane has quietly put together 20 pts, while Patrick Sharp has been alright too. Even Marian Hossa, who many have seen as unproductive these playoffs, still has 11 pts himself. Then theres the big Bs. Byfuglien & Bolland. Duncan Keith was slow starting offensively these playoffs, but is now up to 10 pts. Brent Seabrook, Nik Hjarmalsson, Brent Sopel & Brian Campbell have done a decent job at adding some offensive jump to an already strong line up from the back end. As long as John Madden & his rotating group of checkers keeps doing their job, the lethal Philly offense shouldnt have too much luck against Niemi.
Coach Joel Quenneville will expect victory from his players. A Campbell Bowl isnt enough to quench the thirst these guys have right now. They have recent Olympic Champions who know how victory tastes. They have other recent Olympians, liek patrick Kane looking to get the bitter taste out of his mouth of a near victory. he doesnt want to go thru that again I assure you. While its clear Toews, Kane, Keith, Byfuglien, Sharp, Seabrook and Niemi want this championship badly. So do the rest. Ben Eager and Troy Brouwer are just as hungry. They know this moight be the closest they ever get & there is no waiting for the next chance. Marian Hossa is at the finals for a 3rd consecutive year, with his 3rd different team. He is 0-2 so far, he certainly doesnt want to go thru the pain of losing in the finals again.
I believe Chicago Blackhawks will win this series. The Flyers might have proven me wrong 4 times already this year, but at the same time, the Hawks have proven me right just as often.
As much as the city of Philadelphia might want this after the long wait they have had. Chicago is even hungrier. Philly hasnt been a champ since 1975, Chicago 1961. The Hawks fans have had to suffer thru the horrid ownership of Bill Wirtz, a man who probably would have played the games without electricity in teh stadium if it were leglally allowed. This franchise has had no chance to be a serious competitor too often in the past couple decades. Missing the playoffs 9 of the past 11 seasons prior to now, the Hawks have suffered longer then Flyerrs fans. Two generaltions of Hawks fans havent seen a Cup hoisted, while only 1 generation of Flyers fans havent seen it happen. The Hawks have had only 3 other Cup appearances since the last win in 61. The Flyers in comparison have only missed the playoffs 6 times TOTAL since winning the Cup & have been to the Finals 5 other times since their last Cup win. Everything about this series suggests Hawks fans have suffered longer, and deserve this more.
Whoever wins the 2010 Stanley Cup will have ended some long suffering for its fans & will have prolonged the other fans suffering a little longer. For what its worth, I think it will be the fans of the Chicago Blackhawks who will have the celebratory party, and I suspect it will be after game 6.
While many, and with good reason, have written Tyler Myers and Matt Duchene in on the Calder ballot already with a couple weeks of hockey still to play, the 3rd spot is possibly still debated by some.
The majority say John Tavares will get it. Some believe recently traded Atlanta Thrashers stud Niklas Bergfors can steal that spot. But the one that few are talking about, and I think is not only a serious contender, but also, a serious contender to win it, is Jim Howard.
Howard, the Detroit Red Wings barely 26 year old (aka- Calder eligible) starting goalie was on no ones radar at the start of the year, mainly because he was the undisputed back up in Detroit to long time veteran and past Stanley Cup winning goaltender Chris Osgood. But as Ozzie faultered early on, Howard stepped in and was a solid 2nd option. Since the Olympic break Howard has been the undisputed #1 in Detroit, going 12-2-1 in that time. In fact, since the start of the calendar year, Osgood only has 2 decisions (0-2-0), while Howard is 20-7-7 in that same timespan. it took till December, 3 months into the season for the Wings to realize who the real #1 was in their organization. If it took THEM that long, you can understand why sports writers and fans alike are still overlooking statistically, the 2nd or 3rd best goalie in hockey right now. Here is a guy who should be in Vezina talks by TV analysts & writers, but is barely even getting Calder mentions.
Its easy to see why Howard is overlooked by some. Statistically, he isnt the top rookie goalie....sort of. If it were not for Boston Bruins star Tuukka Rask also having a solid year, Howards dominance might seem more impressive for a rookie. But with Rask (who would also be a contender, if not for the fact he only has 40 GP) having a better GAVE & SPCT on the season, Howards 2.27 GAVE & .926 SPCT (both in the top 5 in the NHL) doesnt seem as spectacular to some. But it really is spectacular, and someone needs to start taking notice.
He is in the top 5 in the two most notable categories for goalie in the entire NHL. He is 10th in Wins, despite starting the year as the back up. He currently is riding a 6 game winning streak, and hasnt lost in regulation time since March 9th, despite playing in every game in that time. With a .918 SPCT, and a 2.23 GAVE in the month of March, for a team fighting for their playoff lives, his play has been nothing short of incredible.
Even while having more wins than Jose Theodore, the starting goalie for the #1 team in hockey, and Cristobal Huet, the #1 goalie for the Blackhawks 3rd in the NHL & topcs in teh Wings division, Howard seems to fly under the radar to everyone. He had far superior stats to Tim Thomas and even Jonathan Quick going into the Olympics, yet didnt get the call from Team USA. The guy just seems to get no respect. Even the Red Wings, who kept riding Osgood early in the season, despite Howard constantly having better stats in the limited games he was getting, overlooked him. I suspect, sports writers will do the same when voting for the Calder too.
There is only 2 goalies with a better GAVE than him who have played more than 40 games. There is only 2 goalies with a better SPCT than him who have played more than 40 games.
If you take out Hart contender, Ryan Miller from the equation, theres only 1 goalie in each of those categories. Miikka Kiprusoff in GAVE, Tomas Vokoun in SPCT. Jim Howard should be considered for the Vezina trophy. Let alone the Calder. But he wont, because the writers dont have a familiarity with him yet that they do with statistically inferior stars like Nabokov, Lundqvist, Bryzgalov, Brodeur or Luongo. All who have "good" stats, but not amazing stats. All who have inferior stats to Howard.
When you consider that Matt Duchene, the NHL rookie scoring leader has only 53 pts & 23 goals on the season. Stats that put him 62nd in points, and 50th in Goals amongst forwards, is a lock on the Calder ballots, Howard should be too. Howard is more dominant in his position than Duchene has been at his. More of a case can be made for Tyler Myers than Duchene. He is afterall in the top 10 in defenseman points, goals and top 20 in +/-. But he still, statistically is not dominating his position as much as Howard is his.
Against the 9 teams statistically ahead of the Wings currently in the league, Howard has 13-2-4 record. He has 13 wins against the top 9 teams in the league. He has beat all of them but 2, Washington and New Jersey. He also didnt get the chance to face Washington or NJ. So he has beaten all the teams above the Wings currently that he has had the chance to face. Probably not going to be a Vezina finalist, and possibly not even a Calder finalist. HOW??
There is a realistic chance Jim Howard wont be a finalist for the Calder, let alone the winner when the awards are handed out in Las Vegas in June. The NHL poster child for this years rookie crop, and NEW YORK team based kid wonder John Tavares will probably be hand picked by the NHL to be the other finalist just because. All that Howard has achieved this year will be ignored by the NHL writers most likely, and if its not, the NHL likely will ignore it anyways.
Jim Howard should be a Vezina finalist, and the Calder winner. At the end of the day, he most likely wont even be a finalist for either award. Whether the NHL writers or the NHL itself is to blame for this remains to be seen.
Canadagraphs Hockey Blogs
From time to time I have something to say on hockey. Whether its the Vancouver Canucks, NHL in general, Womens Hockey or International Hockey...if I have something to post, it will be in here.