This might date myself a tad, but I recall where I was in 1994 on May 24th. I was at home in New Westminster, tightly clenching my hands together in a tightly clenched prayer style shape. What happened to make me do this? The Vancouver Canucks, the local NHL team here was in double overtime against the hated Toronto Maple Leafs in game 5 of a best of 7 series we were leading 3-1. If we scored, we went to the finals for only the 2nd time ever (the first time I too lived thru, but didnt really understand the severity of it at the time since I was of an age still in single digits, we would lose in 4 straight games in the finals that year to the New York Islanders). A B.C. boy by the name of Greg Adams, whom we obtained in a trade with the New Jersey Devils several years prior would score the eventual winner 14 seconds into that 2nd overtime on a backhander that he slipped by future Canuck Felix Potvin. We were headed to the Stanley Cup finals. It was monumental in this cities sports history. We eventually would lose in the finals to the New York Rangers in game 7 by a narrow 3-2 score, but that moment is to many in Vancouver, 1 of the cities biggest in sports history.
So imagine the shock to Canucks fans who have endured that once before, when 17 years later, we found ourselves on May 24th, in a Western Conference finals, with a 3-1 series lead, in double overtime at home...again. by now, every die hard Canucks fan, casual fan, fairweather fan & even some non-fans know how that game ended. It ended with 1 of the zaniest series clinching goals ever, as Kevin Bieksa knucklepucked a shot from the point past an unaware Antti Niemi of the San Jose Sharks. Of the 18000+ fans in attendace, 2 TV crews & dozen players on the ice, it seemed maybe a 1/2 a dozen people total were aware that after an Alex Edler dump in off the boards that the puck deflected off a stanchion & back out into the middle of the ice. 1 of those rare people, Kevin Bieksa. The Canucks defender moved in towards the puck that gifted itself to him & drove a hard slap shot towards the Sharks net that wobbled & skipped its way past a confused Niemi. Fans were so unaware of what was going on, they only reacted when the likes of Alex Burrows & Henrik Sedin, near the net reacted. Sharks players reacted, but far too late, even Kevins own teammates were not all aware of what was about to happen. Another generation of Canucks fans will remember that moment, regardless how the finals end. Its 1 of those moments that sticks with you. Just like Greg Adams in 1994 on the very same date.
Of course, after the win, while the players partied in the dressing room together, fans did the same, out in public on the streets of downtown Vancouver. Granville street was completely closed off to traffic, as fans poured out to high five other strangers, wave their towels & flags & yell any & all phrases they could think of to express their jubilation. I saw a faux greenman, I saw an even sadder imposter- a blue man, I saw 30+ Stanley Cups of all types roaming the streets, being hoisted high & I also saw 2 creatures (pictured below) that I still dont have an explantion for, dressed in Henrik Sedin jerseys, sporting what I can only describe as some type of weird egg type head gear.
A couple of observations. The crowd seemed quite content & happy. Never saw even 1 angry look from 1 person to another. Im sure there were some mild issues, but they were few & far between...unlike when I was in Edmonton during their Cup run where there was stabbings almost nightly it seemed. There was also sadly for us guys (and girls here wonder why the world over consider girls here "snobby") no Red Mile action like in Calgary during their Cup run. The boobs in this town refuse to come out. To be honest, the overall electricity & excitement of the crowd, while high, was still short of anything I have seen in Edmonton, Calgary or even Vancouver during the 2010 Olympics. Will it be different if they win the Cup??? Perhaps. Starting June 1st, the Vancouver Canucks will try to do something they havent done in 39 previous seasons, 23 playoff appearances & 2 Finals appearances. Win the Stanley Cup. The oppnent, yet to be decided. Either the Tampa Bay Lightning, the team that crushed the Calgary Flames hopes last time in 2004, or the Boston Bruins, the team that last lost a Championship to 1 of the Western Canadian teams in 1990 to the Edmonton Oilers. One thing is certain, Canucks fans probably are pretty thrilled, it wont be a team from New York.
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.
With the season just slightly over 1/2 over, the race for the playoffs is starting to clear a bit. Teams like the Edmonton Oilers, Toronto Maple Leafs, Columbus Blue Jackets & the Carolina Hurricanes are already trying to envision what to do about the team in the off season. While at the other end of the spectrum, teams like the Washington Capitals, Buffalo Sabres, New Jersey Devils, Chicago Blackhawks & San Jose Sharks are looking ahead & trying to figure out what they might need to tweak for their Stanley Cup pursuits.
Mired in the middle is a cluster of teams that frankly includes the majority of the league. Right now they are either just in or just barely out of the playoffs, a simple 3 game slide here, or 4 game streak here can put them out or in the playoff race in a flash. Mixed right in the middle, the Vancouver Canucks.
Currently 6th in the west with 58 points in 48 games, the Canucks sit just 2 points ahead of the 9th place Detroit Red Wings and only 7 ahead of Minnesota Wild & Dallas Stars. They are also only 2 points out of 3rd in the conference, behind their divisional foes from Colorado. But if the Canucks know anything about their season to date, its that they are probably more focused now on maintaining a playoff spot than chasing a division title.
While they are in the mix for a division championship, the fact remains that the Canucks, will be road warrios for the longest road trip in NHL history coming up very soon. Its a road trip that will span 14 games over 6 weeks. See the Canucks are being evicted from their home to make way for the Olympics. Because of this, they will play 20 of their final 35 games on the road....a place that has not been all that pleasant for them this season.
In their first 21 road games, the Canucks have a 9-11-1 record. While they run wild at home with an 19-7-1 record, they have struggled on the road. If there is any saving grace, its that only 10 of those final 20 road games are against teams currently sitting in a playoff spot. They can also take some comfort in the fact they are 3-1-1 in the last 5 road games perhaps. All that aside though, this extended road trip will certainly be the true test of this team.
In the middle of this road trip is a 2 week break for the Olympics. If they struggle in the first half of the trip, they will at least have time to correct the problem perhaps. This can also work against them though. If they have a decent first half on this raod trip, they could potentially lose all the momentum they have built up with 2 weeks away from the rink.
There is also the potential fatigue factor of their top players. With 7 Olympains on the roster, including their most notable pieces, Roberto Luongo, Daniel & Henrik Sedin, Ryan Kesler & Christian Ehrhoff, the 2 weeks of elite level do or die play could really wear on some players. Granted every team has this problem, but every team isnt going to be doing this in the middle of a 14 game road trip.
In a league where a team that is 8 games above .500 is not in the playoffs right now in their conference, the Canucks can not afford to have a mediocre road trip. A .500 road trip could conceivably end their playoff hopes. By the time this marathon is over, they will have just a little over a month of the season left to rally back from any holes they have made for themselves.
The top line of Sedin-Sedin-Burrows is magical in their own building where line matching benefits them, on the road however, they are less magical & this will mean the Canucks will need to rely on secondary scorers like Mason Raymond, Ryan Kesler, Mikael Samuelsson & a hopefully healthy Pavol Demitra to pick up the slack. They could use the likes of Kyle Wellwood and Steve Bernier to pick up their play as well.
Their defense core is solid, when healthy. Christian Ehrhoff, Alex Edler and Sami Salo are quite capable puck moves, while Willie Mitchell, Shane O'Brien and Aaron Rome are capable defensive defenders. But when they have injuries they do seem to be out of sync a bit. Brad Lukowich is a decent NHL defenseman, but the level of skill drops off considerably from there. With Kevin Bieksa out, the Canucks will need to keep healthy thru this trip on the back end.
How will Luongo react to this stretch? He could in theory be playing close to 20 games over this stretch if he plays the majority of Canucks games, and Olympics games. Of course, the likelyhood is he will get only some starts at the Olympics. Which means he should have a bit of rest. Problem will be if he gets too much rest (say he doesnt play for the final 4 or 5 games). Luongo has a long history of starting slow after any type of extended break away from action. This has to worry the Canucks going down the stretch where points will be vitally needed & they will be on the road to start. A cold Luongo might end the Canucks playoff hopes in early March. Andrew Raycroft, the back up has been very good this year & could be relied on to take some of the load off, but if coach Vigneault has one flaw in his coaching, its that his confidence in his back up goalie, despite a very good record, seems to not be there for whatever reason.
This team has been ravaged with injuries this season & over a 14 game stretch, the probability of an injury is realistic. What the Canucks cant afford, is injuries to any of their major pieces, this goes for the entire top 2 lines, defense pairs, and of course Luongo. Any pieces missing could literally destroy a team that will probably struggle thru this venture.
If the Canucks get out of the odyssey close or still in the playoff race, they will probably be ecstatic. They have 10 of their last 15 games of the season at home, a place they have been exceptionally strong this season. But that is a long way away & they first have to worry about getting thru the adventure that will be the make or break part of their season, an incredible 14 game road trip. No team in the league will have any homestand or road trip more vital to their playoff positioning than this 6 week, 13 city, 14 game road trip.
If the Canucks miss the playoffs, fans & critics alike will probably look to this horrible schedule as the downfall. While players & coaches generally dont like to use easily found excuses for shortcomings, this is a blatantly obvious one that cant be overlooked. Of course, if the Canucks do make the playoffs, even if by the thinnest of margains, you will have to take them very seriously at a run in the playoffs. Afterall, if they can survive the road trip & still have enough in the tank to pull them thru it & into the playoffs, then you have to wonder what does it take to put them down. To make the playoffs would likely mean a winning record on the road thru that stretch, and ontop of that, confidence in their abilities on the road. This trip will either break them, or will rally them around each other & possibly create the type of team building that championship teams desperately hope for.
The season might say 82 games on the schedule, but any Canucks fan, reporter, player or staff member knew when the schedule came out, their season really came down to 14 games and 6 weeks.
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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.