Today Team Finland will play Team Canada in a semi-finals game at the 2011 World Women's Hockey Championship. This is hardly rare. The two teams often find themselves facing off in final 4s of major tournaments with the other frequent notables Team USA & Team Sweden.
What is different is, Sweden, a team that just 5 years ago shocked the womens game by grabbing a silver medal at the Olympics, will be fighting for 5th place against the Swiss team...who came close to making it into the semi-finals themselves after losing a playoff game in overtime to the shocker of the tournament so far....
The other semi-final has frequent finalists Team U.S.A. taking on Team Russia. Yes, the same Russian team that just last year had people in the hockey world calling the countries womens program, an embarrassment after finishing 6th at the Olympics & frankly, looked lost & unlikely to immediately improve. Now they find themselves in the final 4 of a World Championship.
The 2011 tourney has given most of the teams that have been struggling to gain on the North American superpowers hope for the future in 1 way or another.
Finland - A close 2-0 loss to Canada in the round robin tourney is a positive after a tough 5-0 loss to Canada in the semi-finals of the Olympics made some wonder if the program was starting to fall behind the big two after getting beat 11-0 combined to the eventual Gold & Silver medallists.
Russia- by making the semi-finals gives a hockey proud country reason to believe they can now compete in the tournament, and with the Olympics on home soil next time in 2014, perhaps they are thinking seriously about contending for a medal by then.
Switzerland - In recent years the Swiss team has slowly chipped away at trying to close the gap on the 2nd tier of elite teams, the Swedes and Finns. Three years ago they made the bronze medal game, before falling to the Finns. This year, although a loss to the Russians might seem like a small loss for them, they did manage a big victory as well when they defeated Finland in OT 2-1.
Slovakia- just 2 years ago, ranked 15th in the world, has now managed to compete in an Olympics last year & a World Championships this year, due to the team from Japan pulling out after the tragedy after the earthquake there. These are huge steps for a country that never ranked higher than 15th till last year when they jumped up to 10th. While they are facing relegation right now, the experience is vital for helping them move forward in future years.
Kazakhstan - Although on the brink of relegation, the country can take away from the fact they havent seemed to lose any ground to the bigger countries, and are still remaining competitive with the 2nd tier of teams, as shown by a 5-3 loss to Finland they can on any given night still have a hope to win.
The question of the tourney is Sweden. In 2008 they finished a disappointing 5th in the Worlds. a year later they got back into 4th & things seemed back to normal there. Since then, 2010 Olympics they missed the podium with a 4th place finish & this year, a 5th or 6th place finish is a concern.
The overall consensus of the game though is its doing great & things look bright for the health of a sport that at the 2010 Olympics got unfairly criticized by the IOC head.
Today 4 teams will compete for 2 spots in the final.
before you write that Canada-USA final nmatch up in pen, just remember, this tourney has had a hand full of small upsets already, could 1 more be in the making?
To celebrate this tourney, I have added a few of the pics I took from a tourney here in the summer of 2009 of some of the competitors in this tourney.
IF YOU WANT TO USE THESE PHOTOS ELSEWHERE, FEEL FREE- JUST DO NOT REMOVE THE TAG!
You can catch Canada-Finland on TSN at 7 AM Pacific/10 AM Eastern.
Here is my picks for the top 10 hockey stories of 2010. Starting from 10th. This is part 1.
10TH NHL'ERS TAKING TO TWITTER EN MASS
Ever wanted to know what Bobby Ryan was doing right now? Have you really been wanting to tell Erik Johnson what you think of his play? Well, now you can do that thru twitter.
The fastest growing media/social networking tool on the internet is twitter. Its that place where you can post something, long as it fits into a 140 character frame. While not every NHL'er is on twitter, many of the games rising stars are.
If twitter were a team, they would have some pretty good talent to draw from. Alex Ovechkin, Martin Havlat, Bobby Ryan, Ryan Kesler, Patrik Elias, Mike Cammalleri, TJ Oshie, Wojtek Wolski, James Van Riemsdyk, Logan Couture, Dustin Brown, Marian Gaborik, Joffrey Lupul, Evander Kane, Maxim Talbot, Scottie Upshall, Steve Sullivan & Matt Duchene on offense. Dan Boyle, Mike Green, Mike Del Zotto, Mike Komisarek, Karl Alzner, Mike Commodore and Brent Sopel on defense. The only thing they are lacking is some goalies. Not 1 notable goaltender seems to be on twitter.....since Dan Ellis closed his up.
While some accounts are now very inactive (Ovechkin hasnt tweeted in over a year), others, such as Phoenix Coyotes enforcer Paul Bissonnette are very active, and very entertaining, like his post from Christmas day "Going to adrian aucoin's house for dinner tonight. Ganna be tough to top D morris's party last night. Unless aucoin rented a circus midget?". In a business where ANY media is better than none, the raw, uncensored & usually entertaining posts of a fringe player like Bissonnette can make him a more attractive option for a team come free agency than another player of similar talents. With over 30,000 followers, a team could look at him as a free marketing tool & a source of a few more sold jerseys than if they signed the tough guy who doesnt have a twitter account.
Some players use it to just tweet about life, like Michael Rupp, while others use it more to promote business ventures they are a part of like Ryan Kesler, the reality is with close to a 100 NHLers on twitter, and dozens more former NHLers, it has become a place for the regular fans, media & other players, to interact & get an inside look at the lives of the NHLers.
The NHL, perhaps more than any of the other major sports has the most to gain from this free promotional tool. While the NBA, NFL & MLB also have tweeters in large numbers, its the NHL who can gain the most from it. Its free promotion for a sport that still in many sections of society hasnt recovered from the lockout, or had notable exposure at all. Everytime the NHL can squeeze their product into a tweet, especially one that makes the trending topics list, its getting its product out to a massive potential new clientel that they would never reac the conventional way or marketing. Even the AHL, CWHL, WWHL, WHL, OHL & various smaller leagues are using it to promote their leagues as well. Again, while other sports are doing the same, the sport of hockey might have more to gain per tweet than the other sports.
9TH CWHL HAS 1ST EVER DRAFT
The most notable women's hockey league in the world had their first ever draft this past summer.
On August 12th this year, the sport of women's hockey took a big step, they had the first official draft in a major women's league. While the previous NWHL & the current WWHL from out west have never had such an event, the fairly new CWHL did have one.
The league didnt have a full draft open to all teams though, as the league acknowledges some of the hardships a player in the league could face if they were selected by a team far from their home & family. So the draft was only to divide up the talent available to the 3 Greater Toronto region teams, Toronto Aeros, Burlington Barracudas & the Brampton Canadettes-Thunder. The other two teams in the league, Montreal Stars & the Boston Blades, both took to free agent signing to fill their rosters.
Toronto, Burlington & Brampton took part in the draft, that allowed the three teams to select any players from GTA region, or overseas. 22 players between the 5 teams were deemed "protected" & the 3 teams selected a total of 101 names were selected.
Tessa Bonhomme, a member of the 2010 Canadian Gold Medal winning Olympic team was the 1st selection in the draft for Toronto.
Burlington would pick 2nd, taking Ashley Riggs, a highly decorated Canadian College hockey player.
Brampton would pick 5th, taking former Canadian National team star, Delaney Collins.
A handful of Europeans were also selected. Most notably was Daniela Rundqvist from Sweden 13th overall by Burlington. Yekaterina Smolentseva selected 89th by Brampton was the only Russian selected in the draft. Finland had 3 picks, Anna Vanhatalo (Brampton) Marjo Voutilainen (Burlington) & Terhi Mertanen (Toronto). A German born player, Manuela Hebel also was selected, however she has played in North America for a bit. Gizela Blom, the final pick of the draft is another Swedish born pick.
Having a draft, even one that only included 3 teams was a large building block in developing the league into a full fledged league. With more than 20 current & past Olympians scattered around the 5 teams, this league has the best hope for women's hockey right now. If they can ever work out an agreement to merge with the WWHL (another 5 team league located in Western Canada & Minnesota), the start for a large league, with 2 U.S. situated teams can develop.
If the league prospers, having an annual draft will certainly be seen a notable building block down the road. People may look back at that first draft in 2010 as the start of a great ride. It gives women's players a goal now, a place to aim for. no longer is College & a possible Olympic spot the only hopes. Being drafted into a league, and winning a league championship against the best players in your sport is now a real option.
8TH DUSTIN BYFUGLIEN- FUTURE NORRIS TROPHY WINNER?
No, this is not a joke. Dustin Byfuglien, the super pest power forward for the Stanley Cup winning Chicago Blackhaws might win a Norris Trophy for leagues best...defenseman??
Originally a defenseman when drafted, Byfuglien has played Right Wing for the past few seasons with the Blackhawks. A role he did so well, he was considered 1 of the most instrumental pieces on the Hawks 2010 Stanley Cup Championship winning team. However, the era of the salary cap would actually take his career in a different direction, one he was formerly familiar with.
The Hawks, strapped for salary cap room, traded Byfuglien to the Atlanta Thrashers this past off season. With limited offense at the teams disposal, it was expected Buffy would slip in to the teams top 2 forward lines with ease. However, the Thrashers head coach, Craig Ramsay saw a different plan for the 6'5 265 lb Minnesotan. Ramsay, a former Selke winner for best defensive forward thought the defenseman turned elite power forward would be best as a defenseman for his offensively challenged team.
The experiment has been a raging success. Not only do the Thrashers have themselves a top end defenseman now, but even in the more limiting offensive position, Buffy has flourished perhaps even more than if he was a forward. Currently Dustin finds himself tied for 11th in league scoring & tied for 2nd in game winning goals, which is good enough for 1st in defenseman goals, Game winning goals & scoring.
The often dismissed Thrashers, a team who has missed the playoffs every year but once in their short history, find themselves 6th in the conference, only 2 pts out of the division lead, and 9 pts clear of the top non-playoff team. All this, despite not having a single player with more than 24 goals last season on the roster, and only 2 with a 30 goal seasons in their career (neither of which had 20 last season).
Although all of the success cant be given to Byfuglien, his pressence on the point has certainly elevated the play of the team around him & because of this, many are taking him seriously as a Norris Trophy winner, let alone contender. With more than 1/2 a season to go, the jury is still out some on whether Byfuglien will take a Norris, but the early indications, he has as good a chance as anyone else right now.
7TH WINDSOR SPITFIRES- BACK 2 BACK MEMORIAL CUP CHAMPIONS
The Windsor Spitfires became back to back Memorial Cup Champions, after beating the Brandon Wheat Kings 9-1 in the final.
It was only 3 seasons ago that the Windsor Spitfires club faces some of its most trying days. The team lost their captain Mickey Renaud to an undetected heart issue late in the OHL season. At the time, the team seemed lost without their leader, and although future NHLers like Michael Neuvirth, Josh Bailey & Taylor Hall gave the team hope, they would fall in the first round without their leader.
In the 2008-09 season, the Spitfires came back & had a mission, to win for Mickey. This team was a much stronger team than the year prior. It had 4 current or future 1st round picks (Hall, Ryan Ellis, Greg Nemisz, Austin Watson) & 12 other NHL draftees on the roster. They went on to win the Memorial Cup that year on an OT goal by Adam Henrique.
In 2009-10, expectations were high for the club, as many of the pieces that got them the teams 1st ever Memorial Cup, were back.
With the loss of 1 1st rounder (Watson) the Spitfires loaded up even more, by adding the likes of 1st rounder Cam Fowler & Zack Kassian to the mix, along with 2 more NHL draft pick to fill in the hole of a couple of the departees.
The club did not disappoint. Finishing 1st in their conference. When the playoffs started, the Spitfires seemed sure of themselves. After a sweep in the first round of the Erie Otters & a 2nd round sweep of the Plymouth Whalers, their confidence seemed warranted. In round 3 however, the Spitfires would open up to a 3-0 series deficit to the Kitchener Rangers. However, they would come back, becoming only the 3rd team in OHL history to win a series after being down 3-0. With that temprary scare firmly implanted in them, they made no more mistakes the rest of the way. Dispensing of the OHL regular season champion, Barrie Colts in 4 straight games, the Spitfires were headed back to the Memorial Cup tournament.
At the Memorial Cup tournament, the lesson of the Rangers series must still have been there, because they didnt take anyone for granted. In game 1 they drubbed the tournament host Brandon WheatKings 9-3. The next game, against the WHL champions from Calgary, they ran over the Hitment 6-2. With 2 wins already under their belt, they knew they would be guaranteed a spot in the Memorial Cup Finals. They didnt need a win against the Quebec league champion Moncton Wildcats, but they did anyways, with a 4-3 overtime win. Giving them the chance to win the Memorial Cup in a little different fashion than the year prior, where they became the first team to win the Cup after losing their first two games, this time, they had the chance to go indefeated.
In the final, the got the Brandon Wheat Kings, the team they pummeled 9-3 earlier in the tourney. The Spitfires didnt want to leave anything to chance. They jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first period. It was 3-0 before the Wheaties got their only goal from Columbus Blue Jackets draftee Matt Calvert. That was the end of the fight for the WheatKings though, as Windosr would pile on SIX more goals, for a dominating 9-1 Memorial Cup Finals win. It gave the Spitfires the most goals in a finals game & most lopsided victory distinctions since the 1973 Toronto Marlboros won by the same 9-1 score. Future Edmonton Oilers 1st overall pick Taylor Hall would win the tournament MVP for his 2nd time, making him the first ever player to do so.
The 2011 season will see the Spitfires start to rebuild. Besides losing Hall to the Oilers, their head coach Bob Boughner left for an NHL assistant coaching job, Cam Fowler has landed in Anaheim, and several other notable pieces have moved up to the minor pro leagues. But with the likes of Kassian & Ellis still on the team, they are not completely void of talent. Add in talented future star Russian rookie Alexander Khokhlachev, German NHL draft pick Tom Kuehnhackl, and Maple Leafs 2nd round pick Kenny Ryan getting a larger role, and their rebuilding stage is still pretty good. Add in NHL 1st round pick Jack Campbell, who opted to play in the OHL this year to the mix, and things look quite decent for the defending 2 time Memorial Cup Champions.
6TH ILYA KOVALCHUK SOAP OPERA
Looking back on how things ended, Los Angeles Kings fans are rejoicing & New Jersey Devils fans are on a constant suicide watch.
This past summer, arguably the largest fish to catch in unrestricted free agency was Ilya Kovalchuk. The Rocket Richard trophy winner in 2004, who in his 8 NHL seasons has passed 40 goals in a season 6 times.
While several teams showed interest, only 2 teams seemed to rise to the top as the serious contenders in the end. The Los Angeles Kings, desperate to get a marquee name to put on their team, and the New Jersey Devils, the team Kovalchuk played for last season.
Anyone following it on sports talk shows, the news or twitter, almost daily was hearing something different, and most of those things as it turned out...were wrong. Kovie seemed destined for the Kings in early rumours, and even on more than 1 occasion tweets & comments in the media suggested he was going to be signed imminently by the Kings. As it turned out, for the Kings sake, this was not true in the end.
The New Jersey Devils would sign the sniper....twice. Their first deal, an insane 102 Million dollar deal over 17 years (YES, 17 years) was denied by the league on the grounds that it was a clear attempt to circumvent the NHL Salary Cap, which is based on the average salary of the contract, NOT the individual season amount. The Devils had front loaded the deal, and added in 7 years at the end of the deal where they would pay Ilya the league minimum, which would bring down the average price down substantially. The league denied the outrageous deal, and in doing so, said they would investigate several other recent long term deals including the likes of Hawks star Marian Hossa and the Canucks goalie Roberto Luongo.
The Devils would re-work the deal and get the leagues approval on a 15 year, 100 million dollar deal (YES, 15 years). The Devils had finally got the man they coveted to keep. The saga was over, and the Devils, a team constantly in the mix as Cup contenders, could focus on that task.
As it turns out, so far, this deal has been a near nightmare for the Devils. Because of the Salary Cap, the Devils have had to adjust constantly their team to balance the cap issues that Kovalchuk's mosterous deal brings. On more than 1 occasion, the team has even iced an incomplete roster because they financially had to. Kovalchuk himself has been a near disaster, with only 8 goals, and 18 points in 33 games, and a team worst -25... make that a LEAGUE worst -25.
The Devils are the worst team in the league currently, with a 9-23-2 record. They are so brutal offensively, that they could win their next game with 11 goals, and still have the least goals in the league. Kovalchuk doesnt even lead his team in goals or points & is tied for 142 in league scoring, a spot that would barely keep him in the top 10 in rookie scoring.
The rosters for the Canada & U.S.A. womens hockey teams have been announced.
While the majority of the rosters were locked in months ago, there were still spots up for grabs & a couple changes were found in the end from what maybe was expected by some.
Canada being most notable.
For one, I was a bit surprised Gillian Ferrari was passed over on Team Canada. I guess they just felt more like the younger Catherine Ward brought more. I was a bit shocked by it, but really, all of them deserved to be there & someone had to be left off. Unfortunately for Gillian, she was the one.
Team Canada obviously brings in a glut of international experience & many returnees from the Gold winning 2006 squad. Fourteen returnees gives this team a wealth of experience & knowledge of what it takes to win Olympic gold. Canada has had less luck at the World championships of late, not having won since 2007, their longest ever drought without a major championship.
The team will of course look to the legendary Hayley Wickenheiser to contribute offensively & to use her physical dominance to create chances for other skilled forwards like Meghan Agosta, Jennifer Botterill & newcomers to the Olympics Rebecca Johnston & Haley Irwin. Jayna Hefford seems to still have an offensive touch as well, same goes for Caroline Ouellette. Marie Philip Poulin, Sarah Vaillancourt, Gillian Apps, Cherie Piper & Gina Kingsbury round out a very lethal & offensively packed forward roster that can likely score on any line combination.
Defense is also offensively packed as well with Carla MacLeod, Catherine Ward & Meaghan Mikkelson on the squad. Colleen Sostorics, Tessa Bonhomme & Becky Kellar will round out the squad
In goal, the job is a toss up between Shannon Szabados & Kim St Pierre. In the 4 nations tourney, Szabados was the number 1, while the summer tournament saw St Pierre as the starter. last WHC, probable 3rd string, Charline Labonte was the starter. Confused yet?
Expect Szabados to get a couple stars & St Pierre to get a couple before they settle on the medal round goalie.
Team USA had a similar set roster. In fact, only 1 girl who came to Vancouver in August for the Hockey Canada Cup was left off the roster, Rachel Drazan.
The forward squad is also an offense filled powerhouse. Natalie Darwitz, Julie Chu & Hilary Knight combined for 29 pts in 5 GP last WHC. Darwitz & Knight have carried that momentum into this year, while Chu has cooled a little, but is still a source of offense. Not to be outdone are the Lamoreaux sisters, Jocelyne & Monique. The team will fill the roster with a variety of other capable players like Erika Lawler, Jinelle Zaugg-Siergiej, Karen Thatcher, Kelli Stack, Gigi Marvin, Meghan Duggan & now 4 time Olympian Jenny Potter.
On defense this team has as many returnees as the forwards do from the 2006 team. 4 time Olympian & American womens poster child hockey star Angela Ruggiero leads a squad that also includes former Olympians Caitlin Cahow & Molly Engstrom. Newcomers Kacey Bellamy, Lisa Chesson & Kerry Weiland fill out the line up.
In goal, Jessie Vetter is the probable starter. Molly Schaus is just as capable & could take the job away. Brianne McLaughlin is most likely going to see most of this tourney from the press box.
But what can be expected outside of Canada & the U.S.? Sweden & Finland will of course be there looking to upset & steal a silver again. They are quite capable of the feat too. Between the two countries, usually one or the other manages to come away with an upset win against the more elite teams in recent years. So who do they bring? As well, what about the other nations involved?
Here is a quick look at some of the expected names to look for from the other countries.
Goalie Kim Martin will be unquestionably their starter. Even after a recent injury, she is still the probable starter. The back up spots seem to be set with Sara Grahn as the back up, while Valentina Lizana is seeming to be the uncontested #3, since she appeared in both the HCC & 4 Nations Cup in that role, as well as the starter in the 2009 WHC while Martin was out.
On Defense, Gunilla Andersson, Jenni Asserholt & Frida Nevalainen are locks. I suspect the other spots will be filled by Johanna Fallman, Emma Nordin & Emma Eliasson. The last spot probably will go to either Katarina Timglas, a forward in the last Olympics or Annie Svedin? Offensively Andersson & Nevalainen will carry this defense core, while Asserholt will generally be expected to be their most mnotable defender.
Forwards will be a lot of the regular suspects for this team. Elin Holmlov, Maria Rooth, Danijela Rundqvist and Erika Holst will likely carry most of the scoring. Pernilla Winberg & Tina Enstrom will round out the secondary scoring. The roster will more than likely fill out with Cecilia Ostberg, Isabelle Jordansson, Erica Uden Johansson, Klara Myren, Erika Grahm and Frida Svedin Thunstrom. With the exception of Timglas who was a forward during that tourney & now seems to be a defender.
This is the same line up that they went with in the 2009 WHC where they finished 4th without Kim Martin in goal. A bronze is very real possibility, a silver is a slight possibility with this line up.
Goaltender Noora Raty will be the expected starter in Vancouver, as she was when she was here in the summer tournament that saw her help them steal a win from the U.S. team. The back up spot seems to be handed to Maija Hassinen if the 4 Nations Cup means much, in Vancouver that role went to Mira Kuisma, she probably is a lock for the 3rd spot.
Defense is going to be made up of pretty much their 4 Nations Cup roster. That includes Saija Sirvio, Marija Posa, Rosa Lindstedt, Emma Laaksonen, Jenni Kiirikoski, Mira Jalosuo & Terhi Mertanen. Most of these were on the 3rd place team from last WHC. Only Lindstedt wasnt. They arent as offensively gifted as the Swedish defenders, but they are a bigger squad physically on average & should be tougher to play against.
Forwards, most of the scoring pressure will fall on Michelle Karvinen & Saara Tuominen. They will need other offensively skilled players like Mari Pehkonen, Karolina Rantamaki & Nina Tikkinen to bring their A games as well to do well in this tourney. The rest of the roster will probably be filled out with Marjo Voutilainen, Annini Rajahuhta, Minnimari Tuominen, Emmi Leinonen, Venla Heikkila, and perhaps Tanja Niksanen or Mia Sakstrom.
Finland had a huge mental boost with a win over the USA in Vancouver this summer, a 3rd last WHC. They may have had a set back with a 4th place showing at home in the last tourney before the Olympics, the 4 Nations Cup however. Medal possibility is there, but probably only a bronze.
Some notables from the rest....
Switzerland 5th in the world. They have improved their world rankings from 9th just 5 years ago.
Dominique Slongo had a terrific tourney for them in the 2009 WHC & probably is the starting goalie for the Olympics.
Christine Meier, Darcia Leimgruber & Kathrin Lehmann lead them offensively in the last WHC & are probably expected to do so again here.
Nicola Bullo & Johanna Gautier seem like safe bets for the defense core.
Russia 6th in the world, won a bronze medal back in 2001 at the WHC. Since then, no such repeat performance.
in goal its probably Irina Gashennikova, the goalie with the most minutes played in the 09 WHC. Maybe Nadezda Alexandrova gets the spot? They more or less split the duties there, but Gashennikova had the more time played & better stats.
Offensively, it falls on the shoulders of Ekaterina Smolentseva who had a 2 pt per game avg last WHC. Tatiana Burina was the only other multi goal scorer on the roster. Ilya Gavrilova and Tatiana Sotnikova probably are also safe bets to make the team.
On defense, Inna Dyubanok was a team best +3 & had a goal for them last year. Probably a safe bet to be there again. Anna Shchukina & Olga Permyakova also likely make the squad & are known to shoot the puck a fair bit. Angelina Goncharenko is probably there as well.
China 7th in the world has consistently been just good enough to make the major tournies, but not good enough to make any inroads.
Goalie last WHC was Yao Shi. No reason to believe she wont be again.
Defense Na Jiang & Xutiang Qi should most likely make the squad.
Offensively, Rui Sun had 5 of the teams 7 goals & more points than the rest of the roster combined. Its pretty much up to her to carry the load offensively.
Slovakia the 15th ranked country in the world somehow is in the Olympics. Japan, Germany & Kazakhstan must be livid.
I had to dig hard to find stats for this team. But after I did, I basically have come up with these names as the probable names to watch for them.
Zuzana Tomcikova was the starter in their last major tourney. Played every minute. I assume she is still the starter.
Petra Jurcova, Petra Pravlikova & Martina Velickova seem to be the teams offensive weapons.
Iveta Karafiatova seems like the teams top offensive defender.
That is, in a nutshell what you might expect from the teams in the 2010 Womens Olympic hockey tournament coming to Vancouver.
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.