So far since the Olympic athletes have been arriving, its been a slim trickle of identifiable faces & a lot of "I think they might be an athlete" blank stares from us.
But Sunday, the party really started up for the majority of the hounds. A group of generally 5-8 of us that had been out all week for other athletes, were suddenly dwarfed by the never less than 15 and as many as 70 fans, lookie-loos & just arriving hounds from other locales. They were all there because the glut of NHL players were coming for the Olympic games came thru Vancouver's YVR airport.
The media was there. There was lots of Canadian, American, Swedish, Finnish & even a couple Asian media personnel around.
Things really started for us, Saturday late night when Peter Forsberg & various other European based Team Sweden players & the Belarus team came in. Foppa was an incredibly willing signer, very talkative & quite personable. For those hounds (myself not being 1, I was on a different mission at the time) that were there from the time he got into the publics sight, reports of 5 & 6 autographs per person were boasted. Even for my friends & I, who showed up to the party very late (literaly as he was heading out the door to the security area that you cant get them in) we managed 2 each. It was then off to rest up for Sunday.
Sunday morning I slept in, and missed a terrific signing session by Finnish star Miikka Kiprusoff. One of the locals pulled 10 items out of the scrum. Team Canada superstar Jarome Iginla was less receptive to signing and did maybe 10 total from all reports I heard for the crowd of about 20 people at the time. Jeff Carter, who came as a hopeful replacement signed for the hounds before getting the punt by Team Canada the next day.
By the time I arrived in the early afternoon more than a dozen players had come thru, some signing, some being rushed thru the protected Olympics only doors to awaiting vehicles well away from the public. When I arrived everyone was getting prepped for Alex Ovechkin, probably the greatest hockey player there is currently playing. A couple guys came out before him like Thomas Greiss & Joe Pavelski from the Sharks, then came the Washington Capitals posse. Nick Backstrom came over and signed quite a few, most people leaving with more than 1 item, while the other Alex, Alexander Semin ignored the crowd, along with Semyon Varlamov. Alex Ovechkin however did sign, barely. A crowd of 50 or so waiting fans & lookie-loos anxiously begged him to sign, and he scribbled his rushed minimal effort autograph on 4-5 items, I was lucky enough to get one. Sure it looks like crap, but I still value a BAD Ovi at $50. Which last time I looked is better than NO Ovi at $0
After that scrum we hurried over to the domestic arrivals to grab a flight with a couple Bruins on it. David Krejci, who signed only 1 per person got the crowd of 20-30 people warmed up. Then Patrice Bergeron, Team Canada member, came thru & the crowd seemed to double out of nowhere. I was watching for Marco Sturm who saw the crowd swarm his NHL team mate & he took the chance to try & leave. I went over for him & got 2, only 2 other people got him before he slipped out the door. As I got him I jokingly said "waited for Patrice to go before you made your move eh?" which he replied with a smirk "hehe, yeah". The crowd around Patrice was so thick I had time to get over to him & snag an autograph before he was rushed out by security & overzealous volunteers who pushed people around. It then was noted Eric Staal was trying to sneak away as well, but was nabbed by a few from the crowd before his handler declared he was done & shooed him away.
A couple small scrums for guys like Dan Boyle for Team Canada and Jonathan Quick for Team USA filled the dull hours in between, but for the mostpart, the mid-evening was slow.
Reports that Martin Brodeur & other Devils had slipped in nearly undetected surfaced which was met with disappointment by some & acceptance by others more experienced in hounding large events where you understand you cant be everywhere at once.
Next was Pavel Datsuk who was greeted by a pile of collectors, dealers & fans on the international side. Myself & a couple others who were late in reacting only got 1, while most got 2 or 3. While the crowd followed him outside hoping to crack him on signing again, we noticed other players coming out in the security area. We rushed over to the fence, which for some reason had been moved up maybe 75-100 feet on Sunday, making access to them more possible. Valtteri Filppula and others came out, came over to do interviews for Finnish TV & then signed willingly. I got 4 from Valtteri, before collecting my things & moving on to look for more. A handful of other Finnish guys including Joni Pitkanen, Jere Lehtinen & Tuomo Ruutu also came in around that time as well. My luck wasnt as good with them. Mainly because looking for items when your carrying 1500+ items can be time consuming. It certainly cost me more than a few times. Pitkanen & Lehtinen both signed but I didnt have the time to get into my stuff, get back into the moshpit of hounds & get them.
A series of bad decisions lead to me being shut out for a couple hours, even with players coming in. I chose to sit on Russian goalie Evgeni Nabokov for awhile thinking with only a couple of us still waiting, he would surely sign. But after 45 mins of him sitting talking to a fairly fat puckbunny, he ignored all autograph requests & left. While I was there getting kicked in the balls by Nabby, Team Anaheim came in (minus the Canadian guys). Selanne signed a few, Koivu signed some & the others got away either without being asked, or with Team USA personnel wooshing them thru the crowd.
A late night flight with a handful of Boston Bruins came in & I thought afterwards my luck was turning around....but I again made a foolish choice it seemed. I got in & nabbed 3 Zdeno Chara autographs, 2 Tim Thomas along with 2 Miroslav Satan autographs. Generally getting 5 autographs from the most recent major trophy winners liek Chara (Norris) & Thomas (Vezina) would seem like a great score, but they came at the price of missing more Red Wings players in Lidstrom & Zetterberg. At least I got SOMETHING this time, but I still felt a bit disappointed that the 2 Miro Satan autographs I waited an extra 5-8 mins to get might have cost me the 2 Wings stars.
There was 1 final group of the night. A large group that included a lot fo east coast guys. On the flight were New York Rangers stars Henrik Lundqvist & Marian Gaborik. Along with New York Islanders Swiss star Mark Streit, a few other various guys from the Tampa Lightning & other Rangers All in all, about 8 to 10 players. I came out of the whole debacle with 2 Marian Gaborik autographs and 2 Mark Streit autographs. Most of them didnt even come over, and Lundqvist signed maybe 4 autographs for the 20 or so people waiting at 1 AM before walking back to the vehicle that was picking him up & leaving.
That was the end of the NHL arrival main day. A small handful of guys arrived early Monday morning, most notably Daniel Alfredsson. He signed willingly for the fans that went out.
A lot of the Canadian Olympians did not come thru because private charters were picking them up at meeting locations & taking them in to our smaller airport in Abbotsford (about an hour away) along with a few other non-Canadian Olympic team guys. With no decent access, and lots of uncertainty on who exactly would be on them, we never took the gamble to head out there..which probably was for the best, but we'll never know. With a star studded line up that came thru including the likes of Crosby, Fleury, Malkin, Getzlaf, Perry, Kane, Toews, Seabrook, Keith, Nash and many more on them, it might have been worth the gamble to go out & try. But the uncertainty deterred anyone from trying.
Slovakia comes into 2010 ranked 9th. Just 6 years ago they were ranked 3rd. In 2002 they won the World Hockey championships and they medalled in 3 of the 4 championships from 2000 to 2003. But after that they have regressed quickly. Falling to an all time low of 13th just in 2008.
This team has a lot of NHLers & former NHLers making it up & on paper a casual hockey fan might see them as a good team still. The reality though is, they are top heavy on strong top end talent, and their bottom end talent, although having NHL fan familiar names scattered thru, arent at that level right now.
The Slovaks probably still have dreams of a medal round appearance, and truthfully, in a single knock out system, they have a narrow chance. A very narrow chance, but a chance still. Realistically though, they are probably aiming for a top 6 finish & pushing their world rankings up a bit.
Jaroslav Halak- MONTREAL CANADIENS (NHL) Possibly the best goalie the Habs have will get his chance to shine in Vancouver & will very likely give this team a chance every night to win.
Peter Budaj- COLORADO AVALANCHE (NHL) Might get a start or two against the weaker teams, Peter will be the unchallenged back up most likely.
Rastislav Stana- CHEREPOVETS SEVERSTAL (KHL) He will be there waiting eagerly to get a chance if 1 of the NHL goalies falters.
Zdeno Chara- BOSTON BRUINS (NHL) With a Norris Trophy for leagues top defenseman recently placed on his mantlepiece, Zdeno has no worries about making the team. His only worries will be about how he can carry his team to greater heights than people will expect of them.
Lubomir Visnovsky- EDMONTON OILERS (NHL) One of the NHLs top power play specialists, Lubomir will give Slovakia a powerful PP unit.
Andrej Meszaros- TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING (NHL) A couple years ago Andrej looked poised to become an elite NHL defenseman. Since being traded hes settled in as an adequate defenseman. Still good enough to make this teams top 4 unit, this Olympics might be more important for Andrej whole career than just the Olympic team, as he looks to regain some of the flash he was developing early in his career.
Milan Jurcina- WASHINGTON CAPITALS (NHL) This 6'4 240 lb tough hitting dman will give the Slovaks a formidable force out there when Zdeno isnt out there.
Andrej Sekera- BUFFALO SABRES (NHL). Hes improved each season in the NHL so far. This tourney might go a long way into boosting his self confidence. Might battle Meszaros for top 4 minutes if he struggles.
Boris Valabik- ATLANTA THRASHERS (NHL). At 6'7, the Thrashers 2004 1st round pick is expected to be a Chara type player down the road. This tourney might give the Atlanta brass some insight into if hes developing that way.
Martin Strbak- BALASHIKHA MVD HC (KHL) Martin is having a decent year in Russia & is probably going to be the teams #7 dman.
Marian Hossa- CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS (NHL) Often considered the greatest forward from Slovakia, this year Marian has gotten off to a slow start because of injury, but still has a cemented place ont his team....barring more injuries.
Marian Gaborik- NEW YORK RANGERS (NHL) The often injured potential super star is finally having an injury free year so far, and is amongst the top scorers in the league. 1st line is a lock.
Marcel Hossa- RIGA DYNAMO (KHL) The leading scorer on his team, Marcel is making lots of noise to be the other top line piece for the national team.
Branko Radivojevic- MOSCOW SPARTAK (KHL) Like Marcel, top scorer on his team. branko will definitely be a 2nd line lock, if not first line.
Michal Handzus- LOS ANGELES KINGS (NHL) Michal will be expected to play a strong 2 way game on 2nd or 3rd line.
Marek Svatos- COLORADO AVALANCHE (NHL) Marek has regressed some in recent years, but is still a capable energy line type player.
Josef Vasicek- YAROSLAVL LOKOMOTIV (KHL) Having a solid year in Russia. Probable top 2 line player, at worst 3rd line.
Josef Stumpel- ASTANA BARYS (KHL). Having a solid year offensively. Should contribute decent 3rd line minutes.
Zigmund Palffy- SKALICA HK 36 (SLOVAKIA)- The leagues top scorer will make the team, but will likely pull in only 3rd line minutes. But with the talent he possesses, he could be pushed into a top line spot if needed & likely adjust quickly.
Tomas Kopecky- CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS (NHL) Is not having a very productive year in Chitown, but will still make the team
Richard Zednik- YAROSLAVL LOKOMOTIV (KHL)- 200 NHl goals, 700+ games will make him valuable for experience & will probably get in a few nights as a 3rd line or checking line player.
Stefan Ruzicka- MOSCOW SPARTAK (KHL)- Having a decent year in Russia. Will be most useful if he can play a checking game as they have far more qualified scorers.
Roman Kukumberg- TOLYATTI LADA (KHL)- Also having a decent season. Will also be more valuable for checking line status than scoring, but has scoring capabilities if called upon.
Maybes- Ivan Baranka, Peter Olvecky, Mario Bliznak, Tomas Tatar, Juraj Simek, Martin Cibak, Robert Petrovicky.
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.