Tuesday, February 23, 2010

More Thoughts on Olympic Hockey

Although AP is not a "hockey guy", there are a few more loose-ends going into the medal round of the Olympics:

1. The loss to the US likely brings to an end the international career of Martin Brodeur. Earlier this year, the 38-year-old passed Patrick Roy as the all-time leader in both games played and wins-by-a-goalie. But his shaky work in goal on Sunday meant that Team Canada Coach Mike Babcock has "gone in a different direction" and tapped 31-year-old Roberto Luongo (who backed up Brodeur four years ago in Torino), as well as juggling his lines.

2. Thanks to its loss on Sunday, Team Canada slipped to the #6-seed in the medal round. Assuming they get by Germany, that means a match-up with Russia looming. All year, the NHL has tried to hype Crosby-vs.-Ovechkin. Later this week, we'll all get to see it.

3. But we won't (most likely) get to see it in HD. High-def has helped all televised sports, but none more than hockey. But the Canada/US game was relegated to MSNBC, and this week it seems clear that Women's Figure Skating will be the highlighted prime time event on NBC.

4. Also, filed under "That's Incredible": the games are being played at a venue called "Canada Hockey Place," which is also where the NHL's Vancouver Canucks play their regular season games (then it's known as GM Place.)

The Olympics ice surface is 200 x 100. (You can get a sense of it when watching clips from the 1980 "Miracle on Ice" game.)

The NHL ice surface is 200 x 85 feet. The GM Place ice remains at that size for the Olympics.

So the Olympic hockey competition will be held on a non-Olympic sized rink.

And a separate Olympic-sized rink (Trout Lake) will be used for figure skating.

Go figure.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Shades of... 1992

In the legend of the Dream Team (1992 edition), the game that everyone wishes they had seen was a scrimmage that then-coach Chuck Daly organized between players from the Eastern Conference and the Western Conference. Daly was apparently concerned that too much competition in practice could have an adverse effect on the Dreamers -- but finally, in the lead up to Barcelona, he succumbed and allowed the best in the world to settle things at full speed. It was, it is reported, a game for the ages.

We may have seen another tonight. Thirty years after the Miracle on Ice, the game of the Olympics has changed -- never again will a sports power like the United States send a bunch of amateurs to take on professionals, from the Soviet Union or anywhere else. But the challenge of international competition remains the same.

And tonight, with the pressure on the home team, the US-Canada hockey game was (perhaps) a throw-back to the East/West scrimmage in 1992. For 60 minutes, with end-to-end action, the game was played at the intensity level of a Stanley Cup final -- but with the talent one would see in an All-Star Game. Favored Canada outshot the US 45-22, but US goalie Ryan Miller answered the barrage -- especially in the last few minutes -- and bought his team a bye into the quarterfinals of the medal round. Team Canada will now face tough questions and brutal headlines as it heads in the second week of the competition.

Whether the US can survive to the medal stand (which has happened only once since 1980 (a silver in 2002)), it was the type of game that the NHL can be proud of -- and one that justifies the suspension of the NHL season for two weeks to allow the Olympics to proceed.

Do we believe in miracles?

Perhaps not, anymore.

But we do believe in international sport played at the highest level.

And on national TV, rather than in a closed practice.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010


Quick Thought: do you have to go back to 1995 (or even 1982?) to find a Duke-UNC game with less meaning?

And less hype?

ESPN effectively launched its first "spin-off", ESPN2 with the Duke-UNC game back in the mid-1990s by broadcasting the game exclusively on "the Deuce."

Today, it's barely part of "Rivalry Week."

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

I'm Going to Witchita...

This morning in the Globe, perpetual optimist Dan Shaughnessy bemoans the lack of local players in the Beanpot -- the Boston-only college hockey tournament on the first and second Mondays in February. The absence of a local connection, he says, made the building "flatter than Howie Long’s head."

In fact, the Gahh-den was flat during the opening game: a 6-0 shellacking of Harvard by Boston College. It was a game marked by chippy play (especially as the score got out of hand in the late stages), and the absence of legitimate scoring chances for the Crimson.

But even as the BC and Harvard students were preparing to depart for, um, time in their respective libraries (and Shaughnessy likely writing his column), the Northeastern fans showed up amped up. With the Huskies not having won a Beanpot since 1988 -- seven years before the final game in the old Garden -- the Northeastern fans came early and stayed late, trying to will their team on with both traditional hockey jeers ("Hey Goalie -- you [stink]") and more modern updates (chanting in unison the bass line to the Stripes' "Seven Nation Army.")

While the BU crowd also stood for almost all of the game, there was a sense of ennui. After all, when you have played in the Beanpot final in all but 2 of the last 27 years, how excited can you be for a opening-round game? And as BU never trailed, even a 2-man advantage for NU half-way through the third period didn't raise the Terriers' collective blood-pressure.

But there's an alternative explanation for why the Beanpot started flat: not one of the teams has had a great start to the 2009-10 season. In fact, of the four teams, only one has a winning record (BC is now 13-8-2. BU is now 10-11-3; Northeastern is 11-12-1 after last night; Harvard is 5-12-3, although they had been 3-1-1 in their previous five games.)

While Northeastern fans went home disappointed, BU-BC next week will bring the excitement.

With or without the White Stripes.