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February 21, 2018

Gold Medal Game! Canada vs USA

Wednesday night (11pm EST/8pm PST) sees the expected women's gold medal hockey game as Canada takes on the United States.

The two teams are pretty evenly matched. Canada enters the game with a perfect 4-0 record, with 16 goals scored and just 2 surrendered. America is 3-1, losing their only game to Canada. They have scored 14 times while giving up just 3.

As Canadian player Brianne Jenner states, this is what both teams live for.

“It is our Stanley Cup, it’s what we dream about since we were little girls. So we’re going to enjoy that experience when it comes, but once that puck’s dropped, you’ve trained so much that your body just knows what to do."

She knows both sides are the same. And there is very little choose from.

“I think you often want to say that it comes down to who wants it more. There’s no question that these two teams want it as bad as possible. So it’s going to come down to who executes, who’s able to perform in the moment, and who stays disciplined. And probably who wins the special-teams battle.”

The Americans won the inaugural gold medal in 1998, but Canada has won every Olympics since. That streak has the Americans fired up, such as long time star Hilary Knight.

“Sometimes the puck isn’t going to bounce your way, and obviously you need to get back up and keep chomping at it if you’re still hungry for it. I think the biggest thing is, I didn’t know how much I loved the game until that point in time. I mean, I obviously love ice hockey, but it wasn’t until months after that I realized how much I love it. And to really suffer that downfall on such a big stage, with all the energy and the eyes of the country are on you, is huge.

February 19, 2018

Canada at the Olympics

I have been on vacation, enjoying the sunny climes of Arizona, Nevada and Hollywood. As such I have not been able to watch much of the Olympics at all.

I saw the third period, overtime and shootout of the men's game against the Czech Republic and none of the women's games, I'm shamed to say.

This week I hope get back with the program. The women's gold medal game is already set, with Canada facing USA to no one's surprise. The Canadian men open the playoff round of the tournament with a game against Sweden.

I think Canada is in tough in both games.

The women's game has been dominated by the Americans in recent years, with Canada always coming out on top at the Olympics. That trend has to end soon.

The Canadian men drew Sweden, who, in my opinion, has the best blue line in the whole tournament. Because of that defensive strength I have viewed Sweden as the team most likely to win the tournament. Yes even over the favored Russians.

However if there is anything everyone has learned over the years it is not to bet against Canada. Go Canada Go!

Update: I was able to watch the second half of the Canadian women vs the Olympic Athletes from Russia. I was happy with Canada's effort as the game progressed. Though the game was not in doubt, Canada kept a strong pace and played with purpose and crispness. It was exactly what you want to see a team do in such a situation as they advance unchallenged to the gold medal game.

February 12, 2018

50th Anniversary of Most Important Olympic Hockey Game Ever

February 15th marks the 50th anniversary of what is arguably the most important Olympic hockey game ever played.

Ethan Scheiner of the Washington Post explains

On Feb. 15, 1968, the hockey team of Czechoslovakia, of which Slovakia was part, took on the Soviet Union at the Olympics in Grenoble, France. Czechoslovakia’s challenge extended far beyond the ice: The game served as a lightning rod in the movement for political freedom back home, a role hockey would continue to play in the country for the next two decades.

Then came the “Prague Spring.” In 1968 a new Czechoslovak government took power. It instantly asserted greater independence from Moscow and instituted reforms that permitted greater freedom of expression, travel and the press. Because many Czechoslovaks believed (inaccurately) that Moscow’s control had prevented them from defeating the Soviet hockey team, they looked to a victory over the USSR for proof that the reforms were genuine and far-reaching.

When the two squads faced off in the 1968 Olympics, the Soviets had won the past five world titles, were unbeaten in their previous 38 world championship games and had defeated Czechoslovakia in every major tournament since 1961. But this time, in a stunning upset, Czechoslovakia won 5-4. In the game’s iconic moment, Czechoslovakia’s melodramatic team captain Jozef Golonka dove onto the ice to celebrate, leading to hockey folklore that he was trying to hear if Russia had cut off oil to Czechoslovakia as punishment.
Although the Soviets went on to take the gold medal, for Czechoslovaks the win over the Russians catalyzed a new sense of possibility. Tens of thousands of fans took to the streets to celebrate the team. 

It's a pretty fascinating article about hockey played a key role in a country keeping it's identity in the face of oppression. Here's the full story.

February 10, 2018

Hockey And The Korean War

There is an absolutely fantastic hockey history article over at the Globe and Mail that I know I certainly have never heard of before, and likely you have not either.

It's about a Canadian military initiative to keep troops spirits up during the Korean War. Within ear shot of enemy forces, Canada set up a hockey rink on the Imjin River. It became the site of some heated hockey matches that brought joy and life to the armed forces stationed there.

Here's a taste of the article:
Canadian soldiers played hockey games in the winters of 1952 and 1953, although it's not clear exactly how many matches in total.

In early 1952, the Van Doos were on reserve, a pause to regroup from the front lines, when Claude Charland, then a lieutenant in command of an infantry platoon, was called to duty on the right wing. For a moment, he said, the war disappeared.

"It was like the players forgot about everything else," he said. There was no room to think about "attacks here and there, or bombs here and there. When the game was finished, we all hoped there would be a next one."

Afterward, spectators dissected the games with the kind of scrutiny usually reserved for playoff hockey "It was a tremendous morale booster," said Mr. Charland, 88.

And the best line in the article:
"I'm asked an awful lot, weren't you ever scared? And what I always say is, 'well, who would ever think of attacking 30 Canadian soldiers with hockey sticks in their hands?' " said Mr. Moore.
Read the full article here.

February 05, 2018

Team Canada Will Need A Gallant Effort

Team Canada's coaching staff will need to be the team's MVP if they are going to win 2018 Olympic gold in Pyeongchang.

Willie Desjardins is the head coach of Canada's men's Olympic hockey team, something he properly calls "the chance of a life time."

"The NHL was a great experience. I had a chance to coach in Vancouver … but things didn't work out there, so I was looking for something else and I've always wanted to coach in the Olympics or somehow be part of an Olympic team," Desjardins said.

"When this opportunity was there, for sure I would take it because it's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity."

He has wisely surrounded himself with a strong staff, notably Dave King. The 70 year old King's career has come full circle now. He was once the be-all, end-all when it came to Team Canada's Olympic teams, guiding three Olympic squads back in the pre-NHL Olympic era but he never won gold. Though he acted in advisory roles to Team Canada in the NHL Games era, he plays a much bigger role this time around. If you know anything about Dave King, you know the players will be prepared with absolutely all the information they will need to know for Pyeongchang.

Desjardins knows that better than anyone. The two go back a long time, some 40 years when Desjardins played for King at the University of Saskatchewan.

"I think what made him a great coach is he hated to lose. There are very few people that hate to lose like Dave. It drives him," Desjardins says. "He demands so much. But he doesn't demand more from his players than he does from himself."

King will be in charge of much of the tactical game planning. That leaves Desjardins the job of setting the culture of the team, establishing pace and tone, and building a team chemistry in such a short amount of time. Individual motivation will not be an issue at the Olympics for this team of castoffs, but the quicker the group can truly come together as a team the better.

That's where Desjardins and company should really be noting what Gerard Gallant has done in Las Vegas. Somehow - amazingly, inexplicably - Gallant has turned that group of expansion cast offs into one of the best teams in the National Hockey League immediately.

How did he do it? Hopefully Canada has been noticing.

First off Gallant, general manager George McPhee and their staff selected the right players to fit Gallant's style. Speed and hockey IQ were the two key metrics. They identified and acquired the players that fit perfectly for Gallant.

Canada's selection pool was much smaller, but GM Sean Burke and the coaching staff have done their homework. Hopefully that is a fit, too.

But once the team takes to the ice, what is Gallant's secret? I found some quotes that gives some insight.

First off, he's very much a "player's coach" and truly cares for their team and individual success. The players buy in to his game plan instantly and know exactly where they stand with the coach.

“I trust everybody. Everybody plays against the other team’s No. 1 line at times. That’s what our team is about – make sure every player’s accountable. That’s what we do, and that’s what our players do. They make each other accountable in the dressing room. I want everybody to play. Unless there’s a line I’m not liking that night, we’re going to play four lines. The only way you’re not going to play is if you’re playing bad," Gallant said.

Vegas' star player Jonathan Marchessault echoes those sentiments

“(The coaches) give us exactly the information we need. At the end of the day, it’s about executing and going with your hockey sense – and he (Gallant) knows that. He’s a coach that gives us a lot of confidence to make plays. If you miss, it’s OK, but learn from it, and don’t miss it a second time.”

Gallant is very much of the old Pat Quinn school of thought. It's not about hockey tactics or on-ice philosophies so much as getting the best out of people. The best coaches surround themselves with other coaches to come up with the game plan but they get the absolute best out of each and every player for the betterment of the whole.

The 61 year old Desjardins has had success at every level of hockey. He's won the Memorial Cup in junior and the Calder Cup in the AHL. NHL fans may only remember him for his last days on a dog Vancouver team that not even Quinn or Gallant could have resuscitated - they were that bad. Don't forget his first year in Vancouver he pushed all the right buttons to a surprise season. He also turned down the Pittsburgh Penguins to take the Canucks job - maybe not his best decision.

But Desjardins - like so many of his players - can find his redemption in Pyeongchang if he can get the most out of a rag tag bunch of Canadian hockey players everyone gave up on.

The Vegas odds might not be great, but we've all seen this year that even those can be overcome.

February 04, 2018

Unknown Canadians: Justin Peters

There was a time when Justin Peters was hoped to be Cam Ward's heir apparent with the Carolina Hurricanes.

Yes, that Cam Ward. The long time Carolina Hurricane's goalie. The Stanley Cup winning goalie in 2006 and star of Canada's 2007 gold medal winning World Championship team.

Back then if you told Hurricanes fans that Peters would be representing Canada at the Olympics you would have been pretty stoked.

And Peters is representing Canada at the 2018 Olympics. And you might be pretty stoked about that. But most of us are still a little underwhelmed with the NHL-less Olympics and a Team Canada filled with cast offs.

Ultimately that is what became of Justin Peters. Ward still takes the big workload in Carolina all these years later. Peters left in 2014, joining Washington briefly. He would soon disappear to the minor leagues and then to Europe. Two years ago he played in Riga, Latvia. This season he is playing in Germany for Kolner Haie.

But he has played well enough to join Ben Scrivens and Kevin Poulin as the three goalies for Team Canada at 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics.

"It's a dream come true," he says.

Unknown Canadians: Marc-André Gragnani

Ah, good ol' Marc-André Gragnani. The skilled defenseman of some good promise with the Buffalo Sabres. He was a bit of a throw-in in the Zack Kassian for Cody Hodgson trade with Vancouver. He quickly disappeared, bouncing around the minors and Europe with very brief appearances with Carolina and San Jose.

How I remember you well, Marc-André Gragnani. Mostly because I could never pronounce your last name. I really don't know why. Somehow it is like kryptonite to me.

But that's okay because unless there is a change in plans (yeah, right) I am not going to be doing any play-by-play for any national television networks. Marc-André Gragnani can take that off of his list of pressures as he goes to Pyeongchang.

Gragnani has been playing very well with Minsk of the KHL this season. He is one of the higher scoring defenseman and is said to really control the pace of the game on the bigger ice.

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