Not enough hockey

We all know how drab the offseason can be; there’s not much going on this time of the year, which sucks, because it makes summer — what should be a happy time — more depressing. It took me a while to make the transition from enjoying intense, fast-paced playoff hockey to….baseball…but I got there. It was a slow process, but I finally accepted that hockey wasn’t going on right now, and I’d have to settle with baseball (oh, the Mets), the only thing going on right now (pre-season football doesn’t count because it’s pre-season football).

Whether your team has a legitimate shot next year, is just mediocre, or you’re a New York Islanders fan (those are really the only three ways to feel about your team’s chances), I’m sure you’re excited about the upcoming season. Will I be able to celebrate in the streets of my city and rag on all my friends about how their team sucks and my Stanley Cup is better than yours? Is this the year that [insert your team’s problem here] finally [comes / gets his s**t] together? Will Rick DiPietro play in more than three games before getting injured (obviously not)? So many questions and so much hope for the upcoming season. (Only 52 more days!)

But while we all [presumably] love the game so much, there are,  of course, problems with the league and the way the game plays right now that should be addressed. The league, with its efforts spearheaded by Brendan Shanahan, the VP of player safety and hockey operations, is trying to figure out what needs to be fixed, and testing the proposed ideas in the second annual research and development camp. Let’s see what they’re thinking about, as well as some other issues I think need to be addressed:

Hybrid icing: A combination between icing the way it is now and no-touch icing, players would race for the puck, and, at the referee’s discretion, icing would either be waved off (if the attacking player would win the race) or called before any contact came with the puck/at the boards (if the defender would win).

Probably a good idea. There’s no need to risk player injury by hustling to the puck and then go crashing into the boards for their effort if a  winner can be determined ahead of time, thus negating injury. HOWEVER, there are a bunch of icing calls where the players are neck and neck and a clear winner can’t be determined. Also, it takes away the potential for a player to win a battle by tying up the other player and touching the puck himself, or having a teammate do it. But if the rule does help player safety, then definitely go with it.

No icing permitted while shorthanded: Like the rule sounds, shorthanded teams would no longer be able to get away with throwing the puck down the ice and go unpenalized (if one team can’t ice the puck, why can’t the other?).

I suggest a compromise: shorthanded teams would be called for icing, but they are allowed to make line changes. It would discourage shorthanded teams from icing the puck, but not penalize them so much that powerplays become nearly impossible to kill off.

Overtime changes: The proposed change suggests four minutes of 4-on-4 followed by three minutes of 3-on-3, and then a shootout (which would possibly include five shooters rather than three).

Just get rid of the shootout. Everyone is done with it. What’s wrong with a tie? I say one 10-minute period of 4-on-4, and if no winner is determined, the game ends in a tie. What’s wrong with a tie? Tying is like kissing your sister, as the adage goes. Better to kiss your sister than kiss your opponent’s ass in a shootout loss.

Offside changes: Amendment A) Teams that go offsides can’t make line changes. Amendment B) The ensuing faceoff will be in the end of the offsides team. (If both rules were instated, offsides would be just like icing the puck).

No, no, no. Teams are going to be offsides naturally if they’re trying to create offense. Yeah, let’s make teams AFRAID to go offsides. Don’t want to be screwed by accidently getting ahead of the play, trying to create offense? No problem! Just dump the puck in! We all know how exciting dump-and-chase hockey is. Fools.

Removing the trapezoid: Self-explanitory ( for those who don’t know, the trapezoid is the thing behind the net that indicates the only area in which goalies are allowed to play the puck behind the goal line).

Trash it. I never understood why they put it there in the first place. But while were at it, players should be able to make some contact with goalies that venture outside their crease to play the puck; I’m not saying allow goalies to be drilled, just allow players to bump them, thus discouraging goalies from going way out to play the puck but allowing them to do so in appropriate situations.

In-net goal line camera: Would place a camera inside the net that looks at the goal line to help solve any controversies about whether or not the puck fully crossed the line.

Why wouldn’t you? Even if it doesn’t work great, it certainly wouldn’t cause any more problems. It eliminates the problem of the crossbar getting in the way on the overhead shots we currently see.

Bear-hug against the wall rule (not in TSN article): Would allow players to hold the player against the wall instead of hitting them, in an attempt to prevent hits from behind/hits in vulnerable positions.

Well, it worked 80 years before the lockout, I suppose. It should prevent hits from behind that can really cause damage to players.

Those are the proposed changes the league is considering. But I think there’s a few more problems that need to be addressed:

Diving: One of the biggest problems in ALL of sports is when players try to trick the refs into believing that an infraction was committed when, on further review, there clearly wasn’t anything (see: professional soccer). Instead of just playing the game, players will fall to the ground, or jerk their head back, or grab their face, or roll around being unable to decide whether it’s their face or ankle that’s hurt, all in an attempt to draw a penalty.

While it can be very difficult to tell whether a player is faking it or not in real-time, it’s much less difficult to do so with slowed-down footage after the incident. I can’t get mad at all refs for not always calling dives, but I do get mad when the league does nothing about it. The solution is simple: Address each potential dive as you would a dirty play that warrants a suspension; review the tape after the fact, determine whether the player dove/faked something to trick the refs, and hand out a penalty (fine/suspension) if warranted. Since a dive is a dive, and there’s really no different levels of it, there’s really no room for case-to-case infractions (as there is with dirty plays), so penalties should be progressive and go something like this:

First offense: fine (I’m not an accountant, so we’ll say somewhere in the $20,000 range)

Second offense: one-game suspension

Third offense: three-game suspension

Fourth offense: ten-game suspension

Fifth offense: 30-game suspension

Sixth offense: Kicked out of the league

Harsh? Hardly. The game should have some integrity, and players shouldn’t be worried about trying to fool the refs. They should instead focus on playing the game. Strict penalties would greatly discourage people from doing something that shouldn’t be a part of the game.

Referee consistency: I’m not sure how one would go about fixing this problem, but, especially with the strict enforcement of minor infractions, there needs to be league-wide consistency on rules calls; specifically, hooking. Players don’t know what a hook is. The fans don’t. And it doesn’t seem like the refs do either. Is it lightly touching a player in the midsection with a stick, or is it going waterskiing on another player? I’ve seen it enforced both ways. These penalties, along with all others, need to be more consistent from ref-to-ref and game-to-game, and preferably, from an official’s call to his next (consistency within games).

Player safety: I’m really not qualified to offer a solution, so I’ll just mention that players’ safety, the head/brain area in particular, needs to be protected on a higher lever. I heard the idea of softer shoulder pads being thrown around (thus reducing impact of accidental shoulder-to-head hits).

Suspension consistency: We’ve all joked about how the suspensions handed out are ridiculous and make no sense, and come up with great ideas such as Colin Campbell’s Wheel of Justice, and hopefully that will change now that he’s stepped down. We all got our panties in a knot (for good reason, I might add) over Burrows’ bite and non-suspension in the Finals and have probably pretty much been upset with every suspension ever handed out. It’s tough, NHL, but fix it.

MORE GAMES ON NATIONAL TV: Not really a rule change, but it would help the game thrive, as it would my blood pressure. We don’t all get VERSUS (soon to be NBC Sports Network) or have the cash for NHL Network. NBC airs, what, 15 games during the regular season? It’s simply not enough for crazy hockey fans (you’re a hockey fan? Yes, you’re a bit crazy). Do something about it. I don’t care if it’s on a cable network like Spike TV or Oxygen (even if I have to sit through hours of tampon commercials), just show games that everyone can see on the air on a regular basis. Clean up your staff while you’re at it (i.e. Mike Milbury and the rest of those clowns).

 

I’m sure there are more issues that need to be addressed in order to ensure a better level of both play and consistency, but there are definitely some easy solutions for the game right now. Unfortunately, we’ll have another 52 days to think about it.

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Because I, the all-omnipotent referee, said it to be so, and so it came to be

Well, there’s really not much interesting to talk about in the NHL during the offseason, other than the Florida Panthers’ crazy escapade to become the Atlanta Thrashers by trashing half their roster and going wild in the FA market and with trades, or Rangers’ GM Glen Sather surprising act to not accidentally add an extra zero onto Brad Richards’ contract.

Baseball has too long of a season to pick out anything interesting (sorry, Derek Jeter). I refuse to talk about the LeBron Jame- I mean NBA offseason, and there’s not much going on in football (hopefully that’s settled soon). How about soccer?

With nothing else on (despite what ESPN wants to tell me, hot dog eating is not a sport), I decided to tune into the USA vs. Brazil quarterfinal game in the Women’s World Cup for a bit. An iffy call in the box leads to a US defender getting tossed (causing the US to be shorthanded the rest of the game and a PK for Brazil: basically an automatic goal. If you don’t want soccer, I can tell you that these end up in the back of the net about 85% of the time, hitting the post 10% of the time, the player missing the net entirely 4% of the time (very embarrassing), and the goalie actually making a save maybe 1 out of 100 opportunities. OK, I exaggerate, but they are nearly impossible to stop. It’s a guessing game

Anywho, I had a strange confidence in Team USA’s super-cutie netminder Hope Solo. Being up 1-0 in the second half, and now down a [wo]man, they almost had to get a stop if they had any hope to get a win. And they got it; a HUGE save from Solo, who read the shooter perfectly.

Too perfectly, according to one shady official. She pointed back at the PK dot, walked up to Solo and showed her a yellow card. Now,  I know that you almost HAVE to cheat to save a PK, but what? An outrageous claim that Solo moved before the ball was kicked — forward, not laterally (you’re allowed to do that apparently) — led to a redo, as are the rules. Seriously, FIFA? A do-over? That sounds like something that might happen when I’m playing against one of my brothers: “Nuh-uh! You cheated! That doesn’t count, I wasn’t ready! I get a do-over!” So Brazil scores on the Mulligan. Tie game.

You can say what you want about the lack of talent on American soccer teams — both men’s and women’s — but there’s one thing you can’t deny: their tenacity, grittines, and refusal to lose. It’s cliché and a stereotype, I know, but that seems to be American sports culture: less time spent on the actual craft and developing skills and more time spent building the desire/mindset to win, at least when compared to other nations.

The game goes to extra time, and Brazil scores in the first extra period, albeit being offsides when they scored. Missed call, but I’ll admit it was bang-bang (the US defender losing her mark, whom scored the goal, because she was lobbying to the official for an offside call certainly didn’t help). 2-1. Being a man down, it looks bleak for the US. They get some chances but can’t come through. They can’t seem to catch a break (even though their first goal came off a poor clearing attempt by a Brazil defender that went into her own net). The game approaches its bitter end.

122nd minute. Probably the last run for the US before soccer’s imaginary time runs out. Megan Rapinoe sends a long, forward cross to the far post from 30-35 yards out. Abby Wambach crashes the net and gets a head on it. Gourgeous. 2-2.

The game goes to PKs, and Solo comes through again and makes one save out of four chances, which is enough for the sure-footed American snipers. Team USA wins 5-3 in PKs against all odds and moves on to the semis.

I’ll admit, it was some of the most entertaining soccer you will ever watch, and probably one of the most dramatic matches in FIFA history. Still, I couldn’t help but feel cheated when I watched that game, as I often do when I watch any professional soccer game.

Why do games, more often than not, have to be decided by the officials? In a game where goals are so difficult to come by, one official’s mistake can actually be the turning point from which a team cannot recover from. In what other [popular] team sport can you say that?

Let’s go back to last year’s Men’s World Cup. Team USA rallies from a 2-0 deficit against Slovenia in the round-robins to tie it. Off a Landon Donavan free kick, Team USA’s Maurice Edu has a goal waved off for no apparent reason in the 85th minute. The FIFA official never gave an explanation as to why the goal was negated. And, per FIFA regulations, he never had to. The game ends in a draw rather than a US win. Even though the game didn’t really effect Team USA’s advancement, I have to wonder why I subject myself to watching a game where an official can make any call he wants and never have to justify the call. No goal, why? Because I, the all-omnipotent referee, said it to be so, and so it came to be.

That’s an extreme example, but these kinds of calls and plays happen on a regular basis (see also: PK save negated for a BS reason). What does that lead to? Players trying to fool the refs. Soccer is mocked for its absurd encouragement of flopping, and rightfully so (although, there seems to be MUCH less of it in women’s soccer than men’s). It becomes a game of “trick the ref” to get an advantage rather than soccer.

Have the ball in the box? Can’t get a foot on the ball?? Defender near you, possibly making physical contact??? No problem! Fall to the ground and grab your face or Achilles tendon, and hope the ref grants your team a glorious PK (don’t worry, you can miraculously come back from such an egregious injury in a few minutes). He/she may even give the defender a red card! Don’t think the call will be made? Worried that maybe you should have tried harder to make a play on the ball to score the elusive soccer goal for your team? Don’t worry about it, with enough acting practice and the right circumstances, most refs can’t  tell. Just leave the game in their hands, gain their favor, and everything will be OK.

Who’s to blame for all the diving? The players for lacking integrity? The refs for being fooled so easily and not factoring in that if a player falls, there’s a good chance he dove? The coaches for teaching/telling players to flop in games? Cultures for preaching/praising the act as long as it helps your team (anything to win, right)? Or is it the game itself for being so difficult to score in that you almost have to pull some stunts to work your way to a goal or two (even my soccer teams growing up, as well as my opponents’ didn’t have much trouble scoring without flailing to the ground)?

It doesn’t matter. In addition to playing the clock (stalling because the clock never stops) and games being decided on a skills competition (the shootout) instead of what the game actually is, I want diving out of the game before I, as will most of the sports world, will accept professional soccer as a legitimate sport and take it seriously. Don’t get me wrong, I love soccer and played for many years; it’s a great game to take part in, but professional soccer just doesn’t feel right. The game needs to be left up to the players to decide the outcome. Officials can’t have the power they do. While the ridiculous call against the US led to a dramatic victory that was more exciting than it would have been otherwise, it could have very, very easily ended the other way. It would have been unacceptable. The ref is off the hook (at least in the eyes of American sports fans) because Team USA pulled it off, somehow. But what if they didn’t? These “what-if”s are too glaring to not be dealt with.

I’ll admit I yell at the officials in every sport when my team seems to get hosed (which, coincidentally, seems to be pretty much every game), but very, very rarely do I consider them as a deciding factor as to why my team lost (unless they’re playing the Penguins). Professional soccer is the one sport where I can — and not be preposterous in doing so — say: “Wow, the ref really screwed Team X over in that game. He/she made the deciding call(s) of the game, a call that was either incorrect or controversial in some way. Had it not been for that call, Team Y probably would not have won the game; it was simply a decision that Team X could not recover from.” The scary part is that it doesn’t even have to be the wrong call to be a deciding factor; it may simply be a borderline call that really could go either way. I don’t want a games that I’m going to invest 90+ minutes into watching to be decided on a coin-flip decision or how the official is feeling that day, which, surprising, usually seems to be pretty anti-American.

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Have a little self-respect, re-defined

My last post was about having some self-respect on the ice. In that post, I was talking about something that isn’t that big of a deal when compared to the big scheme of things; hockey, in comparison to most aspects of life, isn’t that significant.

I’m sure the Sedins, who I have trashed for their lack of heart during the playoffs, have some respect for themselves, and others, outside of the rink. They’ve donated millions of dollars to charities. They’re very classy players on the ice; never will you see them throw a cheap shot or go after another player. They’re great teammates, from what I hear. Overall, they’re good people who should be respected as such, even if it’s hard to respect their abilities to perform when it matters.

It sucks when a large crowd of fans, a small group of fans or even just one fan of an athletics team makes all of the fans that associate themselves with the same team look terrible. As sports fans, we tend to stereotype an entire fan base based on personal experiences with fans of another team, or even just by what we see in the media.

I’ve had a lot of experiences with Vancouver fans in the past few weeks; granted, they were all via the Internet, but I got a taste of what a Vancouver fan was like in general. Long story short, I began to dislike Canucks fans, mostly for defending acts such as the Burrows bite, essentially arguing that black is white. Were they all obnoxious and unreasonable? Of course not. But my experiences, as a whole, swayed my opinion that the majority of Canuck fans are annoying and frustrating to deal with, and towards the end of it all, I couldn’t stand Canuck fans.

But that’s just playoff hockey. Yes, I am a Rangers fan, and will be one forever (unfortunately), but I supported Boston throughout the playoffs. So of course I am going to dislike the fans of the team of my “opponents.” It’s not a big deal, and I would have been totally over hating Canuck fans after Game 7, just like all the players got in that line at center ice and shook hands after everything that took place on the ice and the media. I would have gone back to hating the Flyers, the Penguins, the Devils, the Islanders, and a few select players from those teams and other teams.

Everything would have been pretty normal if not for the events following the game.

I could list a bunch of descriptive words and phrases about what took place that night and try to describe it. I can tell you in detail how what I witnessed from a couple of thousand miles away made me feel. But nothing I say could do it justice.

As I’m sure most of you are aware, some hooligan-Canuck fans decided it would be just a swell idea to riot in the streets of Vancouver (some great photos here, actually) after having their hopes of their first Stanley Cup being trashed by the Boston Bruins (the riots actually started a few minutes before the final buzzer, as the game was decided rather early for a Game 7). And as a hockey fan, a sports fan, and even just as a person, I am offended by those actions.

I get it. You’re upset. You’re team lost. Hockey might be all some of you have in Canada have (although Vancouver has an MLS team, too: the Vancouver Whitecaps). I’m sure getting all the way to Game 7 of the finals and losing [pretty badly] must have been devastating. Going 40 seasons without a Cup must suck. Who knows when you’ll get another shot at it.

But how are you going to act like that? How are you going to embarrass yourselves and your entire city because your favorite hockey team didn’t pull through? Do you realize how you look, what image you portray?

“What, we lost at hockey? BREAK AND BURN EVERYTHING!”

“Aw, yeah, bro! Sick idea!”

I cannot deal with that mentality; I can’t deal with those people who think ruining a city is an acceptable way to deal with defeat.

But it’s even worse than that. These people were going to riot REGARDLESS of the outcome. People brought backpacks filled with all kinds of tools useful for rioting to the viewing area outside the arena. They had planned to riot before having any idea of what the outcome would have been. They did it in 1994 after losing to the Rangers, and, keeping with tradition, some decided to trash their city at the conclusion of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Let me be clear: these people whom act like that aren’t fans. Maybe they care about the team, maybe they don’t. These are the kinds of people who go to events and partake in various shenanigans just to fit in with everyone else. The people who really don’t care about anyone else. The people who join clubs, sports, frats, or any group just so they can be at the top of the social ladder, fit in and not be ridiculed or have to deal with being different; the “cool” kids, if you will (and it was mostly teenagers and young adults who participated).

I have a problem with those people; it upsets me that they exist. Not only do those terrible people make me lose hope for sports fans, and even humanity in general, they just make everyone around them look bad. They make all Vancouver Canuck fans look like hooligans. What’s going to happen when the average fan passes another wearing a Canucks jersey on the street, or come into any sort of contact with someone who classifies his fandom for the Canucks? He/she is instantly branded as a rioting moron, based on what he/she has seen or heard — a hooligan who deserves no respect. It’s not fair to those fans. It’s not fair to hockey fans! When it comes to hockey, all you see through the big sports media are the bad things that go on: the cheap shots, the goonery, the injuries, players being carried out on stretchers, biting, taunting…and now, rioting.

As hockey fans — as sports fans — let’s not be so quick as to categorize all Vancouver fans into the category of  “classless” and “rioting morons”; like this guy (NSFW: language, some violence), they’re not all hooligans. Let’s not let the acts of a few very, very stupid people taint what was a very interesting Stanley Cup; we should either be celebrating/honoring a Bruins victory or getting a fire lit under us after watching those intense, grueling playoffs about the next hockey season starting in a few months in the hopes that maybe, just maybe, our favorite team will come out on top. We shouldn’t be talking about some stupid people who decided to disregard ethics and instead wanted to satisfy their own personal rage. We should instead be talking about hockey-related things, perhaps how the Canucks seemed to lack the heart necessary to win, or how Timmy Thomas put on one of the best goaltending performances in postseason history, or how Roberto Luongo and the Canucks couldn’t get the job done on the road, or how rookie Brad Marchand made a name for himself, or seeing how scary/intimidating/inspiring Zdeno Chara can be after two months of playoffs and a Cup (I’ll probably add to those ideas, stay tuned).

Riots should not even be the discussion. They shouldn’t be making headlines; we shouldn’t be talking about 100 arrests and stabbings on the night the Stanley Cup and Conn Smythe trophies were awarded. The acts of a few shouldn’t outweigh the efforts of athletes who have battled for their fans, the sport and the sacred Stanley Cup for the past few months. Hockey should not be overshadowed by public stupidity. I can only hope that people aren’t encouraged by what they saw. I know that the majority of sports fans wouldn’t even think to trash a city, win or lose.

As that one brave Vancouver resident said, it’s their city. What are they doing? What’s the point of rioting? If only there were more people like him present, and that bandwagon mentality wasn’t so powerful, we could be talking about hockey and none of this stupidity would even be an issue. The rioters embarassed themselves and the city. They’ve forever tainted the image of themselves, the city of Vancouver, the Vancouver Canucks, and all hockey fans in one night. Have a little self-respect, for yourself and for the city you live in.

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Have a little self respect

Poise. Some athletes have it, some don’t. As for a few players on the Vancouver Canucks, they haven’t  shown that they have it, at least when they play in Boston.

Roberto Luongo, Daniel Sedin and Henrik Sedin are the top-three players on the Canucks in terms of talent: Daniel Sedin scored the most points (41-63-104) in the regular season, earning him the rights to the Art Ross Trophy in a few weeks; Henrik, who plays on a line with his brother, was not far behind (4th overall, 19-75-94). Luongo also posted great numbers in the regular season: a 2.11 GAA (2nd), a .928 save% (3rd), and 38 wins (T-1st) and is a finalist for the Veznia Trophy (which he will lose to Tim Thomas).

And it’s not like they haven’t done well overall in the postseason; well some of those players at least: Henrik is 2nd in points behind David Krejci and Daniel is T-3rd (20), although their +/- hasn’t been great (Henrik a -7 and Daniel a -5). Luongo, on the other hand, hasn’t lived up to expectations. He was yanked twice in the Chicago series that almost ended in disaster (games 4 and 5) and was pulled in favor of Schneider for the Game 6 starter. And we all know how poorly he’s done this series, on the road at least. He started the series off great with a shutout and then a 2 GA performance. Then, in Boston, in all went downhill: EIGHT goals against in Game 3 (apparently, Luongo wanted to stay in the game), and four goals against in 20 shots in Game 4 before finally pulled early in the 3rd. Then, in the last game, he let up three goals in just eight shots (8:35 in net) before getting the cane yet again. What do all these numbers add up to? A GAA on the road in the finals of…get ready….8.05, and a save% of… .773.

How can one play so well at home (2 SO, 3-0) during the finals and then just not even show up for the road games? Is it possible that Roberto Luongo does not actually make the trips to Boston, but rather, has the team employ a homeless man that looks like him to play in his stead? Did he hear that Boston doesn’t have a seawall and just decided, “eh, screw it”? Of course, you can’t put all the blame on Luongo, it seened like the team in front of him gave up after giving up a few goals on the road. Seriously, it looked like they stopped trying after the first period in those games. Whatever the case, Luongo will start in Game 7, which, given his recent home performances, is probably the right decision.

Then you have the Sedins. Great talents, and they played well for the first three rounds in the Western Conference, but haven’t really done much in the finals (1-3-4 for Daniel, 1-0-1 for Henrik, with three of their points coming in Game 6 when the game was over). But let’s put their numbers aside. Let’s put aside the fact that they’ve spent more time on the ground, presumably after a weak dive. Where are the spines of Daniel and Henrik? As I mentioned in my previous post, in Game 4, pest Brad Marchand  jumped off the bench, intentionally bumped into the Sedin (I forget which one), who was lined up for the draw by the Bruins bench, and proceeded to give him a couple of whacks with his stick. And what did Sedin do? Nothing. Just took it. He didn’t even react. That was curious.

And then, late in Game 6 with the game already decided, I saw something I never thought I would see in a hockey game — a playoff hockey game: Marchard grabbed Daniel (I had to look up their jersey numbers to know which one it was) by his jersey, and then for no apparent reason, started to jab him in the face with that hand (which he definetely shouldn’t have done). Not just once or twice, but SIX TIMES. And again, what did Sedin do? ABSOLTELY NOTHING!!! He doesn’t even look at him!!! Really, Daniel? You wear a letter, and you’re going to let a little shrimp like Marchand bully you with only a few minutes left in a game that’s decided? I guess he was trying to draw a penalty? But who cares at that point, show a little self respect and send a message for the final game of the series, that you aren’t going to be bullied like that! It reminded me of one of Sean Avery’s many shenanigans, but done totally wrong.

The three  Canucks players mentioned here have embarassed themselves in their three road games this series. Lucky for them, Game 7 is in Vancouver, where at least one of them has performed well so far. But why can’t they perform in Boston? Is it something mental? Is the city of Boston their weakness or is it finals games on the road in general? I would think a player with some mental fortitude would at least show something in every game and at least show up and show that they want to be there, regardless of location. It brings into question their poise, ability to perform when the going gets tough, and ability to perform in the biggest games of their careers.

Game 7 will be tight and low scoring, as have all the games have been, which thus far have ended in Vancouver’s favor. Luongo will show up and put on a performance. Tim Thomas will show up and put on a performance. As cliche as it sounds, it’s going to come down to who wants it more. As much talent as some of these players have and as well as some of them have performed, look for a grinder to score the game winner, someone who is more renown for their hard work ethic rather than scoring prowess, as has been the case in the past few SCF  Game 7s. The Sedins have an opportunity here, they can erase the image they’ve created here in the finals of being soft and lacking poise by being the hero. If the Canucks lose, they will be the target of blame and possibly ridicule for years to come. And lucky for them, it only takes one to clear both of their names, because everyone outside of Vancouver assumes they’re the same person anyway.

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60 minutes

In hockey, players look up to their teammates with a letter on the front of their jersey for inspiration; a player with an “A” or “C” on their chest is supposed to set an example and lead their team. When the team is down and showing no signs of life, a leader on a complete team will step up and say something or do something to get the team going. That idea is even more prevelant when it comes to the NHL playoffs, the Stanley Cup Finals.

The Vancouver Canucks, as much talent and potential they have, seem to lack those kind of players. After being humiliated in Game 3, both on the scoreboard and in terms of physical play, I think we all expected the Canucks to come out in Game 4 guns blazing and putting up a fight for 60+ minutes. It didn’t happen. Overall, they played decent hockey for two periods but were hurt by some poor Roberto Luongo goaltending (who let up four goals on 20 shots) and ran into a hot Tim Thomas.

But then the third period was a joke; as a hockey fan, I was embarassed to watch a team put forth the weak effort the Canucks did for a STANLEY CUP FINALS GAME. It just seemed like, after the second period, they gave up. They showed no emotion on the ice or the bench for pretty much the entire period. The players weren’t even hitting or retaliating to being hit, they just took it.

I feel like the lack of heart the team showed starts with the leadership on the team. Now, I can’t say how the players are behind closed doors in the locker room, but the Sedins, who wear two-thirds of the teams letters (Henrik the “C” and Daniel an “A”), just don’t seem to play with any heart. I was talking with my friend (a Bruins fan), and I told him that they don’t seem to have/show any emotion. He said no, you’re wrong, they do show an emotion: fear. It couldn’t have been put any better. In the first period, Bruins’ pest Brad Marchand, who had himself a great Game 3 and Game 4 (by the way I LOVE his game), decided to mess with one of the Sedins (again, I just cannot differentiate the two, and I don’t think you can either, test your abilities for yourself!): Marchand jumped off the bench, intentionally bumped into the Sedin, who was lined up for the draw by the Bruins bench, and proceeded to give him a couple of whacks with his stick. And what did Sedin do? Nothing. Just took it. He didn’t even react.

Is that how you want one of the leaders on your team to react? I get that he probably was more focussed on playing the game than geting involved with the chippiness, but he didn’t show any emotion there. I have to think that his actions, as well as his brother’s — or lack thereof — rubs off on the rest of the team; the only thing I’ve noticed the Sedins doing this series is scoring one goal and “falling down” a lot. VERSUS panned to the Vancouver bench a few times in the third; there was no emotion to be seen on any of their faces. It was dead silent, and they looked down, and beat. How can you do that for Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Finals? I noticed only two players on the Canucks who, despite being down 4-0, seemed like they cared at that point: Alex Burrows (the instigator of the mini-brawl involving Thomas) and Ryan Kessler, who usually wears the other “A”. That’s the kind of heart you want players showing, even if it’s just starting a scrum in a game that’s already been decided. Play to the end. One player needed to step up and say something and get his team going; it didn’t happen on the ice/bench (from what we could see) and I don’t feel like that happened in the locker room. In fact, it took the actions of the Bruins’ players to get the Canucks to show anything at all in the third.

Of course, there was probably an emotional letdown from a weak goaltending effort…by Roberto Luongo — not Cory Schneider, who looked SOLID in his slightly-less-than 20 minutes in the third. Which raises the question: who starts Game 5 for the Canucks? No doubt the thrashings the Bruins gave the Canucks and shoddy performance by Luongo shattered his confidence. However, he’s 9-3 at home these playoffs (won his last 4 home starts) with solid numbers, including two shutouts. Schneider has shown he can make some saves and at least appear to not get rattled like Luongo, who has already been pulled four times in the playoffs. It’s a tough call for the Canucks. If Schneider starts Game 5, and he does a decent job and stays healthy, Luongo’s playoffs could be done; if he wins or does a decent job, they’ll stick with him for Game 6 in Boston, where Luongo has failed miserably and lost all his confidence. If they take it to Game 7, and Schneider played the last two games, I’m not so sure they want throw in a goaltender who seems to be a bit fragile mentally when the going gets tough and sat the last two games; he’d be defeated if he got benched.

Can’t wait for Game 5. Hopefully, the Canucks respond and we actually get a hockey game instead of one team playing a team who isn’t mentally and emotionally strong enough to play a full 60 minutes, possibly (and hopefully) more.

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For the life of me, I’ll never understand hockey players.

On VERSUS’ post-game show, Jeremy Roenick said that the series “just got ugly.” If the series wasn’t already ugly, I can’t imagine what to expect in these coming games.

Playoff hockey really brings out the best of some players, but more significantly, the worst of players. Players will do anything to win. Anything. It’s these things that the players do that make the game — that make this series — look ugly.

It’s players like Aaron Rome neglecting to let up when he needs to, sending another player to the hospital with a probable concussion. It’s the persistent, um, let’s say “falling” of the Sedin twins (I don’t know if one does it more than the other, but who can honestly tell the difference between the two?) in an embarassing attempt to draw a powerplay. It’s the biting, and the following taunting by dangling/shoving fingers in front of another player’s face, alluding to that play. It’s the league’s permission of those kinds of plays to go unpunished. It’s giving a player a relentless facewash and shoving his face to the ground for going hard to the net. It’s slashing another player in the legs before the puck is even dropped. It’s punching a player in the back of the head then mockingly waving one’s fingers by his mouth, inviting him to bite it. It’s leaving one’s feet and leading with the elbow in an attempt to hit a player with a few minutes left in a game that’s already been decided. It’s all the cross checks, the late hits, the hits from behind, the slashes, the unessesary roughness, the taunting, the mouthing, and the general lack of respect exhibted by the players to the other team.

Maybe this ugly nature of playoff hockey is why major leaders in sports media, such as ESPN, refuse to broadcast NHL games on TV and cover the sport adequetally. They see these kinds of plays and realize that hockey can be very gritty, ugly and unsuitable for most viewers. Maybe they’re justified in not wanting to take a chance with a violent sport that isn’t popular as it is. If the biggest headline and highlight coming out of a game is frequently “player bites player” or “player concussed by late hit”, what kind of a message does that send viewers?

As hockey fans, we love most of this stuff. We love the intensity the players put forth; it’s the emotion they show that allow us to exert our emotions. We love the competiveness. It doesn’t get any more exciting than playoff hockey.

I’ll always wonder if the players enjoy the playoffs as much as we do, between the physical and emotional tolls a playoff run takes. I wonder if the players genuienly hate each other as much as they appear to on the ice; with all the cheap stuff and “gamesmanship” that goes on, I don’t understand how they could.

But of course, when it’s all said and done, all the players will line up at center ice, shake each other’s hands, and congratulate the other player on a hard-fought series, as if nothing really happened, as if that’s what they expected from each other. When it’s over, the players seem to be buddy-buddy with each other and show a great deal of respect for their opponents, whether they won, lost, took a cheap shot, got under someone’s skin, or even bit someone. They typically forgive each other like it’s not a big deal, like it’s how a competitor would act. After everything that happens, how can they do that? For the life of me, I’ll never understand hockey players.

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Hey guys, it’s cool, it’s the playoffs…I guess

This just in: NHL announces that biting another player is perfectly acceptable.

As I’m sure you were made aware (several times), in last night’s game, Alexandre Burrows bit Patrice Bergeron’s hand during a scrum behind the net at the end of the first period. While the play resulted in a roughing minor to Bergeron and double-minor in roughing to Burrows, nothing further was handed out when Bergeron showed the refs his bitten fingers (which, according to the NBC crew, had blood on it). According the official rules, Burrows should also have been given at least a two-minute minor for unsportsmanlike conduct: “Any player who is guilty of unsportsmanlike conduct including, but not limited to hair-pulling, biting, grabbing hold of a face mask, etc. If warranted, and specifically when injury results, the referee may apply Rule 21 – Match Penalties.” So, the refs missed that call.

And that’s fine. I’m sure it was hard to see during the chaos; in fact, the ref’s head was turned towards Bergeron when Burrows did the said biting. I’m sure none of us had any idea until we saw the video replay(s). And of course, Burrows, who has a history of questionable plays (look it up if you want) and even a suspension, was aware enough of what he was doing to grab Bergeron’s hand and hide it behind his own hand, obscuring the biting action from clear view.

And that was apparently enough to fool the NHL. According to NHL.com,  National Hockey League Senior Vice President of Hockey Operations Mike Murphy reviewed the tape and claimed that there was no “conclusive evidence that Alex Burrows intentionally bit the finger of Patrice Bergeron.” 

Right…Burrows grabbed Bergeron’s hand, put his mouth around his fingers (sorry, I’m not sure if it’s possible to describe in a way that’s not dirty), covered Bergeron’s hand with his own, bent his head down, and stopped yapping (which is something he LOVES to do) for a second, just so it LOOKED LIKE he was biting on Bergeron’s hand. Great prank, Burrows! And Bergeron really added to that sell by going over to the refs, claiming he was bitten and showing them his bloody fingers. Clearly they were in on it together!

Seriously. That’s the only other possibility other than “Burrows bit Bergeron.” Why would someone do all those actions if he wasn’t biting down? So it LOOKED LIKE he was doing something that’s suspension-worthy? So he’d get suspended or penalized for doing nothing? I don’t understand.

I’d be more OK if the league’s public reason for the non-suspension was something along the lines of, “Well, Burrows did bite Bergeron, but come on people, it’s the finals, these things happen; also Burrows is an important player, and you know how we treat the better players” (which could very well be the actual reason). I would disagree with any reason the league could pass forth for not suspending Burrows, but their actual reason, that they could not determine intent or the actual action, is probably the worst, and it’s just embarrassing. Burrows bit Bergeron, you can’t deny it. And he intended to do it; you can’t bite and not intend to.

Aside from the fact that there’s no doubt that Burrows bit Bergeron’s hand (intentionally…I guess I have to add that), I feel like the league HAD to suspend Burrows based on the fact that the entire NBC crew was making a big deal out of the situation; pretty much every commentator/analyst commented on the incident and said that it was something he can’t do, and it was brought up several times, including during VERSUS’ post game. Since everyone watching the game was made aware of this point, and since everyone watching saw the biting incident, the NHL should have suspended Burrows, even if for nothing more than protecting the league’s image.

Game 1 of this series was ugly enough. The Bruins are probably going to go after Burrows. Game 2 will be even uglier. There was already one injury last game (Dan Hamhuis, some time after hitting Milan Lucic and receiving a David Krejci cross-check). It’s playoff hockey, so it’s going to be more intense than most games, but you can’t let someone bite another player and get away with it with no penalty; it sends a terrible message, to both the players and the fans.

I can’t wait to see what someone does next to warrant a non-suspension. I mean, it’s the playoffs, anything goes, right?

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