Wednesday, February 26, 2014

A Retrospective on the 2014 Women's Ice Hockey Olympic Tournament

Congratulations to the teams that had the honour of participating in the 2014 Winter Olympic Games Ice Hockey Tournament. Long considered a cornerstone event in the games, the ice hockey tournament has vastly increased its profile since the arrival of professional hockey players in 1998 with the games in Nagano, Japan, and the introduction of the women's tournament the same year. Sixteen years later, the Sochi games provided a tournament more rich with storylines than a hockey fan could dream of. One almost laments that the journey must end as the closing ceremony ends and all athletes return to their counties across the planet, their lives forever changed.

Today I want to briefly recap the women's tournament. Each team had some great moments and this year's gold medal game was the most exciting hockey game of 2014 so far. Despite Canada defending its gold for the third time and capturing its fourth gold medal, the games showcased some new stars and demonstrated how the rest of the world is starting to find its footing in the otherwise North American dominated hockey tournaments.

Group A Teams


Canada: Of course, Canada defended its gold medal on the backs of elite veterans like Jayna Hefford, Caroline Oullette, and Hayley Wickenheiser. Arguably, goaltender Shannon Szabados was the top keeper of the tournament and MVP of the team, but it's hard to argue who among the well-oiled machine stood out the most. Marie-Phillip Poulin came through again with two goals in the gold medal game. Her legend continues to grow. Maybe Jordan Eberle is the Marie-Phillip Poulin of men's hockey, instead of thinking of it vice versa.




Finland: The Finns entered the tournament as the most likely to compete with the North American powerhouses, but just barely got past the Swiss in overtime in the round robin and were stunned by the Swedes in the qualification round. On the bright side, the Finns played well in the 5th to 8th place bracket, finishing in 5th place overall and seeing Michelle Karvinen emerge as a superstar with five goals in the tournament. From the sounds of it, star goalie Noora Raty wants to call it quits due to a lack of a women's professional league. Jenni Hiirikoski also won the tournament's top defensemen honour.

Switzerland: The big shock in this tournament was the emergence of Switzerland as a legitimate team as they captured the bronze medal in an outstanding comeback, stunning the Swedes 4-3. Swiss keeper Florence Schelling won both media keeper of the tournament as well as directorate and tournament MVP honours.Schelling kept them in the 3-1 loss to Canada that certainly bristled the favourites. The 2-0 shocker versus the Russians helped to build her resume as one of the world's top goaltenders among women, and it gives the Swiss a star to build on. 15 year old Alina Müller became a media darling, not only for scoring goals but showing how far along women's hockey has truly come in 16 years. She was born when women's hockey in the Olympics had just started. She will be a star in tournaments to come.




United States of America: Team USA were so, so close to ending Canada's streak of gold medals. Whether it be nerves, unfavorable penalties, losing to the better team, or whatever reasons anyone want to come up with, the team walks away with silver. There is absolutely nothing to be ashamed about with their performance as the difference between gold and silver was so slight that a missed empty netter could have sealed their fate as tournament winners. Amanda Kessel will almost surely replaced Hayley Wickenheiser as the world's greatest female hockey player; she might even be the better Kessel! With the right coach, I see the 2018 tournament as their time to topple their rivals.




Group B Teams


Russia: A lot was expected of the Russian ice hockey teams in Sochi, and both fell short of the medals. Even though the women went undefeated in the round robin portion of the tournament, they were ousted by the Swiss in the 2-0 game mentioned earlier in this post. In the meaningless 5th-8th place tournament, Russia stomped Japan 6-3 only to go down 4-0 to the Finns in the 5th place game. On the bright side, Russia proved that they are perhaps the mightiest of the non-Group A teams. The disappointment of Sochi will be a motivator in international tournaments to come.


Sweden: Sweden finished 4th at Sochi after blowing the bronze medal game to the Swiss, ending their Olympic medal streak at two (bronze in Salt Lake City, Silver in Torino). The women's team has been sliding slowly down the tournament brackets since Torino, and hasn't medaled at the IIHF tournaments since 2007. Pernilla Winberg remains the team's best star since her breakout performance in 2006. If they can find the means to protect their two goal leads, they have a chance to recapture the magic of better tournaments gone by and reclaim the title of Europe's best women's team.


Germany: Germany did not fare well in Sochi, winning only against Japan and losing to everyone else. Goaltender Viona Harrer was statistically the second best keeper in the tournament, posting a .935 save percentage in three games and grabbing a single shutout. The best moment of the tournament may have been the most bitter loss of 2-1 to the Finns in the 5th-8th place bracket. It showed they were close (somewhat) to the rest of the pack.


Japan: Undeniably the weakest team at the tournament, Japan was okie-doked by the referees and goal judges when this goal wasn't to be:


That's quite obviously a goal there at :38 seconds into the clip. I wonder why that goal against the host country Russia wasn't counted. They did pot one goal in the round robin tournament, which led to the greatest celebration ever seen on ice for a goal:


The Japanese can walk away from this tournament knowing they are as competitive as Germany, and while not exactly the best team in Asia (watch out Kazakhstan!) they should be consistently showing up at international tournaments and continuously improving. It took them sixteen years to get back to the women's tournament after hosting the '98 Olympics. If they can continue to play the way they did against Germany, they will eventually defeat them and seek out a new team they can strive to replace in the standings.

FINAL THOUGHTS

The real reason I wanted to write this post was immerse myself in the less-viewed women's tournament and look at how some of the non-usual suspects performed. Admittedly, I've only ever paid attention to the gold medal games because that's where Canada resides (and apparently dominates). I took in some more of the round robin games this time around and it's impressive to see how far along women's hockey has come. It's a farce to say it has only progressed as much as the North American teams have. The truth is that beyond the competitors of Team USA and Team Canada, there are some legitimate superstars rising out of the other countries. Are any of the teams as good as their North American counterparts? Hardly. But the point of having these tournaments isn't just to have the two powerhouse teams clobber the lesser teams for sport before their big showdown. The bigger story here is that across Europe and Asia we are seeing countries explore women's hockey and improve as each tournament plays. Arguably, Canada and the United States were four to five steps ahead of all other women's hockey teams from 1998 to 2006. Sweden took one massive leap forward shocking the Americans, but one equally massive step backwards in subsequent tournaments. In the meantime, other European countries like Finland and Switzerland have produced their own all-stars who outshine North American players individually:

Copied from Wikipedia.

I only see one Canadian on this entire list, and just three Americans. This is a step in the right direction for women's hockey. The rest of the world are slowly but surely catching up with North America.


Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Five Jerseys on NHL Shop That Make No Sense

Most hockey fans have team-related gear in their homes. Whether it is t shirts, hats, jerseys, scarves, flags, pucks, or even underwear, everyone who takes fandom (too) seriously has something from the NHL's official shop page. Heck, I have a Detroit Red Wings t-shirt for every day of the week as well as two home jerseys.

Unfortunately, not everything on the shop page is good. Check out this article written by "Puck Daddy" about creepy gnomes that were/are on the site. Yes, those are official NHL gnomes. Is there even a demand for these creepy buggers? I digress because the purpose of this article is to make fun of some of the dumbest jersey concepts that are for sale on the 'Shop. Without any further diatribe about the "sinking Red Wings" or injuries or blah blah blah playoff streak in jeopardy, here's a fun look at some terrible NHL jerseys for sale!

5. Reebok Accelerator Premier Jersey



I don't know what possessed someone to run a Red Wings logo through an old fax machine and then slap it on an all-black jersey, but here we are wishing we could carve our eyeballs out. The Microsoft Office '98 WordArt numbers are the cherry on top of this crap sundae. I wonder how many of these are floating around the real world. If you bought this, you are either colour blind or you already own every other Red Wing jersey ever made and just needed this one to complete the collection. Either way, I feel bad money was spent on this. Does anyone else see weird stripes on the arms and at the bottom occasionally? I feel like sometimes they are there but then they aren't.


4. Super Discounts on Jerseys of Former Team Players


This one hits me a little too close to home, but the fact is that sometimes players leave your favorite team. Like a scorned lover posting Facebook pictures because you forgot to unfriend them, this one burns your eyes in a bittersweet way. On one hand, it's still a good looking jersey that's on sale for a ludicrous price. On the other hand, F*%k that player forever for leaving for greener/bluer pastures. Too soon, NHL Shop. Too soon.

3. Fashion Replica Jerseys


This might be the laziest thing I've ever seen in my life, and I live with myself. It's just a team logo with monochrome old-school Pittsburgh Penguin stripes and numbers high on the shoulder. What is fashionable about this f*%king thing? Don't piss away your cash on this thing, just buy a real jersey. Even if it is fifty bucks cheaper, you can't save money on protecting yourself from every day ridicule from your knowledgeable puck buddies. This is some lazy stuff.

2. Veterans Day Practice V-Neck Jersey with Digital Camo



In the field of "Most Likely to Appear on Duck Dynasty" we have the camo jersey. Again, NHL shop offends us by running off a black and white Detroit RED Wing logo, then slaps it on camo. I don't even want to call this lazy. It's stupid. Even worse is that it's a "Veteran's Day" jersey but there's no other goodwill gesture like perhaps donating proceeds towards funding for retired veterans. It's a cheap cash in on a holiday that I thought was meaningful. Barf.

1. "Authentic Edge Jersey"


This one's bad just for the logo on the front of it, but there's more to this choice. Here we have a jersey whose perks read as follows (courtesy of the jersey's page):

  • 100% Double-knit polyester
  • Authentic tie-down "fight" strap attached inside back of jersey
  • Decorated in the team colors
  • Imported
  • NHL® Shield patch is sewn on the bottom front of the collar fabric insert
  • Officially licensed
  • Reinforced stitching on all seams and hems

Well, if I wasn't sold on "Imported" now I'm hot and bothered under the Lycratalic collar. I'm still trying to figure out why this is over $120 more than a standard jersey at $300+ a pop. I wouldn't wish that robbery on even a Maple Leafs fan. The price and the missing double stripe at the bottom make this feel like an empty, meaningless purchase. Does anyone NEED a fight strap on their jersey? Presumably they would only ever wear this at home among friends or maybe a game at the ACC. Do people get assaulted frequently at NHL games and have their jerseys yanked over their heads?


These are all pretty nonsensical, terrible sweaters. Have a jersey story of your own? Share it in the comment section below!

Friday, January 3, 2014

The Detroit Red Wings' Top Ten Goaltenders (1932-2013)

The Detroit Red Wings are one of the oldest franchises in the National Hockey League. Inevitably, when you're talking about the all-time best players per position, there are going to be a few Red Wings that pop up on the list. Now seems like a good time to reflect on over eighty years of players and do one of these Top Ten lists.

Self-deprecation aside, here's my top ten list of Detroit's ten best goaltenders all-time. Please feel free to chime in on the comments section and tell me how wrong I am. Enjoy and destroy!

 10. Tim Cheveldae

Tim Cheveldae served in Detroit from 1988-89 to 1993-94, appearing in 264 games, going 128-93-30 with a 3.40 GAA and an .883 save percentage. Those numbers don't seem very impressive but Cheveldae played during a time where goal scoring came much easier. A true workhorse, he holds the team record for appearances in a single season (72 in 1991-92) as well as career points (15, tied with Chris Osgood and Greg Stefan). During the 91-92 season Cheveldae led the NHL in games played, wins, and appeared in the NHL All-Star Game. That season, the Red Wings squeezed out a game seven victory over the Minnesota North Stars before being knocked out by the Chicago Blackhawks in four games in the Division Finals. During the 1993-94 season Cheveldae was traded to the Winnipeg Jets when Chris Osgood emerged as the starting goaltender, and his career declined quickly in Winnipeg. While his legacy may be a little tarnished by not capitalizing on a very good Red Wings team with Steve Yzerman in his prime, Cheveldae deserves a place on this list for his string of excellent regular seasons.


He looks like how we felt during his playoff games. Photo courtesy of "Maureen Landers" via Wikipedia.

 9. Manny Legace

Manny Legace is a surprise on this list as I believe he doesn't receive much credit for his regular season performances. Legace's time with Detroit saw him rack up a 112-34-19 record in the regular season with a 2.18 GAA and a .918 save percentage. His playoff record is 4-6 with a 2.54 GAA and an .888 save percentage...which is why Legace is often forgotten in any conversations about good Red Wing goaltenders. He's still a Stanley Cup champion thanks to the 2002 team, but the massive caveat is that he stayed far away from the action on the ice. Personally, I thought Legace's performance in the 2005-06 regular season was Vezina calibre, but that just makes his performance in the playoffs against Edmonton even harder to digest. Still, the regular season numbers are enough for me to put Legace on this list.

Jimmy looking very busy. Photo courtesy of "Anna Enriquez" via Flickr and Wikipedia.

 8. Jimmy Howard

Jimmy Howard is Detroit's current starting goaltender and has already impressed with a 131-67-26 regular season record, boasting a career GAA of 2.29 and a save percentage of .920. His playoff numbers (20-22, 2.57 GAA and .918 sv%) leave a little to be desired but there is still a lot of time for Howard to prove himself as an elite NHL goaltender. It's bizarre to see Howard on this list even though he has played less games than others, but Howard represents a new era for the Red Wings and a new method to signing and developing goaltenders. It took several years in the minors before Howard was given the nod as the starter, and the approach to his development is paying off in dividends thus far.

Photo via goaliesarchive.com.

7. Glenn Hall

The sum of Glenn Hall's career might make him the best goaltender on the list, but since we're looking at his time as a Red Wing, Hall squeezes onto the list with a 74-45-29 record with a sparkling 2.12 GAA. Hall won the Calder Memorial Trophy in 1956 during a season where he tied team records in ties in a season (16 tied with Terry Sawchuk) and shutouts in a season (12 , also tied with Sawchuk). Hall's time in Detroit was cut short as he was shipped with Ted Lindsay to Chicago in 1957 for a bunch of players who never made the same impact. Hall went on to be an NHL iron man, playing in 502 consecutive games without wearing a helmet. His multiple Stanley Cup championships, Vezina Trophies, and All-Star Games made him one of the game's best goaltenders, but one cannot forget he started off his streak and his impressive play in Detroit.

Lumley accidentally wearing another team's jersey with some random trophy. Photo from Wikipedia.

6. Harry Lumley

Harry Lumley is another goaltender that gets lost in the shuffle when talking about Detroit's best goalies. Lumley sports a regular season record of 163-105-56 with a 2.75 GAA, and a playoff record of 24-30 with a 2.30 GAA. Lumley's best moment might have been winning the Stanley Cup championship in 1950, although he took Detroit as far as they could, losing the Stanley Cup in 1945 by just one goal in the seventh game. Lumley may have been the best goaltender in the NHL from 1947-1950 and certainly pulled through for Detroit during playoff runs. Time is really the only enemy to his case for being one of the best Detroit Red Wings goaltender of all time.

Photo from beehivehockey.com

5. Norm Smith

Norm Smith is the player on this list who began his career the earliest and thus is furthest removed from the public's historical consciousness. As someone born more than 40 years after his playing career ended, it's impossible for me to comment on anything but his statistics, but it's interesting to see the
accolades he achieved during the Red Wings' earlier year. He helped the team win the Stanley Cup in 1936 and 1937, winning the Vezina Trophy once in 1937. Smith's most notable career victory was a 1-0 shutout in the longest game in NHL history, where the Red Wings won on a Mud Bruneteau goal in the sixth overtime. Smith retired in 1938 after refusing to report to Boston after a trade, but was recalled during World War II on an emergency basis only. Smith is a great addition to this list from the early years, and his 76-71-31 record and 2.26 GAA in the early years of the Red Wings deserve recognition nearly eighty years after his start with Hockeytown.



4. Dominik Hasek

Hasek is yet another example of a goaltender whose total career includes many more accolades than he received during his tenure in Detroit, but unlike Glenn Hall, Hasek's later years were spent with the Red Wings. Hasek's record with the Red Wings (114-39-19 regular season, 28-17 playoffs) is very strong, along with his 2.13 GAA and .911 save percentage demonstrate a lack of a decline in his career even on a Detroit team that didn't need superb goal-tending Hasek won the Stanley Cup with Detroit in 2002 and 2008, along with a William Jennings Trophy in 2008 that was shared with Chris Osgood. Hasek's time with Detroit is stunted by the mediocre performance in his 4 starts during the 2008 Stanley Cup playoffs. He was replaced by Chris Osgood, who put up a Conn Smythe calibre performance en route to the Stanley Cup. Hasek is low on this list, but in terms of all time greatest goaltenders, he's undeniably near the top.


Crozier making a save. Without a helmet on, too. Photo from goaliesarchives.com

3. Roger Crozier

Roger Crozier played for the Red Wings from 1963-64 to 1969-70, where he amassed an impressive 131-121-41 record in 313 games played, boasting a 2.93 GAA. Crozier took the Red Wings to the finals during the 1966 Stanley Cup playoffs, becoming the first player in the history of the NHL to win the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP despite losing, as well as the first goaltender. Crozier battled pancreatic and ulcer problems throughout his career, but still took home the Calder Memorial Trophy as rookie of the year in 1965 and had an NHL trophy named after him, dubbed the Roger Crozier Saving Grace Award for the NHL's best save percentage. One could argue that Crozier wasn't able to take advantage of a still strong Detroit lineup and win multiple Stanley Cups, but his individual trophies and legacy in the form of a (retired) trophy is impressive enough.


The man, the myth, the legend. Photo from "Dan4th" via Wikipedia.

2. Chris Osgood

While it is true that this blog is named after Chris Osgood, I did try to remain as objective as possible when it came to this list. That being said, Chris Osgood on this list is inevitable as is the discussion about his career. Winner of three Stanley Cups (1997, 1998, 2008), two William Jennings Memorial
Trophies (1996, 2008), four time NHL All-Star (1996, 1997, 1998, 2008), and holder of most team records for goal-tending in the playoffs, Osgood embodies the mentality of the Detroit Red Wings during their current 23 season playoff streak: just win the game. While Osgood may have a litany of detractors and naysayers who argue he has no place in the Hockey Hall of Fame, few goaltenders have accomplished what he has in his career. Only Terry Sawchuk and Chris Osgood have won Stanley Cups as the starting goaltender a decade apart, and he has top ten all time numbers in wins (10th), goals against average (10th), and winning percentage (4th). As a Red Wing, he boasts 317 career victories in the regular season, and 67 wins in the postseason. Admittedly, there was never a great deal of pressure on Osgood to steal games simply because the Detroit teams he played on were stacked with Hall-of-Fame forwards and defenders. But then the 2008 and 2009 playoffs completely validated his ticket to the Hall-of-Fame, and his status as one of the NHL's best goaltenders of all-time.


No doubt the best Wing ever to tend goal. Photo from goaliesarchives.com via "Cold War by Mike Leonetti"

1. Terry Sawchuk

Terry Sawchuk might be the best goaltender in NHL history. All due respect to Martin Brodeur, who is still increasing his all-time lead in most goal-tending categories, Terry Sawchuk might be his stiffest competition. While his career was cut short with his death in 1970, Sawchuk played in 14 season for Detroit, registering an incredible 351-243-132 record with a 2.44 GAA. The list of accolades is endless for Sawchuk as a Red Wing: three Vezina Trophies (1952, 1953, 1955), three Stanley Cup Championships (1952, 1954, 1955), a Calder Memorial Trophy (1951), Six All-Star games in a row (1950-55), the NHL record for ties (172) and a 39 year streak where his career total in shutouts was unmatched until Brodeur broke it in 2009. Sawchuk, along with Gordie Howe and Ted Lindsay, were central to Detroit's success in the 1950s, and a number of his records remained unmatched until Patrick Roy and Martin Brodeur shattered his records decades later. Sawchuk battled personal demons his entire career, but his posthumous election to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1970 as well as his awarding of the Lester Patrick Trophy in 1971 were indicative of his impact on the game as well as the shock of losing a tremendous talent.