Monday, February 17, 2014

Pressure

 The boy starts his playoffs this weekend, its a round robin format with the best two teams advancing.

 Both his winter league and spring league clubs won it all last year, making him two for two as a hockey player in seasons played and championships won and he has a really good chance of making it three for three in a few weeks which would give him three times as many hockey championships as a player as I have won in approximately thirty five attempts.

 The little jerk.

 Its been a great year for him. Last year on both of his clubs he was a spare part, one of the youngest and smallest players in a two year age division. This year his team has a trio of very strong players and then a handful more who form a good supporting cast and he is in that group. He's found his niche in two ways, first as a solid defensive defenceman who can move the puck decently and secondly as a pretty decent goalie.

 His coach is a very good friend of mine. He's a terrific coach. He never loses sight of the fact that these are young kids and that fun and being fair is what its all about. With that said he wants to give his little guys and girls a chance to win everything and so, after a lot of thought, he has asked if my guy will be the goalie for the playoffs.

 It was a while back that my son actually asked his coach for this chance. They have rotated goalies through the year and while there are two or three who are probably a bit better than him they are also more important to the team as skaters. The boy looked at this, thought about it (he's a thinker) and told me that it was best for the team if he was in net. He told his coach he wanted it and after some thought his coach agreed.

 It is best for the team. They have lost two games and both had major extenuating circumstances. In other words if they have their team out they should run the table here. Should being the operative word. Its hockey. Anything can happen.

 And this is the killer for Jenn and I. The boy is embracing what he is about to face. He has played in net a few times and is undefeated and he likes it to be honest. He's not a goal scorer and the team has players who will take care of that and while he knows that he is contributing doing what he does best back on the blueline he also likes the team coming out to congratulate him after a win and the hip hip hoorays in the dressing room. So he wants it and most likely the team will cruise through the round robin, there are three teams they are facing and they should handle two just fine.

 But the third is a good team for sure and so if they face them in the big game his play is going to matter and mistakes he makes will end up behind him and man oh man its going to be awful. We won't be able to take it although he is fine with it and win or lose it will be a great experience for him.

 But oh boy I'd start drinking now if I could.

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 As usual we've been following the Olympics here in the McLean household. Its not the same as Vancouver of course, I don't know if there will ever be another one like Vancouver, and the time difference means its a different deal altogether too. You wake up with a good part of the events past already and by early afternoon everything is finished. So its not as all consuming which is probably a good thing.

 Its been a good Olympics for Canada. I have talked before how this is strange to me, I grew up when we would win two or three medals and call it a day and most Canadians finished in the fifties and sixties in cross country skiing and biathlon and would get slaughtered in the bobsled and the luge. Those days are long gone of course, we're a powerhouse now. Quite a bit of this is that there are so many more sports and we tend to do well in them but even in the traditional sports this time around we have medals in long track and the Super G and figure skating and we were oh so close in luge which I cannot get over at all. Its just weird is all as a relative oldtimer :) - as Canadians we expect to do well and generally we do and while there are the usual disappointments where favourites fail (the short track relay team and  Hamelin in the 1000 come to mind) there are also the unexpected successes such as Hudec and Morrison and Dufour Lapointe beating an almost unbeatable American in the moguls.

 Its a lot of fun except of course when these kids (and most of them are kids of course) crash or fail spectacularly and this is not made any easier when 'fans' come out of the woodwork and tear into them before heading to the kitchen for another coke and bowl of cheetos.

 Anyone who knows me knows that I am not afraid to criticize folks, the idea that someone is beyond rebuke because they are an NHL GM has been made to me a number of times over the last eight years because I am an Oilers' fan and there are a lot of dumb Oilers' fans out there who thought Lowe and then Tambo knew what they were doing. If you know anything then you know that history is littered with incompetent presidents and prime ministers who have destroyed economies and led their countries to ruin, CEOs who have destroyed companies, generals who have lost their armies and so on and so forth. The same principle applies to something as silly as your favourite sports team, for that matter it most likely applies in the place that you work.

I just have a hard time getting on these kids. I remember Steve Simmons in one Olympics tearing Joanne Malar to shreds because, well, because he's an awful person I guess. She didn't meet expectations and so it went and it made me wonder what people think sometimes, that of all the people in the world who felt worse than Patrick Chan the other night. Its one thing to get beat like Kingsbury got beat by Bilodeau or Virtue and Moir got beat by the two muppets, its another to have it in your grasp and then to let yourself down. Its something he will remember all of his life. Literally.

I don't get the piling on. Oh well.

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The hockey tournament has been great so far, hasn't it? Now the real shit begins for sure though.

The reaction to the first week has been typically over the top especially here in Canada. Before I talk about our hometown heroes though I wanted to think a few thoughts out loud and here they are.

- I think that the funny thing about these tournaments is that every time they occur nearly everyone forgets what has happened in the past. We forget Belarus beating Sweden. We forget barely beating Germany in 2002 and getting shut out by the Swiss in 2006 and barely squeaking by the Swiss and Slovaks in 2010 and all of the other upsets and near upsets that happen in every tournament. What will happen in the qualifying knockout games? Well the Russians will win and other than that who knows. We know who should win (other than the Austria/Slovenia matchup) but while we worry about the Swiss in the quarters the reality is we may never face them.

 Single game knockout. Anything can happen. Everyone thinking Canada/US and Sweden/Russia for sure in the semis hasn't been paying attention for the last twenty years or so.

- You know who has more medals in the last five best on bests than anyone? The Finns. They have four. Two silvers and two bronze.

- the quarters will be really interesting. The Russians have also struggled to score and they will face the Finns. The Americans will probably face the Czechs who have been hampered by some terrible lineup choices so far. I wonder if they're just playing possum because while they're nowhere near the quality of the Czech teams of old they still have a lot of good hockey players and if they put it together with some goaltending they could surprise. To me the USA is one of the top two teams (I figured them for top three but rate them higher than the Swedes now due to the latter's injuries) and they should go through to the semis but again ... single knockout

 As for the Canadians well it will likely be the Swiss and so we will see a repeat of Sunday's game. The thing with a game like that is that if shit falls your way it can turn into a blowout. If Kunitz beats Rask, if Toews doesn't stumble on the wrap, if Carter tucks that backhand in then its no contest. They didn't, sometimes you don't but I really had little problem with how Canada played. The Finns are a decent club even with their injury issues and Canada totally controlled the game. Sure it would have been nice to have more finish but Rask is excellent and the Finns played a tactically perfect game. When it went to OT I turned to the boy and said Canada will end it now and they did, that extra bit of ice was all they needed.

 So against the Swiss as I noted we will see more of the same and Canada will need to either create that extra ice somehow or get a little bit more luck. Maybe they fail in both respects and lose because hockey but my guess is they will go through. The team is too good I think, its so deep up front, they are fast and they own the puck and while it would be nice for a forward other than Carter to score I honestly can't see what more they can do but to keep at it. The good news is that if they get by the Swiss then unless they see the Finns again they should see a lot more open ice and I think that is a game that plays to the team's strengths.

 Would I change anything? I thought Bergeron and Benn with Crosby were just fine. Carter has been one of their best forwards (did you see him catch Grabner? Amazing.) but he and Toews and Marleau have been very good so while part of me says move him to Crosby's flank another part of me says why bother? Crosby has been excellent and his line has generated chances and what more can you want? Other than goals of course lol. But really there is no magic bullet here. All four lines generated chances against the Finns and will do the same on Wednesday and they just need to cash some of them in.

 Kunitz had his best game against the Finns and this is pretty funny because he is there because of Sid and yet he was terrible in the first two games and as soon as he got demoted he had a strong game. And the Swiss game is going to need a mule who can tap one in from the corner of the crease. That said he probably should come out for St. Louis. Honestly though while I love St Louis he did nothing in Torino and he did nothing against the Austrians either. That said if the big issue is scoring you want to have your best scorers in the lineup so to me its a no brainer.

 And for the same reason I'd slot Subban in in Hamhuis' place. I understand why Hamhuis was the seventh man against the Finns, as Jon Willis noted, all of the question marks are on the left side and if Vlasic or Bouwmeester faltered you wanted an alternative. They were fine so you slot in PK. He adds that creativity and offensive acumen.

 That's all I'd do. Canada has the best team I think. Its what I thought before the tournament and what I still believe. So they have probably a forty to fifty percent chance of winning it, maybe less, which is also what I thought before it got underway. Its not easy to win these things. That's just the way it is.

2 comments:

Murat said...

Re: Canada, what more could a guy say? You're absolutely on point through the entire piece. They're playing well and we don't need to worry about them.

I put this on Twitter the other day against Finland but want to share it in a few more characters as well: by eye, Canada is an absolutely wonderful zone entry team. I saw so many nice lateral passes, wingers approaching with speed, such elite level "read and react" that Canada was able to enter Finland's zone with possession almost at will. I'm going to say the extra ice width, combined with elite players and coaching, makes Team Canada lightyears more effective at zone entry with possession(!) than the average NHL team.

Obviously, Latvia isn't going to approximate the USA or Russia or Sweden or whoever when it comes to competition but when push comes to shove in this tournament, I really do like Canada's chances. Everyone can move the puck forward, all four lines can gain the zone with the puck, and our defense is excellent. My one problem is that I thought Canada's forwards stopped "reading and reacting" a bit in the offensive zone, relying a bit too heavily on coming off the wall by default instead of looking inside to create options. The more looks they have, the better IMO. Even my problem isn't that big though bc by the end of the third, Canada was mixing it up. I trust their coaches to adapt.

All in all, I can't wait to see them play one of the better teams and I even took Friday off work to do it.

Finally, good luck to your son. I hope he has fun, plays well enough to help, and feels like a valuable part of his team. You remember this stuff all your life.

Black Dog said...

Good stuff Murat, especially regarding zone entries. They gain the zone with control and then play keepaway. Still not a lot of goals (!) but maybe they will explode on Sunday? Or maybe not.

Watching the game today I can see why its tough to create offence, the Americans had five guys below the hash marks. No room at all.

Hard to argue with a place in the gold medal game.