Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Process, Results, the champs and Hossa




 It's been a long time since I rock and rolled, no?

 I am coaching the boy's soccer team this year. Our first game we got massacred, there is one team of boys in their second year, apparently they have been together for years, it is a recreational league but they allow player requests to play with other players and between those and requests for a coach and from the coach they have managed to create a chain where basically they put together their team.

 It's our second year in the league and last year I coached my daughter's team so we don't really know anybody and as a result we have a hodgepodge of some second years, some first years, some good, some not so much and from this we need to reach our goal, after having an awesome time, learning how to play properly and how to act properly on the field, which is to beat said team.

 I don't think any sport lends itself to massive upsets more than soccer, except for maybe baseball with the variable of pitching. American football and basketball will almost always see a clear favourite win and even in hockey with all of it's randomness you will very rarely see a Miracle on Ice. (I am not talking about a 90 point team beating a 100 point team) It happens in hockey, the minnow coming out on top, but in soccer you get miracles on the pitch all of the time. Park the bus, hope for a bit of luck, counterattack once or twice and bingo, you get Iceland advancing.

 In soccer you can be out of your league but with good tactics and a bit of luck you can slay the giant. It happens all of the time, in international play, in the top leagues, in tournaments. To me one of my favourite tournaments is the FA Cup, where you can get a bunch of part timers playing a top professional team from the Premier League, and, sometimes, coming out on top. Defend defend defend and one counter attack and boom. So we will see. The odds are long but after the first game (we lost 7-2) I said 'we're going to beat those guys'. There were some eyerolls and startled looks and I am no Mark Messier but we will see.

 Since our original defeat we have run through the league once. We had a tie suspended by lightening where we played the other team even. We had a tie that we deserved to win but could have lost. And we had a win that we deserved to win but could have lost. Soccer!

 The last game we were dominant in the first half, just dominant. The boys owned the ball, passing it amongst themselves, probing for opportunities and then attacking. They played with confidence and style and elan and they were fantastic. And after a half they were down 2-1. Twice the other team counterattacked, twice they scored.

 (Our back line is our Achilles heel but I believe that I can teach them how to play defence and that we can figure out a way tactically to assist them without sacrificing offence. Stay tuned!)

 Now they are a terrific bunch of lads, no doubt. For the most part they don't know each other but there is a good camaraderie amongst them. So they were not downhearted at the half but we talked about process and results and about the fact that they were doing everything right and they just had to stay the course and not panic. They did so and shortly into the second half the other team cracked and we scored and then we scored again. The last ten minutes were a gong show (we had no subs and the boys were wrecked) but we held on and got the deserved three points.

 Next week we get our second shot at the team to beat. We will see how far we come in a month, if at all.

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The NHL is a funny league and by that I don't mean they are terribly run and always have been although that is the case but rather that no matter the era there are always multiple teams that dominate. Now it's not like the 23 years after expansion when you had six teams split up the championships, those days of true dynasties are gone. But of the 26 Cups awarded since 1990 there have been 13 winners and four teams have taken home 13 Stanley Cups. Even more interesting (well I mean it's not interesting but you know what I mean) only seven teams have won in the cap era and three teams have taken home eight of the 12 Cups awarded during that time.

 With the cap enforcing parity, a thirty team league and the nature of the sport which makes it harder to win every year the achievements of Pittsburgh, Chicago and LA are that much more impressive although the teams themselves are less and less imposing. I could hardly believe that the Pens won with their D last year. With Letang out this spring I figured them for a second round loss and I also thought the Preds speed would expose them as well. But Rinne Rinned and the Caps were the Caps and really that Pens' D has to get some credit I guess (although they were in luck that Johansson went down, talk about ugly, let's look at the Preds' depth chart at C). Other than Washington their road was fairly easy and if Ottawa gets a bounce or the Preds get some goaltending they don't repeat. But then again with the cap every team has weaknesses now.

 Credit where credit is due and really would you bet against them next year? You might but it's wide open and if they are healthy .....

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 Speaking of health it's sadly au revoir to Marian Hossa. Hossa and Chara were my two favourite players once Smytty hung them up. It's funny because while I always took to Chara because he is a very interesting and unique dude with Hossa, he was always kind of a guy that I admired but never loved. I know when the Oilers were pursuing him I wasn't over the moon about it. It may have been the pursuit of the Cup that led him to Chicago or the fact that I grew to appreciate his game that much more once he had more exposure than when he was exiled in Atlanta or just the continued excellence as he aged but he became my favourite player and I am sad to see him go.

 I play beer league with a guy who reminds me of Hossa in a lot of ways. Big, strong, smart, skilled but most impressive, just relentless in his pursuit of the puck at both ends of the rink. In a true elite Hall of Fame Hossa would not belong (nor would 75% of those in the HHOF now) but he belongs in the one that exists. Best two way player of his generation, consistent offensive force in a dead puck era and a major part of the best team (well I guess shared with the Pens) of this generation, Hossa is apparently a totally great guy off the ice as well, like my boyhood idol Stan Mikita, which is cool with me. And who will ever forget his mocking of Steve Ott or when he steamrolled David Backes. Good times.

 Imagine playing against Hossa, Saad and Toews, could there be anything more difficult in the world? Just absolutely, completely relentless.

 And Jonathan Toews should send a bottle of slivovica to his long time running mate. I am not a Toews hater, as seems to have become more and more common, but I would say that the centre owes a lot of his success to the fact that he played with one of the premier right wings of this generation. Toews is no longer a youngster himself but it will be interesting to see how he fares without your man at his side.

 As for the whole contractual thing, Sean Gentille put it best ( I am paraphrasing here) - as questionable as the timing of this is, it can't top the NHL making up a rule and retroactively applying it. The long tail contracts were within the rules at the time, if Gary didn't like them he should have vetoed them, like he did Kovalchuk's. Letting them happen and then penalizing clubs afterwards? Truly bush league which is no surprise at all because NHL.

 (and I am really starting to think that these long tails will all end the same. All of these guys have played 20 years. Hossa's circumstance is odd but finding a joint or disk that is degenerating and would preclude a guy playing? Pretty damn simple.)

 Anyhow here is to Marian Hossa and a wonderful career. All the best for a long, healthy and happy retirement.

2 comments:

Gord said...

I never enjoyed soccer. But my friends live at the soccer fields with their son; she also plays. Enjoy...

Black Dog said...

Thanks Gord!