Posts Tagged ‘stanley cup’

The NHL season has entered the Stanley Cup finals stage. At one stage it seemed like there would be another embarrassing engraving on the cup saying that the season was not played because of a work stoppage. The lockout did indeed cast a dark shadow over the world of NHL and boy, did it piss off the fans.


The fans of the NHL and hockey in general vehemently criticized the lockout and pledged never to watch hockey again and that the NHL was dead to them. I put my hand up and admit that I was one of them and those who read the blog regularly will remember some of the bitter posts that I made.


But on one fine day, all was back on and everything in the world of hockey seemed great! The season was shortened into a short sprint rather than a long marathon. And boy what a season we’ve had. Some great games during the regular season have made sure that the fans who were ready to turn to other sports have come flocking back. There have been some great highlights indeed.


To be honest, one could have almost forgotten that the season, started under a lockout. It does seem quite distant. 


I guess that at the end of it all, NHL and the game of hockey has won and persevered what was damaging to the league and the NHL brand. If people needed any further proof that hockey was back with a vengeance, game 1 of the Bruins vs Blackhawks Stanley Cup final drew the highest TV audience for a Game 1 match since 1997. It beat last seasons’ Kings v Devils final opening and man what a game it was. The Stanley Cup has been touted as the toughest trophy to win in all of professional sports and when you play nearly two full games of hockey in one night to obtain a game winner, it certainly speaks volumes of the type of entertainment that was on offer.


Is it all forgive and forget?

Well, no, not really. Were fans are happy to have the league back (yes it is the best hockey league in the world), there is still some repair work needed on the relationship. The fans are still like a jilted lover who will not put up with another bout of nonsense.


There is no doubt that the boos will rain down when Gary Bettman walks on the ice to hand out the Stanley Cup to either Jonathan Toews or Zdeno Chara. That alone should tell everyone that people have not forgotten how disappointed they still are with the lockout. Whilst the new CBA will guarantee some peace for the foreseeable future, the more skeptic fan will be thinking whether or not there is another lockout booming in the horizon of hockey’s future.  



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So that is it, a new champion has been crowned. During the time from October to now, someone could have conceived and given birth to a child. A 9 month ride is now behind us and the hockey season is officially over.


The 2011-2012 season, or rather the off season cast a dark shadow over the hockey world as we lost the likes of Wade Belak, Derek Boogard and Rick Rypien from the ranks. The entire hockey world was ground to a halt on September 17th 2011, when the entire Yaroslav Lokomotiv team lost its lives in a plane crash just before their opening game of the season.


The game itself is the best way to celebrate the lives of those we lost and what a ride it has been. I guess at the start of the season, no-one had pegged LA Kings and New Jersey Devils as the Stanley Cup finalists, but once again, hockey shows us why nothing is ever certain. There have been many upsets during the year and some great battles. Perhaps few of the most memorable ones of the season will be the Winter Classic between the Rangers and Flyers (and its accompanying HBO documentary) or the battle of Pennsylvania in the first round of the playoffs.


However, there was some doubt whether the European continent would be able to watch the season as the NHL kicked off the regular season with no TV deal in place for Europe and it wasn’t until a lot later on to October that things started to unfold and deals were put in place. For the Scandinavian/Nordic countries, the TV deal was quite sensational as they had the option to watch every single game if they so chose.


For the UK, the rights moved from ESPN America to Premier Sports. At first I was sceptical of Premier Sports’ capability and to be fair, it took the guys there some time to find their feet with the sport, but as the season went on, the coverage got better. The only thing that Premier Sports needs, is availability on the Virgin Media TV package as at the moment it is not an option. Also, the techie nerd in me wants the channel to get an HD channel to its ranks. All in all, I think they have done admirably well after getting started with no experience for hockey and covering ten games per week. Now that’s pretty good going for a non-hockey market TV channel.


On a team level, I think the Penguins are one of the most talked about teams of the season, even if they fell at the first round. If the season showed anything of the Penguins roster is that it is deep. With Sidney Crosby sidelined again for long period of time, Yevgeni Malkin pretty much single handedly put the team on his back and took a big leadership role. He was dominant the whole season and carried on dominating in the World Championships as well.


The other individual effort that probably came through this season was the emergence of Flyers’ Claude Giroux. The Flyers team was embattled and faced a lot of adversity with injuries and played without captain Chris Pronger the whole year. Giroux, despite his young age showed tremendous leadership and the play he showed through the Flyers’ playoff run was a true showing of what he is capable of. He is definitely one of the leagues’ brightest stars going forwards.


I can only say, what a season it has been. It has been (on most part) a fitting tribute to hockey and the thrills it provides. Right now, I think the two main benefactors of the season wrapping up is the family and my sleep rhythm as I don’t need to stay up till the early hours of the morning to watch games.  


I could wax poetic about the season and its nuances till the cows come home, but in the tired state, it is difficult to recall all the highlights and lowlights of the season. In either case, it’s only 52 days to go till the next puck drop and the season I follow starts with the traditional Pitsi Tournament in Finland.


Is it October yet?

Like I have written on here several times, concussions are probably one of the worst injuries I have had to deal with. When I was suffering with a severe concussion and post concussion syndrome at the back end of 2010-2011 season, I effectively hid it from my coaches, which halted my recovery and kept putting it back by several months.


Last night as I was at home and browsing hockey news from several different outlets, I was astonished to stumble across a headline that said “Daniel Alfredsson is a game time decision”. What shocked me about it was that A) Alfredsson had already said to the media that he was suffering from a “brain injury” and B) the coaching staff even letting Alfredsson take part in the game day skate and to even entertain dressing a player who has a “brain injury”.


I know its the playoffs and “because its the cup” are on every players’ mind at this time of the year, but what the Ottawa Senators did with even considering Alfredsson for the game was irresponsible, full stop. The NHL has been for the better part of two years been saying how detrimental concussions can be to a player and has implemented several guidelines to aid and speed recovery and here we are with a team and a player who is quite willing to, quite frankly, shit on that code.


Luckily Alfredsson did not play, but let’s think if he would’ve. The Rangers vs Senators series has already seen some bad blood in the form of Matt Carkner’s antics in game two and let’s face it, the physicality of hockey always steps up a couple of notches in the playoffs. Imagine if Alfredsson got hit really hard. I’m not talking about being hit on the head, but a shoulder to shoulder hit. Normally that hit would’ve been no big deal, but for a concussed player the ramifications of getting nailed on the boards can have serious consequences, worst of which is the Second Impact Syndrome (SIS) which can lead to death. Whilst we don’t know the severity of Alfredsson’s concussion it is important to note that SIS can happen from even the mildest concussion.


Speaking from my own experience here, I was scared that it would happen to me when I was playing with a concussion. “Luckily” for me, I was aware enough of my state that I did not go into corners or play on the boards and literally got rid of the puck as soon as I had it. Now is that a way to play hockey? No! Is that a way that Senators fans, or Alfredsson’s teammates would want their Captain to play? Absolutely not!


Let’s also not forget that Alfredsson had back issues, which by and large ruined his 2010-2011 campaign. He has come back from that stronger than imagined and said in an interview earlier this season that as long as he was healthy and could put his body through the rigours of training he would extend his NHL career. Now at Alfredsson’s age (39) he needs to be smart with his training and work on perhaps more areas of his physique than a younger player would.


Alfie even training is pushing the boundaries with concussion. I am only imagining here that he has at least a Grade 2 concussion (depending on which Grading system you use), but any strenuous exercise he puts himself through at such an early stage of the injury is going to delay his recovery, which if it does will delay the amount he can train through the summer, which in turn will affect his game readiness for 2012-2013 season.


I don’t know how many times the NHL and other experts in the field of brain injury have said this, but concussions are not a laughing matter. They can have serious long-term if not permanent symptoms that can change one’s life for good.


While I can applaud Alfredsson’s desire to put himself on the line like that, I would much rather see him take his time and recover properly. The finger I’m wagging at, is at the Seantors’ coaching and medical staff to even entertain the idea of playing him by saying he is a game time decision. Surely the Cup is not worth risking the face of the franchise’s career?  I doubt any Senators fans would like to see their Captain forced into retirement because of a brain injury.

Battle of Pennsylvania will be one series that will be talked about for a long time. There’s no doubt about it. It has been some time since an NHL playoff series has held this much venom in it. All the pieces were set for the classic after things got heated between Flyers and Penguins at the last meeting between the two in the regular season.

The games have been high scoring affairs where both goalies look like they couldn’t catch a beach ball. Marc Andre Fleury looks like he couldn’t catch a gargantuan ball if it was coming his way, while Bryzgalov has managed to do just about enough to win three games. Having said that Bryz has allowed some easy goals along the way too.

Game three was something totally different. Penguins were a completely different team. Despite striking first in the game, the team looked like they were more interested in gooning around than playing hockey. As a result of the goonery, Arron Asham and James Neal are both facing disciplinary hearings (Neal facing two separate ones) and if Brendan Shanahan has the guts and does not fall folly to the NHL’s mollycoddling of the Penguins, both Asham and Neal have played their last playoff games of the season, regardless of how long the series goes on for.

There was one moment for me where I thought the Penguins were disorganised and not in the game. It was during the first period after Laviolette called a timeout. All the Flyers players leaned over to listen to what their coach had to say, while Dan Bylsma’s three penalty killers were huddled around their net instead of getting instructions from the coach. It was a 5on3 kill and a critical moment in the game.

The Penguins playing in the series now, is not the Penguins that went to the cup final twice and won the cup in 2009. I don’t know if Penguins think that they have had to adapt their style to more physical due to playing against the “big bad Flyers”. Whether the altercations in the regular season have gotten the Penguins completely off the rails, or if the Penguins are just trying too hard, it is all playing into the Flyers’ hands.

Flyers are a team that by its very nature doesn’t step back from anything. The team has grown mentally strong by being down in 57 of its last games.

Flyers have done one thing and they have pushed Penguins so far out of its comfort zone that the Penguins game is totally lost at the moment. The only way that the Penguins can get back into the comfort zone is through strong leadership and at the moment the man who wears the C and is supposed to be the emotional leader of the team is doing anything BUT leading.

There has been a lot said about Sidney Crosby and I got a bit over excited while watching the game and called Crosby a punk and whatnot in my tweets. Let’s get this straight, Crosby is probably the most skilled player on the ice and perhaps in the world, BUT I do not rate him as the best PLAYER because of his antics and his constant whining. If Crosby’s fans wonder why many dislike him as a player, it is the type of stuff that he did in game three that ruin his reputation. In game three of the series, Crosby played like an agitator without stepping into back his actions. He was quite happy yapping while his teammates went to work. He had completely lost his focus for the game and it showed.  

I had a few replies on Twitter reminding me that even Gretzky had McSorley or Dave Semenko to protect him on the ice. Yes, in his day Gretzky was a whiner like Crosby, but Gretzky had the class to stay away from the dirty game that Crosby seems to be playing at the moment.


If the Penguins want to win this series, Crosby has to lead his team and stay away from the agitation game and stick to what he is good at. If he can’t he will forever carry this series as a stain on his career as he showed his true face. Yes he will be in the Hall of Fame one day, because of what he’s won, but when you look at Crosby next to some of the great playoff leaders, like Messier or Yzerman, he is not even on the same level with those two. Players don’t respect Crosby as they would do Messier and Yzerman. If Crosby wanted to lead his team, he would’ve done so by using his voice, not his ‘fists’.


One tweet that I will hold on to, before moving away from the Crosby topic, is that if Crosby carries on like he has, it will be only a matter of time before he will be taken down and when that happens, it will be ugly and career ending (due to his concussion problems).


Defenssively, the Penguins are lost in the game. I won’t even say anything about Marc-Andre Fleury or his pathetic statics in this series, but the whole defence and Fleury have been weak. In fact, since Crosby’s return to the line up, the Penguins have given up 67 goals in 17 games. It seems that the Penguins have forgotten how to play Defence since the Penguins got the “wonder kid” back to the roster.


After the game Dan Bylsma announced that Fleury will be going in net for the next game (and the next four apparently). There is a lot of work to do for Bylsma, who has seemingly lost the control of his team in this series and for Fleury and the Penguins defensive line-up. The Penguins simply can’t afford stupidity shown by Kris Letang when he engaged Kimmo Timonen in a fight. If the Penguins want to make a series of this and save face, they have to smarten up. BIG TIME.


At the moment, the Flyers are a better team man for man. They have all the advantage going into Game four and have all the tools in their hands to finish the series there and then. But you know, hockey is a funny old game. When you think that something is a clear as day, it can throw a curve ball and change the direction. If you asked me right now, I would say that the Penguins will be swept, just because their game has not been anywhere to be seen throughout the whole series and I don’t think Bylsma has the tools to turn the boat in a couple of days.


I guess we’ll be a bit wiser in a few days once 60 minutes (or more) have been played, that is if there are enough players left on each team to finish the game.

As the NHL Playoffs have kicked off, I wanted to do something that I have been planning on doing for a while now. The Playoffs are a special kind of event, not seen in any other sport. The teams that have made it have battled through a gruelling 82 game regular season and now they have the opportunity of their lives to play for the Stanley Cup, a second season if you will, where you have to give even more than you already have during the regular season.

I could wax poetic about what an absolute war the NHL playoffs are and how the guys going through them are absolute warriors. As hockey fans we all know what it takes to play in the playoffs and the insurmountable amount physical sacrifices the guys make to reach the cup.

However, with the playoffs, I wanted to list some of my favourite moments and memories from the Stanley Cup playoffs and finals. Please note that these are moments that have really hit home with me and have made a grown man well up.

For me it is moments like these that make the Playoffs so special and the place where legends are born. These are in no particular order of favouritism or what would be my standout memory.

1. Teemu Selanne lifts the cup:

Maybe it is because I am looking at it through blue and white eyes, but Teemu Selanne lifting the cup is one of the best memories I have from the recent history with the cup. When Selanne got the cup on his arms you could visibly see the emotion and the relief of his quest to finally ‘win something great’, as Selanne said after the interviews.


Selanne’s story is remarkable. Many, including Selanne himself, thought he was done after knee injuries had slowed him down, but Selanne has been spectacular since the lock out and despite his age, he is still the same Finnish Flash. Additionally what made Selanne winning the Cup more special for me was this video, where you can see just how much it means to him and to his family:

2. Ray Bourque finally gets the cup:

It is customary in the NHL that the Captain gets to hoist the cup first, but when the Avalanche won the cup in 2001 after game seven, it was clear that it would not be Joe Sakic who would hoist the cup as the first player on the Avalanche roster. Sakic one of the classiest moves by allowing the veteran to hoist the cup as the first player after receiving it from commissioner Bettman.


Bourque’s Mission W16 was closely followed. The aging veteran knew that this would probably be his last go at the Cup and boy what a moment it was when Bourque lifted the cup above his shoulders. It was one of the few moments in sports when a players’ old fans from his old team truly felt happy for a player. Bourque had given a lot to Bruins and the Bruins fans were only too happy to see their hero finally hoist the cup:

3. Tim Thomas and Martin St.Louis hand shake 2011 playoffs

The Eastern Conference finals offered a lot of heart stopping moments and perhaps most people did not see the Tampa Bay Lightning make it that far. However, to me there was one heart stopping moment in the series and that was the handshake between Bruins’ Tim Thomas and Lightning Martin St.Louis.

Teammates in college hockey, both players have travelled different, but long roads to the NHL and have both carved their names among some of the greats in the game. St.Louis already has a cup with the Lightning from 2004, but the visible pain of not making it to the finals was evident on his face. However, when it came to the handshake, you could see how much it meant for both players. Thomas on his way to his first Stanley Cup Final and Stanley Cup victory, being greeted by his old friend and team mate.

True class:

4. Tim Thomas hits Henrik Sedin, Stanley Cup Finals 2011:

For some reason the Tim Thomas hit on Henrik Sedin is sort of the moment where I knew that Bruins would win the Cup last year. To me it was a message to the Canucks team that they had no business getting in Thomas’ crease and that he would put up a wall in net. Though the final series went the stretch to the 7th game, to me it was obvious from that moment that Bruins would be claiming the Cup and would not accept any crap from anyone:


5. 1994 New York Rangers

The Rangers’ Cup run is a classic. From Mark Messier promising a win to the media, to then beat Canucks in the 7th Game in MSG sent the whole of New York into a frenzy. There was Messier’s little hop behind the net in Game 7 when he scored. The joy and excitement on his face when he received the Cup. As a Finn it was a special series to follow as both the teams had a Finn in their rosters. Canucks had Jyrki Lumme and Rangers had Esa Tikkanen. For me personally, it was special as I won my first ever bet on placing a wager on the Rangers winning the series.

6. Oilers 1990 Stanley Cup

Growing up I was a big Oliers fan, mainly because my childhood idol Jari Kurri played for the Oilers. It wasn’t until I grew up that I learned the significance of the Cup win in 1990. Oilers had traded away Gretzky and Kurri was in a big role on the team and one of the teams’ Alternate Captains. I wasn’t able to follow the game on TV in Finland as it would’ve been WAAAAY past my bed time (what I was like 9 years old then). However, it is a special Cup memory for me because it would be the last one that Kurri won during his career.


7. Chicago Blackhawks vs Philadelphia Flyers

The Flyers vs Blackhawks series, has probably become more known for the game winning puck that went missing after the game. There were also other underlying stories that made me chuckle during the series, like Chris Pronger stealing the Blackhawks’ game winning pucks in a couple of games, or the bizarre end to Game 6 that won Blackhawks the cup, where it seemed like only one man knew where the puck was.

However, it was a picture of Flyers’ Kimmo Timonen I saw on a Finnish news paper just ahead of the Finals series, that made it memorable for me. The picture showed Timonen with a blackened eye, a bushy playoff beard and a face that screamed tiredness. However, the picture showed this burning desire in Timonen’s eyes that meant that he was ready for anything in the final series. Just that one extra push no matter how beat up his body was.


8. Montreal Canadiens Cup run 2010

As a Canadiens fan I haven’t had much to cheer for in the last two years. Dismal seasons and early playoff exits have left a bit of a sour taste in fans’ mouths, but the Cup run of 2010 was nothing short of spectacular. Going in as the underdog team to the Eastern Conference final after dropping the Capitals and Penguins on the way to meet the Flyers, was great fun to watch.

I was recovering from a knee operation at the time and I remember fighting the anaesthetic and the painkillers’ drowsing side effects to stay awake to cheer the Canadiens on from my living room and jumping up and down on 1 leg after the Penguins were eliminated. Seeing the pictures from Montreal after the game was something that left a smile on my face for days to come.

These are just some of the fond memories that I have from the Stanley Cup playoffs and the great legends that have been born during the 8 weeks that are also known as the Stanley Cup Playoffs. I could add others such as the Bobby Orr goal, but I wanted to focus on series’ that I have seen and witnessed with my own eyes.

If you want, feel free to share your own memories of the Stanley Cup playoffs.

Teemu Selanne seems to have found the true meaning of forever young. At 41 years old, Teemu is still one of the best players in the NHL and when looking at him play, he still plays the game with the same finesse as in his rookie year.


A career that has seen Selanne achieve many personal accolades, he has truly been an icon for both the NHL and for Finnish hockey. After his Winnipeg career came to an end in a trade that sent him to the Anaheim Ducks, Selanne has called Anaheim his ‘happy place’. After all, he won a cup with the Ducks in 07, which stands as the absolute pinnacle of his career.


Despite Selanne taking seemingly longer and longer to decide whether to carry on with his career after each year, he has always come back for another shot at the cup. But with Anaheim playing the way they are, is it completely out of question that Selanne would be traded to another team at the deadline for a shot at the cup?


Obviously there are many contributing factors to whether we’ll see Selanne traded, but hypothetically if Anaheim are out of play-off contention by the trade deadline, I do think that Selanne could be traded. He has always said after a confirming “one more year” that he wants to play on a winning team and at the moment Anaheim are anything but.


Following the 7th straight defeat to Tornto Maple Leafs, Selanne was visibly frustrated and emotional in the post game interview and was not far from tears. What’s more Selanne at 41, is Ducks’ leading scorer in points. One thing is for sure, Ducks need a wake up call of some sort. Their star studded first line is nowhere to be seen and stars like Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf and Bobby Ryan have underperformed dramatically.


Dealing one of the big stars might also provide Anaheim with the desired wake-up call, or shake up of the coaching staff, though it is unlikely as Randy Carlyle has recently inked a 3 year contract with Anaheim. To be honest though, it would be high time for a new bench boss for Anaheim, since winning the cup Anaheim have started off slow and have not been able to succeed with Carlyle’s style of play.


For the past two years the word from Anaheim’s training camp has been that they have been too intense and that players are already gassed for the first puck drop. Firing Carlyle would definitely serve as a wake up to the struggling Ducks squad, but who would take the reigns from him? Would the Ducks promote an AHL head coach to take the NHL job, a move which has worked well for the Penguins with Bylsma or OK for the Capitals.


However, with Selanne, I can see three scenarios for him:

1)      He will be traded at the deadline if not before to a team with a shot for the cup/ playoff berth. I doubt that he would move to an eastern conference team so a team like San Jose or LA Kings might be a favourable destination for Selanne.

2)      Selanne will play the season with the Ducks and play for Finland in the World Championships this spring. Finland is hosting the World Championships this year and despite announcing that his international career finished in Vancouver Olympics, I could envision Selanne going back on that decision for a shot at the World Championship.

3)      Selanne will get so fed up with the way the Ducks are playing that he will announce his retirement before the season is done. He has always said that he will play as long as it is fun, and I can’t imagine that he is having that much fun at the moment with the team playing like they are. Though I think this scenario is unlikely as Selanne is a true professional and would not leave a sinking ship until he has done everything in his power to save it.

The next couple of months will show the direction Anaheim is headed, but with the rest of the pack getting further and further each game, Anaheim is in a desperate need of a shake up if they are to have any shot at the post season.

I have, in the past few weeks, written a good few season wrap up posts, but have been equally displeased with all of them, hence why none of them have been published. Few of them said nothing and were absolute drivel and few turned into a massive thank you post. So here goes another crack at it. As the season wrapped up, I had a mixed set of feelings. On one hand I was happy that the season was over and I could give the body (specially the head) the rest it direly needed, but on the other hand it was a sad occasion. Not only because the season had wrapped up, but as one of the writers, David Carr, for Pro Hockey News said: It is the end of a chapter. As I emptied my locker and looked around the room, I realised that it was the last time that the group of guys from 2010-2011 would be together (apart from the end of season party).


Personally the season was a roller coaster ride and personally I’m a bit disappointed with the way I produced, specially in light of the statistics. I had higher expectations for myself and scoring five goals wasn’t something that I had in mind. I think I had chances to score more than that, but just couldn’t get the job done. The frustration really boiled over on the Isle of Wight where my best chance beat the goalie but came off the far post. My personal highlight has to be the tying goal that I scored against Basingstoke with 2.7 seconds remaining in the third.


Despite the results, I think the two games we played against Basingstoke this year were the best hockey we played as a team. Even if we lost the home game 6-1 the compete level was there from the start. Then of course there was the home win against Peterborough which was another good showing, but the league took that from us. Even if we finished bottom of the league, each and every guy can be proud of themselves and the way we developed. Looking at what we started with and the finished product, there was a HUGE improvement.


But you know what, despite the results, I thoroughly enjoyed myself. Despite my age, I think I came through in leaps and bounds as a player this year and it was good to play this level of hockey once more and it showed me that I still have several years left in me. (Providing I can keep this wreck of a body together). The season reminded me how much hard work is required at this level and I can only thank our coach for instilling a hard work ethic in the team from early on. I said at the start of the year that I liked his style and I stand by that, despite the amount of crawling or bag skating we did.


I’m grateful for the opportunity to have played for the team and I could go on thanking numerous people for making it possible, but I’d like to think that they are aware of my gratitude.


As I’m gearing up for a summer without any hockey to be played, I’m not going to lounge around on the couch and barbeque to the excess. I’ve got 6-12 weeks of physio to rehab my hip and a lot of healing still to do on the head department it would seem. Where things are on the up after the concussion, I still suffer from intermittent headaches and I have trouble concentrating. So needless to say I’m taking a bit of time off the ice for a month or so, though I’ve started off ice training already. In hindsight, I should’ve sat out the remaining games of the season, due to the concussion but me being me, I had to play and had to prove something to myself (what I’m not exactly sure of), but if you’re gonna be dumb and all that…


The end of season party was a good way to wrap up the year. Though the aftermath is staggering. There were 40 empty bottles of beer and whatnot in our hotel room the day after and I felt like I had been ran over by a train. Still though, many a good laughs were had and it was awesome to see some of the guys get their trophies and they were thoroughly deserved.


So what now for the blog? Well you might read ramblings of gym training and updates on how the summer has gone, you know, the real sort of school girl diary type stuff. Not really, but we’ll see. It might be a bit quiet on that front as I think of new content and hopefully make it a bit more visual. There’s still a lot going on in the hockey world. Stanley Cup play offs, World Championships, my wife’s games and I’m sure I’ll be watching my old team, The Cougars a few times over the summer as well.


Same again next year?

There are somethings that people rarely forget about. There’s your first kiss, the first time you got laid, your wedding day or the day your kids were born (to those who have kids).  However, for hockey players there are few other things on the list, like the day you get drafted, sign your pro contract, score your first goal or when you first laced up the skates and put on your first ever jersey.

Jerseys are important to players and as I gaze on the wall on our stairs I can see a collection of jerseys. Jerseys that have a lot of meaning and memories regardless of the league or level. They tell me I was once part of something great and bring back memories of the guys I played with and the parents and other voulenteers who helped. Gazing on them, I remember me and my dad sitting in traffic on the A4 from Amsterdam to Utrecht trying to get me to training, or playing in my first ever team, OP Chicago Parola -82, in an out door league.

Despite the team being for guys who were born in 1982, I was allowed to play for them as there were only 6 days between my birth and the calendar year turning into -82. It’s funny, because it has been so long since that season, but I still remember it vividly. The first ever team meeting where the team was put together was held at the county hall and the team was gathered purely of guys who I went to school with. I still remember being nervous about it as I had only played on our front yard or at the local rinks, so going into something like that was a pretty big deal for me. Plus I had no kit (apart from a helmet, shinpads, gloves and skates) so it was nerve wrecking to see if I was actually allowed to play. By the way, the helmet is the old vintage Jofa that Gretzky wore and its still in immaculate condition. Despite the helmets going at around $120 on eBay, there’s no way I’m selling it.

My parents were really supportive and promised to get me the kit. Some was second hand some was new. The final piece of kit that I got was shoulder pads for Christmas, just before the season started. I even got a new stick for the season, a black Koho Revolution with the Kurri blade pattern. I used Koho sticks or blades to the day they became CCM. Old habits die hard and I still use the same blade pattern.

As I said, this league was an out door league, but our trainings were held on Thursday nights at the indoor practice arena in Hameenlinna. We also had regular weekend training slot on Saturday mornings on an out door rink at Parola, the village where we lived.

It was on one of these Saturday sessions when my mom took me to training and patiently waited rink side in the cold when we trained. After the training, the coach took the team into the changing room by the rink and got out a large cardboard box out from his car. Inside the box was something that I will remember for the rest of my life. It was our jerseys. Looking back on it, the green jersey with the white print of a makeshift Chicago Blackhawks logo looks tacky now, but to me it was the best thing ever. I got jersey number 8. A number I wear today in homage to that jersey and year as its some 20 years since that season.

I still remember my first game. I didn’t even know what the hell the off-side rule was and I must’ve spent more time off-side than anything else.

Our season was a triumph. We didn’t lose a single game from the 12 game calendar and we only drew one game and the rest we won. Me and my buddy Hannu travelled to trainings and games together, well it was either of our parents that drove and kept the car warm so we could warm up between periods.

The highlight of the season was the end of season ‘in-door’ tournament between all the teams at the Hameenlinna or Ritari arena as it’s now called. We carried on our trend and won every-game in the tournament and won the championship, which sent the whole team ecstatic. I had my only point of the season in the final game when I assisted our winning goal. In the post game celebrations I had my first ever taste of champagne.

Funny what memories a jersey carries, but the jersey and the trophy are there to remind me of, probably the most cherished memories from my childhood. Similarly a jersey for a fan can bring back similar memories of seeing your favourite player score a highlight reel goal or celebrating the most treasured of sports trophies in the world. It can remind you of the nights at the game with friends, stuck in traffic jams, bad hot dogs and stale beer. Or for a younger fan, the magic of being there and being in awe of the game.

I could relay stories of all of them IJCU Utrecht, Southampton Spitfires, Basingstoke Cougars, Farnborough Arrows and Bristol Pitbulls. Hopefully there are many more memories and triumphs to come that I can re-live just by glancing up at the wall.

Alexander Ovechkin is one of the NHL’s powerhouses and a premiere players. A player that can single handedly turn a game around. He is a four time 50 goal scorer and has won a number of individual awards at the end season awards.

This season has seen Ovechkin’s scoring rate decline, along with the high power offence of the Washington Capitals. Don’t get me wrong, I am a huge Ovechkin fan and I admire the way he approaches the game and how he plays. But part of being a fan, I think, is to be critical of your favourite players/teams.

Hockey analysts have covered Ovechkin’s scoring troubles at length, but one question I have not seen anyone answer is “Was it to be expected?”  In my opinion, yes it was. The signs were in the air last year with a sub-par performance in the Olympics, a season marred with suspensions, followed by early play-off exit where Ovechkin was shut down by the Montreal Canadiens. Still Ovehckin combined for 50 goals and 59 assists last season. Respectable stats.

However, the playoffs and the subsequent world championships gave everyone a sign of what was to come. Ovechkin, clearly disappointed by the Capitals’ early playoff exit, had a poor showing in the World Championships, where his season ended in bitter disappointment in the final against a much weaker Czech Republic team. The magazine CQ ran a story on Ovechkin during the summer and the story gave an interesting view into the man’s life. I’m sure parts of the story were embellished to make it better and more ‘lifestyle’ oriented, but Ovechkin’s summer seemed to focus on parties, girls and promoting CCM gear. Don’t get me wrong, I do think it is important to blow off steam and party during the summer, but it lead me to question whether Ovie had done enough during the summer to get in shape. Soon after training camp opened there were reports suggesting that Ovechkin was out of shape, after he was caught out of breath.

Ovechkin, still the Caps’ best point scorer, has not been as effective and his stats are helped with the assists that he has gathered. An unusual situation for a sniper to be a playmaker, while Sidney Crosby, who was known as a playmaker has turned himself into a pure scorer in the last two NHL seasons. There is, however, one thing that is glaringly obvious when you watch Ovechkin play and that is, he tries to do too much himself. The games I’ve seen this year, he has tried on many occasion to go coast to coast, only to lose the puck before even getting a shot of. Whether it speaks of lack of confidence, or the desire to score highlight reel material every time, only Ovechkin knows the answer to that.

The other thing that I think has held Ovechkin back this year is that people know how he plays now and what he does and have learnt to defend against him. Ovechkin is heavily relied upon on the Caps’ power play, but he is not getting shots off due to the coverage the other teams put on him during power play situations. Same can be said about even strength. Teams have studied how he plays and positions, so that they know how to defend against him.

Another thing that I think might affect Ovechkin and his play is the amount of promo and extracurricular activities he has. I don’t think there’s another player that is in such a high demand for promotional spots as Ovechkin is. There’s books, DVDs, CCM, Caps, the NHL, his own clothing line and the list goes on. The NHL is a gruelling place to begin with and the amount of hype and distraction has to affect any players’ game. Maybe there is an argument that he should focus only on what is essential, hockey. Though I can understand that it is important to capitalise on opportunities while you’re the talk of the town.

Comparing Ovechkin to Crosby, I have not seen as many gimmicky promo things for Crosby as I have for Ovechkin. Don’t get me wrong Crosby still does it and has his sponsor obligations for Reebok, but it just seems that Crosby doesn’t have too many external distractions, which has allowed for him to focus on his game and the results, well, everyone can tell by looking at the stats.

This isn’t to say that Ovechkin is a has been or a washout. He still has the hunger to win and maybe his newish role as the Caps’ captain has him thinking more of the bigger goal at the end of the year. Crosby has had slumping years in the past and I believe, that similarly, Ovechkin will bounce back. He is sure to turn his season around, but the critical question is ‘when?’

I think he will be able to turn things around in the lead up to the play-offs, depending on the Caps’ league position. I think Ovechkin is hungry for the biggest prize in pro sports in the Stanley Cup that he will bring his A game just as the play offs loom in the horizon. After all it is the playoffs where you can tell how good a player really is by his contributions to help his team to lift the Cup at the end of the season and I believe Ovechkin will do whatever it takes to get his hands and name on the Cup this year.

Success only comes before work in the dictionary.

That is a valuable statement that I read in a magazine recently and rings quite true with my situation. I need to work and work hard.

I was today discharged from physiotherapy and deemed fit to start playing again (and just in time), but during the last physio session I realised something that shook me to my core. That realisation was that I am quite out of shape.

Work beckons. There are no short cuts and no easy way out. The only solution is that I have to put my nose to the grind stone and start working, if not for anyone else, for myself. Though there are alterior motives for the need to get back in shape, mainly that I want to look good naked.

However, I’m comforted by the fact that A) I’ve done it before and B) at the moment getting a good sweat going is a real high for me, specially as its not accompanied by searing pain.

What I’m confident about is that after skating this week my knee is now fully pain free and it felt like I had gained some speed. Though that was my own feeling, it could be that I was slow as hell and no one dared to tell me. Keeps the idiot guessing.

But back to my original point about work; last night the Chicago Blackhawks captured its first Stanley Cup in almost 50 years. If you don’t know what the Stanley Cup is you better go back to school as there is a gaping hole in your cultural up-bringing. Either way, what surprised me was the reporting after the game. As it turns out, the Blackhawks goalie, Antti Niemi, worked as a zamboni driver not too long ago. He came from obscurity to rob Cristobal Huet from his starting job and led the team to the Stanley Cup.

Niemi, a complete work-a-holic, had told his wife before the season started that he was looking to play 20 games out of the 82 regular season games, but ended up doing more than that. Through hard work, when he was a nobody in Finland, he has now achieved the greatest trophy any hockey player can ever win.

What motivates me in Niemi’s story is that he is an example of a player that works hard and gets the deserved reward for it, but more the determination that you do not give up when someone tells you you’re not good enough.  It’s the embodiment of Sisu and hard work. As Niemi was hoisting the cup, you could see the joy and the utter shock of ‘what the hell just happened’ on his face.

But again, Niemi would not have achieved this if he didn’t work for the success. Same for the losing teams’ Ville Leino, who was discarded by the Red Wings and came to life with the Flyers, drawing equal to Dino Ciccarelli’s rookie point scoring record in the play-offs.

Not bad, but like said at the start. Success only comes before work in the dictionary. Otherwise, you have to work your ass off to earn success, or even have a shot at it.

I will update you soon if my hard work over the last few years (and a quick conditioning stint) pays off. The head is willing, but body says no a bit too soon for my liking