Posts Tagged ‘Olympics’

As everyone in the hockey world knows, Finland lost to Sweden at the men’s hockey semi finals in Sochi.

A loss that ended an unlikely dream for the Finns, but a dream that started to look like a possibility as the games went on. A dream that was not meant to be. Not at these Olympics. Not for this team. Not for its veterans.

The Finns were never considered a top team on paper. They were weakened as two key forwards were sidelined by injuries and furthermore its number one centre being ruled out early in the tournament.

The Finns were close to repeating what it had done in Turin eight years prior. Alas it was not meant to be. For few of the players on the roster, the ultimate award in their national team career is in tatters and is something they can’t achieve as players.

Teemu, Kimmo, Sami and Olli will not have another chance to win Olympic gold. A group of players that have laid everything on the line for the Lion crest, often withstanding criticism of an expectant nation, hungry for success.

It was so close, but yet so far. Just like eight years ago. It was not meant to be. However empty the players must feel right now, there is still hunger there. The old guard will not want their last memory of their national team careers end on a sour note. Bronze, in hockey is always a med that is won. It is a sign that you left the tournament as a winner. Perhaps it is not the win you were after, but every self respecting hockey player wants to win.

The old guard will rise to the breach once more. The team, that has become to play like a team will sacrifice one more time, before passing the torch to the next generation. A generation that is poised to lead the nations’ hockey to success. It may not happen right away, but for the first time it looks like the dawning of a new day in Finnish hockey brings forth a brighter future, like the first light of a crisp winters morning.

As tomorrow will be the last time we see some of our nation’s hockey legends wear the national uniform, I wanted to say thank you. Thank you for all the triumphant moments. For those moments when a nation dived into fountains. For the moments when the guards of Buckingham Palace didn’t want a lion statue to wear the Finnish jersey. For the moments when a young man got angry at the losses, for the times when that young man was moved to tears by the tears you shed on the ice, for you were not alone in your disappointment. In essence, thank you for all the wonderful moments you have given us. Thank you for teaching me how to be a player at the time of victory and at a time of loss.

But for now, once more unto the breach friends.

Probably one of the biggest blows to the Sochi winter Olympic hosts was to be knocked out by Finland today. A day before the quarter final I made Facebook post that read as follows “Reason why Russia won’t win Olympic gold? Russia doesn’t have a team, Russia has a group of individuals.” Of course that was met with some glee from friends, but it turns out that the prediction was right.


Russia didn’t win gold, because its players played as individuals and its biggest individual stars failed big time. Alex Ovechkin scored one goal in the opening game against Slovenia and that was it. Yevgeni Malkin never got going. In fact Russia’s best player was Pavel Datsuyk. Some might argue that Ilya Kovalchuk or Alex Radulov. Both players played well and posses incredible amount of skill, but their commitment to a team system imposed by the coaching staff, is questionable.


Further to the point, if a guy turns up to an Olympic tournament with customised skates, and a custom stick (that is different from the Bauer Olympic stock) chances are he is placing himself above the team and he can do whatever he wants. It’s not the reason why, but it plays a small part in the grand scheme of things.


When I said about Ovechkin’s lack of production I got some pushback on it, but judging by his international presence over the past few years, there’s a case to be made that Ovechkin isn’t that effective in short tournaments, specially if he is a late addition. From the start of the Olympics, Ovechkin was a big part of the Olympics. Not just the Russian team but the whole circus.


Compare that with Olli Jokinen, whose morale and attitude has been questioned time and time again in the Finnish hockey circles. Before the games, Jokinen said on Twitter – via his wife – that he was prepared to collect bottles in Sochi if his team demanded it. Russian players, where stoic in their national team pride never made similar claims.


The reason why Russia failed, is not because of the number of KHL players, or NHL players who played for themselves. Quickly after the game was finished there were reports circulating the hockey world, suggesting that there was a rift between Ovechkin, Malkin and the head coach.


The reason why Russia failed is because its coach was not able to gell the team quickly enough and to buy into a system. To be honest, I don’t think I saw a system from the Russians the whole tournament. It was apparent from the opening game of the tournament, that the Russian team was not going to be a threat and would not go to the medal rounds. It has nothing to do with potential rift between the coach and players, but it comes down to not having a system.


There was evidence of the coach losing the players at the 2013 World Championships (granted, Russia won the tournament in 2012), but even then there were signs that all was not well in the big red Russian machine.

The only part of the Russian team that deserves a absolution of sin is the goaltending department, which was among the strongest in the tournament after Finland and Sweden. There is a sombre time for reflection in Russian hockey ranks to determine what went wrong in such a high profile tournament and the fate of the coaching staff and GM will hang in the balance.

Similarly Canada has been in a similar pickle. A star studded team that is struggling and hasn’t been firing on all cylinders. Canada was confident that it would secure gold in the second consecutive Olympics, following its triumph at Vancouver 2010. How could they not bring home the gold? With a roster like that they are sure winners. Same as the Russians.


Canada’s captain Sidney Crosby hasn’t been playing at his level and the reason for that is that Crosby is a great franchise player, but for a short tournament such as this and a team that is not built around him, he is finding it difficult. Sure enough the constant juggling of lines and personnel is not helping Canada’s cause either. Canada is poised for a medal, sure, but it’s not gold when its neighbour down south is having a more convincing tournament.


The other thing why I feel that Canada’s success is not set in stone is that Canadian players have not yet fully adjusted to the rink size in Sochi. The rink in Vancouver, where bigger than the NHL rink played into Canada’s and USA’s hands but it was not a full Olympic size surface, as that would have required a long repairs at the Rogers Arena.


Canada is facing USA in a replay of the 2010 Olympic final in the semi final stage of the games, and it will be a miracle if Canada makes it to the final. So far the team has done little to suggest that it has what it takes against a tougher opponent.


The groups for the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics ice hockey tournament have been set after the final qualification rounds came to a close. Where the pre-qualification tournaments may not make big headlines in the main hockey media, there was one storyline that I followed quite closely (well through social media and radio). The story being the one of Team GB.

British ice hockey may not be that highly regarded in the grand scheme of things, or the international hockey pecking order, but what surprised me was that Team GB made it to the final Olympic qualification tournament. Currently GB is ranked 21st by the IIHF and went on to play against teams like Latvia, France and Kazakhstan, all of which have experience from the highest tiers of international hockey within the IIHF. In fact, all of the nations in Team GB’s group featured in last year’s World Championships in Helsinki and Stockholm.

I think this is a good juncture to make a confession: I didn’t think that Team GB would make it. However, the achievement of the team should not be disregarded or mocked. Given the infrastructure for the game in the UK, where rinks seem to be closing quicker than they are built (specially in the South), or are in dire need of renovation, Team GB pulled of a minor miracle by making it to the final qualification round.

What the team who went to Latvia have achieved, is a foundation that the powers that be should start building upon. Team GB may not feature in the highest tier of the World Championship stage, nor will we see them in the 2014 winter Olympics. However, what the success of the team shows is that the fan base is there and now it is time to build. What the UK should focus on in an ideal world right now is to invest more into the sport and adapt a junior system that is being used by some of the top countries in the world. I’m a big believer that the future of the game of hockey is in junior development and now if ever, it’s time to strike while the iron is hot.

The process won’t be easy, but done right, I can see that Team GB has a legitimate chance for the 2018 Winter Olympics. However, having been around the game here for a couple of years, I sadly doubt that it will happen due to the way things are ran and the fact that hockey is a sport that hardly receives any funding. Sure there  recently was a funding of £100k, but more is needed. £100,000 will not build a programme that would nurture the game here.

I know this opens up a debate that hockey is a minority sport and that the £100,000 is a good enough investment and why should ice hockey be invested in. Well, even though a minority sport, it was good to hear the game being called on the radio and actually hear fans chanting “Let’s go GB”. The fan support is there and my Twitter stream was filled with tweets from the games. Team GB’s games were picked up by ESPN here in the UK, a great feat for the sport. I’ve thought this for the longest time, but the local leagues (Elite League and Premier League) should be shown on free-view TV. Having them shown and (what I find) often buried on Sky sports 2 is doing the sport no favours here. But as with many other things, money talks. I would be as bold as to hazard a guess that apart from the people who follow ice hockey actually know that the sport is shown on Sky Sports 2, or that the NHL is on Premier Sport.


EDIT: This was something that Graham Goodman said on Facebook and I totally agree with him. British players should cast their eyes to European leagues as well and seek contracts outside of the confines of GB. There were a couple of players who did not ply their trade in the British leagues and ultimately the international experience from different leagues (and potentially better leagues) will make the standard of the national team better. Many of the teams GB played against had A LOT of players on the roster that played in countries other than their own.

While Team GB may have lost all of its games in the tournament, it is nothing to be laughed at. Though any self-respecting hockey player will tell you that the losses sting and they suck, but in the grand scheme of things, this team that went so far, have the potential to be regarded as pioneers for the game here. They have laid a foundation on which to build the sport on and the powers that be now need to strike while the iron is hot or the achievement by these guys will have been for nothing.

Follow the author on twitter: @amateur_hockey


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I was imagining that my first post of 2012 would have been a cheerier one. However, we were told on Thursday at training that our barn is going to be closing down and we, the Pitbulls (and the junior teams, the rec team, the university team and ice skating club) would become homeless at the end of the season.


The lease on the rink is running out and the rink is set to be converted into student accommodation. Not that I have anything against students or further education, but the situation is far from ideal. In fact thinking it purely from the hockey point of view, I feel like the people who have put the Pitbulls together and ran the team have had a severe kick to the teeth due to the decision.


As I’ve had a chance to reflect on the news for a few days, I have come to realise that the biggest loss of the rink closure is not the loss of hockey, but it is the loss of a place that has become a second home to myself and all my team mates. It could potentially also mean the loss of a group of guys who have become like a second family. We have all sweated and bled on to the ice to provide our fans and supporters with an entertaining night out and we as players have relied on each other. We have experienced highs and lows every week that we turn up for training and suit up, ready to hit the ice. Like I’ve said many times before on this blog, being on the ice is one of the best feelings I can imagine.


Beyond hockey  however, I have read and recanted numerous tales from Facebook and Twitter on people’s memories of the rink. I have come to know stories of people who have met the love of their life on the ice, memories of nights spent with friends and most of all, people lamenting the loss of a place to meet up and spend time.


As I’m not a native to Bristol and I have only spent two seasons with the Pitbulls, I have only a handful of memories compared to most of the other guys on the team who took their first strides on the ice at the facility. However, the situation sounds all too familiar; when I first arrived in the UK in Southampton to study I was told that the town used to house a rink, but it was torn down (now what stands in its place is a Range Rover and Jaguar dealership) and a new rink was promised by the council. Given that I have been in the UK for 8 years and there’s no new rink in sight (OK the Southampoton rink has been shut for nearly 30 years now) one can understand why the loss of a ice facility is a BIG deal to everyone who uses the facility.


In what is the Olympic year for the UK, there has been a lot of discussion about the state of British sports. How can the UK nurture the next sporting talents if facilities for sports of all kinds are being cut down. In a broader scale, the economic downturn has cut funding from many sports and leisure centres that provide both the young and old the opportunity to partake in sports, be it hockey, skating, soccer or boxing. Sports is an enabler. If I didn’t do sports in my youth I wouldn’t have learned valuable social skills and I probably would’ve spent more time than I did out in town partaking in teenage debauchery. Sports taught me a great deal of self discipline and respect to others.


However, as I’m trying to look for a silver lining in the news of the rink closing down, I am hopeful that it will not mean the demise of hockey in Bristol. I am hopeful that the powers that be build a new rink that is suitable for hockey and figure skating. Hockey is a growing sport in the UK and I’m sure that all our opponents would agree that there needs to be a team in Bristol. Say what you want about the state of the facility, it’s more fun to play more games than have fewer games on the schedule.


As my parting thoughts, I would like to see as many of you readers sign this petition to show your support for the rink. It only takes 30 seconds of your time and we (the people who use the rink) would really appreciate the support:

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