VANCOUVER 2010?  BAH, HUMBUG!

 

Being the hockey aficionado Iíd like to think I am, Iíve often taken the Forrest Gump approach Ė hockey is like a box of chocolates Ė you never know what youíre going to get.  Think of a bad hockey game like a bad pizza Ė even if itís bad, itís still pretty darn good.  Where else can you watch twelve guys on skates try to pulverize each other trying to get a round piece of vulcanized rubber into the other teamís net more times than the other Ė with a stick?  Fun Ė right?  Always has been for me.

But, I digress, and Iím sorry to say this, folks, but this season Iím just not feeling it.   Certainly, like every year, there have been those stand still moments Ė like Martin Brodeur beating and continuing to set the all time record for shutouts, or the site of Bobby Orr taking a warm up skate on the outdoor rink at Fenway Park in Boston Ė I mean, sure, how could you not get goose bumps seeing that?  Iíll tell you what, though, and Iím embarrassed to admit this, but my top three favorite games so far this season were all Junior Hockey games Ė all of them played in the past couple of weeks in a little town called Saskatoon.  Thank God for the IIHF and the annual World Junior Championships!

Even though Iím a heartbroken Canadian in the wake of a Team USA overtime victory and the dreams of a sixth straight gold medal shattered Ė I still have my pride.  Any American who follows our great frozen sport should hold their head up high Ė those young men put on one hell of a show and were full marks for their Gold Medal performance Ė and nine of those young men can return to defend their title in 2011 in Buffalo NY.  What are you doing New Yearís Eve?  Well, if I have my way Ė Iíll be (again) right in front of my TV with my Rickardís Red and chicken wings, hopefully watching yet another Canada-USA classic.  For those of you who have no clue what Iím talking about, let me just say you donít know what youíre missing.

So, while the future of our game is so bright, I have to wear shades, the debate on whether or not the NHL could, should or would participate in the Olympics moving forward needs to end now.

It shouldnít happen ever again.

Wh-wh-what!?! 

But I just finished saying how much I enjoyed the World Juniors, and thereís another big tournament coming up in just over a month in Vancouver?!

You heard me correctly.

The NHL, after Vancouver 2010, needs to end their association with the Olympics once and for all.

Now, donít get me wrong.  I have thoroughly enjoyed the previous three Olympic Games where NHL players were involved, especially Salt Lake City 2002.  Vancouver 2010 should be a good tournament, yet again.  But, at the expense of a mediocre NHL season?  No way, San Jose.

Having to endure a schedule where teams are playing at least every second night, and often three games in four nights was supposed to give a playoff aura every night.  It hasnít happened.  In fact, what it has done is open up the injury can of worms.  Alright, Iím not naÔve.  I know injuries are going to happen no matter what Ė I get it.  But just look at the long list of the walking wounded on any given day, and itís a wonder the NHL can still manage to put games on the ice.  Sure, the players are in better shape and conditioned far beyond what I can ever hope for.  But letís be honest folks Ė unless youíre Robocop (or unless your name is Chris Chelios), thereís no way anybodyís body can put up with a schedule like what the NHL puts forth during every Olympic year.  They refuse to make amendments to the training camp schedule.  The regular season starts a week early and ends a week late, which means itís almost July before we see the Stanley Cup.  Perhaps our saving grace is we donít have to watch Gary Bettman give a yearly recycled state of affairs address at the yearly popularity contest, um, I mean, All Star Game.  More than likely, however, ďThe CountĒ himself will be somewhere in Vancouver taking it all in like a kid at Walt Disney World.

Letís be 100% fair here Ė the whole point behind going to the Olympics in the first place was to watch the Worldís best players.  But I ask you Ė how can we watch the worldís best players on the worldís biggest stage, when a good portion of them are hurt?  The number of man games lost to injury this year for many of the NHLís top players is staggering at best.  Some teams are even missing their entire top scoring line!  It will be a miracle if the players who have been named to go to Vancouver actually get there in one piece.  Then, when the dust settles at the end of February, we still have the final third of the season to play!  Just to give you an idea of how bad it is?  Jeff Marek on Hockey Night In Canada Radio plays the ďTheme from M.A.S.H.Ē every day when he goes over the injury lists, and most days ends up having to play it twice.

As Forrest Gump would say Ė ďAnd thatís all I have to say about thatĒ.

 

THE DEBATE ON HEAD SHOTS

OK, so Iím about a couple of months late with this, but whatever.  Many of you have asked for my take on this, so here goes.

Hereís a news flash for David Branch, commissioner of the Ontario Hockey League: Hockey is a fast, dangerous, and often times vicious sport.  Iím sorry to point out the obvious, but itís evident to me you either A) Havenít realized this yet, or B) Youíre protecting your job, not to mention your leagueís reputation.  Bob McKenzie from TSN has even gone so far as to call you courageous, but I donít buy it.

For those of you who have not yet seen the Michael Liambas hit on Ben Fanelli, do yourself a favor (or not) and either Google it or check YouTube.  A word of warning, the faint of heart need not apply.

Itís just an unfortunate incident all around.  While Fanelli rests comfortably in hospital, Liambasí hockey career is essentially over Ė unless thereís a team in Alaska, Antarctica or Greenland willing to take a chance on him (Palinís Puckers, anyone?).  And to this I say Boo and give a huge thumbs down.

And donít come to me with the whole ďwell if it was your kid youíd be happy the league had enough balls to do somethingĒ.  I admit, it was a vicious hit.  Fanelli left the ice on a stretcher with a broken skull and orbital bone and will take a long time to recover, and is probably lucky he didnít get killed.  I get it.  I also get the fact the OHL is not only competing with the rest of the Canadian Hockey League (aka the QMJHL and the WHL), but also competing with the NCAA and various other rungs of college hockey.  I get how hockey parents will see this hit replayed on TV screens from coast to coast and will get a little uncomfortable over the prospect of their boy going to play the most dangerous sport on ice (aside from maybe bobsledding).

The reason I have an issue with the length of the suspension is because the OHL has effectively become a breeding ground for future NHL (and AHL ) talent.  When you have players in the NHL already who are still playing after having done a lot worse than the Liambas hit, I question the message weíre trying to send.  Itís quite simple Ė if youíre afraid of getting hurt Ė donít play.  I donít think I need to mention the injury epidemic in the NHL again.

Anyhow, there isnít much a die-hard hockey fan and occasional internet blogger, like me, can do about it.  One can only hope this doesnít set a precedent Ė let Ďem play for Heavenís Sake!!

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So now, Iíd like to take this opportunity not only to welcome you to yet another new year, but wish all of you reading all the best for 2010 and beyond.  Iíve committed to writing something at least once a month or more, and I promise you readers I wonít let you down.  I have big plans for both this column and the website, so stay tuned.  Who knows, as the worldís best players start to get better and return to the game they love to play, and as the division races heat up, maybe Iíll start feeling it once again.  One thing you can be sure of, though, as disappointing as the season has been for me so far, you can be sure Iím still watching and observing, because I know it can only be downhill from here.  At least Iím lucky in one area Ė worst case scenario, I can go watch the Ottawa 67s for inspiration.  Iíve become somewhat of a good luck charm for them Ė they havenít yet lost when Iíve gone to see them play live.  As for that team out West whose name I wonít mention?  Well, thereís always next yearÖ

 

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