CURSES!

 

So finally, after all this time, the Stanley Cup has made its way to the Pacific Coast.  Congratulations are in order to the Anaheim Ducks, a team who got a taste just four years ago got back to the finals and dominated in just about every facet of the game.  The Ottawa Senators, on the other hand, found out all too soon that it’s one thing to get here, but were never able to elevate their game beyond four periods of hockey and fell in five games to a team who clearly were more prepared, more experienced, and just simply, they wanted it more.

So, as always we have one team on top of the world – “Asta La Vista” as Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger put it – and 29 teams trying to figure out what went wrong and how do they fix it – fast.

There’s been a common thought amongst fans when their favorite team in any sport doesn’t win the big championship – the team must be cursed, there must be a curse.  We hear about it all the time.  Up until the Boston Red Sox finally won the World Series in 2004, we heard all about the Curse of the Bambino.  The Chicago White Sox as well, they seemed cursed until winning it all.  The Chicago Cubs can argue they are cursed, and they may be right.

In Hockey, for years fans referred to the Ottawa Senators as choking artists, while others believed after four straight defeats at the hands of their arch rivals Toronto, they must be cursed (and I don't think I have to remind Leaf fans of the fact it's now been 40 years since they last hoisted Stanley).  Of course, with the Sens making it to the finals, they finally kicked a few monkeys off their back and finally seem to have gained the respect of their die hard fans.  As expected, even though they lost the Cup, most fans calling in after were appreciative of the team’s efforts, with very few exceptions (and quite frankly, most of those came after 1:00 in the morning).

Even if you don’t believe in curses, there were more than a couple broken/continued this year.  I already mentioned one.  Here are a few more “curses” for you:

-          Unfortunately, for Buffalo and its many sports fans, the Buffalo Sabres loss to Ottawa in the Eastern Conference final means the city of Buffalo is still searching for their first ever professional sports championship.  I’m still reeling over the Buffalo Bills and their four straight Super Bowl appearances, all losses.

-          With Anaheim winning the Stanley Cup, the “Detroit Curse” has officially been broken.  You’ll recall the Ducks made it to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup final in 2003, only to lose to New Jersey, on the road.  The Red Wings were swept by the Ducks in the first round – not exactly the way a team defending a Stanley Cup would want to go out.  In 2004, before the lockout, the Red Wings met Calgary in the second round of the playoffs, only to lose in 6 games.  The Flames would move on to face Tampa Bay in the finals, a series which would also go the distance, with the Flames having to play Game 7 on the road, and losing to the eventual Cup winning Lightning.  What made this final series so intriguing was the goal video replay missed in Game 6 – had it been reviewed the way goals are today, it may have stood up as the Stanley Cup winning goal.  Then, need I remind you of last season, where Edmonton as an 8th seed knocked off Detroit in 6 games and managed to make it all the way to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final against Carolina, before again falling on the road.  One might argue a healthy Dwayne Roloson throughout the series would have yielded a different outcome (and I’ll believe that to be true until the day I die), but it wasn’t to be.  Three straight playoff defeats for Detroit after winning the coveted mug, the teams responsible for them falling in Game 7 of the finals.  So after the Red Wings lost in Game 6 of the Western Conference Final, Ottawa would have had to win in 7, right?  Wrong.  With Anaheim winning in 5, they not only finished up the series quickly, they broke the Detroit Curse.  Although, three playoffs later, Canada still searches for their first Cup Champ since 1993.  Oddly enough, only Toronto and the last Canadian Cup winner, Montreal, haven’t been back to the finals.

-          In a story first brought up by Hockey Night In Canada’s Ron Maclean – since the Stanley Cup has existed, in years ending in the number 7, the Cup either went to a Canadian Team, or Detroit.  Perhaps now the curse of the number 7 will take on a new meaning – the West Coast may only win in years ending in the number 7.  I don’t think it’ll happen, but wouldn’t it be interesting to see Anaheim as the sole West Coast team to win it all, until 2017?  Somehow I get the feeling either the Ducks will repeat or San Jose will win before then.

-          With Atlanta getting swept out of their first ever modern history playoff run, one has to wonder if the tradition will continue – a hockey team from Atlanta has never won a championship – nor has a professional basketball team.  They have a pretty good baseball team too, but they’ve only managed to win it all once.  Georgia on professional sports writers’ minds?  Hardly.  I blame Marian Hossa.

-          How about the curse of former Edmonton Oilers players?  Wayne Gretzky made it to the finals with Los Angeles in 1993.  Mark Messier the year after with the NY Rangers.  Scott Mellanby was in the finals with Florida in 1996.  Last year Doug Weight won the Cup with the Hurricanes, against his former team.  This year, Mike Comrie and Dean McAmmond were in the finals, and Chris Pronger and Todd Marchant won it all.  One has to think Ryan Smyth will eventually win it at some point too.  It remains to be seen if it ends up being with his former team.

-          And finally – myself – ever since I correctly picked Detroit to win the cup in 5 games against Carolina in 2002, I seem to be cursed in my ability to correctly pick the winner in the finals again – I’m an imperfect 0-4 since then, including this year.  I’ll have to change my approach for next season.

 

ALONG THE BOARDS

For the last time this season, here are a few tidbits you may have missed (unless you happen to read my daily blog):

The news is good for at least one Ontario team this post season.  The Hamilton Bulldogs won their AHL Calder Cup final series against last year’s champions, the Hershey Bears in a hard fought five game series.  Carey Price, a Montreal goalie prospect, was named playoff MVP as he went 15-6 with a 2.06 goals against average and a .936 save percentage.  What’s most impressive about this – Price is only 19.  The last goalie to win a Calder Cup as a teenager only ended up being the best of all time (at least as of this writing) – none other than Patrick Roy.  Of course, as we’ll find out in years to come, Roy’s records aren’t entirely safe as long as Martin Brodeur is still actively playing.

Every hockey fan’s favorite hockey video game should be released again on schedule in September.  EA Sports’ NHL 08 will feature Carolina Hurricanes’ forward Eric Staal.  Kind of seems fitting, given the PC version this year was a year behind the consoles, but I won’t be judge and jury until the final product is released.

I’m never one to start rumors, but I will spread them if they’re viable – with Anaheim winning the cup, reports are coming out predicting the retirement of Teemu Selanne, or Scott Niedermayer, or both.  While the sale of the Nashville Predators is imminent – don’t be surprised to see Selanne stay for one or two more years if the Ducks can somehow convince his former line mate and buddy Paul Kariya to head back to the Pond.  It’s no secret Teemu will only continue playing if it’s with the Ducks – imagine if the team can keep most of the components intact and get back some chemistry?  May as well prepare the Stanley Cup engraving now.  As for Niedermayer, after four championships, really he has nothing left to prove, but I suspect he’ll stick around with his brother Rob for at least one more season.

There was an interesting article in the Ottawa Sun from Earl McRae recently.  He got to talk with former Ottawa Senators enforcer Billy Huard, and had an intriguing take on what the NHL needs to do to attract more fans.  No surprise really, first step is get rid of the instigator rule.  But then, allow the so called “enforcers” to actually play.  His reasoning dates back to the New Jersey Devils first Stanley Cup, when the “Crash Line” of Randy McKay, Mike Peluso and Bobby Holik was instrumental in the win.  “If you have your so-called tough guys spread throughout the lineup, playing regular shifts, you have the great game of hockey back.  No more players taking liberties, and the so-called fighters can actually live out their dream as players, contributing more than just as fighters.  Get rid of the instigator rule, and mandate ice time.  The coach will no longer have the great authority to give the ‘tap’ on the shoulder to the player who has been sitting on the bench.  The coach will actually have to have a game plan.”  Ultimately, let them play again was the main point behind his theory.  I hope Gary Bettman along with every member of the Competition Committee gets to read the article, as it blew even me away.  If you want to check it out for yourself, do a search for Earl McRae at ottawasun.com and the title “Make Glove, Not War”.

And keeping with an Ottawa theme, if you haven’t already heard, the NY Islanders decided to cut Alexei Yashin and his remaining four years loose to the highest bidder.  The Isles have to spend more than $18 million to allow Yashin to walk, but it supports the theory they’re serious about keeping Ryan Smyth on Long Island.  There’s already talk Yashin could end up in either Washington to centre Alex Ovechkin (which might not be a bad move), or Chicago to play with his old buddy Martin Havlat.  Perhaps even Atlanta might be an option, where he already knows Hossa.  One thing’s for sure, even though an infamous Ottawa Sun writer who shall remain nameless suggested it, he’s not going to play in Ottawa or the Island.  The Sens will have enough on their plate trying to keep the team they have intact.

Something else to look forward to in August, is the reincarnation of the Canada-Russia Summit Series.  2007 marks the 35 anniversary of the classic series from 1972 (where were you?), and to celebrate the event, former Red Army team goalie Vladislav Tretiak, in partnership with the IIHF is organizing a modern day eight game series made up entirely of junior players.  They’ll play the series in reverse, with the first four games being held in Moscow, and the remaining four in Canada.  I can see it being interesting for a couple of games, but I just can’t see how it will even come close to capturing the intensity and drama of what happened just one year before I was born.  It’s just a different world today than it was then, and unless you were there to witness it, you can’t really appreciate what went down.  At the turn of the century, the ’72 series was voted hands down the Canadian sporting event of the century.  I doubt very much the reincarnation will even be on the radar.  Besides, if you ask me, the Canada-Russia rivalry is alive and well with the yearly Junior tournament.  Can there be too much of a good thing?  We’ll see.

And as the NHL goes on vacation again, so do I.  I have to say, at many times this season I hit a crossroads.  Many times I contemplated whether or not to continue writing about a pastime that consumes most of my year and most of my spare time.  At times I wondered is it really worth it?  I’m sure at times my cynicism came through in spades in my writing, especially towards the end of February (by now, if I have to tell you why, you haven’t been paying attention).  But once again, I got sucked in by the allure of the Stanley Cup, and once again came to the realization that this is the greatest sport on earth, bar none.  The thrill of victory and the agony of defeat is something you can find in any sport, but to me, in hockey it just seems to get magnified when the games, and ultimately the Championships, are on the line.  Whether or not you agree with me is your own business, but I’m happy to report I will continue doing this for as long as the game and allure of the Cup continues to intrigue me.

Of course, even though training camps don’t start until September, it’s not as far away as you think.  There’s still the entry draft in Columbus next week (one of my favorite times of the year), and of course the floodgates of Free Agency open up on July 1.  There are quite a few big names looking for contracts, so expect them all to go to the highest bidder, and expect more movement again.  It’s still yet to be determined what the Salary Cap will be, but it’s a safe bet to expect it will be somewhere between $48 and $52 million per team.

In any event, have a great summer, and maybe I’ll see you at the rink sometime.  Keep checking back as I do occasionally come inside to recharge my batteries.

 

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