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for Go(l)d and Country 03/01/2010

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Reaction to the US game tying goal with 24 seconds left in the game

American hockey came of age yesterday. When the Olympic tournament began two weeks ago, the hockey team from the USA was given little or no chance to play for the Gold Medal. In many hockey circles, it was considered a stretch if they were to be included in the medal rounds, the top 4 teams in the 12 team tournament. After all, the USA was the youngest team in Vancouver. Even though their side consisted entirely of NHL players, there was not the star power of a Crosby, or Malkin, or Ovechkin.

The first hurdle that the US had to overcome was their pool participant Canada. After all, the Canadians were the host country, and were considered the tournament co-favorites, along with the Russians. A funny thing happened along the way. The US beat Canada in pool play and won the bye into the quarter finals. Both the USA and Canada reached the Gold Medal game. The USA had to again play the Canadians in Canada for the second time in a week. The final game of the tournament was one for the ages. Despite what the experts thought.

Sidney Crosby beats Zack Miller of the USA for the OT Golden Winner

[Again, most experts gave the USA little chance. Don Cherry, Canada’s most famous homegrown hockey huxter bloviated before the game that Canada would prevail 5-3. After all, they had the best big game goalie in the game, and the US needed to play rope-a-dope just to stay in the game against the mighty Canadians. They would not dare to press the issue against the mighty Canadian lads as that tactic surely would spell American doom. It was a good thing that the USA team did not listen to him. This game for gold, played before the largest hockey TV audience ever, was played all out from the opening face off. Canada scored two goals and took a 2-0 lead into the first intermission. Surely the US, trailing for the first time in the tournament, was done. But the boys from America clawed back, showing the resolve many thought they lacked. They had closed the game to 2-1 by the end of the second period, and had an entire nation holding their collective breath heading into the third and final period. Hockey is Canada’s national obsession. In fact, four million people in that country watched the announcement of the team roster on live TV, such is their passion. Of all the gold in this olympics, this was the one that defined their nation. Now, they were 20 minutes away. The Americans and Canadians played hard and tough throughout the 3rd period. But at the half way point, Canada still lead 2-1. Ten minutes left for the gold. Then five. Then two. The US pulled their goaltender in favor of a 6th attacker with a little over a minute left. The Americans were attacking 6 on 5 while defending an open net at the other end. With 24 seconds left, Zack Parasie stuffed home a rebound off of Canadian Goaltender Roberto Luoungo, and the game was tied. This Epic battle was headed for overtime. These two countries had fought a border war to a 2-2 stand still at the end of regulation. Now, these two natural rivals were headed to sudden death overtime. Canada, the country where the game was invented, and the USA, the hated rivals to the south, so reviled in Canada that the US national anthem is often lustily booed at NHL games played in Canada, would skate 4 on 4 to decide the final event of the Vancouver Olympic games.

Star power won out. 7:40 into the 20 minute overtime period, Sidney Crosby cemented his place in Canadian lore by beating USA goaltender Zack Miller with a shot. The Golden Goal belonged to Sid the Kid and Canada. But the Americans won over the hearts of many. This team proved that American Hockey belonged on the international stage. The Americans came within a shot of knocking off the Canadians for a second time in Canada. The Gold belonged to the Red and Whit of Canada. But in this tournament, the real winner was the group representing the Red White and Blue. USA goaltender Miller was named the tournaments Most Valuable Player, and the Silver medalists from the USA left these games with a new found respect.

The disappointment was apparent as team USA accepted the silver medal after the game, but as the sting of the OT loss subsides, these players will come to understand the respect they earned for USA hockey

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Seven Heaven 06/12/2009

Posted by sportretort in nhl, Sports, Uncategorized.
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Now, THAT is why we love sports!

Is there anything better than game 7 of a Stanley Cup final?   Football may have the Superbowl.  Baseball can have a game 7 of the World Series.  There can be a game 7 of what the NBA brazenly calls The Finals.  They all pale compared to the ultimate Hockey celebration of sports!

Penguins captain Sidney Crosby skates with the Stanley Cup ar the conclusion of game 7

Penguins captain Sidney Crosby skates with the Stanley Cup ar the conclusion of game 7

The Pittsburgh Penguins and the Detroit Red Wings played a masterpiece at the Joe in Detroit.  There were bodies flying all over the ice.  The crowd was so electric that you could not even hear the commentators on tv for long stretches of the third period (and  that ain’t all bad!).  With the game standing at 2-0 for the Penguins heading into that final 3rd period, the Red Wings came alive.  They scored with  just over 6 minutes left to set up the wild finish.  With the Red Wings goalie Chris Osgood on the bench in favor of a 6th attacker,  the Wings watched as Penguin goalie Marc Andre Fleury made two bang-bang saves as the clock expired, the last one sliding to his left and lunging at a shot by Nick Lidstrum, making the game saving stop to seal the improbable victory.  

 Most of the hockey world anointed the the Wings as prohibative favorites before the series began.  And almost

Malkin wins the Conn Smythe Trophy

Malkin wins the Conn Smythe Trophy

everyone else joined the band wagon ad they won the first 2 gamed in Detroit.  But the first 6 games each went to the home team, bringing the 3-3 deadlock into game 7.  Surely the Wings would win game 7 at home.  The last 6 times the Cup finals went to a game 7, the home team won.  Someone forgot to tell the Penguins, however.  And the Pens fought from the first puck drop, survived an injury early in the 2nd period to their captain Sidney Crosby, and rode 2 second period goals by Maxime Talbot to the promised land.  Sid the Kid returned for a shift or two in the third period and became the youngest team captain to hoist the cup as champion.  Evgeni Malkin won the Conn Smythe Trophy, emblematic of the playoff MVP, for the Pens.

The only dark spot on the evening came, ironically enough, during the best tradition in playoff hockey. 

The Penguins with the Cup

The Penguins with the Cup

 The two teams line up at the conclusion of the series and shake hands.  This ultimate sign of sportsmanship was greeted by a loud chorus of boos from many in the Detroit crowd.  Last year, the Red Wings won the cup in 6 games, also playing the Pens in the finals.  They clinched in Pittsburgh, but the fans there did not boo the Wings.  Fortunately, as Crosby hoisted the cup given to him by NHL commissioner Gary Betman, the Detroit crowd redeemed themselves and cheered the champions.

NOTHING measures up to a game 7  Stanley Cup Final!!

Hockey Forrest 05/06/2009

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It is the age old question.  If a tree falls in the forrest with no one around to hear, does it make a noise?  That is the question currently facing the NHL.  In round two of the Stanley Cup playoffs, the league has it’s best individual match up, as well as a series that includes the last two Cup champions. 

Hockey considers itself the forth major sport in the US.  But with the majority of  TV coverage limited mainly to

Super stars Crosby and Ovechkin face each other in round two

Super stars Crosby and Ovechkin face each other in round two

 regional networks, is that a fair assessment?  Broadcast coverage of the NHL is limited at best during the first two rounds of the playoffs.  NBC covers two games a week, one each on Saturday and Sunday afternoons.  It will pick up coverage during the Cup final series.  The only other network coverage is on the Versus network (channel 603 on DirecTV), which carries games in all time slots played.  There is hope, however for the league.  Amid concerns that the current economic downturn would mean that playoff games would be contested in half empty venues, fully 40 of the 44 first round games were played to sellouts.  In addition, Versus reported a 22% increase in US viewership this year compared to last.  The April 19 game between Pittsburgh and Philadelphia on NBC was the most watched opening round broadcast TV game since 2001, according to the NHL.  While the numbers are small compared to NFL and MLB playoff numbers, the increase is encouraging.

Now we come to the round two showcases.  Washington – Pittsburgh features the two biggest young stars in the game today.  The Capitals Alex Ovechkin and Penguins Sidney Crosby match up is akin to a Kobe – James match up in the

Red Wings-Ducks will feature hard hitting action

Red Wings-Ducks will feature hard hitting action

NBA or a Manning – Brady NFL dual. With the added dimension that these two do not like each other.   And in the first two games of the series, these two mega-stars have not disappointed.  Game one, a 3-2 Washington win features a goal by each player.  Alex the Great lead his team to a 2-0 series lead with a hat trick in game two.  Not to be outdone, Sid the kid answered with 3 goals of his own in the 4-3 loss.  The series now switches to Pittsburgh for games 3 and 4.  Viewership should be up for this series.  In what may be the most exciting team match up in round 2, the 2007  Cup champion Anaheim Ducks are contesting the defending Cup champion Detroit Red Wings.  This series features hard hitting, fast skating and an energy level that creates excitement all game long.  After a Detroit 3-2 victory in game one which featured the game winning goal in the last 50 seconds of regulation, game two went to the Ducks 4-3 in triple overtime, sending this series to Anaheim tied at one game each.  Game 3 went to the Ducks 2-1, but an apparent game tying goal by Detroit with one minute left was disallowed when it was ruled that a referee’s whistle had stopped play before the goal.  Hockey fans will not want to miss a second of this match up.  In addition to these two series, the big market Chicago Blackhawks have moved past the first round of the playoffs for the first time since 1996.  These three series should help viewership  continue to increase in round two.

This increase of viewership has to continue.  Hockey needs to drive the type of numbers that will make it attractive to more main stream TV outlets.  A better broadcast agreement would help, but at the very least a cable/satellite agreement that will allow for exposure into more homes is needed.  The NBA has agreements with TNT and ESPN, for example, which allows for potentially larger exposure.  Something akin to this, and the money such agreements would bring to the league is what is needed for the NHL to be considered one of the big boys in US sports.