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Rumours heating up ahead of NHL trade deadline

February 27, 2014 Leave a comment
The Canadian Press Crazy rumours always fly around trade-deadline time. The latest? Ryan Kesler has requested a trade from the Vancouver Canucks, according to Louis Jean of TVA Sports. If true, and Jean has always been credible, then the Canucks have a franchise-altering decision to make possibly between now and next Wednesday, March 5. But Kesler is just one of many front-line players potentially available in what could be a busier than usual trading period.

The Canadian Press
Crazy rumours always fly around trade-deadline time. The latest? Ryan Kesler has requested a trade from the Vancouver Canucks, according to Louis Jean of TVA Sports. If true, and Jean has always been credible, then the Canucks have a franchise-altering decision to make possibly between now and next Wednesday, March 5. But Kesler is just one of many front-line players potentially available in what could be a busier than usual trading period.

Is this the calm before the NHL trade deadline storm?

Or is it the same old media — and social media — driven hubbub about nothing?

Time will tell, but there certainly seems to be some big fish in play over the next week.

Ryan Miller and Ryan Callahan were long rumoured to be on the block. But Ryan Kesler and Martin St. Louis have come out of left field, both reportedly requesting to be dealt.

With the Islanders out of the playoff picture, Thomas Vanek will also likely be on the move barring a contract extension to stay on Long Island.

Larry Fisher
Larry Fisher

Those are just five names — all big ones — that are believed to be available. Will they all end up on new teams by next Wednesday? That’s unlikely, but it is possible. And there will surely be several other smaller-scale deals, plus potential for blockbuster surprises that nobody saw coming.

However, recent history suggests the ‘Trade Deadline Day’ hype is mostly overblown.

Last year, albeit during the lockout-shortened season, there were only nine trades made on deadline day — and only three of any consequence, with Jaromir Jagr, Ryane Clowe and Derek Roy changing addresses as centrepieces.

In the 10 days leading up to that deadline, there were 11 additional deals for a total of 20 — the most notable involving Jarome Iginla, Jay Bouwmeester and Brenden Morrow.

The year prior to that offered even slimmer pickings, with the Cody Hodgson for Zack Kassian swap the biggest of the bunch. There were 15 trades at that 2011-12 deadline and 16 at the 2010-11 deadline, which is about par for the course since the NHL introduced a salary cap ahead of the 2005-06 campaign.

I do think this year’s deadline might be a bit busier, just because the Olympic break afforded ample opportunity for negotiations and there really hasn’t been much movement to date due to cap restraints that may have been lessened with time.

Further, with the standings as close as they are in both conferences, I could see more buyers emerging than normal and that would bode well for sellers in terms of bidding wars over marginal talents. Teams will be lining up for ‘bit’ players that give them a leg-hair — not a leg, a leg-hair — up on the competition in the playoff race. That said, I don’t think we see any Paul Gaustad types garnering first-round picks — yes, that happened just a couple years ago.

Still, I’m sensing all this smoke will produce a decent amount of fire, and not just smoke circles. For the sake of making a prediction, I’ll say we see 22 deals on deadline day and a half-dozen more trades between now and then for a total of 28. That’s counting today’s minor move that sent Brad Winchester from Chicago to Minnesota in exchange for Brian Connelly.

Don’t expect that one to force open the floodgates, but do anticipate at least a handful of similar head-scratchers that won’t impact much of anything going forward. . . . Now watch Winchester find a grinding role with the Wild and score some clutch goals come the post-season.

Regardless, not even the most hardcore of fantasy players give two hoots about that trade.

If — or when — the aforementioned big five are moved, then that will have everybody talking.

Jonathan Kozub/Getty Images Goaltender Ryan Miller has spent his entire 11-year career as a member of the Buffalo Sabres, but he's a pending unrestricted free agent this summer and it may be time for a change of scenery.

Jonathan Kozub/Getty Images
Goaltender Ryan Miller has spent his entire 11-year career as a member of the Buffalo Sabres, but he’s a pending unrestricted free agent and it may be time for a change of scenery.

Miller is the best goaltender available now, or in the summer when he’ll become an unrestricted free agent. Buffalo will most definitely trade him if they can’t sign him by the deadline. Trade seems more likely, but the number of suitors may be limited at this point in the season.

Two teams to keep an eye on, possibly even as a three-way swap: St. Louis and Minnesota. The Blues are built to win-now and Jaroslav Halak has had past playoff success — leading Montreal to the Eastern Conference final in 2010 — but rumblings suggest St. Louis’ management isn’t sold on Halak and would rather add Miller. Halak is also an unrestricted free agent, so he could easily go the other way in a deal if Buffalo was interested, or other teams might already be kicking tires on Halak if it sounds like he could be had cheap in the event of a Miller acquisition.

My guess is Buffalo would rather take back Jake Allen, a former first-round pick and top prospect who could be a nice fit for the Sabres’ ongoing rebuild. Two other St. Louis prospects of interest would be forwards Dmitri Jaskin and Ty Rattie, both overachieving second-rounders that could have an NHL impact as early as next season.

Enter Minnesota. The Wild got off to a great start thanks in large part to the goaltending of Josh Harding, but he’s been sidelined for all of 2014 due to complications with his multiple sclerosis medication. Longtime Wild starter Nicklas Backstrom, who was signed to a three-year extension last season, has also battled injuries throughout this year and despite the strong play of rookie Darcy Kuemper in holding the fort, it is unlikely Minnesota will ride him into the playoffs. Watch for the Wild to be a frontrunner for Halak if Miller goes to St. Louis, even if Minnesota only views Halak as a rental.

Kevin Hoffman/USA Today Ryan Callahan is the New York Rangers' captain, but without a contract past this season and with negotiations going nowhere on that front, it appears Callahan could be going somewhere else sooner than later.

Kevin Hoffman/USA Today
Ryan Callahan is the New York Rangers’ captain, but without a contract past this season and with negotiations going nowhere on that front, it appears Callahan could be going somewhere else sooner than later as the trade deadline quickly approaches.

Next up, Callahan. He’s a heart-and-soul leader of the Rangers, but also a pending UFA and contract talks have stalled. It’s no secret Callahan is consequently being shopped and a lot of teams will be inquiring about his services. One rumour has surfaced sending Callahan to Tampa Bay for Martin St. Louis in a swap of captains — the Rangers would probably have to add a pick or prospect as St. Louis is signed through next season. But that just seems strange, especially with both teams in the playoff picture. It’s possible, but I’m not sure how plausible it is.

Something tells me a California team will swoop in and land Callahan, but which one is anybody’s guess. The Rangers would probably prefer that option as well, preventing an early-round playoff showdown. The Los Angeles Kings seem to have a hole alongside Jeff Carter and Mike Richards, and Dustin Brown — a similar player to Callahan — could be on the outs in Hollywood, so that swap probably makes more sense than Callahan for St. Louis. The Kings are always active at the deadline, so don’t rule them out.

By the same token, the Anaheim Ducks just might make a push for Callahan after seeing the success of Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry with Jamie Benn at the Olympics. Callahan might not have Benn’s shot, but he plays a pretty comparable game and would be an upgrade over Dustin Penner or Jakob Silfverberg on Anaheim’s top line. The Ducks could offer a package including Kyle Palmieri or Emerson Etem, maybe Sami Vatanen or a goaltending prospect of which they have plenty and the Rangers have few.

Chris O'Meara/Associated Press Tampa Bay Lightning captain Martin St. Louis and his boss, general manager Steve Yzerman, were all smiles during this pre-game ceremony. However, reports indicate their relationship soured when St. Louis was initially left off Team Canada's roster for the Sochi Olympics, for which Yzerman was also the architect. When Tampa teammate Steven Stamkos was ruled out (broken leg), St. Louis was tabbed to take his place and Canada went on to win gold, but reports persist that St. Louis wants to be traded — preferably to the New York Rangers — and he hasn't exactly denied those claims in declining to elaborate on his conversations with Yzerman regarding his future.

Chris O’Meara/Associated Press
Tampa Bay Lightning captain Martin St. Louis and his boss, general manager Steve Yzerman, were all smiles during this pre-game ceremony. However, reports indicate their relationship soured when St. Louis was initially left off Team Canada’s roster for the Sochi Olympics, for which Yzerman was also the architect. When Tampa teammate Steven Stamkos was ruled out (broken leg), St. Louis was tabbed to take his place and Canada went on to win gold, but reports persist that St. Louis wants to be traded — preferably to the New York Rangers — and he hasn’t exactly denied those claims in declining to elaborate on his conversations with Yzerman regarding his future.

When it comes to St. Louis — the player, not the city — it sounds like his heart is set on New York and he has a no-trade clause thus can dictate to some extent where he goes (and, obviously, if he goes). But do the Rangers really want St. Louis? They already have a pint-sized forward in Mats Zuccarello as their leading scorer, although he’s currently hurt from the Olympics.

And what if the Lightning don’t want Callahan either, or the Rangers could get more for him elsewhere? What would Steve Yzerman want in return for St. Louis, his leading scorer and captain? With Steven Stamkos due back in the near future, St. Louis’ offence might be replaceable from within, especially with rookies like Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat hitting their stride. I could see Yzerman preferring a defenceman in return for St. Louis, either Dan Girardi — who is potential trade bait if not soon signed to an extension — or Marc Staal.

I could also see Yzerman trying to find a better fit for St. Louis that is still near New York. The Pennsylvania teams immediately come to mind, with the Pittsburgh Penguins and Philadelphia Flyers both being possible suitors. Yzerman would probably take Sean Couturier or Brayden Schenn from Philly, while Pittsburgh could afford to part with Brandon Sutter and Simon Despres.

Mike Stobe/Getty Images Thomas Vanek's stint with the New York Islanders could be short-lived. If he's not signed to an extension by next Wednesday morning, he'll likely be traded with the Islanders out of the playoff picture.

Mike Stobe/Getty Images
Thomas Vanek’s stint with the New York Islanders could be short-lived. If he’s not signed to an extension by next Wednesday, he’ll likely be traded for the second time this season.

Vanek is another interesting one. The Islanders paid an arm and a leg to get him out of Buffalo, so if he’s not inked to a new contract by next week, then Garth Snow will need to recoup whatever possible assets. The Islanders aren’t making the post-season, especially not without John Tavares (knee) for the rest of the season, so picks and prospects might be more attractive to them. That said, their prospect pool is already pretty stacked, so they might want somebody closer to contributing.

St. Louis — the city this time — could dangle Jaskin or Rattie for Vanek as well, or maybe Magnus Paajarvi who hasn’t quite found a role with the Blues.

A darkhorse for Vanek might be the Phoenix Coyotes. Not many people think of them as buyers, but they are on the playoff bubble and have new ownership that would like to make a statement. Not to mention, the Coyotes are always hard up for pure goal-scorers, which Vanek is. Put him on a line with Martin Hanzal and Radim Vrbata and suddenly Phoenix has a legit top unit. Brandon Gormley or David Rundblad would be nice additions to the Islanders’ blue-line, especially if they also move Andrew MacDonald as planned.

The Kings also need all the offence they can get and might prefer Vanek to Callahan, but only if they can move Brown as mentioned. Tyler Toffoli and a first-round pick might be enough to land Vanek.

The Canadian Press Vancouver Canucks general manager Mike Gillis will have his hands full leading up to this year's trade deadline. For the first time in a long time, the Canucks aren't occupying a playoff spot at this point in the season and that has the rumour mill churning about who could be on the trade market. Defenceman Alex Edler was thought to be the main target, but now all the focus has shifted to Kesler.

The Canadian Press
Vancouver Canucks general manager Mike Gillis will have his hands full leading up to this year’s trade deadline. For the first time in a long time, the Canucks aren’t occupying a playoff spot at this point in the season and that has the rumour mill churning about who could be on the trade market. Defenceman Alex Edler was thought to be the main target, but now all the focus has shifted to Kesler in light of his reported trade request.

Last but not least — Kesler. This one comes as a shocker and seems to have all the “insiders” scrambling, but we shall see. If he’s moved, I’d bet that it is to the Eastern Conference much like Cory Schneider was at last year’s draft. Kesler still has two years remaining at a very reasonable $5-million cap hit, so he might be the hottest commodity.

Some early speculation has the Canucks wanting a younger forward — a potential Kesler replacement — in return. Then again, Roberto Luongo has asked to be traded a few times and yet still calls Vancouver home. So it’s evident that general manager Mike Gillis won’t be making any moves for the sake of making moves, and Kesler could very well be staying put.

If that is the asking price, the team that jumps to the front of the line is the Detroit Red Wings. They are loaded with young forwards — Gustav Nyquist, Tomas Tatar and Tomas Jurco to name a few — and their Stephen Weiss experiment as second-line centre seems to have failed. Detroit has been depleted by injuries all season but remains in the playoff mix and thus will likely be a buyer even without the services of their captain, Henrik Zetterberg. Kesler is from Michigan, so it would be a bit of a homecoming as well.

If not Detroit, then maybe the other West-to-East defector — the Columbus Blue Jackets, who are finally healthy and primed for a playoff push. Kesler played his college hockey in Ohio, so that might be another desirable place to play for him.

Vancouver would have really liked to bring B.C. boy Ryan Johansen home, but that ship has probably sailed with his breakout season. I doubt Columbus even does that as a 1-for-1 at this point. But Columbus has plenty of quality forward prospects, including Alexander Wennberg, Kerby Rychel, Marko Dano and Oliver Bjorkstrand, among others.

Don’t sleep on Philadelphia in regards to Kesler, either. The Flyers have long coveted Kesler — they signed him to an offer sheet once upon a time — and Paul Holmgren loves to shake things up at the deadline. On the flip side, Gillis would probably jump at the chance to acquire Schenn or Couturier, so that might be a good match.

That’s not to mention two blatant buyers — the Boston Bruins and Chicago Blackhawks, who faced off in last year’s Stanley Cup final.

Boston already seems so solid up front and in goal, so I’m not sure if any of these “big five” hold much appeal to the Bruins. I think they are more likely after a veteran depth defenceman, a replacement for the injured Dennis Seidenberg.

Chicago is a more of a wild-card in that they could really use an upgrade at second-line centre, but Kesler won’t likely wind up with a rival like that. St. Louis is probably too similar to Patrick Kane, and Vanek has some of the same qualities as Marian Hossa, but maybe — just maybe — Callahan could land in the Windy City. Mark McNeill could be the second-coming of Callahan, so that swap is pretty close in value.

One thing is for certain, the trade winds will continue to blow and there will eventually be movement. How much movement, and who will go where, remains to be seen. That uncertainty is, after all, what makes Trade Deadline Day so much fun. So sit back and enjoy whatever the next week has in store for hockey fans.

Larry Fisher is a sports reporter for The Daily Courier in Kelowna, B.C. Follow him on Twitter: @LarryFisher_KDC.

Categories: Uncategorized

Title defended: Sweden no match for Canada in Sochi

February 23, 2014 Leave a comment
John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail Team Canada players pose with their gold medals after defeating Sweden 3-0 in the championship game of the Winter Olympics on Sunday morning in Sochi, Russia. Canada went undefeated in six games, only allowing three goals against en route to repeating as Olympic champions.

John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail
Team Canada players pose with their gold medals after defeating Sweden 3-0 in the championship game of the Winter Olympics on Sunday morning in Sochi, Russia. Canada went undefeated in 6 games, only allowing 3 goals against en route to repeating as Olympic champs.

Golden again — that has a nice ring to it.

Canada left little — make that NO — doubt which country is home to hockey supremacy by sweeping gold for the second straight Olympics. The men made it look a little — or a LOT — easier than the women in Sochi, but both Canadian teams remained atop the podium.

Larry Fisher
Larry Fisher

This time around, the women had the more suspenseful finish, rallying from a 2-0 deficit and prevailing 3-2 over the United States in overtime on Thursday — reminiscent of the men’s victory by the same score over the same opponent at the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver.

Sidney Crosby was the overtime hero back then, and he saved his best for last in Sochi as well, scoring a highlight-reel breakaway goal to give Canada some breathing room at 2-0 late in the second period. His much-maligned linemate Chris Kunitz added another insurance marker in the third after Jonathan Toews had opened the scoring in the first, and Carey Price made their offensive efforts stand up in backstopping his second straight shutout of the medal round.

When the buzzer sounded and the celebration began, the scoreboard read: Canada 3, Sweden 0.

Like the Americans before them — in Friday’s 1-0 semifinal blanking — the Swedes never really got a sniff over the final two periods. They had a handful of quality chances in the first and even hit a post behind Price, but as the game progressed, Canada’s defence was the difference yet again, and Price put to rest claims of a Canadian goaltending crisis and silenced his own critics in the process.

There was no problem between the pipes in Sochi — even Roberto Luongo recorded a shutout in his lone start, as Canada only allowed three goals in six games. That has to be some sort of record (of which I have not confirmed . . . too sleepy).

That defence corps was downright dominant — among the best ever assembled by a Canadian national team. Shea Weber and Drew Doughty were on another level, but their supporting cast certainly proved to be Olympic-calibre. That included Marc-Edouard Vlasic, who made a believer of yours truly as a stay-at-home type.

Of course, I’d be remiss if I didn’t give credit where credit is due in regards to Kunitz, who was my personal whipping boy at these Games. I didn’t think he belonged on Canada’s roster over the likes of Claude Giroux, Eric Staal or even Taylor Hall, but Kunitz got better with every game and finally found the back of the net with gold hanging in the balance. On a chance that he created for himself, no less — no thanks to Crosby’s coattails.

General manager Steve Yzerman and head coach Mike Babcock are also deserving of a slow clap and heaps of praise, for making the difficult roster decisions and then getting the most out of their selections. Canada doesn’t win gold without these two masterminds and their associates.

Top to bottom, this team was built to repeat as Olympic champions and they didn’t disappoint in any way, shape or form. They, quite simply, went about their business and got the job done again in flawless fashion.

That said, Canada did essentially beat Sweden’s B-squad in the championship game. They were playing without their top three centres in Henrik Sedin, Henrik Zetterberg and Nicklas Backstrom, who was a mysterious last-minute scratch for what was later reported to be the result of taking a banned substance.

That substance? Claritin, yes the allergy pill so many of us take on a regular basis. It seems silly that could be illegal for Olympic athletes, but rules and rules and Backstrom — or Sweden’s medical staff — should have known better.

When that announcement was made following warm-ups, it seemed the writing was already on the wall. Two hours later, it was etched in stone and Canadians were reveling — or at least rejoicing — from far and wide in the wee morning hours.

O Canada . . . that was worth staying up for!

Now, as I finally hit the sheets, I’ll leave you with my latest mash-up of thoughts from the gold-medal game courtesy my Twitter feed (LarryFisher_KDC):

10:45 p.m. = Retweet @CBCOlympics: “Here’s a motto for the next 12 hours… #CBCOlympics pic.twitter.com/2nHABJhJSa

12:11 a.m. = 4 hours til the big game! I’m sticking with my prediction of Canada 4, Sweden 2 with an empty-netter! Will say Crosby (2), Toews and Perry.

1:59 a.m. = 2 hours til puck-drop! #gamefaceon #CanadaStrong

3:38 a.m. = Well, shall we get this party started? Here’s hoping for an entertaining 1st period! #waitingisthehardestpart #tirednottired

3:41 a.m. = Listening to Glenn Healy critique these superstar goalies like Quick and now Lundqvist makes me cringe then crack up! #somuchbetterthanyou

3:43 a.m. = All this talk about Canada’s dominant defence is definitely warranted. Only 3 goals against in 5 games is unreal. Price has had it easy!

3:48 a.m. = I might be half asleep/half dreaming, but my phone just sent me a notification saying no Nicklas Backstrom for Sweden. #hugeloss #No1centre

3:49 a.m. = Conflicting reports I see here in the Twitterverse on Backstrom. He missed warm-ups but is on the lineup sheet. #staytuned

4:02 a.m. = The energy of these Canadian fans in Sochi are giving me a bit of a second wind. Almost showtime, should be a gooder!

4:03 a.m. = Backstrom has officially been ruled out by the sounds of it. Have to think his injury must be near life-threatening to miss gold-medal game!

4:06 a.m. = Grapes is fired up and looking as snazzy as ever! And with his patented “Let’s Go!” we are ready to drop the puck!

4:08 a.m. = Get this: Backstrom is sitting out with a migraine headache! How can that be? Somebody get that guy an Ibuprofen or 2 or 10! #thatsweak

4:09 a.m. = Non-NHLer Jimmie Eriksson will fill in on Sweden’s top line for Backstrom…yeah, good luck with that! #ouch #canyousaydowngrade

4:12 a.m. = Stellar setup by Crosby to Bergeron but spectacular first save by Lundqvist. Almost looked like it went in, but no dice!

4:14 a.m. = Price also equal to task on first scoring chance, aggressive challenge to gobble up slapper by Niklas Kronwall. #norebound

4:17 a.m. = Gustav Nyquist hits post behind Price on great chance and confident move by the youngster to drive the crease. He had been extra forward.

4:22 a.m. = A fast-paced start to this one with close calls at both ends…Canada sticking to super short shift plan for forwards which has worked well!

4:23 a.m. = The Swedes have had their share of puck possession so far, more than any other previous opponent against Canada.

4:30 a.m. = 1-0 Canada, Toews opens scoring on a redirect from top of crease through 5-hole on Lundqvist. I called him as one of goal-scorers! #clutch

4:36 a.m. = Canada getting a power play here with great chance to take a 2-0 lead, which would be hard for Sweden to overcome with Canada’s defence.

4:39 a.m. = Man oh man, Sid is generating chances tonight/today/this morning again. St. Louis and Benn both come close on that last shift.

4:41 a.m. = Well that’s a silly call against Kunitz…so much for the refs being in cahoots with Canada, Swedes getting late power play.

4:42 a.m. = 1-0 Canada after the 1st, Toews with the only goal so far in what has been a gold-medal calibre start as it should be.

5:00 a.m. = Second period is underway and I do feel like the Swedes are giving Canada a better game than anybody else so far. #thisisacloseone

5:04 a.m. = The dreaded delay of game penalty here against Sweden…Canada has been coming on a little bit last couple shifts, could be 2-0 here!

5:09 a.m. = Sweden kills off another penalty, still 1-0 midway through this game (well 29 min through anyway). What’s with the low scoring? #wewantgoals

5:12 a.m. = Crosby tries to split Sweden defence to no avail but there was a buzz in the building when that started to develop. He’s buzzing big time!

5:14 a.m. = Mad scramble and relentless Canadian pressure, but Lundqvist somehow keeps the puck out again!

5:18 a.m. = Ughh Weber fires wide on one-timer from slot after Kunitz made a seemingly smart play to cut behind the net and centre the puck.

5:19 a.m. = Lundqvist has been the busier of the two goalies, but Price has been solid and looks really composed too.

5:20 a.m. = Johnny Oduya just doesn’t seem Swedish…or does he? Maybe I’m only one that doesn’t see it. He’s under-rated regardless, that’s for sure!

5:23 a.m. = GOLDEN GOAL part deux! 2-0 Canada as Crosby dekes Lundqvist to backhand on breakaway for 1st goal of Olympics! #whataplayer #whataplay

5:26 a.m. = I just can’t see Sweden overcoming this two-goal deficit, they are generating less and less and Canada’s defence is all-world!

5:27 a.m. = Now Canada back to the power play to end 2nd…if this goes 3-0, I might go to bed #jk but I might take a brief break from tweeting!

5:30 a.m. = Sweden kills off that penalty but trails 2-0 after 2 periods with massive uphill battle ahead against Canada.

6:04 a.m. = Everybody’s favourite whipping boy — including yours truly — Chris (freakin) Kunitz scores by far biggest goal of his life to make it 3-0.

6:06 a.m. = I still don’t think Kunitz belongs but hey that was a hell of a shot and Sid really had nothing to do with it so credit where credit is due.

6:06 a.m. = Sweden getting power play halfway through 3rd now, this is obviously make-or-break for them…but realistically they are done like dinner!

6:07 a.m. = Erik Karlsson really hasn’t done much offensively in this game which says more about Canada’s team defence than Karlsson’s ability for sure.

6:09 a.m. = In reply to @RalphSchmengie: “I only pay attention when Crosby, Toews and Perry are on the ice because apparently @LarryFisher_KDC has seen this game already” — “that damn Kunitz character had to mess with my prediction but still, this is Canadian hockey at its finest. #sitbackandenjoy”

6:10 a.m. = In reply to Denise Fisher ‏@Denise13F: “where is #TaylorHall (over Kunitz)?” — “ya or Claude Giroux, Eric Staal, etc. And Kunitz was named ahead of Marty St. Louis initially too. I just don’t see Olympian!”

6:12 a.m. = Retweet Mike Zeisberger ‏@Zeisberger: If Backstrom did take banned “allergy meds,” someone on Swede medic/training staff will have some ‘splaining to do.

6:14 a.m. = 4 minutes to go…count it down and get out the cork-poppers (if that’s how you roll bright and early)! #reasontocelebratesoon

6:16 a.m. = Glenn Healy give your head a shake AGAIN! Sweden didn’t hand Crosby (or Kunitz to a lesser degree) goal(s), they earned them with skill!

6:16 a.m. = Yes, those goals kinda/sorta came off turnovers, but Crosby made a play that only the best player(s) in the world can make. #captainclutch

6:18 a.m. = Last minute of regulation…hats off to Carey Price for his second straight (you know what) in the medal round although defence was amazing!

6:20 a.m. = 3-0 final! Canada’s golden again! What a thorough effort from start to finish in Sochi. They were untouchable this tournament. #greatsuccess

6:21 a.m. = Granted, Canada kinda beat Sweden’s B-squad (without H Sedin, Zetterberg, Backstrom, Franzen, Hedman), but that was incredibly impressive!

6:22 a.m. = Crosby was 1 of the 3 stars today, probably go with Price and Toews for the others in that order. Great team effort though! #nopassengers

Larry Fisher is a sports reporter for The Daily Courier in Kelowna, B.C. Follow him on Twitter: @LarryFisher_KDC.

Categories: Uncategorized

Benn there, done that: Canada defeats USA again

February 22, 2014 Leave a comment
Matt Slocum/The Associated Press Team Canada forward Benn Jamie (22) celebrates his goal against USA goaltender Jonathan Quick during the second period of their men's hockey semifinal at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, on Friday. Benn's goal stood up as the winner in Canada's 1-0 victory over the archrival Americans. Canada will next face Sweden for gold on Sunday morning — early morning, as in 4 a.m. PT — while the U.S. is left to play for bronze on Saturday against Finland, which fell 2-1 to Sweden.

Matt Slocum/The Associated Press
Team Canada forward Benn Jamie (22) celebrates his goal against USA goaltender Jonathan Quick during the second period of their men’s hockey semifinal at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, on Friday. Benn’s goal stood up as the winner in Canada’s 1-0 victory over the archrival Americans. Canada will next face Sweden for gold on Sunday morning — early morning, as in 4 a.m. PT — while the U.S. is left to play for bronze on Saturday against Finland, which fell 2-1 to Sweden in the other semi.

I like firewagon hockey as much as the next guy. After all, my interest in the sport was spawned by the high-flying Edmonton Oilers of the 1980s — back in my diaper days.

Yet, I can appreciate a good low-scoring game as well, which is what hockey fans around the world were treated to with Friday morning’s Olympic semifinal between Canada and the United States. As a former puck-stopper myself, I certainly enjoy an entertaining goaltender’s duel and this game showcased Carey Price and Jonathan Quick matching each other save-for-save throughout.

In the end, Jamie Benn’s redirection of Jay Bouwmeester’s shot-pass early in the second period proved to be the difference as Canada prevailed 1-0 and will now face Sweden for gold on Sunday morning. That’s a 4 a.m. PT puck-drop, so set your alarms accordingly . . . or crush a couple of Red Bulls and power through it. Then again, the adrenaline rush of watching your country play for gold should be enough to keep most of us awake, with or without sleep beforehand.

Larry Fisher
Larry Fisher

That Benn’s goal was the only offence in Friday’s contest didn’t diminish the fact that this was a great game played between two evenly matched teams. If not for Price and especially Quick, it could have been higher scoring as there were plenty of chances at both ends of the ice.

That said, I would say Canada’s defence was the bigger story. The Americans were scoring at will coming in, with 20 goals through four games to Canada’s 13 — against better competition no less. And they had to have been hungry for this rematch of the 2010 gold-medal game, wanting to avenge that 3-2 overtime loss with 12 players returning from Vancouver to Canada’s 11.

Phil Kessel, the leading goal-scorer and point-getter of these Games, had an early opportunity after blowing past Duncan Keith and then John Carlson got a clean look from the slot, but Price turned them aside and his teammates kept them at bay the rest of the way.

The Americans didn’t even get a sniff in the dying minutes, making for a somewhat anticlimactic finish as the clock counted down without much suspense — albeit much to the delight of Canadian fans.

Drew Doughty wasn’t as impactful, but Canada didn’t need another goal from its most dynamic defender on this day. Shea Weber was in beast mode yet again — nuff said on him. Bouwmeester got involved offensively with his well-placed assist, then settled back into a mostly defensive role alongside St. Louis Blues partner Alex Pietrangelo. Doughty’s partner, Marc-Edouard Vlasic, continued to earn his keep as a stay-at-home type, and even Keith bounced back from a mistake-prone first period to play an effective final 40 minutes. I’m not even sure if seventh defenceman Dan Hamhuis stepped on the ice? If he did, I didn’t notice him out there, but I guess that’s probably a good thing too.

Up front, Sidney Crosby had his best game of the tournament but still couldn’t find the scoresheet — or the back of the net, now goal-less in five Olympic games since scoring the Golden Goal to end the 2010 tournament. The line of Benn with Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf was Canada’s most dangerous even before and after the lone goal, while Jonathan Toews and Matt Duchene were also quite noticeable in their efforts. Patrick Sharp, Patrick Marleau, Rick Nash and Jeff Carter were up and down their wings, chipping in here and there as per usual.

Overall, Canada is looking pretty unstoppable heading into the gold-medal game against Sweden, which is missing injured forwards Henrik Sedin, Henrik Zetterberg and Johan Franzen, not to mention the glaring omission of defenceman Victor Hedman. Canada is also without two of its top young forwards in Steven Stamkos and John Tavares, but still has depth to spare at every position and should be able to use that to its advantage.

The odds will likely be stacked in Canada’s favour and deservedly so, but anything is possible in a one-game, winner-takes-all situation.

My prediction: Canada 4, Sweden 1 with an empty-net goal to clinch the gold and repeat as Olympic champions.

Without further ado, here is my mash-up of thoughts from the Canada-USA semifinal via my Twitter feed (LarryFisher_KDC):

8:52 a.m. = Good morning North America! Barely slept having stayed up to watch Canada win gold and silver in women’s skicross, but excited for big game.

8:53 a.m. = Retweet @Molson_Canadian: Good luck trying to reach anyone in Canada today. pic.twitter.com/yPfFuL2IFG

8:54 a.m. = Retweet @garylawless: “Getting ready for Canada vs USA semifinal and the stakes have been raised #sochi14 pic.twitter.com/OHsaNk3ukJ” #SochiProblems

8:56 a.m. = Here is today’s Tale of the Tape: pic.twitter.com/D3Pb2nUdIg

8:59 a.m. = I predicted Canada to win 4-2 with an empty-netter and I think I will stand by that. Winner will face Sweden in gold-medal game.

9:02 a.m. = Sweden beat Finland 2-1 in the early semifinal, with Erik Karlsson scoring the winner and Henrik Lundqvist backstopping the victory.

9:05 a.m. = Your starting goaltenders, as expected, are Carey Price for Canada against Jonathan Quick for USA. And the puck has dropped!

9:06 a.m. = I said Price would be tested early — and likely often — in today’s semi and he’s forced to stop Phil Kessel on partial break in 1st min.

9:09 a.m. = Kessel is flying in Sochi, with a tournament-leading 5 goals/8 points. That was fleet-footed Duncan Keith that Kessel blew by for chance.

9:10 a.m. = But Canada does appear to have its feet under them now, controlling the next few shifts and getting a couple decent chances on Quick.

9:12 a.m. = Like Sidney Crosby for Canada (2 assists in 4 games), USA’s Patrick Kane (4 assists in 4 games) could be due for an Olympic breakout today.

9:14 a.m. = Matt Duchene, who is filling in for the injured John Tavares on fourth line between Patrick Sharp and Rick Nash, has a lot of jump today!

9:15 a.m. = Duncan Keith, on the other hand, really seems to be struggling early on. He’s such an elite skater, yet has got beat wide a couple times.

9:17 a.m. = Price with a great (and confident-looking) glove save off John Carlson from the slot as Americans pressing for opening goal.

9:18 a.m. = Scoreless at first commercial break but plenty of chances at both ends. By far the best Canadian game (to watch) so far! Shots 7-6 for USA.

9:20 a.m. = If not for great goaltending, this game could easily be 2-2 by now. Price and Quick are both in the zone!

9:22 a.m. = Yikes, Patrick Kane somehow snuck behind Duncan Keith (still struggling) there, but breakaway pass skipped over his stick. #comeonKeith

9:23 a.m. = Watching this game is a good reminder why it’s worth waking up at 4:15 am. (or staying up) for Sunday’s middle-of-the-night gold-medal game!

9:27 a.m. = Is this the game Chris Kunitz shuts up the haters (like me)? He’s been getting better (slightly better) every game so he might be due here!

9:28 a.m. = Canada on the game’s first power play and Crosby seeing lots of ice time, lots of opportunity to make his much-needed impact!

9:29 a.m. = USA kills that penalty off with not much in the way of chances against. Back to even strength now, still scoreless with 6 mins left in 1st.

9:31 a.m. = I guess score updates probably aren’t necessary today because everybody who is anybody is already watching! Am I right or am I right?

9:33 a.m. = The Americans getting their first power play now with Marleau sent off for holding.

9:36 a.m. = Nothing against Sweden, they have great team even without the Henriks (Sedin/Zetterberg) but I’d gladly watch these teams in best of 3 or 7!

9:38 a.m. = Likewise, Canada killed its penalty with no real close calls. And we are scoreless at the intermission of an entertaining first period.

9:40 a.m. = I like scoring and all the emotions that come with goals for or against, but I’m also big fan of great goaltending which we’re seeing today!

9:42 a.m. = Holy Grapes is in overdrive to start this Coach’s Corner…such a speedy talker, must have crushed a few Red Bulls just before segment!

9:44 a.m. = Cherry calls out Keith and rightfully so. He stood out in a bad way during 1st, needs to bounce back for the better in 2nd. #getinthegame

9:45 a.m. = Retweet Tieja MacLaughlin ‏@Tieja_Mac: “A story worth sharing: I passed the hours in Kennewick WA teaching women about the game of hockey in a class that became known as Canada101.”

9:54 a.m. = Commentators had scoring chances at 8-4 for Canada in 1st. Shots were 16-11 for Canada. Sounds about right as puck drops on 2nd period.

9:56 a.m. = Duncan Keith breaks up a 2-on-1 on opening shift of 2nd after a tough 1st for him personally. That’s more like it!

9:58 a.m. = 1-0 Canada, Jamie Benn opens the scoring by redirecting Jay Bouwmeester’s shot-pass. Great shift all around by Benn-Getzlaf-Perry line.

9:59 a.m. = Carey Price looks so confident — calm, cool and collected — in net today. Not to knock Roberto Luongo, but he always makes me nervous!

10:00 a.m. = Canada had all the momentum in the world to start 2nd, but now a high-sticking penalty to Getzlaf gives Americans chance to draw even on PP.

10:03 a.m. = Another kill for Canada and back on the attack they go. Jamie Benn having a whale of a game even before and after his goal.

10:06 a.m. = I think that’s the first time I’ve heard Marc-Edouard Vlasic’s name today…but that’s a good thing for defensive D-man. #quietlyeffective

10:11 a.m. = Is it just me or has the pace slowed a bit in the 2nd? Seems to have settled into more of an NHL game type feel. Maybe more close checking?

10:16 a.m. = Benn nearly makes it 2-0 with his 2nd goal of game, but Quick gets across to stop one-timer, though Benn didn’t quite get all of the shot.

10:18 a.m. = This call kinda hurts for Canada. Kunitz takes dig at Quick and called for goalie interference but Callahan manhandled him after and no call.

10:19 a.m. = Americans now on their 3rd power play of game, this is a key one for them I would think.

10:20 a.m. = Drew Doughty has been a bit quieter for Canada today, but Shea Weber continues to be a full-on beast at both ends of the ice!

10:22 a.m. = Canada finishes that kill off too. Close call tho as Americans poked a rebound through Price’s 5-hole and out the other side of crease.

10:25 a.m. = 1-0 Canada after 40 minutes. Jamie Benn with the game’s only goal so far as both goaltenders have been among the 3 stars so far (plus Benn).

10:41 a.m. = There’s nothing safe about 1-goal lead as we start 3rd period…or a 2-goal lead for that matter as we saw yesterday with Canadian women!

10:43 a.m. = Matt Duchene is very noticeable out there with his blazing speed and I could totally see him making the most of his limited minutes.

10:44 a.m. = Crosby had a really good first period but he’s been a lot quieter ever since. I could also still see him stepping up with a big goal!

10:46 a.m. = Crosby misses another open net, that must be a handful for him in this tournament. Gripping the stick too tight?

10:48 a.m. = Heard somebody say “Crosby just isn’t a big ice player.” I don’t buy that. He’s in the right places, but just not finishing for some reason!

10:49 a.m. = Price hasn’t faced a quality shot against in quite some time, here’s hoping he’s still in the zone and mentally ready for when that comes!

10:50 a.m. = Of course as I hit send on that tweet, Price has to make a decent stop on Parise. Good positioning there and no rebound. Well played by him!

10:52 a.m. = Speaking of no finish…remind me again, why is Kunitz on this team? Or still on Crosby’s line? He’s reason Sid doesn’t have more assists.

10:53 a.m. = Canada still really pushing the pace and pressing forward in first half of third period, not trying to sit back and defend 1-0 lead.

10:55 a.m. = Kunitz draws a penalty on Phil Kessel, good call much to Kessel’s chagrin. Chance to make it 2-0 now after lots of hard work to set this up!

10:58 a.m. = Kunitz’s presence just bothers me, he clearly doesn’t think the game on the same level as these guys, chemistry with Crosby notwithstanding!

10:59 a.m. = With 7 minutes left, I think Canada will start playing “safer”, more dump and chase, get pucks deep and try to cycle to kill the clock.

11:01 a.m. = Oh man, poor Kunitz on that one, he actually got a great shot off but Quick made an amazing save to keep it 1-0.

11:02 a.m. = Less than 5 mins left…as fast as these games go with few commercial breaks, this is going to seem like eternity for those playing/watching!

11:05 a.m. = Price purposely kicks a rebound all the way out of the defensive zone, now 3 minutes left.

11:06 a.m. = John Carlson has been one of the best Americans on the ice and he just broke up a 2-on-1 for Canada’s Carter and Marleau.

11:06 a.m. = Carlson has caused Canadian hockey heartbreak before…scoring OT winner in world juniors!

11:07 a.m. = Final minute, this clock really is counting down fast…Quick is pulled…drum roll!

11:08 a.m. = 1-0 final for Canada…Canada’s defence just too strong in dying minutes. My 3 stars are Benn, Price and Quick in that order!

11:09 a.m. = You probably won’t ever watch a more entertaining 1-0 hockey game. It was totally an NHL game on bigger ice, but a damn good one!

11:10 a.m. = Canada versus Sweden for gold on Sunday (4 a.m. PT), USA versus Finland for bronze on Saturday (7 a.m. PT). Set your alarms accordingly!

11:13 a.m. = PS: Somebody post another Rob Ford celebration video ASAP…please and thank you #thatwasepic

Larry Fisher is a sports reporter for The Daily Courier in Kelowna, B.C. Follow him on Twitter: @LarryFisher_KDC.

Categories: Uncategorized

Canada vs USA Part Deux: Who you got in Friday’s semifinal?

February 21, 2014 Leave a comment
0221-oly-arthur-hockey

Jean Levac/Postmedia News
Team Canada forward Marie-Philip Poulin celebrates her game-tying goal against the USA during the third period of the women’s gold-medal match at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, on Thursday. Canada overcame a 2-0 deficit and prevailed 3-2 in overtime on Poulin’s second goal of the game in a heroic performance.

First off, congratulations to the Canadian women’s hockey team for winning gold in Sochi by rallying from a 2-0 deficit to defeat their archrivals from the United States 3-2 in overtime on Thursday.

Unfortunately, I didn’t get the chance to see that game live but will be tuning in to the replay at some point soon.

In the meantime, it’s hard for me not to think ahead to the men’s semifinal on Friday morning, pitting the same two nations against each other in a rematch of the 2010 gold-medal game in Vancouver, which also saw Canada defeat the Americans 3-2 in overtime.

Due to time constraints and other commitments, I won’t be able to provide an elaborative preview right now (possibly later), but here’s my prediction: Canada 4, USA 2 (with an empty-netter).

Have your say in the poll below:

Categories: Uncategorized

Canada “survives” Latvia scare, advances to semis with 2-1 win

February 19, 2014 Leave a comment
Al Charest/Calgary Sun Not even this snow shower by Team Canada forward Corey Perry could rattle Latvia goaltender Kristers Gudlevskis during their quarter-final game at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, on Wednesday. Gudlevskis smothered this scoring chance before Perry could poke the puck past him and stopped 55 shots in total, but it wasn't enough for Latvia as Canada prevailed 2-1 on Shea Weber's go-ahead goal in the third period. With the win, defending Olympic champion Canada advanced to the semifinals — as expected — and will next face the archival United States on Friday in a rematch of the 2010 gold-medal game in Vancouver, which Canada won 3-2 in overtime.

Al Charest/Calgary Sun
Not even this snow shower by Team Canada forward Corey Perry could rattle Latvia goaltender Kristers Gudlevskis during their quarter-final game at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, on Wednesday. Gudlevskis smothered this scoring chance before Perry could poke the puck past him and stopped 55 shots in total, but it wasn’t enough for Latvia as Canada prevailed 2-1 on Shea Weber’s go-ahead goal in the third period. With the win, defending Olympic champion Canada advanced to the semifinals — as expected — and will next face the archrival United States on Friday in a rematch of the 2010 gold-medal game in Vancouver, which Canada won 3-2 in overtime on a (golden) goal by Sidney Crosby.

“A win is a win.” — How many times will we hear that classic cliché over the next 48 hours?

My guess: Countless times.

It’s true, though. As much as Canada ‘struggled’ to solve Latvia goaltender Kristers Gudļevskis — he made 55 saves in an (obvious) first-star performance — it did just enough to advance with a 2-1 quarter-final win on Wednesday morning. That sets the stage for a semifinal showdown on Friday against the United States, a rematch of the 2010 gold-medal game in Vancouver.

Larry Fisher
Larry Fisher

This matchup comes as no surprise, but that Canada nearly went to overtime with Latvia is shocking to say the least. That was mostly due to Gudļevskis — a 21-year-old Tampa Bay Lightning prospect who had the game of his life — but Canada, for whatever reasons, is having a hard time scoring in these Olympics.

Now through four games, Sidney Crosby — the world’s best player, almost unanimously — has two measly points. Two assists, that is. And not even highlight-reel helpers.

I’ll give him the benefit of doubt that he was just “warming up” against Norway and Austria. Against Finland, maybe they had somebody shadowing Crosby’s every move. But against Latvia, there is no excuse for being kept off the scoresheet — not even Gudlevskis’ heroics can be blamed for Crosby’s ineffectiveness offensively.

Needless to say, Crosby needs to be the best player on the ice against the Americans in order for Canada to have another chance at gold — an opportunity to repeat as Olympic champions. Friday’s other semifinal will feature an all-Scandinavian clash between Sweden and Finland, who ousted the host Russians 3-1 in their quarter-final earlier Wednesday.

Tuukka Rask was a difference-maker for Finland in that contest — shutting down Ovechkin, Malkin, etc — but nobody has had near the impact of Gudlevskis to this point in the tournament. Despite not even being Latvia’s starter — that title belongs to Edgars Masalskis, who was suffering from exhaustion after upsetting Switzerland in the qualification round — Gudlevskis gave his country every chance in the world to win, which is all any team can ask of its netminder.

So hats off to him, but it’s onward and (hopefully) upward from here for the Canadians.

Two things are of particular concern to me heading into the semifinals: the health of John Tavares, a key (if under-utilized) player for Canada who left the Latvia game with an apparent knee injury; and the play of Carey Price. The latter hasn’t been playing bad — he’s only allowed three goals through three games, all wins — but Price simply hasn’t been tested enough to be truly counted on, or to be fully confident in.

That test will come against the Americans, likely in the first period, and here’s hoping Price is up to the challenge — as I expect he will be.

Time will tell on that front, but for those interested, here’s my latest mash-up of thoughts from the quarter-final round courtesy my Twitter feed (LarryFisher_KDC):

8:54 a.m. = Just woke up to see Russia lost in the quarters to Finland. My first thought: Putin must be pissed! #Sochi2014

8:57 a.m. = In all seriousness though, not finishing top 4 (let alone not medalling) is an epic failure for host Russia and won’t sit well.

8:58 a.m. = I would say it’s also a blow to the ego and legitimacy of the KHL, but in all honesty Russia’s NHLers were nothing special in Sochi either.

8:59 a.m. = And with all that said, Russia badly outshot Finland, but Tuukka Rask was the difference by the looks of things.

9:00 a.m. = That sets the stage for all-Scandinavian semifinal between Finland and Sweden, who ousted surprising Slovenia 5-0 in earlier quarter-final.

9:02 a.m. = Switching gears to Canada-Latvia, Glenn Healy has pointed out that Canada’s combined salary is $149+ million. Latvia’s? $6 million.

9:03 a.m. = That about sums up this David vs. Goliath matchup. Winner of Canada-Latvia plays winner of USA-Czechs, who also start momentarily in Sochi.

9:05 a.m. = Other big storylines for this Canada-Latvia quarter: Latvia will be starting their other/backup goalie, Kristers Gudlevskis.

9:07 a.m. = Gudlevskis is a 21-year-old Tampa Bay prospect who has split this season between AHL and ECHL. He starts opposite Carey Price for Canada.

9:09 a.m. = Latvia is coached by Ted Nolan — yes, that Ted Nolan (of the Buffalo Sabres) — and captained by 41-year-old Sandis Ozolins.

9:11 a.m. = Yes, that’s a blast from the past (former SJ Shark) and no that’s not a spelling mistake. Ozolins has inexplicably lost “h” from last name.

9:12 a.m. = Good pace to start here with chances at both ends. Kunitz, reunited with Crosby on Canada’s top line, hit the crossbar in early stages.

9:13 a.m. = Canada’s forward lines: Kunitz-Crosby-Bergeron, Perry-Getzlaf-Benn, Marleau-Toews-Carter, Nash-Tavares-Sharp with St. Louis as extra.

9:15 a.m. = Gudlevskis, who replaced yesterday’s qualification round hero Edgars Masalskis, is looking a little unorthodox in net but keeping puck out.

9:16 a.m. = Pretty sure Nolan’s pre-game message to Latvians went something like this: “Shoot the puck…from anywhere and everywhere.”

9:17 a.m. = Latvia trying to test Price early, getting pucks towards the net whenever possible, including off the rush on power play from high slot.

9:18 a.m. = Price looking pretty calm, cool and collected — more controlled than Gudlevskis anyway — as Canada kills off Latvian power play.

9:19 a.m. = Scoreless through 9 minutes and Latvia might actually be leading on shot clock (quantity not quality), so underdogs have to like this start.

9:20 a.m. = Canada is getting some Grade-A chances though, and you have to think it’s only a matter of time ’til they put one in (or a half-dozen in)!

9:21 a.m. = Think I just heard the shot count is 13-3 (presumably in favour of Canada), so I guess Latvia must be missing the net a fair bit as well.

9:22 a.m. = Zone time has been relatively close, pretty back and forth through 12 minutes, but Canada certainly getting the better chances.

9:25 a.m. = 1-0 Canada, Patrick Sharp fires into open net on Rick Nash’s feed from behind the net after first real sustained pressure/cycle for Canada.

9:26 a.m. = I honestly get the sense Canada could hit double-digits in this quarter-final if they really bore down but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

9:27 a.m. = Commercial break offers time for fun random fact: All but one player on Latvia’s roster has a first name ending in the letter “s”.

9:28 a.m. = The exception: Koba Jass, a 23-year-old forward who plays for HC Kladno in Czech Extraliga. Makes me wonder if his nickname is “Kobas”? #lol

9:30 a.m. = 1-1 Latvia…holy lightning Lauris Darzins just tied this up on a breakaway backhand deke that went shelf and stayed shelf (puck lodged under bar)!

9:31 a.m. = Not sure how Darzins snuck behind Canadian defence or how the puck got through to him but Price looked as surprised as anybody.

9:34 a.m. = Latvia on 2nd power play of game as Canada’s Duncan Keith sent off for playing with broken stick. Irony in that Latvian twig just exploded.

9:36 a.m. = Darzins, for those who don’t know, is a former @Kelowna_Rockets who had two 30+ point WHL seasons and won a league championship in 2004-05.

9:37 a.m. = 1-1 after the 1st. Sharp for Canada, Darzins for Latvia. Canada gradually took over and got the bulk of good scoring chances.

9:38 a.m. = But one little breakdown and the Latvians — a very opportunistic bunch — made Canada pay. That said, just can’t see Canada losing this one!

9:39 a.m. = Now the part we’ve all been waiting for…Don Cherry’s evaluation after 20 minutes and his potential attempt at pronouncing Latvian names!

9:42 a.m. = Grapes ran out of Halloween costumes it appears, or he forgot to wear stuffy on his head for this episode of Coach’s Corner.

9:43 a.m. = Anybody even thinking of bringing up Loungo’s name after that period or goal against is grasping for straws. Price was fine, looks in zone.

9:44 a.m. = Price just simply got beat on a good play by a good player — yes, Darzins is good and you could be seeing him in an NHL arena near you soon.

9:52 a.m. = Ah-ha, Latvians are sneaky little buggers! Commentators show us just how Darzins got behind Canadian D, quick change off rare face-off win!

9:54 a.m. = That’s genius (or ingenius)! Drawing up set plays like that, some NHL team should take a look at this Latvian coach…oh wait #TedNolan

10:02 a.m. = For as much grief as I’ve given Marc-Edouard Vlasic (mostly pre-Olympics), I must admit he’s a solid D-man and I’d take him on my NHL team.

10:03 a.m. = Canada might have just lost John Tavares to a knee injury on hit along boards. Poor Tavares, he’s been under-utilized in Sochi in my opinion

10:04 a.m. = Martin St. Louis getting some power-play time here after barely playing at even strength. That’s gotta be hard to get into rhythm now.

10:07 a.m. = Shots are now 30-8 but score remains 1-1 midway through the 2nd. Canada really needs to net one here soon, enough toying around (if toying)!

10:11 a.m. = Jim Hughson still pretty dismissive of Latvia’s chances, now heading to power play he says: Latvia might have chance to get out of own end.

10:14 a.m. = Then, with 30 seconds left on Latvia’s power play, Hughson comments: These shifts after penalty kill are important. #prettypresumptuous

10:17 a.m. = “The Latvians continue to survive” – Hughson. Yes, yes they do. But for how much longer? Canada’s bound to break through sooner than later.

10:19 a.m. = Good point there from Healy, criticizing Canada’s shot selection (or lack thereof). They are being too pretty and too picky. GET DIRTY! #garbagetime #anythingisbetterthannothing

10:21 a.m. = I know it’s early in the morning still (before noon in B.C.), but potential new drinking game: Do shot every time Hughson says “survive”.

10:24 a.m. = My other Canadian whipping boy — Chris Kunitz — has also been much better (or more involved) today. But still not convinced he belongs here.

10:28 a.m. = Still 1-1 after 2 periods, Canada will start the 3rd on a lengthy power play (1:30ish) and will need to score then or Latvia will get boost!

10:32 a.m. = That Canada and Latvia are tied after 40 minutes is a credit to Latvia or a discredit to Canada? You tell me! #leaningtowardslatter

10:34 a.m. = In reply to: @BuddsyBudd “I am getting a little nervous here!” — “it’s one of those things, Price is cold as a cucumber back there by now and I’m starting to see shades of Tommy Salo vs Belarus!”

10:35 a.m. = In reply to: @donniedodger25 “sadly if you agree with Healy on anything I immediately discredit anything you say.” — “My apologies…Twitter and its limited character count didn’t allow room for me to add “RARE good point from Healy”!”

10:37 a.m. = In reply to: @JoshAldrich03 “just run the goalie, take him out, “accidentally” fall on him.” — “this is Latvia’s backup! Their starter Edgars Masaļskis was too exhausted from beating Switzerland! #becarefulwhatyouwishfor”

10:40 a.m. = In reply to: @JoshAldrich03 “considering your team is the Oilers, of course you would (take Vlasic). It’s like a starving man saying, yeah I’d eat Vegemite.” — “touché! Truer words have never been spoken! I’d even be willing to package Corey Potter+Ryan Jones+4th rounder for Vlasic!”

10:41 a.m. = @JoshAldrich03 that’s sarcasm, also known as a joke for all non-Oilers fans…so save your silly #homer tweets for a better time and place!

10:43 a.m. = In reply to: @donniedodger25 “absolutely a no-win situation for Canada, the only outcome we would accept is a massacre. All the media looked past Latvia” — “and rightfully so…Latvia really posed ZERO threat to Canada…until now, that is #yikes”

10:44 a.m. = Come on Sid! That’s a tap-in…no excuses, play like a champ!

10:46 a.m. = Are the local Latvians currently building/resurrecting statues of Kristers Gudļevskis and/or Ted Nolan? Mount Rushmore replica with Darzins?

10:50 a.m. = Also, apologies to all those who I assured would cash in by betting the OVER today! #notover #notevenclose

10:53 a.m. = The Latvians got a shot…and Price stopped it #thankChrist #heavenhelpus #somebodyinwhitescorealready

10:56 a.m. = Kristaps Sotnieks = CHEATER! Seriously, is this just not meant to be? I thought Russia losing was bad, but this would be an epic failure!

10:57 a.m. = If there is a God (or a KARMA), Canada is going to score on this ensuing shift! #makeithappen #please #prettyplease #beggingyouplease

11:01 a.m. = 10 minutes left in regulation of Olympic quarter-final. Canada and Latvia still tied 1-1. #notkidding #believeitfolks

11:04 a.m. = Canada getting another power play…safe to say this is a MUST SCORE?

11:05 a.m. = Paging Sidney Crosby: You are the best player in the world, please play accordingly ASAP!

11:06 a.m. = Every Canadian player now has at least 1 shot (52 total) so this has been a “total team effort” … or a “total team failure”!

11:09 a.m. = 2-1 Canada, Shea Weber with another bomb from the blue-line for his 3rd goal of tournament… “Finally, the dam has burst!” – Hughson

11:10 a.m. = Latvia can’t possibly come back from this…or can they? Hughson saying “Canada can breath a little easier” #speakforyourself

11:12 a.m. = Large part of the crowd (the Russians?) clearly cheering for Latvia. Gets a little louder every time they touch the puck, which isn’t often!

11:14 a.m. = 3 minutes left, Canada up 2-1..with all their NHL experience and with role players like Vlasic on roster, have to think they lock this down!

11:16 a.m. = Why am I biting my fingernails with less than 2 minutes left in game between Canada and Latvia? #notsupposedtobeanailbiter #toomuchsuspense

11:18 a.m. = Latvian net is empty now…all or nothing for them with 1:30 left trailing 2-1!

11:18 a.m. = Last minute… #poorfingernails

11:21 a.m. = Toews come close to letting us actually “breath easier” but unable to finish empty-netter. Latvia off-side going other way. 25 secs left.

11:22 a.m. = Latvia goalie back in for neutral-zone faceoff? Umm, why? Hasn’t Kristers Gudļevskis worked hard enough today?

11:23 a.m. = 2-1 final for Canada, who will now play USA in semifinal on Friday. Americans beat the Czechs 5-2 in their quarter-final.

11:23 a.m. = Close but not close enough for Latvia as Shea Weber scores the deciding goal for Canada…another @Kelowna_Rockets coming up big/HUGE!

11:25 a.m. = Canada wasn’t great today, but really can’t say enough about effort of Kristers Gudļevskis. He was great in making 55 saves! #1ststar

Larry Fisher is a sports reporter for The Daily Courier in Kelowna, B.C. Follow him on Twitter: @LarryFisher_KDC.

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Swiss miss: Canada lands Latvia in quarter-finals

February 19, 2014 Leave a comment
Julio Cortez/The Associated Press Latvia goaltender Edgars Masalskis snags a shot on goal by Switzerland in the second period of their qualification game at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, on Tuesday. Latvia won 3-1 in a stunning upset despite being outshot 33-22 as Masalskis turned in the performance of his lifetime.

Julio Cortez/The Associated Press
Latvia goaltender Edgars Masalskis snags a shot on goal by Switzerland in the second period of their qualification game at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, on Tuesday. Latvia won 3-1 in a stunning upset despite being outshot 33-22 as Masalskis turned in the performance of his lifetime. For those wondering, Masalskis is 33 years old and has never garnered much in the way of NHL interest — until, possibly, now. If his encore effort against Canada in Wednesday’s quarter-final features similar heroics, then Masalaskis’ agent (if he has one) will likely be fielding a few phone calls in the not-too-distant future.

Latvia eh? Didn’t see that coming.

I would have bet a fair chunk of change on Switzerland making it through the qualification round and giving Canada a semi-serious run for its money in Wednesday’s quarter-final.

Now, that challenge will fall to Latvia, which, on paper, should be a cakewalk for Canada.

Larry Fisher
Larry Fisher

Then again, I would have wagered the same — if not more — on Slovakia beating Slovenia. That didn’t happen, either.

Ditto for Russia defeating the United States in a shootout.

Through regulation and overtime, the Americans had equal opportunity to prevail, but when it came down to a skills competition, the Russians were armed with some of the world’s best.

Tell that to T.J. Oshie, who scored four times in the tiebreaker, including the eighth-round winner. It’s really too bad most of North America was asleep for that middle-of-the-night miracle.

Overall, I’d be broke from these Olympics.

That said, I’d be all-in again on Canada cruising past Latvia.

Living dangerously, I know.

I might be underestimating the Latvians — as I’m sure the Swiss also did — but, realistically speaking, Latvia just played (and won) its gold-medal game.

Merely making the quarter-finals, and ensuring a top-8 finish thanks to Tuesday’s 3-1 upset of Switzerland, already calls for a parade down the streets of Riga.

It’s not happening — no way, no how — but if Canada bowed out on Wednesday, there would certainly be a ceremony of some sort for Edgars Masalskis. He’d need to be knighted or crowned king of Latvia — something to that effect.

Regardless of Wednesday’s result, Masalskis will go down among the feel-good stories of these Games. The 33-year-old Latvian goaltender was unable to secure a contract in the KHL or other top European leagues this season and had barely played prior to the Olympics — save for a few games of equivalent calibre to Canadian beer leagues.

From that to now facing the NHL’s top three scorers all in the same game — with Canada’s roster featuring Sidney Crosby, Ryan Getzlaf and John Tavares, not to mention Drew (freakin’) Doughty.

Yeah, good luck with that Mr. Masalskis.

For as competitive as Switzerland has become in recent years, its offence was severely lacking in Sochi. The Swiss only scored three goals in four total games.

Canada’s offence has also been underachieving — by Canadian standards, with 11 goals through three games, including six by defencemen.

That was of some concern should Canada have come up against Switzerland, which had been backstopped by Anaheim Ducks goaltender Jonas Hiller, who had two shutout wins (both 1-0) in three preliminary-round starts.

But against Masalskis, on less than 24 hours rest? This has blowout written all over it.

I do have a soft spot for Latvia, given its Cinderella story so far and its connections to Kelowna.

Lauris Darzins, who scored twice in Tuesday’s triumph — a power-play goal that stood up as the winner followed by an empty-netter — played junior for the WHL’s Kelowna Rockets. He had two 30-plus-point seasons from 2004-06 and was a ninth-round NHL draft pick of the Nashville Predators, but headed back overseas after his Kelowna stint and has bounced around the KHL over the past six seasons with respectable statistics.

Now 29 years old, this impressive showing in Sochi might be enough to earn Darzins another look on this side of the pond.

Zemgus Girgensons, who is Latvia’s only current NHL player, albeit just in his rookie season with the Buffalo Sabres, was also property of the Rockets. He was picked in the CHL’s 2011 import draft but never reported to Kelowna, opting instead to spend a second season with the Dubuque Fighting Saints of the USHL before turning pro last year with Buffalo’s farm team, the Rochester Americans.

Girgensons just turned 20 in January and only has five goals (and 17 points) in 56 games with Buffalo this season. He has potential for much more as a first-round NHL draft pick (14th overall) in 2012, but as bright as Girgensons’ future projects to be, this Olympic tournament is not yet his time to shine.

So enough with the sentimental stuff, this quarter-final is Canada’s game to lose.

Canada’s victories have been from scores of 3-1, 6-0 and 2-1 (in overtime) — in that order. One of those is not like the others, but I foresee two of each after Wednesday’s playoff contest.

My prediction: Canada 5, Latvia 0. And no, Carey Price won’t need to be the first star — yet.

Larry Fisher is a sports reporter for The Daily Courier in Kelowna, B.C. Follow him on Twitter: @LarryFisher_KDC.

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Excuses, excuses: Crosby not playing up to expectations

February 19, 2014 Leave a comment
Mark Humphrey/The Associated Press Team Canada centre Sidney Crosby (87) prepares for a face-off against Finland’s Jarkko Immonen during the first period of their preliminary-round game at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, on Sunday. Crosby recorded a power-play assist — only his second point of the tournament through three games — as Canada prevailed 2-1 in overtime. For Canada to repeat as Olympic champions, Sid the Kid is going to need to step up and make more of an offensive impact in the medal round, starting with Wednesday’s quarter-final against Latvia.

Mark Humphrey/The Associated Press
Team Canada centre Sidney Crosby (87) prepares for a face-off against Finland’s Jarkko Immonen during the first period of their preliminary-round game at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, on Sunday. Crosby recorded a power-play assist — only his second point of the tournament through three games — as Canada prevailed 2-1 in overtime. For Canada to repeat as Olympic champions, Sid the Kid is going to need to step up and make more of an offensive impact in the medal round, starting with Wednesday’s quarter-final against Latvia.

We, as Canadians, love our hockey players and, in turn, have an undying love for our golden child — Sid the Kid.

So much so that our media is protecting his abysmal Olympic performance once again this year by tossing out stats like: He hasn’t been on the ice for a goal against?

Umm, we have only allowed two, so that’s not exactly a huge accomplishment.

Dan Nadeau
Dan Nadeau

Now all you Crosby lovers, before you try to find my address and lynch me, know this: I like Crosby and everything he can bring to the ice every single night. But right now, I feel like we, as a nation, have turned this guy into that smoking hot person at high school we have fallen in love with. We put him way up on this pedestal and we are now making excuses for him not loving us back — aka, not scoring.

Crosby isn’t playing awful, but since when have we not relied on our top-line centre to produce points, but to be a shutdown guy?

I guess if the rest of the guys were scoring at will like we did in Vancouver, we could wait for Crosby to get his act together. But when a defenceman is our leading scorer, I think it’s about time for the best player in the world to be the best player in the world and start effing scoring!

Whether rumour or reality that monsieur Crosby didn’t want Claude Giroux on this team so we had to bring Sid’s wingman Chris Kunitz instead, I would say we could certainly use Giroux right about now — especially considering Kunitz looks about as lost in Sochi as that Dori character from Finding Nemo!

I think it’s time for us — and the media — to stop worrying about pissing off Crosby and calling him out.

Dude, you’re a point-producer, not a run-stopper, so start acting like one!

Who knows maybe this blog will go viral and Crosby will see it in time to piss him off, and he’ll get us a hatty against the mighty Latvians — or our neighbours to the south.

Probably not though, plus what’s a beer-bellied never-been like me got on him? Nothing, but sheesh, I know I predicted the Swedes to win gold in an earlier post, but that wasn’t my heart picking, it was my head. And Crosby, much like girls all through high school who I put on a pedestal, I fear that if you can’t find a way to produce, you will break my heart and force me to drown my sorrows in a case of Molson Canadian at 5 a.m. on a Sunday, which doesn’t bode well for someone working on a Monday!

Rant Over, it’s dinnertime and time to watch more mainstream media protect Sid the Kid — his true impact is immeasurable…blah, blah, blah. It’s almost as if they avoid calling him out in fear he may defect to Uzbekistan and play for them next Olympics!

Dan Nadeau is a retired hockey player living the dream through coaching and beer leagues. Good at hockey, better at drinking beers! Follow him on Twitter: @dan_nadeau.

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