Didn’t think I’d ever say this, but the Edmonton Oilers have gotten dull. Real dull. As a guy who has always liked underdog teams, and is thrilled more by speed and savvy (i.e. Detroit) than brawn and straight-up bulldozer play (i.e. L.A. Kings), there was always a lot to like. Even in some of the stinker seasons, like 2009-2010 and 2010-2011, there were always reasons to watch, if only because you could never be sure if they were going to win or not.
Times have changed. The 2013 Edmonton Oilers are dull. Really dull. Whereas once they were chance machines (this has really never been a heavy shooting team, unfortunately), now they look to be almost absolute losers. Jordan Eberle, he of the amazing shot and TSN goal of the year (still amazing to watch after the 698th time), is absolutely lifeless lately. Just dead as a player.
In fact, it’s a good thing there are no compulsory “pulse monitors”, because he would probably be suspended.
The Nuge, meanwhile, him of the 12 year old looks and Datsyuk-ian defensive play, looks better defensively, but continues to just suck on the offense. The powerplay, as a result, is absolutely horrendous this year, despite some early successes. Teams know one thing: shut down the Nuge’s passing lanes, and no problem. He just isn’t a threat to shoot, now is he?
Taylor Hall, meanwhile, continues to be Taylor Hall. A true piece of gritty gristle with speed to burn and an itch to fire the puck on the net whenever he can. He still looks good out there, but he’s frankly about it these days. Even Sam Gagner, who in a contract year appears to be uncovering a point-scoring renaissance (hmm, where have I seen that before?), has become a huge, major defensive problem. He’s scoring, but as a center he appears to have lost his sense of responsibility.
So why are all these Oilers sucking so badly, and appear to have extreme difficulty getting anything done in the offensive zone, and real troubles fishing the puck from their own end? This team is more skilled than ever before. There are two solid, almost elite lines in place here. What’s going on?
I think it’s the system. Hey. I know very little about attacking and defending systems. I am not an NHL hockey coach, nor do I play on on TV. But the system the Oilers are playing just makes them about as exciting to watch as the Minnesota Wild. It is boring. What’s more, they actually get in games now where they have zero shots in a period (the Wild game in early March comes to mind). This is completely unacceptable hockey, frankly.
It’s become a chore to watch.
Don’t get me wrong – it’s not the winning. As a guy who watched games where the top six featured Andrew Cogliano and Liam Reddox, I have no problem with losing. In fact, as an Oilers fan, you’ve had almost 7 years to get used to losing. What does suck is that back then, the games were at least interesting. There was always a likelihood that the Oil could surprise. Sure, there’d be a soft goal given up now and then, but the team always looked like the Bad News Bears on ice. Brutal play often, but at least the chance that they could ugh-out a win.
2013′s Oilers look absolutely crushed by opposing teams’ defense. Their zone entries are absolutely horrifying. We are talking about a team that as of this writing, is 30th in the NHL in even strength scoring.
All of this adds up to a team that instead of making me want to don my jersey and cheer loudly, instead makes me want to grab my SnoreLess Pillow and get some decent sleep in preparation for tomorrow’s games. Bad hockey for me equals a good reason to get some high quality REM sleep.
The 2013 Edmonton Oilers are NOT a playoff team. I get that. But could we get back to the same firewagon play that attracted me to that 2006 finalist team in the first place? Please. Please. I just can’t stand this dull Oilers hockey anymore.
In the meantime, there is a movement out there to make the players and NHL pay for their insolence, and frankly I think it’s pretty awesome. I mean, why shouldn’t we make these guys pay for their treatment of the fans. The NHLPA literally had over a year to negotiate a CBA, but decided not to, and essentially forced the owners’ hand. Their procrastination cost a ton of games.
Meanwhile, the Owners decided a lockout was best for business. Essentially, it probably was, as by missing a good portion of the beginning of the season, they could avoid competing directly with the World Series (not good) and a lion’s share of the NFL season (VERY GOOD). So in the end, the Owners really don’t lose much here. Naturally, the teams that lose money will continue to lose – hello Dallas, Phoenix, Florida and Columbus! But no one cares about them anyway, especially when Markham and Quebec City will soon be providing those lucrative expansion fees that the owners love so much.
What Will I Do?
Well, I gave up my NHL Live subscription. I’ve decided, frankly, to look for illegal streams instead. The blackout rules for the thing suck, anyway, so I figure no problem. The NHL WILL pay for its insolence in this case – to the tune of $19 per month for 6 months (of which I can actually watch hockey for only about 4, because THEY BLACKOUT THE ENTIRE PLAYOFFS). Also, not planning to buy any merch. I will also buy NO BEER at the one or two Kings games I hit this year. These are my promises.
I figure, it a couple of hundred dudes did this, we’d actually have some kind of effect. But we do also have to remember that hockey fans are sports fans, and sports fans are usually idiots, frankly. The Jock stereotype is more than real, IT’S A LAW. So once people start wrapping their mouths around their Coors light cans, it’ll be done. More jerseys. More revenues for the league.
It’s as if nothing happened. Sadly.
Here’s a good video by Steve Dangle, who also does KHL highlights (which I watched a lot of during the Lockout, and likee’d). Sums it up.
At this point, almost all people are using computers in their houses, offices, shops, and schools. Computers is basically an in-demand need for the human race. For the general public, the computer is the easiest way in storing the data files of everyday transactions. But once the data cannot be retrieved and is somewhat lost in space inside the computer, data recovery laboratories are needed badly. Some people would say that the data recovery prices are too much to handle. For some cases, particularly big companies or offices, they find this hard drive recovery service affordable since they don’t have much time to retrieve lost data by themselves.
Be sure you understand data recovery before you make an attempt.
On the other hand, some people would say that going to an expensive clean room and paying the costly data recovery prices is too much for them; especially if the owner of the computer is not running a business. The best way to retrieve missing or lost files is to retrieve your files personally. These people do things like search for “hard drive repair” and whip out their toolbox.. In this way, they take a huge risk, but avoid a the high data recovery cost. In addition, it supplements their knowledge of how to take care and use the computers of 2012.
Computer geeks will say that once their files have been corrupted by a virus it is easier for them to try to fix the hard drive themselves, as opposed to looking for cheap data recovery prices. It is but correct to be thrifty, but at the same time, hard drive repair can be really risky. However, if the damage of the files or data is just easy to handle, then sometimes a professional isn’t necessary for this predicament. A simple do-it-yourself kit will handle the situation instead.
On the other hand, if the problem is too difficult to handle and a DIY kit cannot deal with it, then it is time for you to call on a professional hard drive recovery shop like Hard Drive Recovery Associates. Definitely, the company or the person talking to HDRA should be prepared to pay reasonable data recovery prices. It is a fact that once a hard disk has been harshly physically damaged, no other people can manage it except the best hard drive experts. Thus, a big budget for the data recovery prices should be allotted in the budgeting management department of every company.
Does Data Recovery Software Work?
Many people and companies too should consider a few things before using any specific data recovery method. Lack of information often leads to people getting sub-standard services after having spent a lot of money on the data recovery process.
File rescue software should only cost about one hundred dollars, and it should comfortably scan 100GB in less than two hours. A file finder should not cost more than forty dollars. Due to a lack of the right information, people often find themselves buying programs that are even ten times more expensive than this whereas it will perform the same jobs as a program with a reasonable price. Today high quality data recovery software comes with a guarantee and if the software does not meet your requirements, you can contact the providers for guidance or for a refund. Some are even offering free ground shipping for recovering data for you. Prices have become very competitive due to the influx of very competitive service providers that have come up with enticing discounts and services. Data recovery should not be as expensive an affair as most people assume it to be. This is proven by some of the factors mentioned above and the innovations that are making things easier unlike ever before.
It’s actually quite funny to look back at the 1998 Red Wings as a “dynasty in the making”. What few knew at the time was that it would be much, much more.
“They remind me of the team we had in Edmonton in 1990,” says Capitals forward Esa Tikkanen, who won four Cups with the Oilers and one with the Rangers. “People said the reign was over after we won four Stanley Cups in five years, they said we couldn’t win without Wayne Gretzky, that we were not the same team without him. Bid we believed we could win, and we went out and showed everyone.
“It’s difficult to describe destiny while you are playing, but you feel it every time you put on that uniform. And I think you can see that the Red Wings have that special quality by the way they play.”
The Red Wings believe in themselves. Plenty of built-in excuses existed if the team faded this season. There was the crash. The trade of playoff hero Mike Vernon to San Jose. Fedorov’s protracted holdout turned ugly. Yet the Red Wings somehow puffed together.
“We’ve used the accident as motivation,” Kris Draper says nearly an hour after he scores the winning goal in overtime in that classic, heartstopping Game 2. “We all realized that as a group we had to play better because we didn’t have Vladdie in our lineup. We might be teammates, but we’re also like brothers. I don’t think a lot of team can say that.
“Some nights we don’t look great, yet we still find a way to win.”
The locker room on that night was electric, just like the fans in Joe Louis Arena. Pulses jumped, hearts raced. Boring? The skeptics who say the game has become too systemized for its own good should have been in Detroit on this night when the defending champions would not die.
Full speed. So fast, so continuous, so exciting and so in danger of being decided at any instant. You couldn’t blink for fear that you might miss the winning goal. That’s how captivating Game 2 was.
With blood dripping down his face, journeyman winger Doug Brown was destined to send this game into overtime, no matter what it took. He was playing with a broken nose and didn’t know it, but nothing was going to dampen his resolve. After fighting off a Washington defender, Brown rifled a shot high into the net–as if he were trying to put an exclamation point on it.
But the rally from a two-goal deficit, the twists and turns of a game that went from end to end and kept 19,000 mucous fans on the edge of their seats had one final dramatic act remaining.
With just more than three minutes left in sudden death, Draper jumped off the bench on a line change. He went straight for the net untouched–as if no Capital saw him amid 0 of the drama.
Martin Lapointe intercepted an attempted Clearing pass along the right wing boards. He didn’t hear Draper yell for the puck, he just knew his teammate would be there the way Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen feel one another on the hardcourt and the way Steve Young knows where Jerry Rice is seconds before the ball gets there.
“It’s what you dream about as a kid playing ball hockey,” Draper says. “Clock winding down, you go to the open net and put it in for your team to win.
“I never knew scoring a goal could be this exciting.”
Becoming the first team in 42 years to trail by two goals in the Stanley Cup finals at the start of the third period and win the game … rallying without Kozlov, the team’s leading goal scorer in the playoffs, who has to go to the locker room in the second period with an injury. This is how champions show poise in adversity.
“It figures it would be Drapes to get the winner,” Lapointe says, laughing. “It seems like it’s always somebody different who steps up and contributes.”
“The Wings showed us why they’re champions in the third period,” Capitals defenseman Mark Tinordi says. “We had a two-goal lead with nine minutes left, but they wanted the game more than we did.”
Play. Stop. Rewind. Play. Stop. Rewind. Over and over again.
“It’s the kind of game you are going to replay over and over again,” Red Wings coach Scotty Bowman says. He is smiling.
“Yeah, kind of like Titanic,” former Canucks general manager Pat Quinn says. “The Red Wings were survivors. The Capitals were not.”
Behind the Capitals bench during the roller-coaster third period, coach Ron Wilson shouts encouragement to his team. “Come on, guys. Play with passion. You may never get back here again.”
Play with passion. Pay the price to win. Even the normally stoic Bowman pumps his fist in the air after Draper scores the winning goal.
But Bowman believed. The whole team believed. Every fan in the arena believed that this team would find a way to win.
And why not. When historians look back at these Red Wings, they will see stars like Steve Yzerman, Fedorov and Brendan Shanahan, guys who have sacrificed individual statistics for team goals. They will write about Chris Osgood overcoming long-shot demons to succeed Vernon as the winning goalie on a Stanley Cup team. They will write about Bowman tying his mentor, Toe Blake, with eight Stanley Cups. They will write about the team’s game plan to crowd Washington goalie Olie Kolzig, or how the Red Wings’ coaching staff spotted a Capitals tendency to always come out of their zone along the boards or of how they might be able to tire out Washington’s top four defenseman, who never seem to come off the ice.
Skeptics used to say that a team with a lot of Europeans cannot win because those players didn’t grow up with the Stanley Cup dream and don’t understand the price that has to be paid to win it. But the Red Wings have nine European players who have proved that theory obsolete.
Most of all, historians can’t write about this team without telling you about the Drapers, the Browns, the Darren McCartys and Joe Kocurs, the over-30 defense that had been given up on by other teams.
Draper is a checking center obtained from Winnipeg in 1993 on waivers for $1. Brown is a journeyman winger who was on the losing end in the finals in 1995 after spending most of his career with the Cup-winning Devils. McCarty is a heart-and-soul player who literally grew up in Detroit overcame alcoholism two years ago before his daughter was born, a guy who is emotionally on the edge every day as his father battles cancer. And Kocur? He was thrown on the scrap heap, a fighter whose hands were so battered he couldn’t drop his gloves and go any more, a guy who still hung around the Red Wings locker room after they released him and played in a senior men’s beer league in Detroit before the team asked him to come out of retirement for the stretch run a year ago, who proved he could not only provide toughness but score the first goal in the finals each of the past two years.
“We’re all about team here.” Shanahan says. “We don’t have anybody out by the red line looking for an extra cookie. We don’t have any Cookie Monsters on this team.
“We’re all looking to win. If that requires you to block a shot or just be back in a good defensive position, that’s what it takes.”
“For a team to win, it has to have a special ingredient,” Yzerman says. “At this time last year when we won the Stanley Cup, I think we were all thinking, even our whole city was thinking that this was the most significant thing that could ever happen to us. And six days later we realized that this was far from the biggest dung in our lives.
“We used that adversity to become stronger. Knowing how quickly you can come down to earth, we learned to keep things in perspective when we play. We learned to be more relaxed and play under more control. Most of all, we learned to count on one another–and in a team game like that (it) is more important than the hardest slap shot or hardest check into the boards.”
“This year,” Fedorov says, “we will celebrate for more than six days.”
The tree that the out-of-control limousine carrying Konstantinov and team masseur Sergei Mnatsakanov hit last June 13 is gone now. It toppled over during a July thunderstorm. Mother Nahire did what a limousine slamming head on into the trunk could not.
Vladimir Konstantinov’s name won’t be on this year’s Stanley Cup. But the reminders of this team’s character are very much alive every time the Red Wings skate onto the ice.
Sled hockey allows persons with disabilities, who are prevented from participating in regular standing ice hockey, to enjoy and benefit from a vigorous, physical team sport that some describe as a cross between ice skating, rugby, bumper cars, and ballet. Each player must have a permanent disability that would preclude him or her from playing regular competitive ice hockey.
To equalize team abilities and ensure equal participation by players with differing levels of disabilities, a classification system has determined three ability levels. In most competitions, team point total of players on the ice cannot exceed 14 points. Each level is assigned a point value as follows:
One point — Players with no functional sitting balance or with major impairment of upper or lower limbs
Two points — Players with functional sitting balance, impairment of limbs or the truck/hips, and serious sensory limitations
Three points — Players with good sitting balance and minimal functional disabilities or only slight impairment of limbs or sensory perception.
In some programs — especially juniors — when there are not enough players with disabilities, or to promote integrated programming, able-bodied participants are allowed to play with a classification of three points.
When playing sled hockey, the athlete sits low to the ice, strapped to a sled. The sled is basically a tubular frame balanced on a pair of ice-hockey blades. The blades are positioned under the seat cushion at the player’s center of gravity. The sled contacts the ice at three points: the two blades and a small runner “ski.” At the front of the sled a bent portion of tubing forms the front runner. Effective balancing on the player’s part creates minimal contact with the front runner, except when the player is leaning forward. Sled-hockey frames, like sport wheelchairs, come with 14- to 18-inch seat dimensions and can be customized to an individual’s specifications. The frame is uniformly 18 inches wide with adjustable lengths form three to four feet. All sleds are built to be three-and-one-half inches off the ice. This standard guarantees that sleds will contact one another (frame-to-frame) during competition, and ensures that sleds will not spear the bodies of opponents. Sleds are checked and measured before a game to guarantee safe participation.
A seat cushion is mounted on the frame with a backrest of varying lengths to promote whatever upper-body support a player may require. Two straps secure the player to the sled. One is tightened around the seat of the sled and the player’s waist; the second is placed over and under the sled frame at the ankles or the thighs (in the case of an amputee). An optional chest strap can also be used for players who need greater support or body stability. It is critical to achieve a secure body-to-sled attachment, one that makes the sled an extension of the lower body and allows the player to easily control the sled by using slight body movements. Basically, the player wants to be balanced on the blades with movements of the hips and lower trunk transferred directly to the blades of the sled.
Many players utilize individual adaptations to maximize their control and skating ability. Common strategies include using foam cutouts or buildups to augment stability and cambering, widening or customizing blade placement for one-side weakness, and uneven weight distribution for amputees.
The sled is propelled by using two shortened hockey sticks or “picks.” The sticks have a row of teeth, similar to the toe pick on figure skates, attached to the blunt or non-blade end of a sled. The player reaches forward, plants the metal teeth on the ice, pulls the sled forward, and pushes off form the contact point. Although this may sound difficult, with practice, rhythm, and technique, players can accomplish speed and maneuverability with minimal upper-body strength. The most difficult push is the one form a stationary position; so many players try to remain constantly moving, event at a slow speed, during the game.
The sticks also double as an adapted hockey stick to pass and shoot the puck. The stick on the end opposite the metal teeth contains a shortened, cut-down blade. This blade end is utilized to pass, block the puck, and, hopefully, score a goal. The sticks can be adapted to address grasp deficiencies by adding adhesive materials around the shaft, Velcro to the shaft and gloves, notching or cutting ridges in the stick, or taping rope around the sticks.
During play, the athlete will rotate the sticks while propelling the sled and passing/controlling the puck. With practice, the player learns different positioning of the hands, when to rotate the wrists internally and externally for directionality of puck passing, and various types of shots, passes, and blocks.
As in traditional hockey, raised puck shots and passing, corner net shots, position passing, rebounding, and other puck-control skills are possible. As physical contact is inherent in hockey, it is important that players wear protective equipment (helmet with facemask, mouth guard, throat protection, shoulder pads, and gloves). Protective pants (breezers), elbow pads, and shin guards are also recommended. The goalie is outfitted with a chest protector, shin guards, blocker glove, catcher’s mitt, and goalie stick.
In sled hockey, regulation hockey rules apply with only a few modifications. Legal body contact, checking, and skating players off the puck are very much part of the game. Players may make contact with another sled; however, hits form a 90-degree angle or from behind will result in a charging penalty.
Besides physical contact, another important factor is conditioning. Sled hockey is played on a field of ice equal in size to an official National Hockey League playing area; this requires considerable stamina. Preseason and off-season conditioning and strengthening are the foundation for successful skill application during games.
Strategies and set plays utilized in standing hockey are promoted in sled hockey. Mobility on the ice; individual, line, and team positioning; zone defense; and the transition game are all important. Each team strives to spread its offense, control its passes, create scoring opportunities, keep the pressure on offensively, and fearlessly defend its goal. The game is played with five skaters (two wings, one center, and two defensemen) and a goalie.
1994 marked the inclusion of sled hockey into the Winter Paralympics in Lillehammer, Norway. The United States, Canada, Great Britain, Sweden, Estonia, and Finland were the first countries to compete in Paralympic hockey. At the 1998 Winter Paralympics in Nagano, Japan, the competition also included Japan, Germany, Russia, Norway, and the United Arab Emirates.
The opportunity to play sled hockey allows athletes with mobility limitations to experience or, in some cases, re-experience the joys and benefits of a team sport. In addition to the many physical benefits, players develop self-esteem and self-image by being part of an activity that fosters intense team involvement.
Sweden may be neutral in World Wars, but not in hockey. The Swedes won the gold medal in the 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway, land they’re not about to give it up without a fight. But it won’t be as easy this time around, not by a long slapshot. This time, the big boys will be on the ice.
This is the year hockey fantasy-leaguers have dreamed about. When the eyes of the world turn to Nagano, Japan, for the 1998 Winter Games, they’ll see NHL players competing for the first time in Olympics history. Eric Lindros will be there. So will Brett Hull and Jaromir Jagr and Sweden’s most famous citizen, Peter Forsberg.
How big is Forsberg in Sweden? At 24, his face is on a Swedish postage stamp. That’ll happen when your country has half as many people as New York City and you’re arguably the best hockey player in the world. Forsberg was one of the stars of Team Sweden when it won the Olympic gold at Lillehammer. He also has played in the World Cup and battled in the Olympics when only amateur players were allowed on the ice. As physical as those games were, Forsberg doubts the world has ever seen the type of hockey that’ll be played in Nagano. We’re talking about the greatest show on ice.
“This is going to be more intense,” Forsberg says. “Hockey in the Olympics isn’t big because the best players aren’t there. But that’s going to change now. The World Cup isn’t as big as the Olympics. This is tougher. Everybody is going to be playing harder. When you’re playing for your country, you can’t have any friends out there. It’s going to be a war.”
And at times, it will pit NHL teammates against each other. As the Games approached, SPORT decided to pick one NHL team and take a look at these historic Olympics through the eyes of that team’s to select than the Colorado Avalanche, whose roster represents a rainbow coalition of hockey talent. They speak more languages in the Avs’ dressing room than at the United Nations. When the puck drops at Nagano, nine Avalanche players will be wearing their countries’ sweaters.
Forsberg will play for Sweden and Adam Deadmarsh will wear the stars and stripes of the United States. Valeri Kamensky and Alexei Gusarov will wear the familiar Russian red, and Patrick Roy, Adam Foote and Joe Sakic will represent Canada. Then there’s Jari Kurri, who will play for his native Finland, and Uwe Krupp, who will lead the German squad. The Avs, one season removed from winning the Stanley Cup, have players from 10 countries and five Canadian provinces. They’re loaded with talent from sea to shining sea, from the Rust Belt (Buffalo) to the former Iron Curtain (Leningrad).
On this day, Forsberg is looking across the dressing room at Deadmarsh, who at 22 will be one of the youngest players on Team USA. They’ve been teammates and friends for four years, but that won’t hold any frozen water in Nagano. Forsberg doesn’t envision much fighting at the
Olympics–teams don’t want to risk penalties and man disadvantages when every game is so important–but if he gets a chance to check Deadmarsh into the boards, he’ll take it. This is hockey, man, not synchronized swimming.
“You can’t think about who you’re-playing against,” says Forsberg. “It’s like when you get traded in the NHL from one team to another. You’ve got to accept it and go play for your team. If I have to smash Deadmarsh, I wouldn’t hesitate one second. And I’m sure he wouldn’t hesitate to smash me either. You know that’s the way it’s going to be, so you just accept it. And when it’s over, you forget about it.”
The Avalanche’s Olympic connection goes beyond the ice to the bench. Colorado’s coach, Marc Crawford, was an assistant on Canada’s 1996 World Cup team ar d will be the head coach of the Canadian Olympic team. But we use the term “coach” loosely here. There won’t be enough time to do much coaching in Nagano. Crawford will have three days to work with Team Canada before its first game on Feb. 13.
Winning these Olympics won’t come down to coaching, but rather which super. stars are most willing to put aside their egos for the sake of their flags. We’re taking about $6 million-a-year players mucking it up in the comes, jobs usually reserved for lesser lights on their NHL teams.
Says Crawford: “These guys have an enormous skill level, so far be it for me to try and teach them something. I don’t know that the guys at this level have many weaknesses that are exploitable. You have to rely on a lot of commitment and team. work and a real zeal for the game.”
What kind of games should we expect? Crawford envisions better competition than at the World Cup in 1996 because the players will be in better condition. The World Cup was played in the summer, before the start of the NHL season. The Olympic Games are being played in the middle of the season.
“I remember in the World Cup we wound up losing three or four guys with injuries,” says Crawford. “At the start of the season, you need to lead into things a little bit. There was no lead time in the World Cup. Here, everybody is in midseason shape. And the intensity level will be there and will be sustained throughout.”
Whether that intensity will translate into a lot of goals remains to be seen. There are two schools of thought here. Since the games will be played on an International Ice Hockey Federation-sized rink, some envision more wide-open and high-scoring games than your typical NHL game. NHL rinks are 200-feet long by 85-feet wide. IIHF rinks are the same length, but 983feet wide. With more room to maneuver, skating will be at a premium, which could favor the Europeans, who play more of a finesse game than the Canadians and Americans, who never met a cross-check they didn’t like.
Sakic doesn’t buy into the high-scoring theory. Nor does he believe the games will be as physical as a standard NHL game. With a bigger rink, he believes the more physical teams will play conservatively, without as much hitting as they’re accustomed to, so they won’t be beaten by superior skating.
“I see low scoring,” says Sakic, the MVP of the 1996 NHL playoffs. “Teams aren’t going to take chances, especially against a European team. You can’t help but get the contact, but with the bigger ice surface, teams aren’t going to go out of their way to hit and get caught out of position. Teams are going to be feeling each other out because we’re not used to these conditions.” For all the novelty and uncertainty surrounding these Games, this much you can bank on: Of all the teams, none will be under the kind of pressure Team Canada will face. For decades, the country where ice rinks are considered sacred ground has had to send second-rate players to the Olympics while its stars skated for NHL teams. The results? Canada has won a record 12 Olympic medals, but it hasn’t won a gold since 1952 in Oslo, Norway. No more. Now we’ll see the best that Canada has to offer.
“Absolutely, there’s going to be a lot of pressure on Canada to win,” admits Sakic, a native of Burnaby, B.C. “That’s the way we like it. We expect to win because we still feel we have the best players in the world.”
Sakic likes Canada’s chances, but he’s worried about the dark-horse team. “The favorite? Japan,” he says. “Home-ice advantage.”
A crackdown on obstruction is just the latest of things that have changed the culture of playoff hockey. Strategy and talent rule. The home run pass is back in the playoffs. And coaches are spending countless hours in the film room trying to dissect what to do about it and, more important, trying to come up with any edge they can–yes, even going as far as to criticize officials to try to get the upper hand on a call later in the first round. Hey, it’s worth a try.
Forget the insinuations that referees are treating the playoffs with a double standard. The goons, the players who live for penalty minutes instead of goals, are sitting on the end of the bench or in the press box. Serious hockey has begun, and players, coaches and referees are ready for perhaps the most exciting playoffs ever.
“We’ve been yelled at ever since the puck was round,” referee Kerry Fraser says, laughing at the thought that officials might not continue to call the penalties that have been part of the league’s crackdown on obstruction since the Olympics. “We’ve been told if obstruction happens 10 times, call it 10 times. Commissioner (Gary) Bettman has been clear that obstruction be called the same way in the playoffs.
“If you ask me, there has been more of a flow to the game since the Olympics. Players should have to move their feet to play–not hold–to cover up for their mistakes. Skating should be what this game is all about. And, to me, it has been since we started calling the penalties.”
Sharks coach Darryl Sutter grits his teeth and gets a glare in his eyes as he talks about the playoffs. “Goaltending, injuries, special teams,” he says, “and the tradition of a star being born in the playoffs. That’s the recipe for winning in the playoffs. You never know what to expect–and that’s what makes this time of the year so great.”
It’s clear that many of the changes in the game over the years have made the game better. Teams have copied the skills of the Canadiens’ dynasty of the 1970s and the Islanders and Oilers dynasties of the ’80s–and taken the game to a new level.
“I remember when I started in 1972, teams used four defensemen and two or three lines,” says Kings coach Larry Robinson, who won six Stanley Cups as a defenseman for the Canadiens and another as an assistant coach with the Devils in 1995. “In my playing days, we could stay on the ice longer because Serge Savard, Guy Lapointe, Jacques Laperriere and I and later guys like Bill Nyrop, Rod Langway, Brian Engblom and Chris Chelios (some of the best defensemen in our era) were going against forwards 5-10, 180 pounds. Before my career was over, those forwards grew to 6-2, 220-pound linebackers. Every night, you knew you were in for a battle in front of the net and along the boards–and you felt it the next day.
“To me, the size of the forwards and defensemen is the biggest difference in the game.”
And size is probably why Robinson’s Kings made the playoffs. They are the biggest team in the league.
“Look at a guy like Claude Lemieux,” Robinson says of one of the playoffs’ greatest competitors, a player Robinson coached at New Jersey. “He’s like a fullback going through the line when he’s going for the net. Try to stop him, I dare you.”
And it’s only natural that with the influx of talent has come the specialization of the game. All of the successful teams–I repeat, all of the successful teams–now roll over six defensemen and four lines.
“Look at Detroit last year,” Flyers center Joel Otto says. “The role players on the Red Wings depth-wise helped them win it all. Kirk Maltby, Kris Draper and Joey Kocur scored some awfully key goals for them down the stretch.”
Coach Scotty Bowman has even made two-time 50-goal scorer Brendan Shanahan a more complete player by putting him in a grinder’s role. Bowman knows Shanahan is always going to go to the net in an offensive situation. This way, his role is to grind, wait and then pounce like a cat, using his great hands and size to create offense.
“This isn’t the 1980s when the Oilers could win by playing at 75 percent,” Stars coach Ken Hitchcock says. “There isn’t a whole lot of difference between the top team and the bottom team. The depth is where the difference comes.”
His jaw was broken in three spots. The bleeding wouldn’t stop without some handiwork from the team doctor. But Brian Skrudland says he relied on the ultimate painkiller–playing–to get his mind off the agony he felt after sustaining the injury in Game 2 of the 1986 Stanley Cup finals, his first trip to the championship round.
But there was plenty to gain with the pain. Skrudland scored a goal nine seconds into overtime in that game at Calgary–the fastest overtime goal in playoff history–to seal a huge comeback victory in the Canadiens’ run to the title. His actions underscore the importance of having players who will do anything to win.
“It used to be European players were considered wimps when playoff time came around,” says Skrudland, who made his third trip to the finals in 1996, with Florida, and hopes to get there again this season with Dallas. “Canadians said they didn’t know the real meaning of the Stanley Cup because they didn’t dream about it every night when they were growing up.
“That may have been true for some, but not anymore. People talk about Patrick Roy and the series Joe Sakic had, but tell me who was more dominant against (the Panthers) in 1996 than Peter Forsberg.”
It’s no secret that five Russians (Sergei Fedorov, Vladimir Konstantinov, Slava Kozlov, Slava Fetisov and Igor Larionov) and a Swede (Nicklas Lidstrom) had impact roles for the Red Wings last season.
“It’s funny how it works,” says Oilers defenseman Kevin Lowe, who owns six Stanley Cup rings–five with Edmonton and one with the Rangers. “When we were winning those Stanley Cups here, people didn’t look at Jari Kurri or Esa Tikkanen as Europeans. Same thing with Sergei Zubov, Sergei Nemchinov and Alexei Kovalev on the Rangers in ’94.
“Some coaches were critical of Europeans as long ago as 1994. Not me. I wouldn’t think about checking a Sergei Fedorov for his passport when he goes in on a breakaway or a Nicklas Lidstrom when he’s stopping one. The game has come a long way, lots of changes–but it keeps getting better.”
Hasek shook off the distractions and fought back from a 6-10-3 start with a 3.12 goals-against average. Entering this week he had a 24-18-12 record, a 2.22 goals-against average and nine shutouts and was threatening to become the first goalie to ever win consecutive Most Valuable Player awards.
“I think right now he’s the best player in the game,” Wayne Gretzky says. “He’s at a level that nobody else is at right now. He’s just sensational…. There are few times in sports when you see a guy get into a zone or a stratosphere that others only wish they could be.”
Beware of the hot goalie. That fact was proven when Hasek led the Czech Republic to a gold medal in the Olympics. Now, he could win more gold, as in a raise from $4 million to $7 million–and perhaps a Stanley Cup.
Mike Modano, Stars: The team was 8-2-3 when he was out with a knee injury earlier this season. This time, he’s out for the rest of the regular season with a separated right shoulder.
Modano has often been called too soft, too laid-back to win. But that isn’t true this season. He’s focused. He’s a look-you-in-the-eyes individual out to prove something this season.
The unpassionate part of this story is the glass at Phoenix’s America West Arena.
“The glass there doesn’t give at all,” Modano says. “A lot of players have complained about it. Its like hitting a cement wall.”
Unfortunately for all of the injured players this season, no one in the NHL’s ivory tower is as passionate about finding a solution to all of the dollars in salaries going down the drain.
Paul Kariya and Teemu Selanne, Mighty Ducks: Teemu Selanne, who had 43 of Anaheim’s 153 goals going into last weekend (28 percent) is trying to become the fourth player in NHL history to get 2 5 per-cent or more of his team’s goals in a season. He would join Montreal’s Rocket Richard (1949-50), Washington’s Peter Bondra (1994-95) and St. Louis’ Brett Hull (in 1990-91 and 91-92).
“We were supposed to find a supporting cast of scorers for Paul Kariya and Teemu Selanne this season,” Mighty Ducks coach Pierre Page says. “The onus was on Scott Young and Tomas Sandstrom to score 20 to 25 goals each and right now what do they have? 15?”
Eric Lindros, Flyers: Wayne Cashman is denying now that in December he told a friend, “Eric Lindros is the most difficult player I have come across in 37 years in this game.”
But the fact remains, Lindros wasn’t there for his teammates when they needed him in the Finals against Detroit last spring, he didn’t stand tall as captain of the Canadian Olympic Team in Nagano and he is now playing for his fifth coach in six seasons.
Sergei Fedorov, Red Wings: Everyone has warned that this moody player could ruin the passion in Detroit after he held out for nearly five months for a six-year, $38 million contract. Locker room taunts were heard throughout his holdout.
But Sharks left winger Shawn Burr, the ex-Red Wing, says leave Sergei alone.
“Everybody is blowing it out of proportion,” Burr says. “He’s not an outcast. He didn’t put himself ahead of the team. He plays a team game.
“If I was still playing there, I’d go out with him–and he’d gladly buy me dinner.”
Like the night at a Phoenix steakhouse recently when Fedorov took the team out to dinner–and when he got the check it came to close to $11,000.
Don’t worry, the passion in Detroit is intact
Brian Leetch and the rest of the Rangers: New coach, same old 0-3-1 record against teams with a .500 record. Symptoms are too numerous to mention. But lately it’s been whining about New Jersey’s Bobby Holik roughing up center Pat LaFontaine. Later, it was the Devils’ Randy McKay working over Leetch.
“The Devils are taking liberties with our top players–and we can’t allow that to happen,” goalie Mike Richter says. “We can’t allow players to goon it up with top players like that.”
Passion? Not in the Big Apple.
Peter Zezel, Canucks: Here’s proof team chemistry can be affected by a non-profile player.
Exiled from Albany of the American Hockey League for a fifth-round draft choice, Zezel was instantly rejuvenated, getting six points in his first three games.
But here’s the real passion in Zezel’s play that has become contagious in Vancouver: The day he found out he was going to Vancouver he also learned his 2-year-old niece, Jilliann, had cancer that might be curable but requires long-term Chemotherapy. So, Zezel put Jilliann’s name on his stick, scored a goal on his first shift and hasn’t stopped scoring. He’s also winning key faceoffs and playing the kind of defense that was missing from the forwards on the Canucks.
Just watch your favorite team to see if that passion lives. It obvious it does in New Jersey with Doug Gilmour, Bobby Holik, Scott Stevens and Martin Brodeur. It does in Colorado with Patrick Roy, even though questions still exist about the rest of the team, which maybe has been together too long and doesn’t take each game as serious as it once did. It does in St Louis with coach Joel Quenneville.
Passion should ooze from every player at this time of the year. After all, that’s what makes it fun for all of us to watch.