Archive for March, 2010

Making little sense of recent suspensions

Posted in Alex Ovechkin, Boston Bruins, Brian Campbell, Chicago Blackhawks, Colin Campbell, Marc Savard, Matt Cooke, Maxime Lapierre, Montreal Canadiens, NHL, Pittsburgh Penguins, San Jose Sharks, Washington Capitals on March 16, 2010 by Scott Schmidt

I’ll be completely honest.

When the NHL resumed after that spectacle of amazing hockey we saw during the Olympics, it took me a few games to get back into the swing. Actually, to tell you the truth, league hockey was pretty much boring me to sleep.

But I’m feeling 100 per cent physically again and am fully re-engaged and ready to embark on my favourite time of year, hockey playoffs. Of course the actual post season is a few weeks away still but for many teams – with the new parody of the league it’s probably most teams – crunch time has long begun.

And simply because of the sheer numbers, we could be in for one of the best regular-season finishes ever. Will Detroit miss the playoffs, ending 18-straight years and the longest active playoff streak in North American professional sports? A 2-1 win over the Flames says no but their lead over Calgary sits at just three.

Who will claim the final spots in the East? An explosive restart after the Olympics for the Habs makes a statement, but teams I cheer for don’t stand much chance in the grand scheme so only time will tell.

Even the bottom of the heap is fun to watch, as we all watch the Taylor Hall sweepstakes. Of course the lottery ensures last place won’t be a lock for No. 1 but that doesn’t stop us from wondering about stuff like if Edmonton will finally get some luck or if Toronto will be watching Beantown take Hall with the Leafs’ pick.

But with everything great about the league right now and all the races and drama coming down the stretch, the stories garnering the most attention – at least in the U.S., where we seem to want the game to grow so badly – are the suspensions (or lack there of) resulting from dirty hits.

Most notably of course is the Great Eight Alex Ovechkin, who pushed Chicago’s Brian Campbell from behind at full speed into the boards, breaking his clavicle and ribs. But two others – Montreal’s Max Lapierre on the Sharks’ Scott Nichol and Pittsburgh’s Matt Cooke on the Bruins’ Marc Savard – occurred in almost the same week and when all three resulted in different punishments, the debate began.

Let’s start with Lapierre because he probably received a punishment closest to the level of his crime. The mouthy Canadien blatantly pushed Nichol from behind into the boards, knocking Nichol out for 7-10 days.

Lapierre smirked on the bench afterwards, showing zero remorse for being a total disgrace to the greatest sport on earth, and got tagged with a four-game suspension. The fact is Lapierre is a no-name player who just gets playing time in the league because he plays like a pest. Only he’s terrible at it, runs from physicality after the whistle and hasn’t contributed on the score sheet in any real positive fashion all season.

Basically, he’s easy to hit big. They could have given him lots more and no one would have complained.

Matt Cooke, who put his shoulder so square into the temple of Savard that the small Bruin playmaker likely won’t go a day without a headache until Christmas, is just barely a step up from Lapierre and could have been hit hard and fast by the league.

Instead, however, the NHL gives him nothing. Not one single game. In fact, Cooke didn’t even sit for two minutes or less in the penalty box.

And I know that clearly means the league agrees with the referee’s call that the hit was clean but you can be the judge:

Now I’m fine with being disagreed with so if you also find that hit to be clean, please let me know in the comments section. But if you could just make sure to include the exact words the league should say to the family of the first player who doesn’t wake up from a hit like that, I would appreciate it.

Finally, we have Ovechkin, whose hit was much like Lapierre’s, though Ovy’s clearly didn’t have the same malicious intent and it looked like he wished it hadn’t happened afterwards. But Ovechkin is a repeat offender and the hit was about as dirty as he’s had. Yet he gets two games.

Now I’ve already come out in support of taking the injury out of the equation because some guys can take more punishment than others and that doesn’t change the dirtiness of the play. However, at the speed in which Campbell hit those boards, I can’t think of too many athletes who could have escaped without similar injuries, if not much worse.

Not to mention the fact Ovechkin just took out one of the top defencemen on possibly the biggest competition Washington might face in a Stanley Cup final.

I guess  my question in all of this is, how is one of these any less terrible than the other? And then my second question is, how do they decide on these suspensions in the first place? We’re always told of these hearings with Colin Campbell, who then hands out a ruling, but what the hell does that really mean? Does he think he’s fooling people with these calls?

There can only be so many explanations to this. Maybe Campbell’s under pressure from something at home and is too distracted to make rational decisions. Maybe he’s a drinker. Or maybe he doesn’t decide on suspensions at all and maybe they have that monkey from TSN come in to spin a wheel. (Maggie, not Cybulski.)

The point is, while you can’t just write a rule book to govern all these hits because they differ so much, you can certainly show consistency, especially with incidents so close together.

This double standard and wishy-washy way of running a league will only make them look stupid and then the NHL’s already-fragile reputation will be down the toilet for good.

And how far can that really be away? My cousin sent me a message today essentially comparing the league’s officiating to the CFL.

Need I say more?

How I spent my winter vacation…

Posted in Celebration, Olympics, Sports, Team Canada, Vancouver on March 12, 2010 by Scott Schmidt

Hi there, remember me?

There are actually numerous reasons for my mini hiatus since the close of the Olympics. I could spend a lot of time going on about extended head colds, utter exhaustion, unorganized attempts at getting back into freelancing and a possible clinical addiction to online gaming.

But instead I’ll simply blame my lack of motivation to write on the inevitable lull that is my post-craziest-16-days-of-all-time life and then attempt to go back to how things were a little more than a month ago. All the while hoping – pretending – anything I may discuss in the future, be it about sports or my own experiences, will actually be worth five or ten minutes of your day.

The good news for any of you who followed along during the Games but aren’t sure a blog about sports is something you want to regularly read is, something happened to me in Vancouver that has changed how I feel about my life, this world and this blog.

The bad news is I haven’t figured out what that is exactly and doubt any self-transformation – however large – has made me any less of a brash opinion factory, or any more of an insightfully riveting writer.

In the week and a half since I came home I have been asked by nearly everyone I talk to how the Olympics went. Aside from the sheer fact it was amazing in basically every way, if I had to sum up how I feel about my experience in just one short statement it would be:

I learned a lot.

And now for the extended version…

For starters, I learned empty space on the side of a downtown road does not always mean parking spot. And even if it does at 1:30 p.m., it might not be in about 91 minutes.

I also learned that 16-straight days of go-go-go is approximately three and a half too many for my out-of-shape body. Incidentally, I also learned the price for pushing past that limit is two solid weeks with a debilitating head cold.

But it’s more than that.

I learned that I am one of 34 million people part of something unbelievable that roughly 6.766 billion others don’t get to share in, which is as humbling as it is staggering.

I learned that my country is an example of the possibility of global unity, as for more than two weeks I watched people of every age, race and creed wave the Maple Leaf and celebrate their common ground.

I also learned something about all that makes certain folks jealous and so they focus solely on the negatives and do nothing but point out mistakes, such as broken down ice cleaners, our inability to control the weather and a torch that momentarily operated at 80 per cent.

But I learned when we do make mistakes, we respond by poking fun at ourselves on international television. And when we do it, we’re much better at it than David Letterman’s writing staff.

Speaking of humour, I learned I don’t need to constantly rely on it in my writing in order to captivate an audience. And that’s probably a really good thing since sometimes I’m just not that funny.

I learned time really can heal all wounds and being Canadian can be bigger than past wrong doings, as the partnership between VANOC and the Four Host First Nations reflects. And one extremely patriotic Anishnaabe man taught me as long as we don’t forget what happened long ago, we can move forward, together, with common goals.

On a side note, I learned how to pronounce Peshaunquet.

I learned the sun actually does shine in Vancouver in the winter and when it does, it’s mag-freakin’-nificent! However, I also learned the sun out there is kind of like Chinooks in southern Alberta; those of us who live here can pretend our winters are mild all we want but there’s a reason the world associates us with wind and snow.

I learned Canadian women kick all kinds of ass. They are beautiful. They are smart. And they are much, much better at sports than absolutely everyone else.

Mind you, I unfortunately learned with everything that is FUBAR in this world some people will still find the time to be offended at how some of our fine ladies celebrate.

And then I learned being a journalist means a periodic association with idiots, who will insult the intelligence of those clearly smarter than they by rewording an already dumb question over and over until they manipulate the subject’s response into exactly what they think will sell their story. But I also learned if you are confronted by one of these people and explain to them why that technique is hack journalism, their only retort will likely be “Yeah? Well who do you work for?”

I learned I should start judging each individual by who they are and not by where they come from. And I realized we are so much more like our American neighbours than we are different, and that being proud of one’s country does not mean having to be in constant competition with another’s.

Of course, I learned I could realize all of that and still REALLY, REALLY, REALLY enjoy beating them. And I mean like A LOT.

I learned that nobody throws a bigger party than Canadians. So much so that a writer from Fort Worth, Texas actually referenced the sight to the likes of the 1936 Berlin Olympics. Don’t even bother to be offended by that because he’s a moron but just think about it; how many Canadian flags do you think were out at these Games when we’re being compared to Nazi propaganda? Now that’s a celebration!

I learned the statement, “Hockey is like religion to Canadians” is absolutely 100 per cent FALSE.

Hockey is bigger.

With all due respect to those freaking out right now, I don’t mean to offend you but it’s true. Religion, by definition, can’t bring a free nation such as Canada together the way that overtime goal on Feb. 28 did. Say what you want about pointless dumb sports but when I stood among the million-person mob after that game, I saw Muslims, Christians, Jews, Atheists and everyone else dancing, singing, hugging and cheering all together in complete peace.

When has religion accomplished that?

Anyway, I just want to say I’m back in the blogging routine once again and I hope you all will continue to check back to see what’s on my mind from time to time, even though it will mostly be pro-sports related again. I want to thank everyone who followed during the Olympics and especially to those who had such nice comments for me.

It was an honour to write for you while I was out there and I hope I was able to give some of you a different look at what it was like to live those Games each and every day.

And that’s really the biggest thing I learned. No matter how amazing some times can be it’s not so much the moments that makes them memorable but the people you shared them with.

So thanks for making Vancouver 2010 one of the best experiences of my life.

I know I’m late but you remember that hockey game, don’t you?

Posted in Celebration, Gold medal, Olympics, Sidney Crosby, Team Canada, Vancouver on March 2, 2010 by Scott Schmidt

Hey everyone!!

So I know I won’t win any timeliness awards here but I’m hoping you will all consider me for the best excuse award, as I was in downtown Vancouver Sunday night for the biggest party this country has ever thrown after already going steadily hard for 16 days straight. Plus, I drove to Grand Forks, B.C. on Monday and am ridiculously sick to boot.

However, I’m sure I’m not much different than many other Canadians in the fact I can’t seem to think about anything else but overtime goals and record-breaking gold medal figures, so I’m sure you all won’t mind me talking about it a little.

Does this country have a flare for the dramatic in hockey or what?

I don’t think there is going to be a lot of argument for where Crosby’s goal will rank among the great hockey moments of our nation’s history – Henderson in ’72, Lemieux in ’87 and Crosby in 2010 – but after seeing what I saw last night I have to believe it will become one of our greatest moments period.

The fact that after the goal I ended up in a four-man, screaming embrace on a queen-sized bed in the middle of the rain forest, followed by a trip to the bathroom to get physically sick from all the medication I was on should only solidify how special that goal really was.

I’m not sure what the NHL’s plans are for future Olympic events but I think it’s safe to say this may have been our only shot to win hockey gold on home ice, with names on the jersey backs we actually care about. Just missing that would have been devastating to this country.

Add into the equation how poor our Olympic start was and the fact louder countries (those with a plethora of media) were saying a whole whack of negative things about us, and you’ve got a real problem.

Now take all of that and make that loss to the U.S. – as much a thorn in our sides lately as they are rivals – and you’ve got a national crisis on your hands.

And with 24.4 seconds left in the third period, every single Canadian felt the weight of that disaster looming as Zach Parise slid the rebound past Roberto Luongo forcing overtime. I personally could not speak for the first 10 minutes of the intermission, which will blow away anyone who knows me even remotely.

I thought the greatest 16-day experience of my life might actually end with the toughest sporting loss in my 32 years. Canada doesn’t win every tournament – far from it – but we ALWAYS seem to win the ones meaning the most to everyone and so the aspect of losing this medal, at this time, in that city, left me completely ill.

At that moment, the Deuce looked at me and said, “We WILL win this game, don’t worry about it.” And I kid you not – ask any of the other three guys there – not five seconds after he said that, the sun started to shine through the trees for the first time in four days.

I’m not trying to get into a religious discussion right now but I do respect the will of the hockey gods – as well as the gods of golf, driving and not-making-women-mad-at-me. And on this day, the seventh day of the week, the hockey gods wanted us to win.

And when the will of the hockey gods is carried out – thanks Sid – there is nothing left to do but celebrate. But when that same will also helps Canadian athletes become the greatest representatives of the top of the podium in Winter Olympic history, you must celebrate with the biggest party of all time.

And celebrate we did.

I’m not even exaggerating when I say – though I’ll admit I’m pretty crappy at crowd estimations for a sports writer – there might have been a million people in the streets of downtown Vancouver on Sunday night. By 10:30 p.m. we couldn’t even move anymore; it was either stand there and celebrate or suffocate and be found dead Monday morning.

There were bands playing all over the place and folks of every walk of life were singing, dancing, high-fiving and hugging. I would almost guarantee I even cheered with some Leafs fans, which just proves further how much Team Canada can bring this nation together.

Even the RCMP and police were getting into it, as they were posing with fans for pictures and offering high fives to those passing by. To be honest, as crazy as it was, the boys and girls in blue probably had their easiest task of the Games on Sunday, as the crowd was never dangerous and always peaceful. Of course, I did see one little skirmish but a constable walked over and, in true Canadian fashion, tapped one of the guys on the shoulder and then quietly escorted him away.

If you weren’t hearing music or cheering, you were overhearing people discussing the winning goal. Any cars that actually got near the core of the party were laying on their horns and hanging gigantic flags out of there windows, while anyone close screamed their approval.

Oh and in case you were wondering, owners of pizza-by-the-slice businesses and hotdog vendors will all be announcing their retirement shortly, as drunk Canadians tend to forget they just ate at that other one a block ago.

And on that note, I’ll end this by showing you some videos I took while in that mob, even though they won’t come close to justice. But first, let us pray:

Our Father, who art in GM Place, hockey be thy game.

Thy will be done, GOLD to be WON on ICE as well as IN THE STANDS.

Give us this day, our hockey sticks, and forgive us our penalties, as we forgive those who crosscheck against us.

Lead us not into elimination, but deliver us to victory, in the name of the fans, CANADA, and the HOLY PUCK.

AMEN!

**Submitted by my cuz in Red Deer, but also on my friend’s facebook page, who lives in Red Deer, which makes me wonder if the author also lives there… and also if these two know each other and just aren’t telling me so they can make fun of me**

***And please take that little poem in the fun it was intended and not as a mockery of what I know is a very important prayer to many people***

Check back soon for my Olympic farewell, which I’ll write as soon as I wake up from my coma, drive to Lethbridge and then induce and recover from another quick coma.

Take care all!

And now for a truly Canadian moment, even though this is one lazy game of shinny…

And now for the most badass group of KIDS UNDER 16… Just watch the kid in the back with hood on from time to time. He plays a solo that doesn’t come out too well in this audio but just look at his arms and you will hopefully get an idea of crazy amazing he is…