Friday, February 21, 2014

Your Definition Of Great Differs From Mine

Well, have the real hockey fans who want to be entertained by seeing the best take on the best gotten sick of the hyperbole yet? I have no idea what these CBC announcers are watching but how they can call the Sochi 2014 Olympic men's hockey tournament "great" is beyond me.

If you enjoy "shot, save, whistle" or "shot, save, no rebound chances" then this is the hockey for you. If you enjoy offensive ineptitude, this hockey is right up your alley. Forget the 55 shots Team Canada fired at the Latvia net, this was an ECHL goalie stoning a team of supposedly the best in the world because those "best in the world" really just had no answer. Hey, if the Ron Tugnutt of Latvia can shut down an offence that thinks each shot on goal = a true scoring chance then so be it.

 Before Gudlevskis, there was Tugnutt

Honestly, after you've experienced two fairly decent Olympic tournaments (Nagano 1998 and Salt Lake 2002) and two above average ones (Torino 2006 and Vancouver 2010) overall, I was expecting a bit more than this low-scoring non-action style even with the number of injured players (and even national team general managers) who could not make the trip to Sochi. Maybe that's the problem here. Without 100-percent healthy lineups for all teams, the goals go to die on the big ice in 21st century hockey.

We could blame the big ice but both Nagano and Torino were played on ice of the exact same dimensions as well, and there were some terrific games then. Can you imagine a 7-4 game in a semi-final? That was the score that Pavel Bure's five goals helped to create in Russia's win over Finland in 1998.

Hey, Ovie, you're no Pavel

That's not all. Fully 75 percent of the games in the first round and the playoff rounds that followed featured at least five goals in regulation or more.

In group play we had Sweden come back for a 2-1 deficit after one period to beat the USA 4-2. Russia and Finland first had a 4-3 group game before their all-time classic semi-final. Even the Czech Republic's 4-1 win over the US in the QF had plenty of action as Dominik Hasek stood on his head turning aside 38 shots.

In 2006 at Torino there was a fair number of good games. Slovakia upset Russia 5-3 in both teams' openers. Latvia and the USA tied 3-3 thanks to Arturs Irbe stopping 39 shots. The Swiss upset the Czech Rep. 3-2 behind David Aebischer's 40 saves.

It wasn't all great goaltending as one of the most fun games of the tournament was Slovakia's 6-3 win over Latvia. The Finns beat the Czechs 4-2 in a game that saw 71 shots on goal all tolled.

Then the first of what is now THE classic matchup of international hockey (sorry, Canada) Russia beat the US 5-4. Finland, though, caught the US in the next game 4-3.

One of the semi-finals (to repeat, a SEMI-FINAL) had Sweden take apart the Czechs 7-3.

So, it's not the "big ice" that is ruining play at the Sochi Olympics. It's more the overcoaching and teams being far too tentative overall. It's gigantic goalie pads still. It's the mentality of "don't lose" rather than go out and win it. It's the nonsense that a team thrown together two or three days before a tournament is the way to produce quality hockey. It's playing three games each day on the same ice with only one on fresh ice in the smaller arena. It's playing in Stanley Cup Final playoff temperatures that affect the ice especially at Black Sea level.

Yet all these things were pretty much the same in Nagano and Torino so why here and why now? These are questions for others to answer as, frankly, I don't care why. I just want goals or at least some breakaways or two-on-ones and some sustained action around the nets.

Look, I have always loved watching Canada in these tournaments. I get into the selection process. I debate the line combinations. Doing an Olympic hockey pool--cool. Yet, I'm tired of playing fantasy GM once the hockey starts. I NEED actual good hockey. Olympic hockey should not be more boring than watching the LA Kings or Vancouver Canucks struggle to score in another meaningless regular season NHL game. It just shouldn't.

Sacrilegiously, I'd sooner see a 4-3 loss to Sweden and a glorious silver medal in the upcoming Final than a 1-0 or 2-1 Canada borefest gold medal win like today vs. the USA. This is anti-hockey. It's soccer on ice. Try as the Canadians did, it's too frustrating to watch offensive ineptitude.

Explain to me, how someone who is supposedly the equivalent of Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux in the game today can have zero goals in the tournament. Slow starts are fine but a "slow" tournament overall?

Please don't tell me it was all Jonathan Quick and the US D. It wasn't just that.

I can enjoy the odd 1-0 or 2-1 game, especially if there are tons of shots and actual scoring chances. It's just now with five 1-0 and three 2-1 games so far, enough already!

How many times did we see Canadian forwards come down and overpass?
How many times did we see them come off the boards and shoot straight into the crest on the goalie's jersey?
How many times did they try to jam or rugby scrum it into the net?
Not enough traffic in front of the goalie?
Too much traffic in front that you can't get the puck through?
Which is it?
Do I even care anymore?

Wasn't part of the selection process done with picking forwards who had proven themselves in the big ice in the IIHF World Hockey Championships? So, Rick Nash, where are the goals? Where are the amazing drives to the net? Where's that terrific shot of yours?

Remember when Rick Nash could do this?

Give me Guy Lafleur flying down the wing blasting away. Hey, give me Sidney Crosby slaloming through the D for the Pittsburgh Penguins over him wearing a badly designed Team Canada jersey and flubbing easy chances from two inches in front of the net. 

It's beyond bad hockey period. Stop telling me this tournament has been great. It plainly hasn't and unless this is addressed in a constructive way, what is the point of having a best vs. best tournament then? If this is the best hockey can do on the international stage, sorry, I remember 1972 . . . and 1976 . . . and 1987 . . . and 1996. Heck, I was at Nagano in 1998 when it was fun to be in the building not bored out of my skull as I am on my own couch.

Honestly, when these so-called "journalists" look back on Sochi 2014, they'll realize next to maybe the 2004 World Cup, this has been the most forgettable display of actual best vs. best hockey since it began in 1976.

Just don't bother waking me up at 4 a.m. on Sunday to watch GI Joe Head Hughson not do the actual play-by-play and just go on and on about the "great" hockey he's witnessing. I'll be up at 9 a.m. to fast-forward to the goals, if any . . . then I'm popping in my 1987 Canada Cup Final Game 2 (yes, even better than Game 3) DVD to remind myself what truly great international hockey is.

 Now, THIS is great hockey!

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