Golden!

Golden!

Sometimes, waking up at 5 AM is well worth it.

The Canadian men’s hockey team made it well worth while for the millions of Canadians who crawled out of bed at ungodly hours of the morning (or pulled university-style all nighters), by winning the Olympic gold medal with a dominating 3-0 win over Team Sweden.

The morning never seemed so sweet. Or so golden.

goldThis was a dominant performance. The Canadians went to work, won the battles, controlled the puck in Sweden’s zone. Over the course of the game, despite a couple of very good chances turned away by Carey Price, it seemed like the Swedes never really had a sniff. I feel for them, because they are a great team and probably deserved a better game, with their three main offensive forces not in the game due to injury. But that’s the way the tourney goes, and they are definitely a worthy silver medal team.

Canada, once again, can relish in the victory.

This Canadian team was maligned, as most Canadian teams are, from being under a microscope for so long. Sidney Crosby, the best player on earth, was criticized for not contributing enough offense. He scored the important 2-0 goal on a breakaway today, and has been Canada’s best player over the past two games. Even Chris Kunitz, who most people didn’t think belonged on this team in the first place, scored the defining 3-0 goal on a beautiful laser of a slapshot. Jonathan Toews, another forward who had been held goalless, put away the winner in the first period.

This was a team effort, and regardless of the plethora of NHL megastars on the roster, the Canadians played like a team. They remained committed to the team game through the tournament, especially on the defensive side of the game. They could have got nervous and broke down and tried for the offense that the crowds wanted, but they refrained, playing a well-structured game that looked impenetrable against the offensively gifted Americans and Swedes.

At times, it looked like Team Canada was just toying with them, playing keep-away in their end of the rink.

What I liked most about this team, is that they strapped on their hard hats and went to work in a very mechanical fashion. They did what they needed to do, played how they needed to play to win. They didn’t celebrate their goals too hard, or their victories too much. They just scored when they needed to and won games. All of the games. Even upon winning the gold medal, their celebration was sedate compared to the amazing anarchy of Vancouver. They had done their jobs, and done them well. Their goal was accomplished.

For an Olympics that lacked the raw excitement of a home country hosting, such as in Vancouver 2010, this was a great cap to an incredible few days of hockey, and overall, a great Olympics by Canada. 25 medals, including 10 gold. Pretty impressive for our small nation of 33 million people. We can compete with the big boys, the Americans and the Russians, as well as the other winter powers, such as the Dutch, Norwegians and Germans.

We didn’t end up with the most gold, or the most medals, this time around. But because of the men’s hockey, it feels like we won the Games.

Canada vs. Sweden: For the Gold

Canada vs. Sweden: For the Gold

Prior to the Olympic tournament, if I had to pick a winner with a gun to my head, it would have been Sweden. A deep team with great goaltending and experience on the large ice surface, it seemed like a lock that the Tre Kronor would make it to this game. Of course, Canada is always a favorite, even if they have morphed into a different team than probably any of us expected when the selections were made. Canada seemed to be a team based on steady D and amazing offense. One half of that is correct.

canadaWhile they have struggled to score goals, Canada’s defense has been second to none in the Olympics. In fact, it has been better than anyone else by a longshot. Anchored by Drew Doughty and Shea Weber, they have produced goals, dominated possession and kept opposing team chances to a minimum.

If they win the gold medal, it will be because of their defense. They have not been a team to dominate the scoreboard, yet they remain undefeated, overcoming their chief rivals in the US to get to the gold medal game.

The main difference from the Canada we expected and the Canada we have seen is that they have played a more European game, with the tight checking defense and a focus on controlling the puck in the offensive zone. This bodes well against Sweden, in my opinion.

Sweden is a formidable opponent, and Canada has to be sure to be up for this game. Beating the Americans is a huge boon, but they need to show up if they have any hope of defeating a team led by young Erik Karlsson, the standout defenseman from the Ottawa Senators. He is such an offensive force that he is leading the Games in scoring. Not just defensive scoring, but all scoring.

swedenAdd in Henrik Lundqvist and a deep roster up front, and Team Sweden very much deserves to be in this final, and has a very realistic shot at taking home the gold. This will be a tight battle, and it will basically come down to which team can figure out how to either beat the stellar D, or the stellar netminding.

I don’t think anybody is expecting a barn burner of an offensive performance, even though each team has that ability. This will be close checking, and it will be tense.

While it seems like destiny that Canada wins this game, to go along with the gold the women’s team miraculously won, it will be tough.

It will be an interesting Sunday morning. The game starts at 5AM mountain time. And bars in Alberta have been given permission to be open, and serving, during the game. Could be a messy night for a lot of people!

Give me Canada. 3-1.

Olympics: Congratulations Kaetlyn!

Olympics: Congratulations Kaetlyn!

A little late on posting this, but a huge congratulations goes out to Kaetlyn Osmond, who finished 13th in the women’s figure skating at the Sochi Olympics.

osmond3We are a country who craves medals, no matter the colour, but for a first-time Olympian, an 18-year-old with only a couple of World Championship appearances under her belt, finishing in the Top-15 is great. It is difficult to imagine the pressure that we put on our athletes, and we forget sometimes that they need to develop as well, especially on the greatest stage in the sports world. Kaetlyn has done just that, now an Olympic veteran, one who will bring home a silver medal from the team competition, and this will play a major role as she continues on her Olympic dreams.

We will be seeing you again Kaetlyn in Pyongchang, South Korea, in another four years. By then, she should be well on her way to being Canada’s ice skating darling.

Her high school, from which she graduated just last year, Vimy Ridge Academy in Edmonton, is proud of her. As is her city, and her country. We look forward to seeing more of her genuine smile and love of the sport in the future.

Olympics: The Canada vs. USA classics

Olympics: The Canada vs. USA classics

Great week to be a Canadian hockey fan!

First off, there isn’t much to be said about that women’s gold medal hockey game that hasn’t been said already. An absolute classic. The women played their hearts out, and this needs to be considered one of the great rivalries in all of sports. They fought each other tooth and nail, and it was great to see Canada emerge as the gold medal winner for the fourth straight Olympics.

Yes, there were questionable things happen in that game. The penalties at the end and in overtime that went against the Americans were not of the entirely obvious variety (fancy way of saying one was a terribly weak makeup call and the other was going to get called no matter what, the fact they called it cross-checking on the breakaway was laughable).

women2That ending will go down in Canadian sports history. The goals, the post, the comeback. Amazing hockey.

It was great to hear the entire school erupt when the Canadians got their goals, and make their comeback. I know how excited our staffroom was to watch the overtime at lunch. Amazing.

For the men, there is little bigger than a Canada-US game. Sure, the traditional rival of ours is Russia, but the US is the new one, since Russian hockey seems to have fallen off a cliff in recent years. The US are the enemy, our biggest challenger. Canada’s 1-0 semi-final victory was no way the classic that the women’s duel was, but with that score, it was filled with tense moments, which is strange considering that Canada seemed to absolutely dominate this game.

bennDespite our lack of goal scoring and finish, how incredible has Team Canada been at possession during these Games? Watching, it seemed like the whole game was played in the American end. Which is perfect. Now, it would be nice if we finished a couple of those possessions with some goals!

An absolute classic week, and we get to look forward to the 5AM (mountain time) wakeup call to see if our men can secure the double hockey gold once again.

Go Canada Go!

Olympics: Women’s Hockey (USA vs. Can)

Olympics: Women’s Hockey (USA vs. Can)

The way we all expected it to be, and the way that it should be. The gold medal game in the women’s hockey tournament will come down to the two world superpowers in the sport, the United States and Canada.

womenThere was no doubt this was going to be the final game that we were going to see, even with the IOC adjusting the format of the women’s tournament in order to ensure more competitive games, and avoiding the embarrassing 16-0 blowouts we have become all too familiar with over the past Olympic Games. Well, they succeeded on this point. There were no double-digit destructions, which is nothing but good for the sport that is trying to hold onto its spot in the Games.

Canada vs. the US is the fiercest rivalry and battle in the woman’s game. And we should welcome one more battle between the two teams. They did play in the round robin portion of the tourney, with the Canadians winning a close one (of course), 3-2.

These two teams do not like each other. They are both filled with stars and legends of the women’s game. They even brawled in a couple of their warmup matches before the Olympics. This game is the ultimate selling point for people out there who are not familiar with women’s hockey, and to young girls that need to see the best of the best, and that need to see that women’s hockey is a great sport, that can be as hard fought as any of the men’s games.

Best of luck to both teams, they of course both deserve to be competing for the highest honour in their sport. Let’s hope for another Canadian victory, as we have seen in the past Olympics.

Game of Thrones Trailer#2: Vengeance

Game of Thrones Trailer#2: Vengeance

April 6th can’t get here soon enough…

HBO has released a second trailer for the upcoming fourth season of Game of Thrones, which, in my opinion, is the best, most exciting show on television. I am more than pumped up for this year, because I didn’t read the fourth book, so there should be plenty of surprises for someone like me, who isn’t totally aware of what is going to take place in Westeros.

There are just too many great things to talk about in this trailer. From the opening, with Arya Stark listing off the names of those she craves to see dead, to the White Walker on horseback on the end. Blood will be spilled this year (as with every year of this show), and it is going to be amazing.

The best part, of course, is seeing Daenerys sitting above her people, on a throne, stating, “I will do what Queens do. I will rule.” That, with her far more grown dragons, is enough for me.

Watch it.

Completing the Trilogy: Before Sunrise/Sunset/Midnight

Completing the Trilogy: Before Sunrise/Sunset/Midnight

Without a shadow of a doubt, the three films Before Sunrise, Before Sunset, and Before Midnight encompass my favorite film trilogy of all time. Okay, maybe I will call it a tie. With The Dark Knight trilogy. People can take their Godfather series, or Star WarsLord of the RingsThe Matrix (does anyone include this in their favorite trilogies?), or whatever other group of three films they can think of, and in my mind, they all pale in comparison.

The three Before movies are perfect, in my mind.

Because they are great films, because they are wonderfully acted and written, because they take place in cities that I hold near and dear to my heart, and because of the emotional significance of the films, and where I was at in my life as each of them was released/viewed for the first time.

The first thing to love about these movies is that they are set in (essentially) real time. Not just within the film itself, but within their release. The first movie came out in 1995, when we first meet Jesse and Celine. The second film was released in 2004, and the events take place 8 years after their first encounter. Finally, the final (?) installment was released in 2013, and the events in the film take place 9 years after the previous one. This is brilliant. We have the chance to truly see these characters grow. There is nothing fake about their relationship, because we see how they are in their different stages of life. As the trilogy progresses, they get older, wiser, and maybe even more confused. And we are allowed to grow with them. This is a true love story, because it takes place over 18 years. Not a weekend, or a senior trip, or a vacation. It is a lifetime.

sunriseSeeing Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy) go from fresh and naive characters just trying to figure out their way in the world, to seasoned adults burdened by everything that adults are burdened with, is one of the most refreshing things I have ever seen on the screen. And I can’t think of a couple I have cheered for harder than these two. Sure, you always want the guy and the girl to end up together, but we were left for agonizing years, wondering if they ever met at the train a year after their first meeting, or what would happen if Jesse missed his plane from France on his book tour. For years we waited.

And, in a way, hoped.

As a series, this is perfect storytelling. As individual movies, they are brilliant. I’m not sure how someone could go and watch one without needing to know what happened to the protagonists, but I’m sure those people are out there somewhere. A part of me feels like they didn’t really earn it, not having to wait for the lengthy periods of time between installments, to catch up with them, to know where their lives have taken them. But I hope that they can appreciate it all the same.

sunsetI feel a personal connection to these films, as I’m sure so many people do, because of where my life was in comparison to that of the characters during each installment. From wandering traveler, to on-the-cusp of success, to having a real life, I feel I can mirror them in many ways. They are older than I am in the film (Jesse is 41 in Midnight), but I get where they are at. Their lives are not exactly the same as mine, but there are definite mirrors there, and as director Richard Linklater tends to do, he connects with the audience, and makes them feel like they are watching a part of themselves up on the screen, like he knows who you are, and wanted to make you into a character. He even manages to do this in his lighter films, like Dazed and Confused.

The writing of these movies is excellent, mainly because the script is so loose, and really allows the actors to talk to one another, as real people talk to one another. Considering these films could be viewed as little more than people walking and talking, it seems like it could have been disastrous to just allow Hawke and Delpy to chat, hoping for the best. But they are so natural together, and they play off one another so well, that these films really do represent a slice of life. Some of the most real, albeit often philosophical, conversations one may ever see in a movie. Long takes and very, very, few cuts allow the actors to decide what they want to do with the ideas laid out in the script, and their characters develop in a natural way (this differed slightly on the third film, which, according to IMDB, had a tight script and heavily rehearsed scenes).

before-midnightThe third movie follows suit, with the conversations essentially taking place in five locations: in a car ride from the airport, at dinner with friends, on a walk (of course!) through the streets of a small Greek island village, in a hotel room, and at a waterside restaurant. But Midnight offers us something new that we hadn’t seen in the previous two movies, two movies that filled us with hope and belief that true love can be found in the strangest places: fighting. Before Midnight allows us to see the trials and tribulations of love, even if it is the best love story out there, and the two people we, as an audience, have decided are perfect for each other. Spoilers coming. There are cracks in their partnership. Beginning with Jesse lamenting his son leaving their summer Greek vacation for the States, to be back with his mother, the woman Jesse divorced in order to be with Celine. We learn about their history, after Jesse missed his plane at the end of the second film. The couple lived in New York for a couple of years, and then Paris, eventually having twin daughters while living their lives in Europe. Jesse thinks they need to be back in the US to be with his son, while Celine has decided to accept an exciting job offer in Paris. The cracks begin, and they know it, when Celine states that this is how “relationships begin to end.” Their is now an edge to their relationship. They argue in front of their friends, albeit with passive aggressiveness, but we still that they are still in love. Jesse is a successful author. He has written two books about his life with Celine, something that she is not entirely fond of, as well as a third. His writing is what brings them to Greece, as they are hanging around with other authors. Eventually, we see the blowup between the two of them. And it is a mighty battle. On screen, it is one of the better battles between husband and wife (or in this case, long-term partners, as they aren’t actually married) you will ever see. It is painful, and it is real. 

The culmination, and heartbreaking moment for me was when Celine storms in to the room and announces that she no longer loves Jesse. This crumbles everything that had been created in the whole series. Their love was everything, but even it has its limits. And that was crushing and painful to watch. I won’t spoil the very ending, but Jesse puts it out there that this is real life, and even though it isn’t perfect, it is real. Another great line in a series of films that is essentially a myriad of great lines that manage to strike to the core of the audience. They try to pick up the pieces, reconstruct the fallout of their battle, but we are left to wonder if it will really work, if they are living in illusion, or doing it for real.

I think in a love story so strong, we secretly know that one fight will not bring them down. But we are not given the answer; at least, not the whole answer.

With Before Midnight, we get to see what happens to our favorite romantic couple. Even the most perfect romance is not perfect, and their lives are not a fairy tale. It was a struggle to make things work, and sacrifices were made. Lives were upheaved. Jesse gave up his marriage, and the ability to see his son on a consistent basis. He moved to Europe. Celine gave up her ambitions, her career dreams in order to make a family for them. It could all seem perfect, but the best part about all of this is that the writers, Linklater, Hawke, and Delpy, wouldn’t allow it. They wanted to show us what it would really be like. And I loved them for it.

In an interview, Ethan Hawke said that Before Sunrise is about what might be, Before Sunset is about what could or should be, and Before Midnight is about what is (from imdb.com). He couldn’t have said it better himself. By the end of the the three films, we see kids fall in love, reconnect, and survive.

And we know that they are going to be okay, which is all that really matters, when it comes to Jesse and Celine.

“I f*cked up my whole life because of the way you sing.”

Olympics: Scared of Switzerland

Olympics: Scared of Switzerland

I was listening to the post-game summary following the Canada-Finland game at the Olympics, and the hosts were discussing how neither Switzerland or Latvia (the two teams who play to decide who faces Canada in the quarter finals) pose a serious threat to the Canadians in the elimination round.

Well, I strongly disagree.

Ice Hockey - Winter Olympics Day 5 - Latvia v SwitzerlandI am scared of the Swiss.

A team that plays that solid of team defense needs to be one that is able to strike fear into the Canadian team. All three games that Switzerland has played, have all ended up with scores of 1-0 (the won two of them). That means that they already have garnered two shutouts against Olympic competition. Granted, beating the Czechs this year isn’t the most difficult of tasks, but it still says something about how well this team can play together.

And they have the most important thing: a hot goalie, in Jonas Hiller of the Anaheim Ducks. He has been playing extremely well, and this should be considered a problem for Canada.

Plus, they are a massive underdog, with nothing to lose, going against a hockey juggernaught, a team with some of the highest expectations entering the tournament.

Strangely, the Swiss have been a team that have caused Canada fits over the years, which may be surprising to many. Whether it be in the World Championships or the Olympics, the Swiss always play the Canadians tough, and we struggle to get through their stalwart defensive system. The Canadians need shots, lots of them, and traffic in front of Hiller. They need to collapse on their net, and hope for some lucky bounces. It needs to be anarchy out there, and the Canadians need to use their big bodies in order to create havok.

I am confident that this team can win. They have the best players in the world, and their confidence should be boosted after a hard fought win against Finland. By no means are they scoring like they should be, but at least they know that they can play in a tight game, which is probably what they will end up with against the Swiss. As long as they remain confident in their team, and not get rattled by the tight D and make foolish mistakes, they should be fine.

But it doesn’t change the fact that Team Switzerland scares me in this tournament.

House of Cards Season 2

House of Cards Season 2

Note: Since I first posted this, I have finished the season. I have added my comments about the season as a whole at the bottom of the post.

Released for one day. 7 hours later, I have cruised through the first half of the newest season of the Netflix original series, House of Cards.

And it has not disappointed thus far. At all.

house-of-cards-season-2-posterThere is so much to like about this show, but really, it is Kevin Spacey being so deliciously evil that you can’t help but cheer for him, that really makes it all so great. He is absolutely ruthless, and his journey begins just where the first season left off. We have to wonder where he will stop, or where all the deals and promises he makes will have to end. They have to end at some point, don’t they?

There are some big moves in the opening couple of episodes of Season 2, but I won’t spoil them, since this is a show that is worth watching on your own. But there are some good storylines that have come out, and a couple of the smaller characters from Season 1 are getting their own plots now, to the benefit of the show. Of course, there is still plenty of backdoor dealings to keep the more casual fan interested.

I’m sure I will write another post about this series once I have completed the season (which, at this rate, could be later today). Truly addictive television, House of Cards is the best of the Netflix originals, and easily worth the subscription on its own.

After finishing Season 2, I will add a couple of thoughts, without revealing any spoilers.

The best thing about Netflix releasing their entire series’ at once is you can absolutely devour them in a short timeframe. The sad part is that once it is done, it is a really long wait until the next year comes out. I will instantly feel this way about House of Cards. After thrashing through the entire year in less than 24 hours, I will now be forced to wait, like the rest of us, until Season 3 is released, presumably next year sometime. At least, I am assuming they will have a third installment. It is definitely successful enough, and it is more than definitely good enough.

This was captivating political television. There were really good twists and turns throughout, and some maneuvers that one would truly not imagine seeing. As I had noted above, I really liked the new stories with the minor characters. They stay throughout the year, and they are developed well, to the point where you don’t mind watching their segments, and are not just craving to get back to the story of Frank Underwood and his devious schemes.

As for an overview of the entire season, it is great, better than I would have expected. Too many shows promise such great things with the first year, only to disappoint going forward. I wrote about this in my review of the second season of Homeland. But they didn’t mess with this one. There was still work for Underwood to do at the end of the shows first run, and he gets back to business in the second go at it. The schemes, ploys, backstabbing, and back room politics are all still there. And it is absolutely engrossing.

I recommend the newest season of this show with the highest regard. It is truly excellent.

Olympics: Hockey so far…

With the men’s Olympic hockey tournament underway, here are a few thoughts I’ve had from the opening games. At this point, all teams have played at least two games and we really are already separating the good from the bad and the ugly, as happens every year. The prelims really are just a warmup for the teams we know are going to make it to the medal round anyway, as they try and fuse a team together and get some momentum before the elimination games really begin.

Olympic-rings

  • Great job by Slovenia, the tiny former Yugoslav nation with fewer than 200 registered male hockey players, on getting their first ever Olympic win, over the reeling Slovakian team.
  • Even though Finland hasn’t dominated, as a Canadian fan, I am scared of what Tuuka Raask could do in the medal round.
  • The US team has looked dominant, maybe the best team in the tourney so far.
  • 4 goals by TJ Oshie in the shootout against Russia? Incredible. That will be seen as a classic game in no time.
  • Tough blow for Sweden, who were the favorites in my mind. Losing Henrik Zetterberg really hurts. He is a beast, and probably their best player. They have good team depth, however, and should be able to make a run at a medal without him. That D combination of Erik Karlsson and Oliver Ekman-Larsson is terrifying.
  • The uniforms: as awful as they were when they were released, they actually look pretty decent on the ice. That goes for most of the teams. I really like the Finnish flag jerseys, the Czech whites, and the Canada reds. Still a huge thumbs down for the black Canadian alternates, and those Russian ones look like a big mess with the white eagle heads. And is Austria just wearing the Canadian jerseys from 2010 with a different logo? No points for creativity there.

Now, specifically on the Canadian team:

  • I want Carey Price as my goalie moving forward. Luongo played well and got a shutout, but that was against Austria. I just don’t trust him to rise up like I would Price.
  • Crosby has been quiet, which shouldn’t really be a concern. He didn’t do tons in Vancouver, either, before scoring that one little goal of his…
  • I am endlessly impressed with our defense. Weber and Doughty have been great in both ends of the rink. Everyone else has been solid as well. No glaring giveaways, and it looks like they are all playing well together. This bodes well as we move forward, since in these short tournaments, D and goaltending are paramount.
  • Why is Rick Nash on this team again? I love to hate him.
  • Hopefully Canada got a scare from its close opening game against Norway. European teams can really shut it down out there, and Canada has to be willing to get dirty in the corners and messy in front of the net to get some mucker goals in order to bear those teams. For example, Switzerland gives you no chances, so you need to capitalize on every sniff you may get.
  • I don’t know if I like playing two easy teams off the hop. I would rather have had the Finns as a second game, a truer test for the team. Then an easy one to close the round robin. This would have given them a bit of a break going into the medal round. Now, they will be playing tough and meaningful games for the rest of the tournament. No more simple ones.
  • Again, those black jerseys were terrible.

It is very exciting going forward, to see which nation will rise above the others. There are still so many contenders out there, and it really is too tough to call at this point. The US looks like the team to beat, but that could change in a moment, which really is the best part about the Olympic tourney.

Go Canada Go!