Shannon Szabados: Blazing a Trail

Shannon Szabados: Blazing a Trail

shannonRecently, Canadian women’s hockey goalie Shannon Szabados signed a contract to play with the Columbus Cottonmouths in the Southern Professional Hockey League. She is now one of the few female goalies who will have suited up with a pro men’s hockey team.

Szabados is already a hero to many hockey fans, especially female hockey fans, for helping lead Team Canada to another Olympic gold medal at the Sochi Olympics. Now, she is breaking down the barriers, proving that a female can play with the boys when it comes to hockey.

She suited up for the NHL’s Edmonton Oilers a while back in practice, to fill in when there were a few trades going down and the Oilers were short a goalie. Now, she is a pro goalie in a men’s league, after making her debut the other night. Sure, she may have lost 4-3, but she made 27 saves, and from the accounts I have read, it was a successful start to her men’s pro career.

Szabados is not a gimmick. She can play. This is great for her, and great for young female hockey players, to realize that there are opportunities out there. Sure, these chances are still extremely rare, but it only takes a few to prove so many wrong.

Shannon Szabados, Nail YakupovThere is a great article on Puck Daddy today about Szabados and the influence she is having on young girls who love hockey. It is quick, and definitely well worth a read.

Shannon Szabados plays for men’s team, inspires future female goalies

 

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: 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.

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!