Monday, June 13, 2011

Canucks take fans on a roller coaster ride

It's tough being a Canucks fan.

For 39 seasons since becoming an NHL franchise, they could not win the coveted trophy of professional hockey - the Stanley Cup. Canucks remain the only Canadian team not to have won the holy grail. As their rivals often tease; "Until you win the Stanley Cup, you haven't won anything". Vancouver's closest rivals Edmonton & Calgary had their good times with cup parades. Edmonton Oilers joined NHL a decade after Canucks did, but soon became a hockey dynasty during 80's when they were led by Wayne Gretzky & Mark Messier to 5 Stanley Cups. Calgary Flames, a team moved from Atlanta in 1980 won the cup in 1989. Although Canucks had an unexpectedly successful run to the finals in 1982 under Roger Nielson, they were crushed by the Islanders in the finals.

From White towels to Green Men - Ever innovative fans
Stanley Cup
By 1994, there was already an inferiority complex developing among fans about the failures of their beloved team. The turn of events in 1994 cup run left bitter sweet memories not many fans have been able to forget. For 17 long years since, Canucks had their ups and downs. They were a cup contender in many of those years, but couldn't go past the second round. Despite being the better team compared to their Canadian rivals during the past decade, they were the subject of criticism, pestering, persecution and torment by critics. All because of one reason - they haven't won anything. With none of the Canadian having able to win the cup for 18 long years, Canucks often had to answer the critics as the only team not to have won it and as the team that's most capable of doing it. Canucks have everything necessary to become a great hockey team; a fully supportive local ownership, a relentless fan base and a great city to call home. They should be winning cups in bunches. But the destiny has been cruel. It hurts their fans deeply.

Rogers Arena - the sellout record continues..
Over the time, the fans and critics supporting other teams have developed a hatred towards both Canucks team and their fans. There is criticism for everything they do - in mass media, social networks, chat rooms, fan name it. But the fans have always been faithful, despite all the failures & heart breaks during past 4 decades. Vancouver is blessed with passionate sports fans. They showed it to the whole World during the Olympics. Yes, there were riots after the game 7 loss in 1994. But, that's history. A team and it's fans that's so deserving shouldn't be kept away from a cup parade for so long. One chance to enjoy being the champions will cool things off immensely. All these hassling about not having won anything is too much to bear for this great city and its citizens.

Canucks winning the cup - will it be a reality?
The good news is that they are one game away from the cup glory. This 40 year long curse could come to and an within hours from now. We haven't forgotten how anxious the Canadian fans were until they enjoyed the moment a Canadian Olympian winning the first gold on home soil. Once the first gold medal was won, a dozen others came pouring in. Canucks fans wait anxiously for their first cup, and they know many cups will follow once they break this jinx. There will be endless celebrations on the streets of this great city. They will show the World for the second time in as many years that they are the most passionate fans ever.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Party continues in Boston

Coming off from a heavy defeat two nights earlier, Vancouver Canucks tried to get back into their natural game and be composed. They just couldn't. Although the Bruins didn't have the same energy level they had on Monday, they were still too good for the Canucks. The result was another heavy loss and a tied series at 2-2. 

This series has many similarities to Canucks - Hawks first round series. Chicago turned around the series from 0-3 down after Torres hit on Brent Seabrook pumped them up. Here, when Bruins were out of sorts, Canucks managed to give them a reason to get energized when Aaron Rome hit Nathan Horton. Although Boston lost one of their best forwards, they were smart enough to make use of the incident for their benefit. It is heartbreaking for the fans to see Canucks play as poorly as they've seen them play for a long time. Boston goalie Tim Thomas continues at his best. But he didn't have to make many big saves tonight, as Canucks kept on loosing puck battles and couldn't get their power play going. 

Now the question is, coming back home to Vancouver and playing in front of home fans can bring back their natural game. Those optimistic will see the pattern of teams making full use of their home ice advantage, and if the trend continues, the Canucks will win the Stanley Cup in game 7. At the beginning  of the week, no one even bothered about a game 7. It's quite a possibility now. I wanted to see Canucks win the cup in front of Vancouver fans. Only possibility of that happening is at game 7. On the other hand, it's only fair that a Stanley Cup final series go all the way to game 7. It's a battle between two best teams who fought for months to get here and fans deserve to see a close battle that go to distance. All the memorable playoff series in the past have gone to game 7. Five of the last 10 cup finals have gone to 7 games and those are the ones we remember as classics. Penguins beating Red Wings, Hurricanes beating Oilers, Tampa beating Calgary, Devils beating Ducks; those are the classics. No body thinks Ducks beating Senators 4-1 as a classic. I always wanted Boston to be in the finals against Vancouver, because they are two great teams with passionate fan bases. It's only deserving that this is going to be no shorter than a seven game series. For that to happen, Canucks have to make sure they win game 5 on Friday. I don't see them coming from behind to force a game 7. On the other hand, these playoffs have been full of surprises. And that's what we love about it.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Boston Party at the Garden

One of the original NHL teams (original six), Boston Bruin's legendary history as a great hockey team is displayed on the rafters of the TD Garden. They have won 5 Stanley Cups and retired 10 Jerseys. One of those retired numbers, Cam Neely now head the organization while the most famous Bruin great Bobby Orr still provides inspiration to the team. But it was the first time after 21 long years the city hosted a Stanley Cup finals game. Bruins, who had already been ruled out by many, showed they are worthy finalists for the cup. Inspired by houseful of passionate fans and the presence of Bobby Orr, they came hard on Canucks from the instance puck dropped on ice. They were physical, speedy and flawless. The game effectively ended at the end of second period at 4-0. Third period was just mocking the Canucks around. Canucks lost their composure towards the end of the game ending it with a thumping 8-1 loss. 
The game was similar in many ways to Canucks' first round game 4 against Chicago. Canucks were riding a 3-0 advantage in the series when Blackhawks came hard on them and made Vancouver pay for their mistakes. Canucks couldn't gain their composure back until the game 7, where they managed to pull off a win in overtime. Now the question is how long will it take to put this loss behind them and pull them off for another win against this confident Boston team. Longer they take to get their composure back, deeper trouble they will put themselves in. There won't be any doubt that Bruins will try to continue with this momentum in game 4 making use of the home ice advantage. Vancouver will have to consider this as a single loss, no matter how heavy it was, and mentally prepare for the next game. Hopefully Dan Hamhuis will be back to strengthen the defence. Canucks have to match Bruins in physicality and speed and try to think of innovative ways to solve the goaltender Tim Thomas. In my opinion, Thomas is the only player who can effectively ruin Canucks cup hopes. Roberto Luongo has to forget this game completely and start fresh for the next. 
Game 4 will be interesting. It will be critical for both teams. Hope Canucks play a tight game and crash Boston party at the Garden on Wednesday.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Canucks heading to Beantown for game 3

Both Vancouver Canucks and Boston Bruins were a single mistake away from crashing out of these playoffs against their first round opponents. Canucks' first round was more dramatic as they lost their composure after gaining a 3-0 lead in the series against Chicago Blackhawks. They were fortunate that Alex Borrows scored an unassisted goal in game 7 overtime. Bruins' fortunes tuned out differently as they came back 0-2 down against Montreal Canadians and won in game 7 overtime. Those hard fought wins strengthened them and pushed them through relatively easy second and third rounds. Now with Canucks 2-0 up in the series, both teams find themselves in familiar situations. Canucks haven't forgotten that things could go wrong from this position and Bruins know they still have a chance to come out of this hole and win the cup.

Game 3 is more critical for Bruins. They know that coming back from 3-0 down is near impossible. Although 2-0 down, the fact that they are yet to be beaten on home ice should relieve them. Bruins know that their fans will be as raucous as the Canucks fans. Despite Canucks been touted the heavy favourites at the beginning of the series, both games has been close contests. Both teams were virtually a single goal away from snatching the win. Canucks found a way to score at the right moment, allowing Bruins no time retaliate. This should encourage Boston to be optimistic about game 3. 

I hope Canucks achieve their cup triumph at home in Vancouver in front of their beloved fans. They need to lose at least one game at Boston to do that. Let's see whether Bruins will find a way to stop Canucks tonight.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

One down, three to go

Rogers Arena
Vancouver Canucks entered the Stanley Cup Final series against Boston Bruins on Wednesday June 1st as the prohibitive favourite to win the Cup. All indicators were directing towards an easy series win for the Canucks, which would be their first Stanley Cup in 40 year franchise history. Bruins, while are deserved to make their appearance at the finals as the champion of the East, it has been the West that dominate the NHL these days. Canucks had a splendid regular season and won the President's Cup without a hitch. They have the most balanced team in the league with several fearsome forwards, a strong & deep defense and a star goalie. The team has been so impressive that hockey experts are wondering whether to call this team the best Canadian team in recent memory.

Yet, Wednesday's first game hanged in the balance 0-0 into the final 20 seconds of the regular time. Despite having many scoring opportunities Canucks could not get the puck past Bruins goalie Tim Thomas until uncanny play by Kesler, Hensen and Torres produced the game winner. It's true that Canucks found a way to win one way or another. But there are enough things to worry about against this Boston team. They are a good defensive team with a classy goaltender who plays according to a well contemplated game plan and can shutdown any good team. Most important is to be mentally prepared  and not get frustrated. It's good that Canucks came across Nashville Predators in 2nd round who plays a similar type of game. Game 2 will be important and will provide a clue on how this series will proceed. If Bruins find a way to win, then this will probably going to be a long series and will caution the fans to get ready for any outcome. I believe Canucks will find a way to win again and signal that they intend to make short work of Bruins and get their hand on the Stanley Cup. It could be as early as coming Wednesday.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

One Step Away

It's been long time coming. Since becoming a NHL franchise in 1970 and in their 40th season, Vancouver Canucks are everybody's favourite to raise the Stanley Cup. Even the Canuck's haters and disbelievers now have to agree that undisputed best of the league are the Canucks. Now it's only a matter of beating Boston Bruins in four games within next couple of weeks. When Henrik Sedin raise the Stanley Cup, nobody can take it away and the whole province of British Columbia will go wild. There has never been more faithful and diehard fan base for a sports team. They deserve the very best - that is the Stanley Cup. Now let's not get too far ahead of ourselves. They still have to beat very formidable Bruins in best of seven series. 

During their first 39 seasons, Canucks put themselves in the exact same position twice. But both in 1982 and 1994, they were not the favourites. They were up against undisputed best teams at the time and couldn't pull of upsets. In 1982, Canucks were surprise finalists against Al Arbour's New York Islanders. Islanders were going for their third straight cup and swept Canucks in the finals. In 1994, it was against New York Rangers inspired by Mark Messier. Ranger's were President Trophy winners and clear favorites. But Canucks gave a good fight before loosing the game 7. Afterwards, although Canucks continually grew better and stronger as a team, they couldn't go past the second round. Past two years, it was the Chicago Blackhawks that put an end to their dreams. In 2009, Canucks were couple of minutes away from taking a 3-1 advantage in the series, and would have sealed the series had their defencemen not lost the composure for a moment to allow Martin Havlet to tie the game. In 2010, despite having a better team overall - as shown in game 1 - they failed to keep the composure against intimidating Hawks. It was a bitter experience for the fans.

This season, Canucks were the best team of the league in every aspect and they showed it in results. Easily winning the President's Trophy as the best team in regular season was a testament to the strength of the team. But fans were not in a mood to celebrate the President Cup. All they want is the Stanley Cup and they won't wait any longer. Dramatics on the final day of the season put their nemesis Blackhawks against the Canucks in round one. Fans were anxious despite the fact that Canucks were clearly the stronger team. Their worries proved true when Hawks came back from 3-0 down to tie the series at 3-3. 40 years long faith were at its tipping point. But Canucks found their composure for the game 7 and won it in overtime thanks to Alex Burrow's unassisted effort. After that it was a walk in the park for them all the way to the finals. 

Canucks vs Bruins is a classic mach up I have been dreaming of. It is a match up that could have easily predicted at the beginning of the season. Even the EA Sports gaming simulators predicted this match up before the season started. Bruins are one of the original NHL teams with a very strong fan base. They are in a 39 year old trophy drought, having won their last cup during Bobby Orr's days in 1972. Both teams are hungrier than ever to bring the cup home and cheer up their long faithful fans.

For Canucks, it's not only the expectations of British Columbia that they carry. Despite being the origin of the Stanley Cup, no Canadian team has been able to win the cup after 1993. Having only 6 of the 30 NHL teams in Canada doesn't help the chances of bringing the cup home to the hockey loving Canadians. Although several teams went all the way to the finals - namely 94' Canucks, 04' Flames, 06' Oilers and 07' Senators - they weren't the favourites at the finals and they couldn't pull of upsets. 18 years of wait is way too long after a series of cup wins mostly by Toronto Maple Leafs and Montreal Canadians prior to this long drought. Canucks are having the best change to turn the tables and bring the cup home and that will cheer up whole Canada. This is the time and Canadians are anxiously waiting.

Welcome Back

It has been more than a year since I last wrote on this blog. That was moments before Vancouver Canucks stepped on ice for 2010 playoffs. That campaign ended up in bitter disappointment as they couldn't get past their old nemesis Chicago Blackhawks. Many things have happened since then. Canucks turned around their fortunes in strongest possible terms in their 2010/2011 season. Tiger Woods lost his top of the World ranking and dropped out of top 10. Roger Federer is no longer the best tennis player. Miami Heats changed the whole demography of NBA by acquiring three superstars. Football loving Spanish nation finally can call themselves champions of the World after their national team's sublime performance at the FIFA World Cup. Cricket crazy India won the World Cup after a long drought and sparked wildest of celebrations.
In the meantime, I lost access to my blog domain Had to move to Calgary, Alberta for a new employment. After a long period of waiting, finally got my domain back. And here I am, just in time before Canucks launch their Stanley Cup finals - ready to ink my pen in support of them. Have been living in Calgary for four months now. But still a die hard Canucks fan and wholeheartedly a Vancourite. I wonder whether I ever be able to think as a Calgarian, much less become a Flames fan. No Way!

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Canucks quest for the Stanley Cup begins today

Vancouver Canucks is the only Canadian NHL team not to win the ultimate prize of hockey, the Stanley Cup. Fans of all other Canadian cities currently having NHL teams have had the great opportunity of celebrating their team bringing the Stanley Cup home once or several times. On the other hand no Canadian team has been successful in bringing the cup home since Montreal Canadians did it in 1993. For 17 long years the cup has not returned to the land where it originated back in 1893. Canadian teams came close but each time beaten by an American team at the final series. Canucks in 1994, Flames in 2004, Oilers in 2006 and most recently Senetors in 2007. One would say that odds of a Canadian team winning the cup is only 20% since there are only 6 Canadian teams in NHL out of total 30 franshises. Still that doesn't justify the 17 year jinx.

The desperation of Canadian hockey fans in seeing the Stanley Cup returning to Canada was evident during Stanley Cup runs of Flames and Oilers in 2004 and 2006. All of Canada got together to cheer them. Many Canadian hockey fans may have their favourite Canadian players playing for Stanley Cup winning US based teams to cheer for, but it's nothing like having your own city winning the cup.

This year 3 out of 6 Canadian NHL teams made the playoffs and it is widely believed that Vancouver Canucks has the best chance out of these 3 teams to win the Stanley Cup. During the same year Canada broke the Olympic gold jinx and made it to the record books as the host of greatest Winter Games, can the same city hosted that Olympics be the place for another great sporting moment whole of Canada waiting for.

Ironically the responsibility of it falls on shoulders of the same man who carried Canada to Hockey gold, the crowning moment of the Olympic games. Vancouver captain Roberto Luongo achieved the defining moment of this career by winning the Olympic gold. But he knows until you have your name on the Stanley Cup, nothing else matters. This year he has the great opportunity of becoming the first goaltender to win both Stanley Cup and Olympic Gold in the same year at the same venue.

After establishing as a NHL team in 1970 Vancouver Canucks had ups and downs along the way during the 4 decades of its existence. Canucks have won 7 division titles including this season and made it to the Stanley Cup finals twice. First it was in 1982 during the time New York Islanders won 4 back to back titles under Al Arbour. Then it was the famous 1994; strong Canucks team led by Trevor Linden and powered by great Pavel Bure the Stanley Cup final series went for 7 games ultimately crowning Mark Messier and the Rangers. Canucks' hopes of building upon 1994 success came to a swift end when Mike Keenen and Mark Messier moved to town. The very same men who brought glory for New York made a mess here. Beloved captain Trevor Linden was traded off and the 1994 team fell apart. Next phase came around the turn of the millennium when GM Brian Burke and coach Mark Crawford slowly built up another strong team. Powered by the league's most feared offensive line with wingers Markus Nusland and Todd Bertuzzi and centre Brendan Morrison, the team developed into a strong Stanley Cup contender by 2003/04 season. But indefinite suspension of Todd Bertuzzi ended the dreams and Canucks were defeated in the first round (game 7 OT) by eventual runner up Calgary Flames.

This year is the first time since then Canucks are regarded as a strong Stanley Cup contender. Since 2004, ownership, management and coaching staff have changed; Nusland, Bertuzzi and Morrison were traded away; Canucks acquired one of the leagues best goaltenders and built a young and strong team. Besides Sedin twins and Sami Salo, it's a different Canucks team altogether. But it's a team with lot of talent and belief. With league leading  six 25+ goal scorers, Canucks are not a team with too many superstars; it's a team with right balance both in offense and defense. And with a great goaltender in Roberto Luongo, they have every chance of success in the playoffs. I'd dream of Canucks overcoming LA Kings and go onto beat Chicago and Detroit before beating defending champs Penguins at game 7 in Vancouver. That would be quite a celebration for the Vancouver fans. But there is a long way to go before that. And the quest starts now.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Vancouver Paralympics: Did we embrace it enough?

2010 Winter Paralympic games are coming to an end. With fresh memories of Winter Olympic games still around the city, there were fans cheering Paralympians at the venues and around downtown Vancouver and Whistler during last few days. Still, I can't help my self wondering whether we missed a great opportunity to truly embrace the Paralympics and showcase another historical event. Vancouver games may be better than previous Paralympics at Turin and some previous Winter Paralympics in many ways. But can we satisfy ourselves with just that. After all Canada is the nation that continue to provide inspiration to disabled people all over the World with amazingly talented and gifted individuals like Terry Fox, Rick Hansen and Michael J. Fox.

When former Vancouver mayor Sam Sullivan, a quadrapeligic, accepted the Olympic flag at Turin to host the next games in Vancouver, the whole World saw the social acceptance of disabled people in Canada. The image of Sam Sullivan twirling the giant Olympic flag from his wheel chair inspired millions of disabled and able people alike. It gave a more defining meaning to the Vancouver Paralympics that were to be followed by the Olympics. This is why we cannot just be satisfied by hosting just an average Paralympic games. This is the first time Canada is hosting a Paralympic after the famous Marathon of Hope, the defining event of disabled people all over the World. (In 1988, Calgary did not to host the Paralympics followed by the it's Winter Olympics due to "financial and recruiting difficulties" - the last time Olympic and Paralympic events were hosted in different cities) After the tremendously successful Winter Olympics, it was a great opportunity for Canada to stage the greatest sporting event for disabled and get the World to appreciate the true spirits of disabled people.

So, why did we waste the opportunity? Who is to blame? Was it due to lack of resources available for the organizers? Didn't the governments fund these games enough? Or is it due to poor planning? In my opinion none of those were the real reason. It was because we set our goals low and did not envision a paralympic that will set the bar for future. We did not expect huge support from Canadians. We did not even expect such a great performance from Canadian athletes. Paralympic broadcasters lead by CTV only wanted to air few sledge hockey games live. They had no plans to broadcast even the opening ceremony until the last minute protests changed their mind to show it live at least in BC. European TV has shown most of the events live from Vancouver. I believe CBC would have done a better job had they been awarded the TV rights of Paralympics.

When you look back at 2010 Winter Olympics and try to figure how it became a great success and made a memorable mark in World sports, you can see it was the people effect that mattered. The whole Canada embraced it so overwhelmingly, the World could not ignore. Did anyone envision it before the games? I don't think so. Olympic Broadcast Media Consortium lead by CTV did a great job in bringing the games to living rooms across Canada. The games generated sensational energy and brought all Canadian together since the Marathon of Hope 20 years ago. But CTV backed down to do the same for Paralympics. I know their decisions are driven by commercial interests. But how can you envision people's reaction without providing the opportunity. Had the Cable TV was more proactive and broadcast the great moments of Lauren Woolstencroft winning record 5 gold medals, visually impared skier Brian McKeever winning triple golds and Wheenchair curlers overcome later resurgence from South Koreans to win gold in a dramatic match, wouldn't the Canadian across the nation embrace these games much more. It is different when you watch a highlights package later.

Different people can have various opinions about this. But I cannot help thinking about the missed opportunity. Canada has grown as a nation bound together with great empathy towards under-privileged and inspired by great stories of individual fortitude of overcoming disabilities. Each of these Paralympians has an inspiring life story of their own that they would like to share with the rest of the nation. When you embraced all those stories you can put things into perspective to understand that anyone is just a single unfortunate moment away from becoming disabled. It is that deep understanding which makes a great nation of citizens who are prepared  fight for the rights of disabled. It is unfortunate and ironic that this international event failed match the individual efforts of Rick Hansen and Terry Fox to make an effect on Canadians (and the World) on how they perceive disabled individuals. Canada has failed to capitalize on this great opportunity.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Lauren Woolstencroft to make history at the Paralympics

Canadian Paralympian Lauren Woolstencroft will be going for her fifth gold medal on Saturday at the Vancouver 2010 games to join an exclusive club with wheelchair racer Chantal Petitclerc and swimmer Stephanie Dixon. They are the Canadians who won most number of gold medals at a single Paralympics, Summer or Winter. On Friday, the alpine skier put Canada into a strong position in the medals table with her fourth gold medal. So far, she has won  9 medals in three Winter Paralympic games. Canada is waiting to see another historical sporting moment on Saturday, when Lauren is going for her 10th Paralympic medal on ladies' super combined event.

On November 24th of 1981, she was born to Calgarian parents as a congenital triple amputee. Her both legs missing below the knees and the left hand missing below the elbow. On a different place on the planet, she would have been struggling to cope up with her disability. But this is the nation inspired by Terry Fox with his one legged Marathon of Hope just few months before she was born. Terry Fox had shown the World how a spirited human being can overcome disability to achieve your goals if you have the willingness. Lauren Woolstencroft has proved it once again. At the age of 28 she has not only become one of the greatest athletes, but also established her self a professional career as an electrical engineer. Walking in the foot steps of Terry Fox, Rick Hansen and Chantal Petitclerc, she will inspire the whole nation and show the World the amazing human spirit.

Hope CTV will not deny the Canadians the opportunity to watch this historic moment live on TV.

"I never felt it (disability) held me back in any way. I sometimes consider myself fortunate for being born this way because I learned how to tie my shoes with one hand." - Lauren Woolstencroft

Follow Lauren at A Skier's Diary


Monday, March 15, 2010

Ernie Els: A Golf Champion & An Ambassador of Autism

Winning golf championships is nothing new for the former World No.1 Ernie Els. But this weekend's win at WGC-CA championship must me very special for him and his fans. It was his first PGA title in two years and only the second in 5 1/2 years. Looking at the near flawless four rounds he played at Doral, one can say it's only the first of many this seoson. This win is more impressive since the World Championship event's field comprised of the best 68 players of the World.

But the most significant aspect of this win for me and many other fans is that this been his first win since Ernie went public about his Autistic son. Two years ago, soon after he won 2008 Honda Classic, Ernie Els and his wife decided to spoke out about their now seven year old son's Autism. Since then Ernie has been a passionate advocate about Autism Awareness. He displayed 'Autism Speaks' logo on his golf bag, encouraged PGA Tour for Autism fund raising, made promotional videos of awareness, created Els for Autism Foundation to donate various Autism related projects and envisioned Autism Center of Excellence - to provide combined education, therapy and research for autistic children. For a cause that lacked star power, he has become a great ambassador. It was a concern that his game didn't improve after breaking that long drought at 2008 Honda Classic. But if you look at the way he played this week at Doral, you can see the confidence in every aspect of his game. He was no match to anyone else in that golf course under difficult windy conditions. At 40 years of age, he doesn't have many years to fight it out with the best of the World. He has to take confidence from this win and continue to perform throughout the season. A win at Augusta (Masters Championship) next month would provide a perfect opportunity for him to promote Autism Awareness Month throughout the World. I wish him well.

"Should we keep it very private and deal with it, or as we've seen, there are so many families that are touched by it. And every time I speak to people, even Ben's school, you can see the pain and the frustration. And I thought if we come out, everybody thinks -- we do have great lives, but in a lot of ways we are very similar to everybody out there." - Ernie Els

“Not quite yet. But we’ll show him the video. He loves watching me practice at the Bears Club. He always comes out and gets on the range and watches me play. But we’ll show him the tape. I think he’ll be excited about it.” - Ernie Els, when asked whether his son understands how much this win means to his dad

International flavour in Tiger-less Golf

I know that some golf fans are lacking interest in current PGA Tour events due to the absence of their favourite player. For the past decade and a half, Tiger Woods has been a sensation not only in golf but also in all of sports. It's no surprise that many have developed an interest in the sport just because of him. But golf is not a one man show; it's been there for centuries as a popular sport. I remember watching golf in pre-Tiger era when Nick Faldo, Ernie Els and Greg Norman played. For some reason, this weeks WGC-CA championship at Doral reminded me those days. There was a truly international field present at this World Golf Championship event. This is where true champions of golf- chosen according to the World Golf Rankings- meet. With players coming from different tours worldwide, you could see different styles of play making it an interestingly competitive event.

It was the first high-calibre golf championship since Tiger's retirement, making it quite a different TV viewing experience. It is no secret that both NBC and CBS provide excessive screen time for Tiger Woods during their weekend golf telecasts to the point it's annoying to watch at times. Driven by the super-stardem of Tiger, TV cameras try to capture every move, guesture and emotion from the moment he steps into the golf course. Doesn't matter whether Tiger is on top of the leaderboard or just trying to make the cut, there are millions of Tiger fans wanting to capture every glimpse of him. This often results in blacking out shots of other players. It has been frustrating for the fans of Vijay Singh, Ernie Els or Mike Weir not to see them in action live on TV. With the absence of Tiger, this weekend's NBC telecast was different and most of shots of top 10 players (plus Mickelson) were shown live. Simply put, it was watchable. Ernie Els played wonderfully to win after a long drought bringing back memories of early ninties golf. It was a multi-colour leaderboard at the end with top 10 finishers coming from 8 different countries. Although the glamour of Tiger was missed, there was a higher sporting spirit at Doral during this weeks golf event.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

A Fitting Finale to the Marathon Road Trip

Lengthiest road trip of NHL history came an end at Phoenix after the lengthiest regular season game we've seen recently. Although it ended up with a shootout loss to Coyotes, Canucks will be happy with their overall performance in the 14 game road trip with the 8-5-1 result. Given the poor results Canucks had on road this season (10-11-1 prior to this road trip), fans can have a relief that worst of the season is over. With only 5 of the remaining 15 games to be played outside the GM Place, Canucks has a good chance to hang onto the Northwest division lead.

It was another entertaining game on this post Olympics leg of the road trip for Canucks. Andrew Raycroft had a great time at the net until letting four consecutive shootout goals to hand the game to the home team. Raycroft had won two of the previous three games he replaced Luongo as starting goalie during this road trip. Most entertaining portion of the game came after the 60 minute regulation. Both teams had numerous scoring chances during the five minute overtime. Shootout went for 6 rounds with seven shooters successfully shooting the puck past goalies, which tied NHL record for most goals in a shootout. Mason Raymond couldn't match the skills of the five shooters before him, but Canucks will be happy to finally return home for a stretch of five home games at GM Place.

2010 Olympics in Vancouver set the stage for this historic road trip as Canucks had to hand over the keys of GM Place for the Olympic hockey tournament. First match was against Maple Leafs on January 30th and it was an easy win for Canucks who carried a 6 game winning streak into Toronto. Next two games ended up in losses against two tough teams, Montreal and Ottawa. But they returned to winning terms with 3 wins in next 4 games. Last game of the pre-Olympic leg of the road trip was one to forget with a 2-6 loss to Minnesota Wild. Canucks clearly showed signs of wear and were relieved to go into the 2 week Olympic break with 4-4 record from the 8 games.

There was no rest for 7 of the Canucks as they played intense Olympic championship. Six different nations featured Canucks. Sedin twins for Sweden, Demitra for Slovakia, Ehrhoff for Germany, Salo for Finland, Kesler for USA and Luongo for Canada. While Sedins were a disappointment, Pavol Demitra featured in headlines with his tournament leading 10 points. But it was Ryan Kesler and Roberto Luongo who stole the show playing at their familiar home and making Vancouver fans proud. Kesler's brilliant one handed empty netter in the preliminary round match against Canada sealed that match for USA and opened an easy path to the finals. Again it was Kesler who first managed to get the puck past team mate Luongo in the gold medal match. But Roberto Luongo successfully completed the most demanding assignment a hockey player has ever entrusted with by winning the gold medal for Canada.

Both Luongo and Kesler carrier the confidence of their Olympic form to beat the Red Wings when Canucks resumed their road trip at Detroit. They were a team full of energy after the break and out performed Red Wings in every aspect beating them 6-3. Although Canucks were given a wakeup call by red hot Chicago Blackhawks, they managed to finish off the latter half of the road trip with a respectable 4-1-1 record. With hardest part of the season behind them, Vancouver is now sitting at the top of Northwest division (and 4th in NHL) with 85 points. Sure we haven't forgotten, how Canucks finished off 2007-08 season with 7 losses in last 8 games missing playoffs by a whisker. But fans should not be concerned given the confidence with which Canucks are playing now. There will be no shortage of spectators when the team returns home after 42 long days to play in front of their beloved fans. Vancouver will be bracing for yet another sporting festival cheering Canucks all the way to the Stanley Cup. How lucky I am to be living in this vibrant city.

"There were days when you woke up in another hotel and wondered ‘Where are we now?' before you get it together a little bit"- Ryan Kesler

"I wouldn't make a huge deal out of this. It was a little bit tough, but we knew the whole year it was coming. We still play 41 at home and 41 on the road... Fatigue is only an excuse if you think about it. You feel it if you want to feel it." - Mikael Samuelsson

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Luongo and Kesler continue with Olympic form to help Canucks beat Wings

Critics didn't have good things to say about Canucks' lack of interest to strengthen their defense before Wednesday's trade deadline. But it didn't seem to bother players as they came hard on full strength Detroit Red Wings to win 6-3. It was an exciting game of hockey, worthy of watching start to finish.

I try not to miss watching the hockey game every time Vancouver Canucks play at the Joe Louis Arena. Energetic & noisy Detroit fans love to engage with the game throughout. High tempo and upbeat style play of highly skilled Detroit Red Wings always make sure an exciting hockey match. Now that Red Wings are back in full strength and are desperately trying to secure a playoff spot in the tough Western Conference, they were a team to beat. Two more reasons made this hockey game special; Roberto Luongo was back for the first time after his Olympic gold medal performance and US Olympic star Ryan Kesler was playing in front of his family and neighbours in Detroit. Both players were at the centre of attention as they put on stellar performance. Kesler continued with his Olympic form to score 2 goals becoming the first star of the match. Luongo stopped 28 shots to help beat Red Wings quite convincingly. Watching Red Wings pulling out their starting goalie half way into the game was a treat to the eyes of Canucks fans. A rare occurrence at Joe Louis. Canucks were ahead of Wings in every aspect of the game; and most importantly Wings were out shot 33-31. The loss put Red Wings barely hanging into the last payoff spot with 20 games remaining, while Canucks firmed the grip on Northwest division lead with 80 points. With back to back wins within two days, Canucks are heading to last four road games of this lengthiest streak on road.

Canucks fans may be disappointed of not strengthening the blueline before the trade deadline, but the they should be happy that Canucks didn't trade any valuable players. Let's have our fingers crossed Willie Mitchell and Kevin Bieksa will return from their injuries for all important payoffs. At TSN Tradecentre this morning, Craig MacTavish named Canucks as one of his five favourite teams to win the Stanley Cup this year. If Olympics heroes Luongo, Kesler and Demitra continue with their sublime form, Stanley Cup dream could well be a reality for Canucks fans.

"It was fun being up 5-2, then being up 6-2, it's something we don't get to do often. It was definitely a fun game to play in tonight." - Ryan Kesler

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Canada finds glory with Olympic Hockey victory

Canadian hockey superstar Sydney Crosby scored in overtime to hand Canada the victory of the Olympic hockey gold medal game against USA. The whole nation is elated and people poured in the streets to mark the greatest sporting moment of the history of Canada. The hockey gold medal put Canada clearly ahead of other countries with total 14 gold medals. No other nation has ever won this many gold medals in the history of Winter Olympics.

"I dreamed of this moment. To win a gold medal and to score the winner in overtime, it doesn't get much better than that." - Sydney Crosby

"You lose the silver you don't win it" - Jack Johnson (Team USA)

Who won 2010 Winter Olympics ? - Canada or USA

Doesn't matter who will win the final gold medal of these winter games, both Canada and USA already had fairytale performances that will go into records books. USA has already matched the highest number of total medals ever won in a winter Olympics, while Canada has matched highest number of gold medals ever won by a country. Still many wonder who should get the credit as the victor of these 2010 winter games. Two different methods of determining the winner has added to this confusion. Both USA and Canada seem to prefer Total Medals Count method, while most other countries determine the winner by Gold Medal Count. Although International Olympic Committee (IOC) does not recognize an official winner, they also publish the medal tables sorted according to Gold Medal Count (Read Wikipedia Article for more info).

It's easy to understand why USA prefer to use Overall medals against Gold medals. USA benefited from this method at 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics when China came up top with 51 golds compared to USA's 36. But USA had 10 more total medals than China. Question is why Canada is also adopting Total Medal Count Method? Are we just following our 'big' neighbours? Apparently, Canada initially assumed the best chance of topping the medal table is by overall medals. This is the concept behind Own the Podium campaign. Nobody may have expected Canadian athletes to win record number of gold medals. After-all we had to first break the home gold jinx. After an unexpected late gold rush by Canadian athletes, now it's too late to change our definition of winner. Our own Vancouver 2010 website will forever show USA has won the Olympics and Canada came in third, while rest of the World will show that Canada has comprehensively won their home Olympics with a records gold medal tally. How ironic.

"Ironically, Canada have fallen short of their own definition of success which was to win more medals - of any colour - than any other team. The vast majority of countries judge Olympic success on the basis of the number of golds won" - BBC Sports

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Stage is set for the greatest hockey game

When we approach the final day of the 2010 winter Olympics, history will be written for both the host country Canada and it's neighbour USA. Canada will secure (or match) the highest number of gold medals ever won by a country, while USA will win the highest number of total medals ever in a Winter Olympics. These are great achievements for both countries who were not considered significant powers in winter sports until last 10 years. Sports fans of both countries are already happy that their athletes overcame European superpowers in these Olympics. But they are much less satisfied until the ultimate prize of the Olympics - the men's hockey GOLD - is added to their medal hauls.

On the eve of the Canada vs USA preliminary round hockey game, I wrote the article "It's not just a hockey game as Canada's pride is on the line" to highlight the hype built up to that game. The general consensus was that the loser will be crushed by the great Russian hockey machine and the two teams will not meet again. But that didn't materialize. So the significance of that preliminary game is now blemished. But the lost to Americans awakened Team Canada to make critical changes in their lineups and most importantly to replace the starting goalie - the changes that proved to be the formula for success in next two matches. So the loss happened to be a blessing in disguise. Now that the Team Canada is stronger in both defense and offense, they go into the gold medal match against USA as clear favourites despite the loss a week ago.

The match has become a showpiece not only because it's for the ultimate prize of the Olympics, but also because of the history that leads up to it. In 2002 when USA hosted the winter Olympics at Salt Lake City, Americans were flying high with a historic medal haul before Canada spoiled the party by comprehensively beating them in men's hockey final. It was unbearable for Americans, but a redemption for Canada who had never won an Olympic gold before. Eight years later Americans have the opportunity to vindicate their pride by beating Canada on it's home soil. On the other hand, Team Canada knows the pride of the nation depends on them and they have the opportunity on their hands to make Canada most decorated nation in the history of winter Olympics. As for most Canadian fans, being at the top of the medal table wouldn't matter unless the precious men's hockey gold is won. For a country where hockey is not a pastime but an obsession, this is the ultimate moment that arrives only once in four years. For it to happen on home soil, this is the greatest sporting moment of Canada. The whole World will be watching how Luongo and his team answer the call.