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On Monday, an anonymous writer for the Toronto Star blasted coach Mike Babcock of Canada’s hockey team for mishandling the “naming of a no. 1 goalie,” portraying Mike Babcock as a gaping asshole—and he can seem like one, for sure—but also assuming that he isn’t a damn good coach in the process. And for that, I take great offense.

S(he) writes: “Maybe you can never make these kind of momentous changes and keep everyone happy.”

Granted, Captain Obvious.

“But Babcock didn’t really try. So now he’s got to ride Luongo to the end of these Olympics.”

Then s(he) follows with this quote,

“That’s the plan,” said Babcock. “You need momentum changing saves, and we’re looking for (Luongo) to do that.”

—as if somehow Babcock would ever lock himself into a decision that he has all the authority in the world to change. My guess is Babcock was saying, “That’s the plan”—and that plan extended to the next big game, and not the rest of the tournament.

S(he) writes “Anytime Babcock has had success—1997 world juniors, 2002 (sic) Stanley Cup final with Anaheim, 2008 and ’09 Cup finals with Detroit—he has identified a starting goalie and rode him hard.”

Aside from reading vaguely homoerotic, this statement says nothing about coaching strategy, but draws a dubious conclusion from not-entirely factual information.

Martin Brodeur, Roberto Luongo, and Marc-Andre Fleury are all starting goalies. And if Brodeur doesn’t hack it one game, why wouldn’t Babcock put in Luongo? He starts nearly every game in the NHL and plays outstanding. His competitive spirit aches whenever he sits on the bench—and he does all of that in front of Vancouver—the home of the fucking Olympics, in case you missed that memo. So how would that sit with the city of Vancouver if Babcock stuck with Brodeur the whole time? Naming a starting goalie ahead of time might give journalists something to talk about, maybe some emotional security (I guess?) but Babcock clearly doesn’t care. He wants to win.

I know nothing of Mike Babcock’s goalie naming in the ’97 W.J.s and ’03 cup finals; but I do know that in 2008, when the Red Wings won the Stanley Cup, he named Dominik Hasek, and not Chris Osgood, to start in the playoffs. Dom won two games, then dropped two, so Babcock put in Osgood and he played amazingly and the Wings won the Stanley Cup, which is far better than just making it to the finals or winning the world juniors. Clearly, your sieve-like memory betrays you, anonymous writer; for Babcock has had his greatest success when goaltending was an uncertainty.

But put yourself in Mike Babcock’s position. Why name a starting goalie if that’s just going relax the other and put the third to sleep? They should all be ready to play, because they do it on a daily basis. If he keeps with Brodeur—who, believe it or not is a mortal man—and if Brodeur plays subpar again, then you canucks’ll shit all over them anyway.

Which must be like second-nature to some Canadians, because s(he) persists in this malarky that Roberto Luongo hasn’t had a career marked by winning,

“Now’s his chance. The last time Luongo had a chance to step forward an assert himself as Canada’s top netminder he coughed up the bit in the deciding game of last year’s playoffs for the Canucks and surrendered seven goals to the Chicago Blackhawks.”

Sure. You may bring up one game when he let in seven goals, but I can think of a couple games in which Patrick Roy let in seven and eleven goals, respectively. They were both against Detroit. But was Patrick Roy an inferior goalie for it? By no means! Likewise for Roberto Luongo.

So this is why I say that you, anonymous writer for the Toronto Star, are an emotional jackass and a bad journalist.

You are also one of many Canadians whose emotions have darkened under the monolith of this sport, awash in this asinine, gold-or-bust anxiety. And I know. It’s “your game.” But if you don’t win this Olympics, Canada will still produce the most NHL players, the most talent, and it will still be “your game,” and one day, you’ll win gold again if you don’t do it this year.

So go ahead and scapegoat Mike Babcock for supposedly scapegoating Marty Brodeur—who, by the way, is taking Babcock’s decision far better (like a fucking professional) than many Canadians right now—for losing a prelim hockey game. But don’t forget what Americans haven’t forgotten:

Final game, 2002 in Salt Lake City.

What y’all just witnessed Sunday was a bunch of talented Americans shoving that game up your collective ass.

Oh but cheer up, Canadians! There’s a good chance you’ll return the favor. Really, hockey is a super fun sport when you don’t give two tugs of a dead dog’s cock who wins. Personally, I like the Swedes. They’ve got great puck support and small egos. Now dat is arhd! But you can still win gold Canada. Just unpucker dem dere asscheeks a bit and have some fun.

Oh wait, you’ve got the Russians next. Good luck.

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In recent weeks, a verbal feud has developed between CBC’s Don Cherry and the Washington Capital’s Alexander Ovechkin.

Previously on Coaches’ Corner, Don Cherry criticized the young Ovechkin for his “goofy stuff”—that is, celebrating too much after a goal. Celebrating too much has been a perennial complaint of Cherry’s, and he has criticized players besides Ovechkin for this (Though the other targets are usually European.) 

Unfortunately, Cherry didn’t stop at “goofy stuff”:

“I’m going to tell you about this guy: He’s got a free ride. He runs at guys, does this stuff,” Cherry said. “I am predicting somebody’s going to get him. And somebody’s going to get him good. There’s somebody out there—some big defenceman is going to be sitting in the weeds. As he cuts across centre ice, somebody’s going to cut him in half.”

He goes on to compare Ovechkin’s celebrations to those of soccer players and Sean Avery’s idiocy. To a lot of Canadian hockey players, dems fightin words. But I’m not sure the insult lands as squarely on Ovey’s chin as Cherry intended. After all, soccer/football is the most popular sport on the planet. But to some Canadians, that’s no way to be.

Cherry said, “Kids, be like Thornton, be like Sakic, be like Yzerman…” and so on. However, Don forgets that there’s a clip of Steve Yzerman jumping as if he were on the moon after a goal, which CBC shows at the onset of every Hockey Night in Canada. What’s the difference? Yzerman is Canadian. Ovechkin is Russian. 

And what about Eddie “the Entertainer” Shack? He was an old-time hockey player for Toronto, who couldn’t score like Ovechkin, but was famous for riding his hockey stick like a witches’ broom after a goal. Shack is a legend for his goofy stuff. But Ovechkin, he says, is a showboat. 

But get a load of this: A man who dresses like this

 Don1

like this….

 don2

and like this….

don3
 

is in no position to patronize Alex Ovechkin for “goofy stuff.” 

Cherry also said, “The same guys that think this is entertainment last year thought Avery was entertainment. You know what, it’s the same church, different pew.” Near as I can tell, Don sits on the front row of that same church; for there are plenty of people who can analyze the game as well as Don Cherry does, but they aren’t on CBC every Saturday night. Why? Because they don’t wear flamboyant suits nor do they entertain folks as much. 

Anyway, tonight, there was much anticipation (in Canada, at least) for Don Cherry’s response to Ovechkin’s most recent celebration. Upon scoring his 50th goal, Ovechkin dropped his stick on the ice and pretended it was on fire by attempting to pick it up but not touching it. Many players from the opposing team voiced their displeasure with the show. 

So I wanted to hear what Don was going to say tonight. Wisely, Don Cherry was quite civil and complimentary—he even called Ovechkin the best player in the league. He still maintained that he doesn’t like that kind of celebration. And rightly so: Don is from the old school, and there is a lot to be said for the Canadian tradition. 

Despite what some may say about Cherry, the league needs his older, grumpier voice. But even if he was taught to hate the Russians, he’s got to watch it. He shouldn’t say Russian hockey sucks. He shouldn’t hound Russian players for the very plays he’d call good hockey from Canadians. And he shouldn’t make ominous predictions about players, especially one that sounds vaguely like calling out a mob hit. 

His impunity is startling to me, though. The things Cherry can say on a publicly funded broadcast on CBC would have any US station in scalding hot water. Remember when Rush Limbaugh tried to discredit Donovan McNabb on ESPN? And remember the shitstorm that followed? I’m sure Cherry’s comments would never be tolerated in the States. And on privately owned stations, to boot. 

Even though Ovechkin says he doesn’t care what Don Cherry says about him, I don’t believe him. These big dumb hockey players need to realize how transparent they are. Cherry, despite his antics, is still right most of the time, and I bet it still eats at Ovechkin. That said, Don Cherry is obviously a bit insecure about Russians leading the NHL in scoring. Or perhaps more specifically, a Canadian isn’t leading the scoring. 

Why guys? There is a shit-ton of good hockey players, Candadian, Russian or otherwise. So why can’t hockey be fun and entertaining? Just look at Eddie Shack!
Eddie Shack

The last post was a cliff-hanger; but a misleading one about the Iditarod sled dog race. The only reason I mention it is that the event brings to mind Uwe Krupp (pronounced OO-vah KROOP), who, due to nebulous circumstances, played only 30 games for the Detroit Red Wings.

He didn’t race in the Iditarod. So forget I mentioned it. He did (does) dog sled as a hobby, and he says every other team he’d been on acknowledged this hobby. Which is truly badass, even if animal rights activists disagree. However, he went dog sledding while he was on the mend for a herniated disc, which he sustained in his 22nd game of the ’98-’99 season.

He had signed with the Red Wings shortly after their 1998 Stanley Cup win. It was a four year contract in excess of $16 million. And apparently, dog sledding while injured violated said contract (though I doubt it was explicitly written as such). Consequently, the Wings’ lawyers brought their whole hammer down on Mr. Krupp, depriving him of $12.3 million of his contract. 

As soon as the press got ahold of the news that he was dog sledding while hurt, rumors snowballed. People said he was holding out, or that he had quit the Wings to race in the Iditarod. Others said he was like a lemon car, always breaking down and needing repairs. One of my teammates even said he was an Eskimo (I guess the name threw him off.). Whatever it was, it was clear to Detroit fans that he had no desire to play for the Red Wings. 

Of course, little of that was ever true.

All this makes me wonder. Why did the Wings suspend him without pay for 722 days? Was what he did that unpardonable? He was a great defenseman, a giant (as far as hockey players go) at 6’6″ and 240 lbs. He could have added size, strength and experience to the Red Wings.

Perhaps there was still enmity between Krupp and the Wings. After all, Krupp was a key defenseman for Colorado during their ’96 cup run, in which the Av’s shut down the Wings in six games. Many still remember his triple overtime, Cup-winning goal that year.

The German-born Krupp did try to break into the Red Wing’s line-up again during the 2001-02 season. Unfortunately, the Red Wings were one of the most loaded teams in NHL history, with Nick Lidstrom, Chris Chelios, Steve Duchesne, Sergei Fedorov, Steve Yzerman, Brett Hull, Luc Robataille, Igor Larionov, and a young Pavel Datsyuk. So it was no surprise that such short shrift was given to the aging Krupp. He only played eight games that season, and little was heard from him again.

But goddammit, Uwe! You were supposed to be this colossus, this legendary thing! And yet you had to go dog sledding with a bum back. I remember how disappointed I was. I was disappointed because I was excited to watch you play for the Wings. And I’m sure a lot of other Detroit fans would say the same thing. We wanted to like you, man!

But all this is proverbial water under the bridge. Today, Uwe, I salute you, as a great hockey player and a true badass.

When I logged on to vote for the NHL All-Star game, I was confronted with “Vote Early, Vote OFTEN,” which made me jump up, wondering what the fuck.

“So you mean some douchebag from anywhere in the world can just sit in his bathrobe online repeatedly voting for the same player!” I say.

There was something redolent about this slogan, I thought, of some recent foulness that got me to thinking of when I first heard Rod Blagojevich was carrying on a pay-to-play game with his clientele.

I wonder if Blago had something to do with this shady voting decision, because there are three Chicago players in the starting line-up, and no Detroit players at all.

I remember a news story reporting that Sidney Crosby had broken the all-time record for total number of all-star votes. How could that could even be a legitimate record, as there was no limit to how much one person could vote, let alone something for a hockey player to cherish? (I guess he can keep that award next to the no Stanley Cup in his trophy chest).

Anyway, I had hoped for a little variety in the starting line-up, but all the NHL’s got, foax, is a four-way circle-jerk between Montreal, Chicago, Pittsburgh and Anaheim. (The fact that Montreal players are in the starting line-up is inevitable, if not preferable, as the game will happen there.)

The “Vote Early, Vote Often” campaign didn’t just snub Detroit players, like Pavel Datsyuk (who is a skills-competition must) and Nicklas Lidstrom, but the likes of Alex Ovechkin, Jeff Carter, Patrick Marleau, Thomas Vanek, Big Joe Thornton, Jerome Iginla, Mark Savard, etc. etc.

It comes as no surprise, really, that those teams would be represented, especially Pittsburgh and Chicago who have received a hell of a lot of hype this year. 

So on behalf of disgruntled fans who only voted once—and know it’s not a big deal—here’s a very happy fuck-you to the NHL and a thank-you for giving me one more reason to feel rotten this year. And by the way, I’m pretty sure Detroit’s (ex)Mayor can beat up Illionois’ governor Blagojevich.

I have a tradition (or something of that ilk) of buying my father a new hockey stick every Christmas. For the past two years, I have splurged on one-piece, composite sticks, each running me well over $100. Nevertheless, my father broke each within the year. One on a shot, and one on a face-off. So it comes as no surprise that my Christmas dray has no hockey stick on it for Dad.

Before I continue, allow me to mention a few biographical details: The curtain was already closing on my competitive career when these composite sticks became popular. During that career, I used both wood and aluminum sticks with wooden blades. I did try a composite once. But like sex with condoms, I never liked the feel much, and my overall satisfaction was diminished. Moreover, the stick was so light that there was no way in pluperfect hell I was going to hurt anyone with it: Which, since I was a paltry 5’6″ (and so I remain), hurting my six-foot foes was an integral part of my game. So I threw that new-fangled composite over my shoulder and kept my wood sticks. 

Back to shopping… Yesterday, I went to a hockey store for my yearly purchase. There were only 15 wooden sticks there (I counted), and about 500 composites. Now, my father did like the composites I bought him, despite their short lifespan. Consequently, I figured he’d want another one. I found one with the kind of curve and lie that my father likes. Plus, it was a Henrik Zetterberg model, and my father is his biggest fan. (Of course, whether Zetterberg actually uses this model remains lost in the fog of corporate travesty.) Unfortunately, the price on this model was a whopping $220. 

Most of the sticks I used to buy always had “Fabrique au Canada (Made in Canada)” painted onto the stick. However, as I scrutinized the Zetterberg stick, I saw “Made in China” printed on the sticker (Notice that it was on the sticker, which you discard, as opposed to the stick itself.). Furthermore, many of the other composites had “Made in Mexico” on their tags. Suddenly, I was filled with a deep rage, which has yet to subside. 

Although neither culture has done much else to embrace the sport, I don’t mean to disparage the good Mexicans and Chinese who made these overpriced twigs. My anger has nothing to do with where the things are made. So don’t even start with the jingoism rap.

“So what’s with the unchecked aggression, here?” you ask. It is because, whenever I bought a stick with “Fabrique au Canada” on it, I assumed some Canadian was making a decent wage because of it. I would spend $20 on a piece of lumber and fiberglass but never lose any sleep over buying it.

Not so anymore. Anymore, I get the sense I’m paying a buttload of money to an increasingly consolidated group of CEOs and investors. Get a load of this:

Around twelve years ago, the shoe giant, Nike, bought out the hockey pad company, Bauer, and dispensed with the hockey brand, Cooper (Nike has recently sold Bauer for about half what they paid for it. For more, go here.) I remember my adolescent teammates and I drooled over Nike equipment for a few months, until sweat and mould replaced the sexiness of our new pads. In our needy little minds, though, it had to be Nike. 

In 2004, another shoe giant, Reebok, purchased hockey brands CCM (Canadian Cycle and Motor), Jofa, and Koho. Since they have taken over, it seems these companies can’t go a year without overhauling their skate, pad and stick designs. Granted, there have been some new technologies, but certainly not enough to justify such efforts. More likely, all that redesigning is simply a ploy to sell more products. 

So what justifies such high prices? One might argue that the cost of the graphite and Kevlar for these one-piece sticks drives up the cost of making them. I suppose it is true that graphite and Kevlar are more costly than ash and fiberglass. However, some graphite sticks go for as low as $60. Moreover, I am reminded that pencils use graphite, not lead. And pencils are some of the cheapest items around.

Or perhaps it is the Kevlar that makes these sticks expensive. I have no clue how much it costs to make Kevlar. When my hockey stick will have to block bullets, I can only guess, but Kevlar regularly fails to keep the stick together when it comes to shooting a puck.   

Maybe the initial investment in the new machinery and stick factories keeps the prices ridiculous. (I’m trying to be fair here, aren’t I?) But after ten years of production, I find it hard to believe that these corporations are still paying for these machines. The reality is is that the head honchos of Nike, Reebok, and Easton are laughing all the way to their Swiss banks. 

So before I haul off and fly to a stick factory in Mexico just to pay someone $30 to run a stick off the line for me, so he can take home double what he makes in a week, here’s the point, kids: Hockey is already an expensive sport to play, what with the cost of ice time and liability concerns (read: a bunch of other crap that you won’t understand until you’re older). Just know that the price to play is by far the biggest barrier for kids around the world, and the increasing price of equipment can only hurt the game. And then remember that all the money and technology in the world will never make you as good as Sidney Crosby or Henrik Zetterberg. 

 

And now for something completely different….

The stick that gave me the wickedest wrist shot of my life

Sher-Wood PMP Paul Coffey pattern (and thank God they still make it! And in Canada, too.)—I used it for three years until it fell apart. I remember I liked it when the wood came unglued from the fiberglass. The blade had more give then, and I could control the puck better.

The stick that gave me the hardest slap shot of my life:

Easton T-Flex 95 Aluminum with a wooden Steve Yzerman blade—When I was fourteen-years-old, I clocked an 81 mph slap shot with that stick. An honorary “most vicious slash” award also goes to this stick. I always got my two minutes worth with the T-Flex, may it rest in peace.