Canada has the Best Athletes. Period.

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Canadian Athletes

25 medals, 10 of them gold. Need I say more about Canada’s Olympic athletes?

Say what you want about the Olympics and the politics behind it but the winter games in Sochi is showing how far Canada has come when it comes to sport. I remember the days when the talk in Canada was about how we are not supporting our amateur athletes. Medals of any colour were once hard to get. The recurring cry is government needs to pour in more money for our athletes.

Not a lot of credit, though, is being given to corporations for stepping up to the plate. They realize who their customers are, everyday Joes and Janes like you and me. Their financial assistance have allowed these athletes to train full-time in order to be their best.

We do like to get behind our athletes but they also have to live up to their end of the deal. Sport is a 2-way street. It is part of good sportsmanship. And right now, they have done more than their share.

The fantastic effort by our athletes at the Olympic games has been worth its weight in gold. This is going to bode well for Canada’s next generation of athletes. It is why Canada’s athletes are the best in the world.

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International Rules in the NHL? No Thanks

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NHL Logo

We continue to hear how the NHL should be more like Olympic hockey or international hockey. They say there’s no fighting or dirty hits, and players can skate more freely leading to more goals. That will make for more exciting hockey. Really? First of all, if it were not for NHL players participating in the games, hockey would have been dead as an Olympic sport.

The international rules (aka: the rules being used in the Olympics) are designed for amateur participants. It’s basically beer-league hockey. I know of at least two leagues in Ontario that adopt similar rules to the international game. I can tell you those games are as fun to watch as paint drying. I can understand if these players had jobs and careers outside of hockey. But for guys like Sidney Crosby and Jonathan Toews, who are paid and trained to play hurt and get their nose dirty, this is well beneath them. Perhaps that is why those two are struggling to score for Team Canada in the tournament because they are not playing with that same edge you see in the NHL. To them, this is not how they play hockey.

The big ice surface at the Olympics is also not making things exciting. It is believed that the bigger ice would offer more room for players to skate. There have been plenty of long stretch passes but very little end-to-end action. Some are also under the impression that the bigger ice would neutralize the so-called neutral zone trap. I’ve got news for you people, the trap was developed in Europe using the 200 by 100 ice dimension. It is practically made for the Olympics. Crosby probably would not have carried the puck in and battled his way to score the “Golden Goal” in Vancouver if it happened on an international-sized rink like the one in Sochi.

As for fighting, many who follow me know I’m of mind that fighting keeps everyone on the ice honest. By threatening to eject players who fight, international rules basically protects the perpetrator and eliminates any fear of retaliation. It’s that fear that makes a player think twice about laying an elbow on an opposing player’s head if they have to fight. While fighting in the NHL does not lead to an ejection, there is a rule that further penalizes a player that initiates a fight. That has reduced fighting to WWE-style staged bouts. But that being said, I’ve seen no one walk out of an arena in disgust when a fight happens. Everyone is cheering their home player during a fight.

I have said it before, true hockey fans, and even those who don’t like the violent nature of the sport, are being turned off by these ongoing attempts to sanitize the game. But I don’t expect the detractors to stop anytime soon. So you still like the international game? Better bring a pillow and some coffee. Or better yet, Red Bull.

Michael Sam is on the Clock

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Michael Sam

Time is ticking for Michael Sam. The defensive end from the University of Mississippi has gotten plenty of attention since announcing he is gay. But it is going to take more than coming out to get a job on an NFL team. Sam is in a unique position where he can change the culture of professional football. But it will be his talent and not his sexual orientation that will determine if he makes it in the NFL.

Before I continue, if you are not a football fan (or a fan of any professional sports team), you might be wondering what I mean by on the clock? Teams take turns when drafting players. When it comes to one team’s turn to draft a player, they only have a certain amount of time to make their selection. They are on the clock. I use that term on Michael Sam in reference to the Andy Warhol theory — where everyone is famous for 15 minutes.

No one I know has had a long playing career in sports just because they relied solely on their race, religion, or gender. Nobody would be talking about Jackie Robinson today if his baseball career lasted one game or one season. Being gay or lesbian is no different. I think Sam knows only his play on the field will determine whether he ends up being a back-up or gets a spot in Canton. But the media is leaning so much on his homosexuality that it will do him and his football career more harm than good and I’m not talking about how his future teammates will react to him in the locker room. His sexual orientation is going to be a distraction but how he handles it will be the difference. By the way, I think people will be in for a surprise as to who Sam’s detractors are. Homophobia does come in all colours, sexes, religions, and political stripes.

Sam will be embraced by everyone once he dons an NFL uniform. That’s until his next hit that sends a quarterback/running back/receiver/lineman to the hospital. Then his supporters will turn and call him a dirty player. But I can bet Sam will take that criticism over the talk about being the only openly gay football player in the NFL. Right now, that’s all he’s got going for him. Sam better use his time wisely.

UPDATE (MAY 22, 2015):

Sam signs with the Montreal Alouettes of the Canadian Football League.

Price is Right for Canada

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Carey Price

We are underway. For the next 2 weeks the hockey world is focused on Sochi and Canada will look to defend the gold medal in Men’s hockey.

Perhaps the biggest decision heading into this year’s event will be who will start in net for the Canadians. Many Maple Leaf fans will cringe when I say this but I think the goaltender that can give Team Canada the best shot at gold is Carey Price. While we can debate about experience, talent, and numbers until the cows come home, there is one key ingredient no one is talking about. Price simply has performed better with less talent around him than Roberto Luongo.

In the last 10 games, with many of their key players on the shelf, Luongo hasn’t been able to help Vancouver get out of their funk. It would have helped his cause for the starting job if he was able to steal Saturday’s game against the Leafs. But he couldn’t hold the lead and, to add insult to injury, the winning goals were scored by Phil Kessel and James van Riemsdyk, two Toronto players that will be playing for the U.S. in Sochi. Price, on the other hand, has been standing on his head, part of the reason the Habs have won 3 straight heading into the break. Yes, the Canadiens do have other Olympians on the roster (Max Pacioretty, PK Subban, & Tomas Plekanic to name a few) but the overall talent does not match up with the Canucks’ when everyone is healthy. Like Jonathan Bernier, Price has been successful despite the team getting regularly outshot by their opponents. And I can assure you he will be facing a lot of shots in this tournament.

There are a couple of other factors to take note. In the two Olympics that Canada won gold, the projected starter at the beginning of the tournament ended up being on the bench for the gold medal game (Curtis Joseph in 2002, Martin Brodeur in 2010). Also, Canada did not go undefeated in any of the Olympic hockey tournaments that NHL players participated in. They will lose a game but the key is when. Canada ran the table during the preliminary round in 1998 only to lose to the Czech Republic in a shootout in the semi-final round. In contrast, a lot of people got worried when Canada were beaten by the U.S. during the preliminaries in 2010. We know what happened 7 days later.

Wiarton Willie Saw His Shadow on Sunday…

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Wiarton Willie

… which means:

  • 11 days until pitchers and catchers report for spring training
  • 5 more days until the start of the Winter Olympics in Sochi
  • 21 days until the gold medal game in men’s ice hockey
  • one month until NHL trade deadline (March 5)
  • 8 weeks plus a day until Opening Day in baseball
  • 2 months, 2 weeks until the start of the Stanley Cup playoffs

and…

  •  it meant the Seattle Seahawks will win Super Bowl XLVIII

Spring? Right now it’s only found in Russell Wilson’s footsteps!