Union Lock Out Caps: Vancouver 0-0 Philadelphia

I know, I know. It’s the employer that locks out the Union, not the other way around, but Sunday’s result was better for the visitors. On a night when the greatest scare the Vancouver Whitecaps had came from seeing Alphonso Davies go down awkwardly a few minutes from time, the home side played the Philadelphia Union to a nil-nil draw Sunday evening at BC Place.

Alfonso Davies moves the ball upfield.
Alphonso Davies, with no hyperbole, just may be the most exciting player to hit Vancouver since Pavel Bure. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.

Sunday started much the same way that Thursday ended, with Vancouver content mostly to sit back, letting Philadelphia have as much of the ball as they wanted, so long as they did nothing with it. Unfortunately for the 19,083 announced attendance, Philly had much the same idea. Continue reading Union Lock Out Caps: Vancouver 0-0 Philadelphia

Red Bulls Give ‘Caps Wings: Vancouver 2-0 New York (3-1 agg.)

It seems both not that long and an eternity ago that the Whitecaps were contenders. As recently as the second half of 2015, Vancouver had a realistic shot at the Supporters Shield before faltering down the stretch. Think back to that time. Glorious, wasn’t it? David Bowie and Carrie Fisher were still alive. The President of the United States had big boy-sized hands that weren’t hovering over the nuclear launch button. None of our Cascadian rivals had stars on their kits. The Caps had qualified for their second straight Champions League by winning their first Voyageurs Cup. Then 2016 happened. And happened. And continued to happen. Jesus, it just kept happening. Then on Thursday evening, Vancouver returned to form, defeating the New York Red Bulls 2-0 to become only the seventh MLS team to advance to the CONCACAF Champions League semifinals.

Men run after an inflated rubber thing on plastic grass.
Derrick Etienne of the New York Red Bulls chases Jake Nerwinski of the Vancouver Whitecaps during CONCACAF Champions League action. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.

Continue reading Red Bulls Give ‘Caps Wings: Vancouver 2-0 New York (3-1 agg.)

The Vancouver Whitecaps Confused Me, volume I

The Vancouver Whitecaps, as you may have gathered from the title of this article, confused me today, when out of nowhere they traded Giles Barnes, a member of their injury-depleted attacking corps, to Orlando City SC for Brek Shea, a player who the traditional wisdom says the Whitecaps don’t have a current need for.

Me, waking up for a night shift and being greeted by the news of the Barnes-Shea swap.

Lest you doubt my sincerity when I say this move confused me, I attach this reaction shot documenting my reaction to waking up for a night shift to the news of the swap. My level of puzzlement has varied somewhat in the subsequent hours, but I remain not entirely sure what the hell is going on here.

My initial thought when I saw the news was that Shea wasn’t a fit for the Whitecaps at all. Isn’t he some left back/left wing hybrid with a gun fetish and the fashion sense of a Sounders fan, I asked myself, brows afurrow. Surely Robinson doesn’t intend to use him there. With Manneh, Techera, de Jong, Harvey, and, when they return from injury and loan, Levis and Adekugbe all competing for minutes on the left side of the park, why add to the glut? And why isn’t the crime against clothing here pictured sufficient to disqualify him from the fashion-conscious gaffer’s plans?

The next thought was if Vancouver wanted to bring in another designated player from abroad – Atiba Hutchinson perhaps – they’d need to buy down one of their lower-paid DPs using allocation money. People on social media astutely pointed out that If Shea were on less money than Barnes, that might save the club some bucks when – if – they pull the trigger on that hypothetical deal. This sent me into another land of confusion that’s an article in itself regarding how the heck Matias Laba came to be paid so much more money than I remember him making. Anyways, good shout, people on social media. Perhaps this is a precursor to a larger move.

But that still leaves the question of what exactly to do with Shea now that he’s here. A player comfortable anywhere up and down the left side is really about the last thing the Whitecaps need this season after a true attacking midfielder, a box-to-box partner for Laba, all the Tiger Balm, discipline, and a kit that doesn’t look like a cheap tablecloth. Fortunately, Shea appears to be versatile enough to play elsewhere. A glance at the heat maps from the last half of Orlando City’s 2016 campaign shows that Shea was used and had success primarily on the right side of the park, but appeared to get quite a few touches in the left and middle. In other words, it looks as though Robinson may have found at least a stop-gap solution to the absence of Yordy Reyna, Christian Bolanos, and Nicolas Mezquida. A front four of Montero in front of the combination du jour of Manneh, Shea, Davies and Techera shouldn’t lack for speed and will hopefully be creative enough to see Vancouver through to the summer when, soccer gods and Tiger Balm willing, they’ll be fully healthy again.

A Series of Unfortunate Decisions – The Promising Prospect

Dear Canucks Fan,

You have no doubt become aware of this, yet I still feel it necessary to warn you that the hockey team you follow is terrible. Languishing low in the league, Vancouver, despite its stated intention of competing for a playoff spot, seems instead destined to once again offer its fans the cold consolation  of a lottery pick.

(My apologies for the Lemony Snicket-style alliteration, I’m just really excited for Neil Patrick Harris as Count Olaf.) Continue reading A Series of Unfortunate Decisions – The Promising Prospect

Remember Steve Bernier?

Longtime followers of Pucked in the Head might remember that we started out as a podcast called Bernier is a Turd. That was back when Steve Bernier was an overpaid roster spot holder for the Vancouver Canucks. We frequently complained that Mr Turd was a sorry excuse for a hockey forward, and accused him of being a garbage goalmonger of the very worst sort. “He can only score if he’s standing in the crease,” we lamented, “and only then, with no goaltender between him and the goal line.”

Theory: Steve Bernier can only score from here, just not when that guy with the pads is there.
Theory: Steve Bernier can only score from here, just not when that guy with the pads is there.

Turns out we were half wrong.

Bernier now plies his trade in the American Hockey League, for the New York Islanders affiliate Bridgeport Sound Tigers. As the Hartford Wolf Pack pressed to tie a 3-2 game late in the third period, our man Steve lay down, angling his shin pads just so, to block a point shot from Ryan Graves. The puck bounced, ricocheted, rebounded, even caromed the length of the ice into the Hartford net. There was indeed no goaltender, as the Pack had opted for an extra attacker. But we admit — Bernier can, indeed, hit the net from outside the crease.

You can’t say he didn’t do it on purpose.

If you liked this, check out our Weird Goals post. Oh, and its sequel, Weird Goals II.

 

At last, the Cubs win

anchorman-007

“I am a glass case of emotions right now.”

No, this is not a story about Anchorman. But you gotta love that Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo, who was no doubt feeling all the pressure one would expect in Game Seven of the World Series, while playing for a team that had not won in 108 years, picked that quote to describe his mental state of affairs last night. And that David Ross, the veteran catcher who was playing his last game in the majors, had just previously told him “Well, it’s only going to get worse. Just continue to breathe. That’s all you can do, buddy. It’s only gonna get worse.” Wiser words…

Game Seven in the World Series. By default this is a situation that comes with some pressure, right? Each team has won 3 games. Whoever wins this one gets champagne showers, so you know there’s pressure. This is the situation that every kid playing baseball dreams about, being at the plate or on the mound at the end of Game Seven, winning the game for your team and your town and your fans. Joe Biden would probably think of it as a pretty big deal.

Joe Biden, ice cream and a fist full of tens.
Who are we kidding? Biden is too busy living the freaking life.

But this was no ordinary Game Seven, last night in Cleveland. No, this was Game Seven featuring the two teams in baseball with the longest Series droughts – the Cubs’ infamous 108 years, Billy Goat Curse and all, but the Indians sporting a not-too-shabby 78 years of their own. For perspective, the last time the Cubs had won the World Series, American women did not have the right to vote, Jim Crow was still the law of the land, and there was no major league baseball on the West Coast. It was an awfully long time ago. And even the Indians’ last win came as African-Americans were finally in the Majors – Larry Doby and Satchel Paige both played for the 1948 Indians – and Harry Truman was President. Generations of Cubs and Indians fans have never seen their team win the Series.

The 1908 Chicago Cubs
But seriously, guys, can I get a smile here? YOU’RE WORLD SERIES CHAMPIONS.

The Cubs dominated the regular season but had gone down 3-1 in the Series, then come back to make it 3-3. For the deciding game, the Cubs started Kyle Hendricks, he of the best ERA in the regular season, while the Indians countered with Corey Kluber, who had already won two Series games and was pitching on short rest.

Continue reading At last, the Cubs win

Weird Goals II

We at Pucked in the Head appreciate weirdness. Odd scoring plays, in particular, bring us equal parts unbridled joy and unsolicited hate mail. Consequently, we are happily wary to present this, the second installment of Weird Goals. (The inaugural Weird Goals post can be found here.)

Loui Eriksson starts off his Canucks tenure with a bang
From horrible trades and season-long injuries to embarrassing contracts and mysterious coaching changes, the Vancouver Canucks have had a rough go of things since gifting the Boston Bruins the 2011 Stanley Cup final. The latest bit of bizarre came on the opening night of 2016-17 against the dirty, rotten, stinkin’ Calgary Flames.

After signing a big off-season free agent contract, Loui Eriksson was making his Canucks debut. Less than ten minutes into the first period, Troy Brouwer drew a penalty; Ryan Miller skated to the bench for an extra attacker, as the Canucks had possession. Eriksson found himself hounded by four — count ’em, four! — Flames, and despite having the delayed penalty on his side, panicked. He threw the puck back to his defenseman, but WAIT! The D were thinking line change and/or attack, so the puck slid the length of the ice and directly into the Vancouver net. Brouwer got credit for the snipe before heading to the box for an ineffective Canucks power play.

Interesting point: after this game, Canucks goalie Ryan Miller had a perfect 1.000 save percentage, and courtesy of a Vancouver shootout win, a 1-0 record. However, he was not credited with a shutout because of Eriksson’s blunder.

Twitter just it up, as you can imagine. BTW, after nine games in Canuck blue and green, this remains Eriksson’s lone goal of the season.

Flames score as Dumba goal as you’ll ever see
What the hell, Calgary? You get all these bizarro goals and you’re still a Pacific Division stinker? I mean, sure, you’ve got that one win for Lanny back in ’89, but jeez Louise, you’ve gotta turn all of these awful gimmes into more than one lousy Cup.

Devan Dubnyk has no chance at all when a shot by David Jones goes off Mike Reilly’s stick, then caroms off Matt Dumba’s head into the net.

Marc Bergevin throws the puck into his own net
Who says the San Jose Sharks only have bad luck? Early in this game against the St Louis Blues, Marc Bergevin decides to gift some karma to Mike Ricci et al with a shortstop-worthy flip into the back of his own goal. Gary Suter dumps the puck in; Bergevin gloves it and tries to fling it away from the onrushing Sharks forwards. Instead, it flies past a stunned Roman Turek into the Blues net. Tie game.

Ed Belfour gifts Mike Gartner, 1993 All-Star Game
Mike Gartner isn’t supposed to play. An allegedly hungover Ed Belfour probably shouldn’t. Together, they make magic in the first period of the 1993 All-Star Game.

Belfour comes well out of the net to prevent the fastest skater in the league from catching up to an Adam Oates clearing play, and lets the puck through the wickets with hilariously bad form. Gartner, added to the lineup to replace injured Rangers teammate Mark Messier, scores his second goal in 22 seconds to put the Wales Conference up 2-0 early. (He goes on to score two more and earn MVP honours before the game is out; Belfour allows six goals in his 20 minutes of duty.)

Bonus: the 1993 All-Star Game in its entirety.
Watch Wayne Gretzky, Ray Bourque, Patrick Roy, Steve Yzerman, Pat Lafontaine, Pavel Bure, Alexander Mogilny and Adam Oates, among others, as the Wales Conference beats the Campbell Conference 16–6. Twenty years ago, the ASG was actually watchable.

 

2016-17 NHL Fantasy Draft, part one

It’s been four years since I last joined a hockey pool. I’ve enjoyed the game far more in years that I don’t have a horse in the race, you know? This season, though, I thought I’d throw caution to the manure-flavoured wind and join a workmate’s keeper fantasy league. Here’s how my draft went (part one):

Round One – Vladimir Tarasenko (RW), 8th overall pick
Even if he plays for the dirty, rotten, stinkin’ St Louis Blues, Vladimir Tarasenko is bloody exciting to watch. He’s an explosive player whose speed and agility recall a young Pavel Bure, and I loved watching Pavel play. This guy can score from just about anywhere, and last year he did — 40 goals was good for fourth overall in the NHL in 2015-16. Tarasenko is on the cover of EA Sports NHL 17, and ranked at #6 overall by Greg Wyshynski over at Puck Daddy.
Picked 8th overall, just after Steven Stamkos — how the hell does Stammer go 7th?!?!? — and one before Joe Pavelski.

Vladimir Tarasenko of the St Louis Blues is the EA Sports NHL 17 cover dude, and my first round pick. Photo cribbed from the St Louis Blues website.
Vladimir Tarasenko of the St Louis Blues is the EA Sports NHL 17 cover dude, and my first round pick. Photo cribbed from the St Louis Blues website.

Round Two – Erik Karlsson (D), 17th overall pick
Karlsson’s 82 points was good for fifth in the league last year (well, tied for fourth but Joe Thornton had three more goals than Karlsson). Buddy had 66 assists despite playing on the woeful Ottawa Senators. Again, a joy to watch this guy play the game. It’s easy to cheer for someone who makes plays like this.
Picked 17th overall, just after Carey Price and one before Ben Bishop.

Round Three- Artemi Panarin (LW), 32nd overall pick
Artemi Panarin was lightning with Patrick Kane last season. Sure, there are rumours the Blackhawks might split them up to start the year, but he’ll still be on a line with Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa. How , oh how will he ever score 77 points again with those losers on his line; huge loss for the plucky sophomore. Yes, I just wrote ‘plucky sophomore’ — mainly because of this:

Picked 32nd overall, just after Dustin Byfuglien and one before Cory Schneider.

Rounds 4-15 to come.

Thanks a lot, Ovi

I was all kinds of cynical coming into the World Cup of Hockey. “Who cares about Gary Bettman fellating Toronto for two weeks?” I asked. “It’s just a glorified pre-season cash grab.”

It’s easy to stand by those remarks. Many of the world’s best hockey players — Phil Kessel among them — aren’t spending these couple of weeks in Hogtown wearing their national flags. In the case of Team Europe and Team North America, even the players who are there are wearing shirts with meaningless, made-up logos.

It’s easy to laugh at the States — Tortorella, Kesler & Co. just take themselves so seriously — so Kessel’s jibe on Twitter is too joyfully snarky to shake off. But let’s admit it: the Yanks weren’t that bad. They outshot the Czechs by a wide margin, and put a pretty good scare into Canada for ten to fifteen minutes of the first period. Even when that elimination game was a foregone conclusion, the good guys up by three goals in the third period, America the beautiful hit three posts and even scored one to make it interesting. Face facts, and it was a lucky bounce off of Corey Perry’s gut that proved the turning point in Canada’a game two romp.

I’m not upset at the U.S. getting knocked out, especially after the clusterbleep of Americentric propaganda coming out of the Rio Olympics. What kills me is the elimination of Team North America. That entire team played with jump and grit nearly every shift. Their breakneck speed and puppy-like enthusiasm brought fans out of their seats, coaching systems bedamned. Mistakeswwre made multiple times per shift! It’s what makes the World Juniors such a blast every year — even goals against are spectacular.

Coach Todd McLellan saw the speed and skill of the kids and decided to play — gasp — a fun style of hockey. After all, if you peer through the bluster of hockey media and clear away the vast sums of money that lather up those precious athletic egos, fun is what the game is supposed to be about, isn’t it?

But back to Mother Russia. Tarasenko and his comrades issued a 4-3 comeback against  the younguns featured a colossal second-period meltdown that must have felt pretty familiar to the Maple Leaf fans in the building; the only difference here was that Team North America very nearly scored their way out of the problem. Russia was merely lucky not to let these kids into overtime.

Mans so we have a Saturday night loser-go-home tilt between Canada and Russia. And somehow it feels like meh.

It’s hard to believe that Sid the Not-A-Kid-Anymore versus the Great Eight is a letdown, but damn it all, that Team North America was just so bloody entertaining, it’s a shame to see them sit after just three games. We may never see Connor McDavid set up Auston Matthews for another goal again. Ever. And that’s hard to swallow.

Damn it, even Team North America’s goal song was fun.

The good news is that the Toronto Star says the Crosby-Ovechkin rivalry still exists. You know, except that one of them has won multiple Stanley Cups, Olympic gold medals and a long-running Tim Hortons contract. The other? Sure, he’s got a Rocket Richard trophy or two — Ovechkin can snipe all the live long day — and some World Championship titles, but you only win those when your team is out of the playoffs early. Fact: Alex Ovechkin will forever be judged by the hardware he hasn’t won. Right now he’s in the mix for the Best Player Who’s Never Won a Cup award with the Sedins, Marcel Dionne and Darryl Sittler.

Alex Ovechkin is the dirty, rotten, stinkin' bastard who robbed us of a Canada-Team North America semi at the World Cup of Hockey.
Alex Ovechkin is the dirty, rotten, stinkin’ bastard who robbed us of a Canada-Team North America semi at the World Cup of Hockey.

Even if he does manage a miracle, and gets Russia past Canada this Saturday, even if he then helps win the best-of-three final against either Sweden or Team Europe, a pre-season, cash grabbing World Cup of Hockey trophy won’t bring him up to Crosby’s level.

The Need For Consistent “C”

Building a team within the confines of MLS isn’t a particularly easy task. By and large, the player pool is generally limited to in-betweeners (those who can’t quite make the cut in other leagues) and to players either in the dawn or twilight of their careers.  It’s also limited to players who are willing to work and play on our vast continent and put up with the turf and the travel – there is minimal contrast between most when it comes to talent in a league driven by parity such as MLS.

Erik Hurtado fell down. It was Scott Dann's fault. The Vancouver Whitecaps drew at two with Crystal Palace FC of the British Premier League at BC Place. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.
Erik Hurtado busts his balls every game. But he isn’t often a difference maker, like the vast majority of MLS’ers. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.

The Designated Player rule is a means by which teams can bolster their roster – it is the most immediate mechanism clubs have to separate themselves from the pack. And when you’re hamstrung by the budget limitations enforced by the Whitecaps front office, it makes the necessity to utilize that mechanism all the more difficult – and crucial.

It is also a process that the Whitecaps have seemingly overlooked and/or underestimated repeatedly.

Continue reading The Need For Consistent “C”