All posts by Jason Kurylo

Familiar faces rule at 2015 Van Open

The ads for the 2015 Odlum Brown Vancouver Open boldly touted the STRONGEST, FIELD, like, EVAR, but the winner’s circle was full of familiar faces on Sunday. British right-hander Johanna Konta won her second singles title in three years with a straight sets victory over the top seed, Kirsten Flipkens of Belgium, 6-2, 6-4. It was a productive week for the 96th-ranked Konta, who also won the women’s doubles title with American partner Maria Sanchez.

Johanna Konta won her second Vancouver Open women's singles championship in straight sets. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the head.
Johanna Konta won her second Vancouver Open women’s singles championship in straight sets. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the head.

Dudi Sela won his fourth Van Open championship in straight sets over Australian John-Patrick Smith. Sela broke once in each set for a 6-4, 7-5 victory over Smith, who came into the tournament as defending men’s doubles champion with American Austin Krajicek.

Dudi Sela won his fourth Vancouver Open men's singles championship. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the head.
Dudi Sela won his fourth Vancouver Open men’s singles championship. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the head.

Sela accepted the inaugural Vancouver Open men’s trophy in 2005, then repeated in 2008 and 2010. The only other repeat winner on the men’s side is Marcos Baghdatis, who took the title twice, in 2009 and 2014.

Six players on the women’s side were ranked in the top 100 in the world, with quite a few offering impressive resumés. Most notably, Francesca Schiavone came in having won the 2007 French Open, as well as three Fed Cup titles playing for Italy. She lost in the first round, however, to 20-year-old Tunisian Ons Jabeur. A number of other high-profile players bowed out early, such as former number 4 in the world Kimiko Date-Krumm, who stepped aside in first-round qualifying with injury.

John-Patrick Smith of Australia was the runner-up in the 2015 Odlum Brown Vancouver Open men's singles tournament. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the head.
John-Patrick Smith of Australia was the runner-up in the 2015 Odlum Brown Vancouver Open men’s singles tournament. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the head.

Canadians Sharon Fichman and Carol Zhao made the women’s doubles semi-finals, when they lost to eventual champions Konta and Sanchez, 7-6(2), 6-2.

This ballboy took advantage of some open courts on the final day of the 2014 Vancouver Open tennis tournament. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.
This ballboy took advantage of some open courts on the final day of the 2014 Vancouver Open tennis tournament. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.

Bedwetters no longer

After years of finding new and shocking ways to lose the Canadian Championship, the Vancouver Whitecaps played a statement game in the second leg of the 2015 final, and — finally — won the damned thing.

The Vancouver Whitecaps FC won their first-ever Amway Canadian Championship with a 2-nil victory over the Montreal Impact at BC Place. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.
The Vancouver Whitecaps FC won their first-ever Amway Canadian Championship with a 2-nil victory over the Montreal Impact at BC Place. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.

No penalty kicks, no extra time, no aggregate gaffes, no games halted for bad weather. Just solid play from first and second squad players alike.

Octavio Rivero opened the scoring midway through the first half when he got his foot on a ball that Cristian Techera had already rolled to the very goal line. It was his first goal from the run of play since Middle Earth was a relevant pop culture reference, and turned out to be the tournament-winning goal. It seems only fair; if Techera hadn’t back heeled that wonderful ball from Kekuta Manneh against FC Dallas just four days ago, it would have landed at Rivero’s feet in that exact same spot. Tit for tat, I always say.

Tim Parker headed home a Pedro Morales corner in the second half to double the lead. Given the team’s collapse in Montreal a fortnight earlier — when a late 2-nil scoreline became a 2-2 draw in mere minutes — many of the 19,000-plus fans at BC Place were more nervous up by a brace than they had been when the lead was just one. However, between Parker and Kendall Waston, backed up by a committed David Ousted, two goals was more than enough to seal the deal this time round.

Tim Parker celebrates with Pedro Morales after scoring an insurance goal. The Vancouver Whitecaps FC won their first-ever Amway Canadian Championship with a 2-nil victory over the Montreal Impact at BC Place. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.
Tim Parker celebrates with Pedro Morales after scoring an insurance goal. The Vancouver Whitecaps FC won their first-ever Amway Canadian Championship with a 2-nil victory over the Montreal Impact at BC Place. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.

The fact is, the Whitecaps have now shrugged off just about every minor monkey that’s been riding their shoulders since joining MLS. First it was earning points against stronger teams — the LA Galaxy, Sporting KC, DC United. Then it was getting some individual hardware, like a Golden Boot and a Newcomer of the Year award. Then it was winning against those powerhouses on the road. They’ve won back-to-back Cascadia Cups, and are a win away from making it a threepeat. With the Canadian Championship in their pocket, this year’s somewhat backwards entry into the CONCACAF Champions League no longer needs an asterisk.

Each of these accomplishments are huge steps for a franchise to take. None of them should be sneezed at, nor belittled. Every single one of these players deserves to cherish that medal, and kiss that Canadian Championship trophy as long as they care to pucker.

But now that these smaller firsts have been taken care of, the Whitecaps can set their sights on bigger fish.

These Whitecaps aren’t just the best in Canada this season. They’re among the best in the league. A Supporters’ Shield is no pipe dream — it’s a distinct possibility. With eight games remaining, the Caps have the number one points-per-game ratio in MLS. Playoff success isn’t just a pipe dream; it’s expected.

David Ousted should win Goalkeeper of the Year, if the June Player of the Month award and four Save of the Week honours mean anything. Kendall Waston ought to be in the conversation for Defender of the Year, if for no other reason than because he’s too big to ignore. And if Carl Robinson isn’t nominated for Coach of the Year, there’s something downright fishy going on.

Dare we say it, even the MLS Cup is a distinct possibility. Okay, that’s perhaps reaching, and the LA Galaxy will make life in the playoffs more difficult than a Silviu Petrescu disciplinary hearing. But hey, the Caps have beaten the Galaxy outright twice this season, once here and once in LA. Handily.

The rest of the season is going to be verrrrrry interesting. Pick your dance partners, folks, because this party is just getting started.

Countrymen Carl Robinson and Robert Earnshaw walk the length of the pitch draped in the Welsh flag after the Vancouver Whitecaps FC won their first-ever Amway Canadian Championship with a 2-nil victory over the Montreal Impact at BC Place. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.
Countrymen Carl Robinson and Robert Earnshaw walk the length of the pitch draped in the Welsh flag after the Vancouver Whitecaps FC won their first-ever Amway Canadian Championship with a 2-nil victory over the Montreal Impact at BC Place. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.

 

Ten films you should watch again

I wanted to be up in North Vancouver this morning, checking out the view from Hollyburn Country Club and shooting media day pictures for the Odlum Brown Vancouver Open Tennis Tournament. Alas, I’m at home nursing a later summer cold and flicking my way through a variety of on demand movie listings.

So here’s my list of Ten sports films you should watch again. I invite your commentary, your judgement and your suggestions. I obviously haven’t given a definitive list here, but let’s be clear: I’ll be damned if anyone makes me sit through Slap Shot ever again. Why so many people like that load of unadulterated shite is just beyond me.

Continue reading Ten films you should watch again

Spaghetti, anyone?

In an age of hyper marketing, intense competition and tightly controlled PR, it’s amazing that truly horrible ideas can still make it past the brainstorming stage. Whether it’s the nightmare of design by committee or just a conflagration of mediocre talents pulling the wool over the eyes of out of touch rich CEOs, we occasionally see awful designs rolled out in an underwhelming explosion of anticlimax. We analyze the Canucks’ latest trip to the cash trough with today’s edition of Somebody Approved This.

The act of going retro is, like, so yesterday.

Still, the Vancouver Canucks will break out the ol’ spaghetti jerseys on February 13 to celebrate the 20th anniversary of no longer wearing these black and orange abominations the opening of Rogers Arena. It’s a great excuse to laugh at the Toronto Maple Leafs, who lost a five-game Conference Finals to those awfully dressed Vancouver Canucks back in 1994, but then again the Leafs will only have to see these damned things once. We of Lotusland will have to see a renewed population of black-and-gold fashion faux pas for years to freaking come.

Pavel Bure and Trevor Linden wore spaghetti well. That doesn't mean others should be subjected to it. Photos garnered from various interweb searches.
Pavel Bure and Trevor Linden wore spaghetti well. That doesn’t mean others should be subjected to it. Photos garnered from various interweb searches.

 
Continue reading Spaghetti, anyone?

Four goals is not enough, say four is not enough

The Vancouver Whitecaps steamrolled a third-string Real Salt Lake team 4-nil on Saturday in what can only be considered an apology for the mutt of a game they put forth in their first-ever Champions League match three days prior.

RSL midfielder John Stertzer says "Bring it on, Kekuta!". Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.
RSL midfielder John Stertzer says “Bring it on, Kekuta!”. And bring it on, he did. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.

Ugh. Memories of that Wednesday Champions League match plague me like large, hulking plague-y things. Both the Caps and Sounders fielded third-string rosters who played uninspired, irresponsible football.

Having RSL field their USL affiliate against the Whitecaps first squad, then, was going to end one of two ways: a close match that had Vancouverites wringing their hands in horror, or a blowout. Thankfully for the local boys, it was the latter.

RSL starting 11 vs Vancouver Whitecaps FC, 8 August 2015
RSL keeper Jeff Attinella isn’t sure he even recognizes half the guys in this starting XI. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.

The biggest story isn’t that Octavio Rivero scored his ninth on yet another penalty kick. It’s not that Christian Techera put a brace into the back of the net for his third and fourth goals of the year. It’s not that Jordan Harvey is playing his best soccer just when Christian Dean is showing he’s got game and Sam Adekugbe is rounding into game shape to push him for minutes. It’s not that All-Star keeper David Ousted has the best goals against average in MLS, having allowed just two goals in the last four games and 22 overall this season. It’s not even that Pa Madou Kah scoring his third goal in two games — Pa Madou Frickin’ Kah, my friends, who had only scored once in his previous 58 MLS games.

Christian Techera keeps tabs on RSL defender Olmes Garcia. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.
Christian Techera keeps tabs on RSL defender Olmes Garcia. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.

No, it’s the fact that all of these remarkable storylines are coming together at the same moment. When Rivero hasn’t scored from the run of play since May. With Pedro injured and/or playing so-so football for the majority of the year. When Manneh still hasn’t found a regular groove and Mattocks is still, well, Mattocks. In a season that features a loopy schedule because BC Place hosted the Women’s World Cup. The Vancouver Whitecaps have tied the franchise record of 13 wins this season, and there are 10 games remaining.

This is an exciting time to be a Whitecaps fan. Come on, you blue and white, indeed.

Coach Carl Robinson chants along with the Curva Collective,:"Four goals is not enough, four is not enough!" Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.
Coach Carl Robinson chants along with the Curva Collective,:”Four goals is not enough, no four is not enough!” Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.

You want highlights? You got ’em.

King Kah climbs the Space Needle

This was a dominant performance. The Vancouver Whitecaps took vengeance down the I-5 and spanked the Seattle Sounders 3-0 this weekend, and in doing so moved back atop the Western Conference standings.

Pa Modou Kah, he of a single goal during his respectably long MLS career, put a brace into the back of the Seattle net, and stirred up considerable ire among Flounders fans, players and scribes with his post-game giggles on the Century Link pitch. Kah earned a spot on the MLS Team of the Week for his efforts. Not bad for an ageing defender more famous for big gaffes than big goals.

Pa Modou Kah tripled his career MLS goal total with a brace against the Seattle Flounders. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.
Pa Modou Kah tripled his career MLS goal total with a brace against the Seattle Flounders. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.

It was a text book, solid performance by the visitors. David Ousted got the clean sheet by wasn’t really tested, if we’re being honest. Kendall Waston earned his obligatory yellow card for little more than being a large man. Pedro Morales scored a beauty of an insurance goal on a free kick from distance.

Over 53,000 fans took in the spectacle. It marks seven losses in eight games for a Seattle team that has all the parts to do damage. This Sounders squad doesn’t know what to do with itself right now. Defence? Atrocious. Passing? Loose and irresponsible.

Vancouver is happy to take advantage — these three points mean another Cascadia Cup is just a draw away. Before that, look for heated challenges and not-so-gentle tackles to rule the day when these two teams square off on Wednesday at BC Place in Champions League play. And don’t be surprised if Kah is even more trash-talky than usual after this two-goal performance.

Highlights, even if the preceding ad’s depiction of a Vancouver fan practising in deep snow is particularly galling. Have any of the MLS staffers even been north of 49 before? This is a league where 15% of franchises exist in Canada, but they only play the Star-Spangled Banner before the All-Star Game. Vancouver has snow on the ground occasionally — about as often as MLS brass makes sense, but we would never suggest logic as being one of their defining traits.

Commence the countdown to hockey season

If July 1 brings talk of trades, arbitration and free agent contracts, then August 1 is when hockey fans get down to the serious business of being impatient pricks on Twitter.

Goodbye, Bonino Phone

Brandon Sutter is the newest Canuck, and the latest victim of attacks from Vancouver hockey fans. Gregory Shamus photo cribbed from a Bing image search.
Brandon Sutter is the newest Canuck, and the latest victim of attacks from Vancouver hockey fans. Gregory Shamus photo cribbed from a Bing image search.

The Canucks sent Nick Bonino and prospect Adam Clendening to Pittsburgh for career third-liner Brandon Sutter. On the whole, people in Vancouver were not happy. Imagine the sadness emanating from the Raffi household, for example. There just wasn’t time to record that Boninophone track that dammit should have happened no matter what you say, and BOOM, the Canucks essentially traded Ryan Kesler to the Ducks for Brandon Sutter’s 3rd line minutes.

Of course, once Bob McKenzie confirmed the trade, hand-wringing, hair-pulling and all-around whinging ramped up in seconds.

YVR haters don’t even stop when a player leaves the Vancouver roster. Ex-Canuck and Scrabble aficionado Tanner Glass takes one on the jaw in chart form: the Glass-to-Crosby scale, based on production vs possession, favours the Penguins. Fancy stats people tend to dislike Sutter, generally speaking.

Cooler heads made an appearance, too. (Jeez, I can’t believe I’m on the same side as Tony Gallagher on this one. The difference? I make more hockey-related supporting arguments in 121 characters than ol’ Radio Face does in 500 words.)

As always, the jury is out until we see results on the ice. But let’s be honest: the Vancouver Canucks are not going to play an entertaining, up-tempo brand of firewagon hockey, a la 2011. Brandon Sutter gives them some consistent sandpaper, however, to compete against a never-say-die Flames squad and those dirty, rotten, stinkin’ bastards who call themselves the Anaheim Ducks.

Current crop of Canucks lacking personality

Vancouver fans are still stinging from the dump of Eddie Lack’s meagre salary.  Do I think he’s a number one goalie? No. Should he have been given away for meaningless late draft picks? No way, Jose. There goes our boy Ed showing off his new pads, which alas feature the Carolina Toilet Flush:

For those who don’t like to gram the insta (did I do that right?), those pads look like this:

Eddie Lack introduced his new Carolina Hurricanes pads via Twitter and Instagram.
Eddie Lack introduced his new Carolina Hurricanes pads via Twitter and Instagram.

How many goalies will paint the Great Wall on their masks?

The 2022 Winter Olympiad will be held in Beijing, which means the NHL will be under more pressure to extend its agreement to allow players to play for Olympic gold. There’s so much money involved in China, both above board and under the table, that not even Gary Bettman can let ego get in the way of a deal.

If you thought Puck Daddy’s Jersey Fouls posts were entertaining before, wait until you see a generation of new fans wearing counterfeit Team USA Crosby sweaters.

I only hope Dave Bidini, he of the wonderful book Tropic of Hockey, gets a piece of the action somehow. Outside of ex-pat teachers lacing up the skates in backwater rinks of Mongolia, ol’ Dave was the first person to give hockey in Asia any serious attention.

The 2022 Winter Olympics will be held in Beijing, China. I hope Dave Bidini gets a piece of the action. Photo cribbed from a Sports Illustrated article.
The 2022 Winter Olympics will be held in Beijing, China. I hope Dave Bidini gets a piece of the action. Photo cribbed from a Sports Illustrated article.

Grouse Grind personal best, baby

Why else would you quite literally run yourself into the ground? Trinkets, naturally. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.
Why else would you quite literally run yourself into the ground? Trinkets, naturally. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.

If you read the blog, and I hope you do, you know that I started running less than two years ago in an effort to not not run. I’ve had two injuries since then — one a serious ankle sprain that kept me off my feet for nigh on ten weeks, and the other a nagging owie of the hip that I’ve learned is altogether normal for folks who run long distances.

While I’ve completed six half marathons and a full marathon in the past 12 months, I’ve done less and less training as time goes on. I’m going to ease off the official races — I now have a war chest of tech shirts, each with event logos and sponsors plastered all over them — I plan to spend my energies on a more consistent routine of distance and elevation.

I know what you’re thinking:Jason, consistent routine? Jason Kurylo?!?!?!? Yeah, this is taking me by surprise, too.

Continue reading Grouse Grind personal best, baby

EA nods at the women’s game

For the first time, women will be given some serious play in the world of sports gaming. In the wake of record viewing numbers for the FIFA Women’s World Cup, Christine Sinclair and Alex Morgan will grace the Canadian and American covers of EA’s flagship soccer title FIFA 16 alongside some guy named Lionel Messi. Not bad company to be in, even if they do call him La Pulga, which is Spanish talk for the Flea. 

This marks the first time that women have been included in the artwork of an Electronic Arts sports title. What’s more, the game will also include the opportunity for gamers to play as women — 12 different women’s national teams appear in the gameplay options, allowing customised FIFA Women’s World Cup scenarios.

Christine Sinclair and Alex Morgan appear on the cover of EA's new soccer title, which bodes well for the 2015 Young Player Award recipient Kadeisha Buchanan. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.
Christine Sinclair and Alex Morgan appear on the cover of EA’s new soccer title, which bodes well for the future of 2015 Young Player Award recipient Kadeisha Buchanan. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.

Sinclair has been the face of Canadian soccer for more than a decade. As the most decorated player of any gender in the country’s history, she’s a no-brainer to receive this honour. It’s only a matter of time, however, before up-and-coming players like impressive defender Kadeisha Buchanan take her place. Buchanan was flat out the best Canuck in the tournament, even if you include Canadian-born U.S. roster player Sydney “They’re Saying LeBoo” Leroux in the mix.

On that American side, Morgan is a good player, but make no mistake: she’s an aesthetic choice. Alex Morgan is as likely to sell to young males as females — she’s probably more popular among the swimsuit model folks as she is among soccer aficionados.

Sydney Leroux and Ngozi Ebere chase a ball during the women's world cup.
Sydney Leroux was born in Surrey, BC, but plays the beautiful game for the dirty rotten stinkin’ US.  Here she is chasing down a forward ball against Nigeria in the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.

Then again, Christine Sinclair’s American counterpart Abby Wambach will almost certainly retire now that she has finally won a World Cup title. Keeper Hope Solo, thrust front and centre in the championship photos while ol’ Abby stood back to enjoy the view, is mired in a domestic abuse case that advertisers don’t want to touch. And so, as easy as it is to pooh-pooh EA’s choice of the comely visage of Alex Morgan, who else should be on the cover? Carli Lloyd turned in a performance for the ages in the final game against Japan, but frankly not enough people in the public at large know who she is.

Alex Morgan keeps tabs on a Japanese throw in during the final of the 2015 FIFA Women's World Cup. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.
Alex Morgan keeps tabs on a Japanese throw in during the final of the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.

Not surprisingly, U.S. media are by and large reporting only Morgan’s appearance on the brand. Ignoring Sinclair is nothing new for the Yanks, however — even when she scored a hat trick against them at the Olympics, they only had eyes for the Scandinavian referee and her mysterious pro-U.S. whistle.

If this Twitter user has his way, however, future editions of games north of 49 will be even heavier on the CanCon.

Elsewhere, the game will still allow players to select female teams, but the cover will be a boys’ club. In England, for example, Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson appears next to Messi. [Editor’s Note: We’ve just been made aware that another EA FIFA 16 cover will also include a woman: Steph Catley of the Matildas will join Lionel Messi on the Aussie cover.]

All snark aside, this is a huge leap forward for the women’s game. The 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup shattered viewing numbers, both at the turnstyles in Canada and on TVs around the world. The semis between the States and Germany drew more eyes than the NBA finals, and the atmosphere in BC Place for the seven games I attended was phenomenal.

Now, stepping outside the electronic game for a minute, where the hell are the Lady Whitecaps? Surely they would draw as many or more fans than the Whitecaps II are getting at Thunderbird Stadium?

Episode 071: The dirty rotten stinkin’ Americans totally deserved to win the Women’s World Cup

Russell and Jason discuss the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup, warts and all. The States didn’t show up until it mattered, when they put beatdowns upon the Germans and Japanese. Do we have to like Wambach, Solo and Leroux? No. Do we have to live with the fact that they’re the class of the joint when it comes to women’s soccer? Sigh.

The United States won their third Women's World Cup title with a 5-2 thrashing of the defending champion Japanese at the 2015 FIFA Women's World Cup. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.
The United States won their third Women’s World Cup title with a 5-2 thrashing of the defending champion Japanese at the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.