John Stewart guests in our second baseball episode. We talk the back side of the ball in this, the 69th episode of Pucked in the Head.
• Sofa Surfer Girl by the Orchid Highway
• Mike Zunino can’t hit but he frames pitches like a master
• Paxton designed Zunino’s mitt
• Robinson Cano has a sky high baseball IQ
• A happy little dance at shortstop
• John loves Felix Hernandez
• John loves Kyle Seager, too
• John loves being a nerd, three
• Being a manager is a tough gig
• Stompa! by Serena Ryder
I like my sports stuff. Photos, cards, jerseys… you name it, I’ve got a few. My favourite piece for years has been an 8×10 Gerry Cheevers signed for me when he was in town for a Vancouver Giants Legends Night— dude, CHEEVERS! Two Stanley Cups, the 1974 Canada Cup, a stint in the WHA, and that iconic mask, are you kidding me? This guy is the very epitome of old timey hockey. He’s even got his own three-chord proto-punk song, for crying out loud.
Mrs Pucked in the Head isn’t so wild about having 8x10s and pucks littered about the place, however, even if they have been scribbled upon by ageing professional athletes. I have to pick and choose what goes up on the wall, and what goes into storage. (Sure, I’m a sucker for cutesy pictures of our daughter, but we’ve got plenty of those photos around the rest of the house. I can moon over her adorableness in just about any other room, at pretty much any time, so I stamp this room with my own personal clutter, thank you very much.)
Since I started running last year, for example, I’ve managed to assemble a fistful of finisher medals from 10k races, half marathons and that one bloody full marathon I did back in May. Throw a few of those on the curtain rod, and they look all right. Add some hockey memorabilia and a small collection of tribal masks acquired during various vacations, and you’ve got a cosy little office space.
Before the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup, Canada coach John Herdman predicted his squad would definitely reach the quarter finals. It wasn’t exactly a huge leap — the team is ranked eighth in the world, and came away from the 2012 Olympics with a bronze medal — but announcing they would win the tournament on home soil would have placed undue pressure on a team already in transition from Christine Sinclair’s personal playground to a roster with a diverse attack.
Do they have enough to get by the Brits? A review of the tape says, definitively, nope. In their round of 16 game against #11 Norway, England scored two world class goals, one a text book corner kick, and the other a booming right foot to the top corner after a series of three quality one-touch passes. They’re such an exciting squad that folks on British TV seem to be having a rather physical response. (Reminder: punctuation is important.)
Canada, on the other hand, as scored just three goals in the entire tournament. Sinclair put away a late PK to beat the Chinese in the World Cup-opening game, Ashley Lawrence finished a broken play against the Netherlands, and Josée Belanger took advantage of a scrambly cross late in the Switzerland game to boot the ball home from 13 yards.
The teams actually match up fairly well. Canada plays an aggressive style, low on finesse but high on passion and power. They like to attack, and feel good trying to make plays on the run. Look for Belanger and Lawrence to run straight at the opposition defense, looking for that extra step, and pressuring missteps whenever possible. England has a more traditional, patient approach — they know this game inside and out, and prefer set plays to track meets. Watch for them to slow the play down when they possess the ball; they’ll work triangles to their advantage, and try to run behind stationary defenders.
Prediction: This game goes to penalties, tied 1-1 after regulation. Kicks are a lottery, so who’s to say who wins at that point? *shrug* Canada on PKs.
Most everyone in the media were calling for the Swiss to upset the Canadian national soccer team at the Women’s World Cup. Kudos, then, to the ladies in red, who gutted out a 1-0 win against two of the most dangerous individual threats in the game.
The game itself was less than stunning, a statement with which my Pucked in the Head compadre Chris Withers will be happy to concur. With a berth in the knockout rounds almost guaranteed, the US played a conservative, defensive game. They were more content to limit Nigeria’s forward movement than to create any of their own. Consequently, keeper Hope Solo had little to do but wave at her adoring fans and glare at the officials.
On the eve of Vancouver’s second double header of the tournament, we revisit the first. Cameroon spanked Ecuador 6-nil despite the teams sitting just five spots apart in the FIFA world rankings. I suppose that’s what you get when an African country plays far fewer meaningful international friendlies in the months leading up to the Women’s World Cup — Cameroon is far better than its 53rd place ranking would suggest. Check 33rd ranked Nigeria shocking the fifth ranked Swedes with a hard fought 3-3 draw in their first game.
The clear choice for Woman of the Match was Gaelle Enganamouit, who galloped into the box with abandon, scoring from the run of play and the penalty spot with equal ease. She put the ball into the back of the net three times, in fact, in 90 minutes equalling the entire offensive output of Group A’s four teams over the course of four games.
In the second match of the day, Switzerland did everything but score on the defending champion Japanese. Most impressive were their lauded stars, numbers 10 and 11, Ramona Bachmann and Lara Dickenmann. Bachmann made one run in particular that left four Japanese defenders and their behemoth goaltender flailing on the turf — more than one observer compared the play to something Lionel Messi might put together. If she hadn’t slipped on the end line, she would no doubt have danced the ball into the net for the goal of the tournament.
While Canada has struggled to score in Group A, they’ve also managed consecutive clean sheets against China and New Zealand to remain atop their group standings. Thankfully, the Germans, Cameroonians, Norwegians and Nigerians, to name a few squads, have put some impressive highlight reels together.
The 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup is set to get underway in a few days’ time. For those new to the game, as they say, you can’t tell the players without a program — so here’s the Team Canada roster, including social media info for your tweeting pleasure.
The Stanley Cup final promises to be one of the most entertaining in years. The Chicago Blackhawks are on the verge of their third Stanley Cup win in six years, which would put them as close to unlocking the dynasty achievement badge as we’re likely to see a team get in our lifetimes. Good lord, look at the roster: there are four legitimate Hall of Fame candidates in their top six alone. Across the ice, Steven Stamkos wants to cement legend status by winning his first; it may be surprising scoring machine Tyler Johnson, and not the suddenly clutch goaltender Ben Bishop, who gets him that ring.
Both teams had ten players score in double digits in 2014-15, and both teams had dominant goal differentials (Tampa was second overall at +51, while Chicago’s +40 was fourth). The season series was split at a win apiece, with the Hawks taking an overtime 3-2 decision and the Lightning shutting out Chicago 4-0. Keep in mind that second game took place just after Patrick Kane fractured his clavicle; Bishop likely won’t be earning many more shutouts in this series.
Forwards — advantage Hawks
The Bolts were the top team in scoring this year. Stamkos had 43 goals by himself, while Johnson and Nikita Kucherov each added 29. After the top line, fans outside the Atlantic Division may ask themselves, “Who the hell is that?” — Cedric Paquette and Alex Killorn aren’t exactly household names — but suffice it to say that this is a team with a few mid-grade weapons at its disposal. That said, the bottom six has contributed just one goal out of the past 20 for the Lightning.
The Hawks have Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa and Patrick Sharp to throw over the boards. They’re tired? How about Conn Smythe winner Brad Richards, or playoff performer extraordinaire Andrew Shaw? This team may not have led the league in scoring — they were 16th overall, in fact — but they know how to score when it counts, and they’ve only gotten stronger as a unit as the playoffs have gone on. Witness the complete Game Seven shutdown of the vaunted Anaheim Ducks roster. Check Toews’ insistence upon dominating important games.
#Blackhawks Jonathan Toews:
GM 7 vs Ducks: 2 Goals
2014 Gold Medal: Goal
GM 7 vs Kings: Goal
GM 7 vs Canucks: Goal
2010 Gold Medal: Goal
Duncan Keith was insane in the final two games against the Ducks. He saw nearly 28 minutes of ice in that exhaustingly intense Game Seven, and remember this is a series that saw two looooooooong overtime games early on. Niklas Hjalmarsson wasn’t far behind at 26:45, and in fact the Hawks rely pretty damned heavily upon their big top four. Brent Seabrook and Johnny Oduya were both over 23 minutes.
On the other side, Victor Hedmanand Anton Stralman are the only men getting even close to this kind of ice time. Jason Garrison and Matt Carle hover around the 20-minute mark, but lose their effectiveness should they be asked to up that substantially. These guys are good depth blueliners — look at Garrison’s number five spot when he played in Vancouver — but lack the footspeed and game smarts to deal with Chicago’s wave-upon-wave of finesse-laden attack.
Goaltending — advantage Bolts
Herein lies Tampa Bay’s best chance at a second championship in franchise history. Ben Bishop had far fewer hiccoughs than highlights; Corey Crawford, on the glove hand, too often relies upon that stable of scorers to outshine his bad nights. Good grief, he let in nearly three goals a game against the Ducks. If Stamkos & Co. get in his head, this series — and thus the Cup —could go south in a hurry.
Coaching — advantage Hawks
There are cookie crumbs in Joel Quenneville’s moustache that have been behind an NHL bench longer than Jon Cooper. Sure, the latter presents Jon Cooper’s story, but Coach Q’s duster has kissed two Cups and a Jack Adams award. Quenneville is the winningest coach among active bench bosses — not including playoff totals, he has 653 more NHL wins than Cooper. Look, I’m not saying anything bad against the new guy. It’s just that, well, Q has been there. Coops has read about it. You’ve gotta go with the experience.
Prediction: Chicago Blackhawks in 5.
Conn Smythe: Duncan Keith
Russell and Jason wax poetic on the beautiful game, specifically with respect to the Vancouver Whitecaps upcoming six-week road swing.
• Thanks John
• Whitecaps take a loooooong road trip
• Want to be an MLS referee? Your fraud charge is no problem!
• Whitecaps got jobbed in Colorado
• Even the Rapids thought it was a bad call
• The Whitecaps haven’t inspired much confidence
• July and August will be hectic, to say the least
• Is Pedro back?
• Are Kah and Waston worth the fouls and cards?
• Fix You by Coldplay
• There’s always money in the banana stand