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Whitecaps - Sam Adekugbe 1036

Is there hope for 2018?

As Benito Floro begins the onerous task of hauling the Canadian Men’s National Team — kicking and flailing like Doneil Henry playing fullback — out of the year-long nadir that began with 8-1 and saw Les Rouges fail to score even once in 2013, there is a feeling of wrongness about even trying to hold this discussion. “A World Cup qualification,” we all cry, channeling the timeless incredulity of Jim Mora, “I just hope we can win a game!” But time marches on, and the abysmal 2013 plunged Canada far enough down the CONCACAF rankings that we find ourselves just half a year away from participating in the minnow round of yet another World Cup qualifying cycle. Is there hope this time?

Of course there is. Hope, as Emily Dickinson said, is a bird that won’t shut the hell up even when we want to suffer in silence. (She used prettier words, but I believe I have captured the essence of her poem. I have placed it, in its entirety, at the bottom of this post, both to appear smarter than I actually am and because it’s a nice poem.) It sings to us, and worms its way into our consciousness, raising our expectations so that even expected losses are crushing. We try to roast the bird with logic and cynicism, but the cursed fowl refuses to die. The bird of hope has been singing a little louder for Canadian soccer fans recently, as there’s been positive news on both the club and country fronts.

Tweet, chirped the bird a couple of weeks ago, as Canada’s U20 men took off for Europe. Whistle chirp, a 2-2 draw against England on British soil, and a pair of victories over Russia and the USA on neutral Spanish ground. Three results, and all of them against decent to good national programs. Then, before we could even catch our breath, the senior team had managed an ugly draw in Panama. (The Central American Ugly Draw sounds like an obscure species of finch from Nicaragua, but is actually an incredibly rare Canadian soccer result.) They finished the year with only one loss, and that a not-at-all-embarrassing 1-0 defeat to the excellent Columbia. Perhaps not since the Gold Cup win of 2000 have male soccer players in this country managed such a stretch of results. That tells you all you need to know about the mental fortitude of those brave Voyageurs who have followed this country’s soccer fortunes for decades.

The warbles of the bird grow louder when we look at the clubs of the players who managed those U20 results. Whither mighty Unattached FC? Not to be found here. Sure, there remain a few players learning their craft in the nether regions of European football. Alex Comsia is currently affiliated with RC Strasbourg of the French third division. Jordan Hamilton is on loan at Portuguese second-division side Trofense. The bulk of these kids, though, are for the first time in recent memory Canadians playing for Canadian professional clubs. Three of those clubs, most recently the Vancouver Whitecaps, have elicited a veritable storm of birdsong — I acknowledge that I may now have overextended this theme — by announcing that they will field a USL Pro squad to compliment their MLS teams in 2015.

USL Pro has taken a completely different approach to growth from the second-division NASL. Where the NASL — whose quality of play is not appreciably better than USL Pro — has focused on becoming a legitimate challenger to MLS, USL Pro has taken an “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” approach, and allowed their league to be filled with MLS ‘B’ teams and players on loan. It was long rumoured that the Canadian Soccer Association was opposed to having Canadian clubs in this league, perhaps because such clubs would negatively affect future attempts at forming a Canadian soccer league. Ultimately, the CSA has decided to make exceptions for the three MLS clubs, likely because of the farm-team nature of the arrangement. They’ve allowed the clubs in with restrictions designed to grow the game in this country. Each of the three Canadian USL clubs will be required to maintain two quotas: six of eleven players in each starting lineup, and 50%+1 of the whole roster must be eligible for the Canadian National Team. Alain Rochat types who have a passport but aren’t eligible to represent the country will not suffice.  That’s 18 guaranteed starting spots for CMNT-eligible players, and anywhere from 27 to 45 roster spots, beginning in 2015.

I think the launch of the Whitecaps’ USL team is a bit of a mixed bag. Slated to play at Thunderbird Stadium, a good half hour from some parts of Vancouver, let alone the ‘burbs, the team seems unlikely to draw well. Russell Berrisford has already more than nailed the comical blandness of Whitecaps FC 2, as the team will be marketed. I’m also on the fence about whether it’s a good idea to charge for something that is primarily a development opportunity. As frequent Whitecaps critic Duane Rollins put it, when you’re charging people to see a product, the focus becomes results, not development. There are definite positives, however. The club overcame the breakdown of negotiations with at least one municipality to get the club up and running for 2015. General admission should help the atmosphere, by letting like-minded fans congregate unobstructed. The “starting eleven” group of the first 1100 season ticket holders will have input into some of the gameday decisions, notably which jersey the team will wear. And most importantly, it solidifies the pathway from residency to first team. The crucial intermediate stage has been lacking in Canadian soccer since time immemorial. Now the likes of Bustos, Froese and Carducci, who have a ways to go to crack the MLS lineup on a regular basis won’t wither on the bench until the club parts ways with them. *cough* Bryce Alderson *cough* That frequent playing time in a professional league will hopefully propel the next generation swiftly into the ranks of both the Whitecaps first team and the senior national team

Les Rouges are not good, but they’re getting better. They’ll have to play two nail-biting home-and-home series against CONCACAF nobodies just to get back to the stage they were knocked out of in 2012, but this should not be beyond them. When that semifinal stage rolls around in a year and a half, there is the distinct possibility that the roster won’t consist of a collection of clubless journeymen, but rather a relatively young group with a recent U20 World Cup and steady playing time in a half-decent professional league under their belt. Names like Adekugbe, Bustos, Gasparotto, Hamilton and Petrasso could be joining names like Jackson, Johnson, Teibert and Osorio to fill in some of the gaping holes in the current senior roster. So, is there hope for a 2018 World Cup qualification? Yeah. Damn it, I’m going to regret this, but yeah.


“Hope” is the thing with feathers -
That perches in the soul -
And sings the tune without the words -
And never stops – at all -
And sweetest – in the Gale – is heard -
And sore must be the storm -
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm -

I’ve heard it in the chillest land –
And on the strangest Sea –
Yet – never – in Extremity,
It asked a crumb – of me.

Emily Dickinson

Quinn

RIP Pat Quinn

Pat Quinn was an intimidating presence in just about any room that he entered, but he was kind and generous to players, media and fans, and he was humble and thankful for the successes that he had on and off the ice.

I was lucky enough to speak with the man twice. He was genuinely honoured to be on people’s radar after a lifetime in hockey. He was respectful, thoughtful, well-dressed and well-spoken, and he always stressed to his players that they should be, too.

There are many memorial pieces in today’s media, both traditional and social. I’m unlikely to cover new ground here at PITH. Suffice to say, this isn’t about a player, coach or GM; we’ve lost a good man. He wouldn’t have wanted all the attention when there are many others in the world struggling, wounded, oppressed and ill — give to, or volunteer for your charity of choice today in Pat Quinn’s honour.

Quinn

Here are links to a few of the articles about the big man:

Iain MacIntyre in the Sun
Vancouver Sun compiles social media reaction
Ed Willes in the Province
Tony Gallagher in the Province
Kent Basky at Nucks Misconduct
Canadian Press
Vancouver Canucks Official Statement
Toronto Maple Leafs Official Statement
Philadelphia Flyers Official Statement
NHL.com

 

"So NOW we'll have to win the game in OVERtime. Thanks a lot, Jannik."

OMG! Canucks trump Sens: a goal by goal breakdown

The prevailing sports talk around Vancouver today is, “The Canucks are first in the NHL; who’da thunk it?”

And I’ll admit, I’ve been pleasantly surprised thus far myself, but not for their perfect record against Alberta teams, or how they ground out a 2-1 shootout win in Anaheim. Rather, I’m impressed with the way this year’s Canucks are playing an entertaining game, and finding different ways to win. Interestingly, they’ve only found one way to lose — badly, as they did in 7-3, 6-3 and 5-1 lopsided losses as well as ones where 3-1 and 4-2 scorelines flattered the boys in blue quite dramatically — but hey, there are 12 Ws and only 5 Ls so far this year, so we’ll surely see some variation in this category soon enough.

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Eddie Lack makes a save — something he has not done nearly enough this season — against the Nashville Predators.

Preds chomp Canucks – a goal-by-goal breakdown

Two of this year’s pleasant surprises in the NHL have been the Nashville Predators and the Vancouver Canucks. Both are playing entertaining, offensive hockey — yeah, I know, Nashville?!?!?!? and they’ve both gotten far more out of the first ten to fifteen games of the season than most prognosticated. But to be honest it’s not as shocking as you might think. Canucks and Preds rosters are trying to impress new regimes behind their respective bench, and any player with the slightest bit of a nose for the net has to prefer Willie Desjardins and Peter Laviolette to John “No Plan” Tortorella and Barry “No Neck” Trotz.

Pekka Rinne of the surprising Nashville Predators stopped all but one shot against the Canucks. Photo ripped from canucks.com.
Pekka Rinne of the surprising Nashville Predators stopped all but one shot against the Canucks. Photo ripped from canucks.com.

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Canucks Skim Oilers: a goal-by-goal breakdown

Note: I know I’m a few games behind. So what. It’s fun to look at all the scorin’ and goalin’ and such.

Kevin Bieksa admitted it right there in Saturday’s post-game interview with Cassie Campbell-Pascall: the Canucks pretty much played a single period of decent hockey against the Edmonton Oilers. They stunk the place out in the first period, played below expectations in the second, but were the better team in the final 20 minutes. It was enough to win the game.

Past editions of the Canucks could play keepaway for 55 minutes and change, generate chance after chance down low, and give up a late snack goal before losing in a shootout. So far this year, they’re managing games more effectively and finding ways to win.

Taylor Hall got an apple, but couldn't keep the loss away. Ryan Miller still has a perfect record against the Oilers. Photo stolen from canucks.com, then squashed to fit this box.
Taylor Hall got an apple, but couldn’t keep the loss away. Ryan Miller still has a perfect record against the Oilers. Photo stolen from canucks.com, then squashed to fit this box.

Canucks 0, Oilers 1. Jordan Eberle from Taylor Hall and Martin Marincin, 12:39 of the first period.

Taylor Hall loses a stride in the neutral zone, and that half-second hesitation is enough to freeze — wait for it — Luca Sbisa.  #5 moves slightly into the middle, opening up a lane for Jordan Eberle cruising in on the right boards, and he flips a cutesy little backhand over Ryan Miller’s pad. Yannick Weber did the right thing, taking Nugent-Hopkins on the far side, so he has none of the blame on this one.

Canucks 1, Oilers 1: Luca Sbisa from Chris Higgins and Nick Bonino, 19:13 of the first period.

Thank heavens for the Oilers d-zone coverage. Remember all the running around the Canucks did in their own end last year? If not, just watch the boys in blue on this replay. The Oilers act as if the ’76 Habs are swarming their net, but this isn’t Lafleur, Shutt and Lemaire with Big Bird Robinson on the point — instead, the dreaded Sbisa-Higgins-Bonino connect to send it into the dressing room tied at one.

Canucks 2, Oilers 1: Linden Vey from Derek Dorsett and Tom Sestito, 16:37 of the second period.

If that last scoring combo wasn’t embarrassing enough, the Oilers manage to let Derek Dorsett and Tom Sestito collect apples on the same goal. Want a trifecta? Alex Edler gets a mark in the plus column on this one as well. Ben Scrivens delivers a gift-wrapped rebound to ol’ Dorsett and follows it up with a massive five hole for him to shoot at.

Canucks 2, Oilers 2: David Perron from Leon Draisaitl and Andrew Ference, 17:41 of the third period.


Ah, the short-lived lead. That’s the Canuck hockey we’ve grown to groan at over the past couple of seasons. Also in the not unexpected category: Alex Edler with a minus. Give the goat horns to Chris Tanev, who bobbles the puck behind his own net to create the open ice. Should Ryan Miller have this one? Probably, but give Perron credit, it’s a hell of a wrist shot.

Canucks 3, Oilers 2 (SH): Derek Dorsett from Ben Scrivens, 4:05 of the third period.

Give credit to ol’ Double D on this one, he hustled in on a shorthanded forecheck, and took full advantage of the worst goalie mistake since Marc-Andre Fleury was a junior. Like the Canucks second goal, Scrivens screws up twice on the same play: here he’s so flustered by his giveaway that he forgets to square himself to the shooter. Dorsett should never have the short side to shoot at on that play.

Here’s Fleury’s gold-medal losing gaffe from 2004, in case you’ve forgotten:

Whitecaps - Sam Adekugbe 1036

Whitecaps 2014 Season Sendoff

The Whitecaps handed out their club-sanctioned end of season awards on October 22, and it was pretty much what you’d expect. The suspense of just who exactly would go home with the Domenic Mobilio Golden Boot award (presented to the club’s leading goal-scorer) was undoubtedly the highlight of the afternoon. The anticipation was palpable until everyone realized that numerous stats pages across the internet had been keeping track of that information all season long. Buncha wet blankets.

Anyways, as I’m sure you have heard, we here at Pucked in the Head have our own end of season awards. Many deem these to in fact be the most prestigious of all awards available to professional soccer players annually based in Vancouver, BC from March until November.

Whitecaps - Marie Hui small
Marie Hui joined the Southsiders to serenade the Whitecaps’ faithful one last time in 2014. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked In The Head.

Now that you’re all on the edge of your seats, I present to you the 2014 Whitecaps End of Season Awards Presented By A Blog With a Hockey-centric Title Yet Unabashedly Contains Content On a Wide Variety Of Sporting Endeavours. We’re still working on the name and hoping to have a slightly less verbose title for 2015.

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PK Subban dressed up as Jian Ghomeshi for Hallowe'en this year. *blink* Too soon?

Canucks beat Canadiens: a goal-by-goal breakdown

Hands up everyone who predicted the Canucks would have seven wins after ten games.

*crickets*

That’s what I thought.

The Canucks had the Montreal Canadiens number through the Naslund and early Sedin years, but surely this visit would be different —  this year’s Habs are a sexy pick to take the East this year, what with their gold medallist Carey Prices and their swashbuckling, fancy dressing,  bazillion-dollar PK Subbans and such.

What’s French for “Wrong-o, ya big stupid head”?

PK Subban dressed up as Jian Ghomeshi for Hallowe'en this year. *blink* Too soon?
PK Subban dressed up as Jian Ghomeshi for Hallowe’en this year. *blink* Too soon?

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Jiri Tlusty (19) was the only Hurricane to beat Ryan Miller on this night. Photo stolen from canucks.com

Sweet Cane Sugar – a goal-by-goal breakdown

As pundits are fond of telling us — and by pundits I mean me and Harrison Mooney — the Vancouver Canucks have a history of helping opponents break out of a slump. So it was with trepidation that fans approached last night’s visit from the league’s doormat Carolina Hurricanes.

That’s right: the Canes are worse than the perennially disappointing Edmonton Oilers, the comically atrocious Buffalo Sabres and the junior-hockey-teams-have-more-fans-than-we-do Florida Panthers. Carolina has exactly zero wins on the season, to match the zero fucks given by most people in Raleigh about the sport of ice hockey — meaning they had the Canucks exactly where they wanted them.

Jiri Tlusty (19) was the only Hurricane to beat Ryan Miller on this night. Photo stolen from canucks.com
Jiri Tlusty (19) was the only Hurricane to beat Ryan Miller on this night. Photo stolen from canucks.com

Would the Canucks respond, or would they snooze with les Habitants on the horizon? You’re darn tootin’ they’d respond. It was viewers of Sportsnet that snoozed, but I digress. On with the goals…

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Fans react to the first goal of the 2014 Whitecaps FC season, as Kenny Miller converts a first-half penalty against the New York Red Bulls. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.

One More Must-Win

Whitecaps Wednesday

You’re sitting back in your moderately comfy computer chair right now, smug as can be. You think you’ve been let off the hook. Everything is good in your world – the Whitecaps are in the playoffs. The B.C. Lions also clinched a berth in the postseason over the weekend. The Canucks have won their last two contests. Your significant other made you dinner last night and Halloween is fast approaching. And let’s be honest, only the curmudgeoniest of the curmudgeons dislike Halloween. So you’ve got that going for you as well.

Most importantly, however, is that an entire MLS season has passed without a sniff of poetry on Pucked in the Head.

“Thank goodness,” all four of you proclaim, “another week down without being subjected to that amateur writer’s boorish attempt at creating literary culture!”

Whitecaps fans wait with bated breath for the next installment of impeccable poetry on Pucked in the Head. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.
Whitecaps fans in full support of the newest addition of impeccable poetry on Pucked in the Head. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.

But be warned: it’s all about to come crashing down. The Whitecaps are heading to Dallas (or Frisco, if you want to be argumentative), playing for the MLS Cup. And there are a couple of things that are fantastic about the scenario.

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The Avs tying goal came on a 2-on-4 rush. Two. On Four.

Avs Bury the Canucks: a goal-by-goal breakdown

Yeah I know it’s late. Sue me.

Let’s start with a moment of silence for Eddie Lack’s GAA and SV%, shall we?

Oh my. While Ryan Miller has been good in all but one game, Eddie Lack has been pretty much ventilated in limited action so far this season.
Oh my. While Ryan Miller has been good in all but one game, Eddie Lack has been pretty much ventilated in limited action so far this season.

Lack’s save percentage, a dismal .862, is 59th in the NHL after three appearances. His 4.62 goals against average is 61st overall. Keep in mind there are only 30 teams in the NHL. Sixty-two goalies have seen ice time this season, and the only guy with a GAA south of our boy Eddie’s is Viktor Fasth of the Edmonton Oilers, whose two-game, 5.19 goals against average would lose him the backup spot on most junior benches.

The Avs started the season with the punch of a newborn koala. Despite adding proven snipers like Jarome Iginla and Danny Briere in the off-season, Colorado’s first goal of the season came at 3:08 of the second period — of their third game. They had won just one game in their first seven before meeting the Canucks. As we all know, Vancouver is a polite town, and that Eddie Lack is a pretty affable guy. If someone needs off the schneid, the Canucks are the ones to help them out.

BOOM. 7-3 Avs.

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