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Loads of blues, but not much white

The Vancouver Whitecaps had an opportunity to solidify their playoff hopes on Saturday, but chose to soil the sheets instead. A middling first half was followed by a disastrous second; the forward corps showed little imagination, the back line stumbled and fell apart, and keeper David Ousted failed to make big saves for the team to rally around.

Coach Carl Robinson keeps talking about the youth of this Whitecaps team. “We’re a young team,” he’s fond of saying. When young teams win, as Vancouver did 4-3 against this same Portland in June, it’s a wonder to behold. When young teams lose, however, it’s also a spectacle.

Darlington Nagbe shamed Matías Laba before knifing a lovely pass to Rodney Wallace, who embarrassed David Ousted. It was a perfect encapsulation of the second half. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.
Darlington Nagbe shamed Matías Laba before knifing a lovely pass to Rodney Wallace, who embarrassed David Ousted. It was a perfect encapsulation of the second half. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.

The Whitecaps generated a total of four legitimate chances in a game against one of the worst defensive teams in the Western Conference this season. Pedro Morales and Kendall Waston put headers over the bar early in the game, and Mauro Rosales sailed a right-footed strike two yards wide from ten yards out. Only Darren Mattocks forced Timbers keeper Donovan Ricketts to make a save of note, in a game that would have put Vancouver four points clear in the playoff race with nine games remaining.

Putting up bagels is getting to be a bit of a habit — they’ve been kept off the score sheet three games running and four games out of five; the Caps have just eight goals for in their last twelve games— but this is the first time in recent memory such a drought has been accompanied by the defensive lapses of a high school rep squad playing two leagues above their age group.

New Whitecap Mauro Rosales was one of the few bright spots in a disappointing 3-0 loss to the Portland Timbers. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.
New Whitecap Mauro Rosales was one of the few bright spots in a disappointing 3-0 loss to the Portland Timbers. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.

After a spiritless 0-0 draw against the hapless Chivas USA squad, the Vancouver Whitecaps FC have now been outscored by a combined five goals to nil in back-to-back losses against the LA Galaxy and Portland Timbers.

The loss against the Galaxy was disheartening but expected — Vancouver has never had much success at StubHub. Saturday’s second half collapse against a team below them in the standings, however, was unforgivable.

The first Portland goal, a deft whisper of a header by Alvas Powell five minutes into the second half, was made possible by a trio of defensive mixups; Waston made a weak challenge on Fenendo Adi, who calmly moved the ball wide to Diego Valeri. Unchecked, Valeri had a simple task to cross the ball in at chest height. Powell, unmarked as well — see a pattern here? — kissed the ball past a startled Ousted.

Fanendo Adi kept Matías Laba and Jordan Harvey in fits most of the night. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.
Fanendo Adi kept Matías Laba and Jordan Harvey in fits most of the night. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.

The Timbers scored again in the 75th minute when Waston tripped over his own feet in the 18-yard box. (The newcomer hit the deck on a number of occasions in his first start as a Whitecap, calling to question his experience on artificial turf.) He blocked Andy O’Brien from moving forward, allowing Maximilliano Urruti to unload a rocket crossbar down from 15 yards out.

Just four minutes later, Darlington Nagbe shamed Matías Laba before knifing a lovely pass into the area; Rodney Wallace one-timed a left-footed shot under Ousted. The third goal made this the worst home loss since a 4-0 drubbing against the league champion LA Galaxy in 2011.

Whitecaps - David Ousted 1036
David Ousted had a lot of soul searching to do after allowing three against the Portland Timbers. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.

The Caps keeper might not be at fault for any of the three goals he allowed this night — nay, the defense in front of him was sloppy at best — but David Ousted has rarely come up with the big saves necessary to bind a fragile team together this season. If he gets a finger on Urruti’s high flyer, the Caps sit at 1-0 and still have 15 minutes to gain an equalizing goal. If he goes full starfish to get a shinpad on Wallace’s strike, the team is saved the disgrace of an embarrassing result, and merely suffers a loss.

To paraphrase Coach Robbo, it matters not if you lose 1-0 or 3-0; Ousted can’t be blamed if his team can’t score. If they do start to hit the back of the net once in a while, however, at some point the keeper is going to have to stop the ball.

Manneh saves Whitecaps from pointlessness

The Vancouver Whitecaps made out like they’d been gutted by last week’s 1-nil loss at StubHub Center in Los Angeles, but let’s face it: after snatching a tie from the jaws of defeat this weekend, they were lucky to get a single point out of the possible six. A home-and-home against the most successful team in MLS history, still stacked with names like Landon Donovan and Robbie Keane, is a good recipe for an oh-fer.

Storylines begged for moral victories: case in point, the Caps managed to keep Donovan off the scoresheet for two consecutive weeks, and by doing so avoided having David Ousted’s name go down in infamy as the keeper who allowed the 135th and thus record-breaking goal of the diminutive star’s storied MLS career. Largely thanks to the defensive work of Russell Tiebert in LA and Matías Laba in Vancouver, Donovan was rendered inert; the little man had a few shots from distance, but never really threatened Ousted directly.

Also in the plus column: stretches of play in the Galaxy half of the pitch. The Caps were unlucky to score when a Pedro Morales shot ricocheted toward the far corner in the first half; Jaime Penedo made a wonderful reaction save that has rightly been tapped as an MLS Save of the Week nominee. But it was the second half, with subs Kekuta Manneh and Erik Hurtado, that saw extended forays goalward for the (mostly) young Caps squad.

Sadly, with their focus on Landovan, the blue & white were not able to shut Keane down — including the winner in LA and another at BC Place this past Saturday, the Irish forward now has goals in four straight games and “is partially made of magnesium.” (It says so on Wikipedia, so it must be true.)

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Luongone

Adios, Strombone1. We barely knew ya.
Adios, @strombone1. We barely knew ya.

If you’re a regular visitor to Pucked in the Head, you know I’ve been pumping Roberto Luongo’s tires since day one. The very day the Canucks acquired him from the Florida Panthers, the first words out of my mouth were, “Oh my god. We’re going to win a Cup.”

Nearly a decade later, Bobby Lu owns nearly every franchise record a Canucks goaltender can own. He’s second to only Martin Brodeur among active goalies for most career wins (367), shutouts (65) and shots against (>23K), and third in games played (789). Sadly, that Stanley Cup didn’t quite happen, but he did win a gold medal on Rogers Arena ice. That counts, right? RIGHT?!?!

Mike Gillis had me in his corner through the start of his tenure. I thought he was a masterful tinkerer, bringing in just the right bits and pieces to win consecutive Presidents Trophies, Art Ross Trophies and outstanding hockey. It was a stellar ride, even if the very pinnacle of achievement also included consecutive bed-poopings with that Cup just a win away. But MG has screwed up one time too many for my liking.

People Mike Gillis screwed after the jump:

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Heat explode for six goals on Big M night

The Abbotsford Heat beat the Hamilton Bulldogs by a couple of field goals on Friday night, taking the first of back-to-back weekend games 6–0 in front of an appreciative crowd at the AESC. Blair Jones scored twice in his first game back from injury, while Corban Knight got off the schneid with a two-goal, three-point performance of his own after collecting just two assists in his previous nine games. The Heat went 2-for-5 with the man advantage, and obviously had a perfect night on the penalty kill.

Chad Billins looks on as Joni Ortio makes one of his 34 saves during a 6-0 Abbotsford Heat win over the Hamilton Bulldogs. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.
Chad Billins looks on as Joni Ortio makes one of his 34 saves during a 6-0 Abbotsford Heat win over the Hamilton Bulldogs. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.

More, including highlights, after the jump.

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Bandaids and Berber – Lacrosse Is Back in Vancouver

Vancouver’s shiny new professional lacrosse team played their first two home games at the Langley Events Centre this past week, earning their first victories of the season.

The Vancouver Stealth take on the Colorado Mammoth
Bomber welcomes the fans to start the game. Thanks to Clint Trahan for the photo.

The Stealth moved north from Everett, Washington this past NLL off-season, where they had experienced league-low attendance despite success on the floor. The Stealth played in the NLL championship game 3 of the last 4 seasons, winning the big prize in 2010. Continue reading

Bring on the Hawks

The Vancouver Giants are #7 in the West. The Portland Winterhawks sit in second place. So fire up the what if cannon and get ready for a playoff preview as these two teams face off at the Coliseum at 5pm tonight. Surprisingly, tonight marks the first time these two teams have squared off this season. Vancouver will no doubt be champing at the bit for this one, as the Hawks decimated the Giants by a combined score of 24–11 over their four games last year.

Oliver Bjorkstrand has 60 points in 41 games thus far this season, second best on the Winterhawks and fifth in the WHL. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.
Oliver Bjorkstrand has 60 points in 41 games thus far this season, second best on the Winterhawks and fifth in the WHL. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.

After splitting games in Victoria this weekend, the Winterhawks have just four wins in their last ten games — they were demoralized by back-to-back 7–2 losses to the Kelowna Rockets over the holidays. That said, in Nicolas Petan and Oliver Bjorkstrand, they’ve got two of the top five scorers in the WHL, and are daaaaaaangerous when they get the engine running. Despite the recent slide, they’re tops in the US division, and fifth overall in the WHL.

More after the jump.

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Giants outscore their problems

It was a rough night for the ol’ save percentage, but Jared Rathjen skated away with his 11th win of the season at the Pacific Coliseum. His Vancouver Giants scored early and scored often on Friday night, but they needed to hang on tight for their 6–5 win over the Prince George Cougars.

Jared Rathjen made 22 saves as the Vancouver Giants beat the Prince George Cougars 6–5 on 10 January 2014. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.
Jared Rathjen made 22 saves as the Vancouver Giants beat the Prince George Cougars 6–5 on 10 January 2014. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.

It was the kind of game that drives both coaches nuts. Tim Traber opened the scoring for the home side 49 seconds into the game on a rebound in the blue paint, but then Rathjen let in two goals on the glove side just 18 seconds apart to give the lead to the Cougars. A buck seven later, the Giants had scored twice more, taking back the lead themselves. Less than eight minutes into the first period, it was 3–2 Giants. They would add another pair of goals to walk out of the first period with a 5–2 lead.

It’s a cakewalk at this point, right? Twenty minutes in against the ninth-place Cougars, up 18–8 in shots and 5–2 in goals, Vancouver should tip this bad boy out the door, no problem.

Yeah, uh… problem.

More, including game highlights, after the jump.

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Giants halt high-flying Rockets

The Vancouver Giants put a stop to the best team in the CHL on Friday night, beating the Kelowna Rockets 4–2 at the Pacific Coliseum. The Rockets entered the night on a remarkable 16-game win streak, which most recently included back-to-back 7–2 spankings of the powerhouse Portland Winterhawks — in Portland.

Forward Jackson Houck scored three times to help his team to a 4–2 win over the visiting Kelowna Rockets. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.
Forward Jackson Houck scored three times to help his team to a 4–2 win over the visiting Kelowna Rockets. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.

Jackson Houck and Jared Rathjen continued strong play for the Giants, the former netting a hat trick and the latter stopping 24 of 26 shots against the explosive Kelowna attack. Anthony Ast had the other goal for the Giants in his first game back out of the walking boot he wore last week to protect a bruised bone in his ankle. Cain Franson and defenseman Arvin Atwal each had two assists in the win.

Jackson Whistle, who played 21 games for the Giants in 2011–12, lost to his former team for the first time. Whistle won all four games against Vancouver last year, but allowed four goals on 26 shots to earn the L this night.

Houck now has a team-high 22 goals on the season, tying him for ninth among WHL goal scorers. Despite playing 31 fewer games thus far, he is just one shy of his total for last season, his career best for goals scored. He will look to tally number 23 against these same Rockets in Kelowna on Saturday in the second half of this back-to-back series.

Cole Linaker had an assist, but it wasn't enough to stretch the Kelowna Rockets win streak to 17 games. The Vancouver Giants gave Kelowna their first loss since November 20. Photo  by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.
Cole Linaker had an assist, but it wasn’t enough to stretch the Kelowna Rockets win streak to 17 games. The Vancouver Giants gave Kelowna their first loss since November 20. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.

See the WHL game summary here.

Hockey for the Holidays: tickets to see NCAA puck

You’re just a few shopping days away from the big Noël, and you’ve still got a few unchecked boxes on the naughty and nice list. Maybe one or two of those stockings belong to sports fans. Here’s just one idea for how to fill that bit of footwear that hangs on the mantle.

Great Northwest Showcase
January 3–4 at Bill Copeland Arena in Burnaby
SFU, UBC, U of North Dakota, Princeton
Tickets start at $10

The 2014 Great Northwest Showcase takes place January 3–4 at Bill Copeland Arena in Burnaby. The SFU Clan host the UBC Thunderbirds, UND (Fighting Sioux) and Princeton Tigers in four high-level collegiate hockey games. Tickets start at just ten bucks a seat.
The 2014 Great Northwest Showcase takes place January 3–4 at Bill Copeland Arena in Burnaby. The SFU Clan host the UBC Thunderbirds, UND (Fighting Sioux) and Princeton Tigers in four high-level collegiate hockey games. Tickets start at just ten bucks a seat.

The SFU hockey program has made some serious steps forward over the past few seasons. One of the biggest strides was the two-day Great Northwest Showcase, which brought NCAA teams — specifically, the Oklahoma Sooners and Arizona State Sun Devils — to Burnaby. This year, January 3–4 will see teams from the University of North Dakota and Princeton University ice teams at Bill Copeland against SFU and the UBC Thunderbirds. That’s right, frickin’ Princeton. Ivy League, baby.

For the uninitiated, UND (formerly called the Fighting Sioux) is only a seven-time NCAA Div 1 champion. This year, no fewer than twelve roster spots are filled by NHL draftees, including Adam Tambellini (son of ex-Canuck Steve, and a member of last year’s Surrey Eagles team that went to the national Junior A championships). Alumni include NHLers like Jonathan “Captain Serious” Toews, Ed “I’ll Pay You a Billion Dollars” Belfour, Zach “Like Sunday Pa-Mornin’” Parise and Mike “Good Gravy I’m a Hairy, Hairy Man” Commodore. The tournament’s finale features another alumnusin the puck drop ceremony: Garry “Ex-Canuck Turned Analyst” Valk.

More, including bobbleheads and video links, after the jump.

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Giants deliver perfect weekend at the Coliseum

The Vancouver Giants picked up all four points available this weekend, earning home wins in back-to-back games at the Pacific Coliseum.

First-overall pick and overall wunderkind Tyler Benson tries to stuff a puck home past Tri-City Americans goaltender Eric Comrie. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.
First-overall pick and overall wunderkind Tyler Benson tries to stuff a puck home past Tri-City Americans goaltender Eric Comrie. He didn’t score on the play, but he was a major factor in Tyler Morrison scoring his third of the season, and his Giants won the game 5-2. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.

Canuck faithful came out on Friday night to see draft pick Hunter Shinkaruk, the captain of the Medicine Hat Tigers. But it was Saturday’s WHL debut of Tyler Benson, the top pick in last summer’s Bantam draft, that garnered the most attention.

Benson didn’t factor in the scoring, but he took a regular shift on the third line and did not look out of place skating against players four years his senior.

More to come, including pictures of four players with some serious hockey pedigree, but right now I need some shuteye before crushing the UBC Fall Classic in the morning.

Check out the WHL game summary here.

Hit up the game highlights here.