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.
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.
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…
After an interminably long summer of house cleaning, the Vancouver Canucks start the 2014-15 NHL season tonight against the woeful Abbotsford Heat Calgary Flames. While this particular foe still makes the Canucks look like world-beaters, there isn’t a pundit in the land who thinks Vancouver has a legitimate shot at winning the Pacific Division. So just how fair and middling will this year’s edition of the Vancouver Canucks be? I’m glad you asked. Here are seven questions we’re slobbering over ourselves in anticipation and excitement:
Drew Doughty, that fella wearing number eight for the Los Angeles Kings is about to add ‘Conn Smythe winner’ to his resume. This will sit nicely beside ‘two-time Olympic gold medallist’, ‘two-time Stanley Cup champion’, ‘Norris trophy nominee’ and ‘filthy, stinkin’ rich cat who let’s face it ought to be able to afford better hair care’.
Godawful facial growth aside, Doughty is every bit the MVP, anchoring the back end of the most feared defense in the land. At just 24, he’s got credentials among active NHLers only rivalled by countrymen Jonathan Toews and Sidney Crosby. Barring injury, and assuming he doesn’t get bored, he’ll have built a Hall of Fame career long before he hits the traditional defenseman’s peak of 30 years old.
Fans in Vancouver are predictably blasé about the NHL playoffs; the Canucks have missed the post-season for the first time since 2008, and YVR hockey fans aren’t exactly renowned for loving the game so much as their team. (Case in point: the Abbotsford Heat are shutting up shop at the conclusion of their playoff run after years of decreasing returns in the Valley. People out thisaway are so scared of Calgary Flames cooties they’ve refused to see professional puck for $20.)
We at Pucked in the Head believe in celebrating the game, even when our local team comes up lame. Here are Jason’s picks for this year’s post-season. He’s so concussed by the ascension of Zack Kassian and the retirements of Teemu Selanne and Ryan Smythe — not to mention the bizarre first-round matchups determined by the NHL’s new wild card system — that he’s thumbing for Stanley Cup supremacy… the San Jose Sharks (!?!?!?!)
The Abbotsford Heat hold their final homestand of the regular season this weekend, with games against the Oklahoma City Barons on Friday night and Sunday afternoon.
The Heat are riding high at the moment, having clinched a playoff berth after sitting out last year’s post-season. They are also celebrating goaltender Joni Ortio’s nomination to the AHL All-Rookie Team for 2013-14; Ortio has been a revelation in the Heat crease, netting 24 wins and two shutouts in just 34 games played. As well, left winger Sven Baertschi has knotted seven points in two games against the Rockford Ice Hogs last week, earning AHL Player of the Week honours.
The Barons have just four wins in their past ten games, and have lost four of the last five meetings with Abbotsford. This weekend marks a return for former Heat forward Roman Horak, who is the Barons leading scorer this season.
With five games left, the Heat sit in fifth place in the Western Conference, and are almost guaranteed to open the post-season against the St Louis Blues affiliate Chicago Wolves.
For those interested in ye olde arena foode, Friday night’s game features 3-2-1 pricing on beer, hot dogs and soda; if prizes are your thing, Sunday’s home finale offers fan appreciation giveaways, including jerseys and a freaking car.
Obligatory shout out to Canadian athletes in Sochi this month, all of whom are representing Canada with style and grace. A special set of props go to our Canadian women, who have in the past few days tipped the hardware scales in favour of the women during the 2014 Winter Games. Kaillie Humphries and Heather Moyse joined an elite group in defending Olympic gold this week, taking first overall in the four-heat, two-(wo)man bobsleigh competition. In related news, Moyse may just have the most perfect teeth in the history of, well, teeth.
Dentistry aside, she and Humphries had an uphill battle in the third and fourth runs of the bobsleigh, as first-time American competitor Lauryn Williams and her partner Elana Williams pushed the Canadians to the final run before relinquishing the top spot. All of this despite undergoing hip surgery and taking nearly two and a half years away from sliding after the Vancouver Games. On the US side, Williams only started bobsledding in 2012 after taking a break from a career as an Olympic-level track star. She previously won gold at the Summer Games with the American 4x100m sprint relay.
Twice more, women took centre stage. Jennifer Jones skipped her rink to the first-ever perfect Games in curling history, going undefeated through the round robin and playoff matches. Team Jones beat a jittery Swedish rink, who made Canada sweat for eight ends before coming apart in the ninth. It’s the first Olympic medal for Jones & Co, and the first Canadian gold in women’s curling since Sandra Schmirler won the 1998 Games in Nagano, Japan.
On bigger ice down the road, Marie-Philip Poulin provided the heroics to bring Canada its fourth consecutive women’s hockey gold this morning. The United States was this close to wresting hockey supremacy away from Canada, up 2-0 with less than five minutes to play. Then goals by Brianne Jenner and Poulin sent the game to sudden death overtime. Poulin capitalised upon a rare 4-on-3 power play, as British referee Joy Tottman called a flurry of penalties — sending the Americans packing and the Canadians into a celebratory frenzy.
I’ve yet to see any stats on CBC viewership, but apparently NBC’s online feed was live-streamed on more than 1.2 million computers in the United States alone. That number is higher than any other piece of programming in the network’s history with the exception of this year’s SuperBowl.
Now it’s up to the men. Brad Jacobs skips the men in the curling final, and Sidney Crosby looks to lead the hockey squad past the Americans in the semi-final on Friday morning. The only advice one can give them is, “Boys, play like girls.”
There hasn’t been much to cheer for when it comes to NHL hockey this year, so it was a treat to see more than six thousand people make some noise for Brendan Gallagher at the Pacific Coliseum tonight. The Montreal Canadiens forward of course spent four seasons with the Vancouver Giants, and finished his junior career as the franchise’s leading scorer (with 136 goals) and point getter (280).
He played for the G-Men from 2008-09 until the 2011-12 season, then spent a year in Hamilton of the AHL before being nominated for the Calder Trophy as the Rookie of the Year with the Montreal Canadiens last year. He is currently the Habs’ fourth-leading scorer, with 32 points in 58 games.
All this while being frickin’ wee. He’s listed at 5’9″ on the NHL website, but if this guy is five-nine, I’m Zdeno Chara. I just stood beside the guy, and I could clearly see the top of his head — and I’m barely 5’8″ my bad self.
The Utica Comets took consecutive overtime wins off the Abbotsford Heat this past weekend. Sadly I don’t have time to write anything pithy about the Heat’s current scoring woes (16 goals during three wins and seven losses in 2014), or Utica’s recent dominance in head-to-head matchups (six losses in a row and counting).
If there were time, it would be easy to point to Heat goaltender Joey MacDonald’s comical giveaway behind his own net on the tying goal late in the game, or to defenseman Chris Breen’s stick snapping in half at the opposition blueline, directly leading to Benn Ferriero’s game-winning goal.
But there isn’t. So after the jump, I’ll just share my Heat – Comets photo gallery.
The Vancouver Giants put the boots to the visiting Lethbridge Hurricanes with an impressive 10–0 Friday night win on home ice. Payton Lee’s first shutout of the season was lost next to the offensive explosion at the other end of the ice — the Giants dominated, holding a huge edge in puck possession and putting 40 shots on the poor bastards between the Hurricanes pipes.