Friday, September 27, 2002

Eric, a peek at another fateful day in September 1972.
They played the week after the 11 Israelis were murdered in Munich. It was during the depths of the Cold War. The United States had never lost in 63 Olympic games. The team was selected from 67 hopefuls in three-a-day practices. Speed and quickness were the Americans' strengths. Henry Iba, the crusty veteran Olympic coach, liked to slow the game.

That played into the paws of the Soviets, who took a double-figure lead into the last minutes. They had studied how Americans played the game. All Soviets were supposed to copy Jerry West's jumper. They were better than expected, especially Sergei Belov. "Did the Russian hockey team think we were as good as we were in 1980?" Joyce said. "Basketball is a game to be enjoyed by the whole world. Them beating us was the biggest push for the rest of the world."

With two minutes to play, the American players took the game from Iba and decided on their own to press the Soviets, and with lightning Doug Collins, they came back. "You could see the Soviets panic," Joyce said. He'd love to have a freeze frame of any of his three baskets in the rush.

With three seconds left, Collins was undercut on a break, his head hitting a stanchion under the basket. He staggered to the foul line, made both shots and the Americans were ahead by one.

The Soviets' long pass failed. The Americans celebrated their stirring comeback. But the head of international basketball took the game from the referee and ruled the Soviets had tried to call time before inbounding. He put the three seconds back on the clock. Again the Soviets failed. This time, the boss ruled the clock hadn't been reset properly; again three seconds to play.

The referee demanded McMillen back up his 6-11 picket fence to give the Soviets a free pass in. The ball was thrown the length of the court to big Aleksander Belov. Joyce, guarding deadeye Sergei at midcourt, fled after the pass like a football safety. Jim Forbes went up with Alex Belov and fell to the floor. Belov went back up and the Soviets won, 51-50.

At the age of 34 Jiri Dopita, something of a legend in the Czech Republic, will attempt to make his prescence felt in the NHL with Edmonton.
Hockey coaches and journalists voted him Czech player of the year in 2001, but Jiri Dopita is working on his second chance to show North American fans that he can be an impact player in the National Hockey League.

But while Dopita is a legend at home -- thanks to years of distinguished service for his national side, including Olympic gold in 1998 and a series of glorious seasons in the Extraliga with Olomouc and Vsetin (plus a pair of seasons in which he averaged more than a point a game with Eisabren Berlin of Germany) -- the jury is still out in North America on whether he can adapt his game to the smaller rinks and more physical style of the NHL. And even though the well-respected Hockey News hailed him as the best player outside the NHL before he came to the Flyers, a series of injuries kept him from showing North Americans what he could do. He missed 30 games and finished the season with just 27 points, a far cry from what the Flyers hoped for when he agreed to go to North America.

Jim Craig, American Hero:

ESPN Classic profiles 1980 Olympic goaltender Jim Craig, a big reason for the "Miracle on Ice."
Outdoor NHL games in 2004? The NHL is evaluating a proposal that could see the battle of Alberta move outdoors to Commonwealth Stadium in 2004. Frank Brown, a spokesman for the league, confirmed Friday that they are considering the idea of having the Edmonton Oilers play the Calgary Flames at the 60,000-seat football stadium, but it would be premature to suggest the game is confirmed.
Mickey wants out of Anaheim: The Walt Disney Co., interested for several years in selling the Anaheim Angels and Anaheim Mighty Ducks, hired a New York Investment firm to search for buyers.
The NHL is judged to be teetering over the financial abyss: The NHL is considered to be the weakest major U.S. sports league by Moody's Investors Service, which anticipates a strike when the current labor deal expires in 2005.

''The NHL suffers from the wide-scale lack of profitability of its member teams,'' Neil Begley of Moody's said Thursday.

Thursday, September 26, 2002

Eric McErlain’s wonderful piece, possibly more aptly entitled “What Happened on the Way to the Forum?” is an excellent attempt to tie together the threads of demise in a national sport that lays the ground work for a phoenix like revival on the world level. Certainly the Soviets implemented a new exciting hockey paradigm, vital and compelling. Utilizing a methodology whose origins were Canadian (Lloyd Percival) the big Red Soviets gave sweet vindication for those few who lobbied for change at the NHL sausage factory. But if we are to draw an analogy with the NBA we must look further than just strategy and tactics. Laying the success of Herb Brook’s Team USA in 1980 at the feet of a Russian hockey revolution overlooks the existence of a solid USA hockey program that saw silver medals won in Oslo and in the rain in Cortina in the 1952 and 1956 Olympic games. It neglects to account for the well-deserved Gold won by the USA in 1960 at Squaw Valley when the Americans went undefeated, dominating seasoned Russian and Czech teams. It fails to account for the hard-earned Silver Medal won in Sapporo in 1972 by an underrated team that included 16 year-old Mark Howe.

The 1980 Miracle-On-Ice is truly fittingly named. It was a victory more of good old fashion American psychology and a penchant for being able to rise to the occasion than European hockey tactics. Team USA was whupped 10-3 by the Soviets in the last game before Olympic competition. Brooks took an awe inspired bunch of kids and near-do-wells and brow beat them into believing that Boris Mikhailov somehow resembled Stan Laurel and that the venerable Soviets could be beaten with a good neutral zone trap and passion; lots of good old red, white and blue passion. And it worked.

And for the Canadians, well nothin’ much changed at all. In 2002, at Salt Lake City the Canadians playing what Herb Brooks called “stupid hockey” won their first Gold Medal in fifty years.
IN AN OLYMPIC TOURNAMENT in which people got fired up about the Swedish torpedo, the skill of the Europeans and big-ice hockey, good old-fashioned hard work wound up winning the day and the gold.

The Canadian coaches designed a game plan that used Canada’s strength — big, fast, physical forwards — against what they perceived to be the Americans’ strength, a mobile group of defensemen capable of moving the puck to the speedy American forwards.

The Canadians dumped the puck into the American zone and then focused on banging the defensemen, trying to take advantage of what was perceived as their age and therefore lack of speed. Brooks, on the eve of the game, had called such a Canadian tendency to employ a dump-and-chase game “stupid.”

“Playing that style is their style, their philosophy in Canada,” Brooks said. “They like that style. I think the game is a little more profound than that. I think the ability of the players can allow them to do so much more.

“If you look at football, basketball and football, possession is the name of the game,” he continued. “It seems kind of stupid to me to work hard to get the puck and then say, ‘I’m going to give it back to you, then try to get it back again.’ That’s going to be (Canada’s) style on this rink, the small rink or out in the parking lot.”

Stupid? Maybe.

Effective? Definitely.

So what conclusion can we draw? When Canada fielded its best players playing the Canadian “system” (1972, 1976, 1984, 1987 and 1991) more often than not it won. Did 1972 really signal the demise of the Canadian game, as so many pundits suggested? It appears not. Did the 1972 Summit Series invoke wholesale changes in Canadian hockey? No.

There is still hope for the American game of basketball yet!
Kevin Stevens ... a power forward gone but not forgotten: Fox Sports Pittsburgh released word that former Penguins winger Kevin Stevens will work a handful of games as a color analyst in the Penguins’ radio booth this season.

Wednesday, September 25, 2002

You've been cheated Howard: Terry Frei wrote on the dumping of these statistical categories today.
Dumb statistics fall by the wayside: I had tried to sell an article to ESPN.com and the Hockey News about the stupidity of the new statistical categories. No one wanted it, but it looks like the NHL listened to me... Well, maybe they just saw that Robert Svehla led the league in hits last season, and realized something was dreadfully wrong.

"Four years after it introduced an expanded statistical package, the NHL is getting rid of six individual categories — hits, blocked shots, giveaways, takeaways, missed shots and zone time."
Got Daze in your pool? Time to look for temporary fixes...: The Canadian Press reports that all-star winger Eric Daze of the Chicago Blackhawks will undergo back surgery to repair a herniated disk Wednesday and will be out at least six weeks.

Monday, September 23, 2002

LCS's Western Conference Preview is now available.
Vancouver and Ottawa swap players: The Ottawa Senators traded defenseman Sami Salo to the Vancouver Canucks on Saturday for left wing Peter Schaefer.

The 25-year-old Schaefer, who signed a bonus-laden, two-year, $1.125 million deal with Ottawa, had 16 goals and 41 points in 33 games last season with TPS Turku of the Finnish Elite League. Schaefer has 75 points in 178 NHL games over three seasons, from 1998 to 2001, with Vancouver. He was the Canucks' third pick, 66th overall, in the 1995 draft.

Salo was Ottawa's ninth pick, 239 overall, in the 1996 draft. The native of Turku, Finland played four seasons with the Senators, with 19 goals and 50 assists in 195 games.