Archive for February, 2018

A Shootout for the Gold Medal? Really?

February 23, 2018

by John Furgele (The Shootout Hating 228)

This is a tale of two teams; for one, a tale of triumph, for the other, a tale of woe.  In these the 2018 Winter Olympics hockey is the ultimate team game.  The US women, as expected, played Canada for the Gold medal and won the game in a shootout.  The US men, a team that was cobbled together by USA Hockey once the NHL decided not to come over, lost in the quarterfinals to the Czech Republic in a shootout.

One team will be celebrated; lauded for its grit, guile and determination.  The other team will be criticized, as will USA Hockey, Gary Bettman, the NHL and others. It will be written that the US men lacked grit, guile and determination, the three things that women’s team had.

But guess what?  What was the one common theme between the US men and women?  Both teams saw their Olympics end in a shootout.  Had the American men found a way to score twice in the dreaded “breakaway thing,” they would be in the medal round playing the Russians—um, the Olympic Athletes from Russia.  Had the US women lost its shootout to Canada, we would be saying that it is a lousy way to decide the Gold medal.

The simple fact is that deciding a championship game via a shootout is dreadful, just dreadful.  Would the NBA decide Game 7 of its finals with a free-throw shooting contest?  How about the NFL using a field-goal kicking contest to decide the winner of the Super Bowl?

We all know soccer will use penalty kicks to decide some of their games, but soccer is a different animal.  They play 90 minutes and then 30 minutes of overtime.  There are only three substitutions allowed per team per game.  Once a player leaves the game, they’re done.  Even soccer doesn’t love this, but eventually, they have to find a way determine a winner before they, as Bobby Boucher said, “Died of the dehydration.”

Hockey is different.  Everybody who dresses plays. Shifts are short, between 30 and 45 seconds.  There are whistles, timeouts, and plenty of stoppages.  If the game is tied after one overtime, there is an intermission where the ice is cleaned and strategy discussed in the locker room.

In the playoffs, the NHL plays it straight.  Teams have five skaters and 20:00 is put on the clock.  If the game is tied after the fourth period, they move on to the fifth and if needed, the sixth and seventh.

The Olympics saw a 10-minute overtime and after no one scored, they went right to the shootout.    Why?  Why stop the regular game after just 70 minutes?  For Team USA, it’s a win, but is it a true win or is it just a tad bit hollow?  The rules were fair; they may not be the right rules, but they were fair because everybody knew them before the tournament started.  In that sense, Team USA earned its victory and the Gold medal.

Hockey used to have tie games and for decades they were fine with them.  In the old days, NHL teams would sport records such as 40-30-12.  That’s 40 wins, 30 losses and 12 ties; good for 92 points.  Easy to follow, easy to understand, easy to decipher. If a game was tied after three periods and 60 minutes, that was it.  Each team got one point and boarded a plane for its next city.

Now, figuring out team records is much tougher.  If you win a game, you get two points.  If you lose in overtime or a shootout, you get one point; a point for losing.  Now a team can be 38-35-9, good for 85 points.  But in reality, their real record is 35 wins and 47 losses, but because 9 of those losses were in overtime, they get points for losing games.  On the surface, the team looks like it finished two games over .500, when, in reality, they were 12 games under.

In the Olympics, teams received three points for winning in regulation; two points for winning in overtime/shootout and one point for losing in said overtime/shootout.  I can barely understand this.  Can you?

There was no excuse for the USA-Canada Gold medal game to end the way it did.  We can be glad that Team USA won and not be sad that Team Canada lost, but to me, it just isn’t an appropriate way to end a championship game.  And, if you think the IOC and IIHF will change the rules, please don’t hold your breath.  The one thing that these organizations have going for it is total arrogance.  They take bribes and even after the person to their right gets caught, they keep taking them.  They will never listen to common sense, let alone the common man or woman.

It was a great Gold medal game, won by Team USA in dramatic fashion.  That said, it could have been greater.

 

 

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The NHL Players Are Not at the Olympics: So What!

February 16, 2018

by John Furgele (The Irritated 228)

It sure didn’t take long, did it?  Just two days into the Olympic hockey tournament, the wise souls that make up the media have dubbed the hockey insufferable.  They are already calling for the IOC to beg the NHL to send its players to the 2022 games that are to take place in China.  In fact, some probably think they should send them now to bail out this year’s tournament.

What about Slovenia’s 3-2 upset over the United States?  What about Slovakia beating the favorite Russia by the same 3-2 score?  Even Korea, not known for being a hockey-playing nation, held up well in a 2-1 loss to Czech Republic.

The media just can’t let anything breathe.  They have to go into instant react mode.  Everybody wants to be first; they want to be the first to praise, and in the case, the first to rip.  It is more important to be first than it is to be thoughtful these days and that’s sad. Thoughtful journalism has gone the way of the typewriter and dial-up internet.

We all knew that the level of play was not going to be what it was from 1998-2014.  The 2010 Gold medal game that pitted the USA and Canada might never be duplicated.  A loaded Team Canada and an equally loaded Team USA in an overtime thriller in Vancouver; the high point of the professional Olympic experiment.

What about the Miracle on Ice at Lake Placid in 1980?  That was a tournament for the ages and  believe it or not, the quality of play was not as good as it is now.  And, if you are old enough to remember, there were no NHLers at Lake Placid; Team USA was made up of college players and other amateurs. Yes, Team USSR was comprised of professionals, but so be it.  That made the Team USA win even more special.  The Olympics stayed with the amateurs in the 1984 and 1988 games before making the shift to allowing professionals to suit up.  It was happening with basketball, so why not hockey?

The 1992 tournament was the first one where each team was cobbled together.  Team USA was made up of many guys who were playing in the AHL, the old IHL, European leagues and a few from college. They went 4-0-1 in the preliminary round. Their goalie was none other than Ray LeBlanc, he of the Indianapolis Ice of the then International Hockey League.  Was the hockey as good as it would be in 1998, 2002, 2006, 2010 and 2014?  Of course not, but this rag-tag team of quasi-professionals were playing well and America was paying attention. Team USA beat France in the quarters, but in the medal round they came back to earth, losing to the Unified Team and then Czechoslovakia in the Bronze medal game.

By the time 1994 rolled around, everybody knew that the NHLers were coming in 1998.  Still, the ’94 Gold medal game was riveting.  How good was it?  When Peter Forsberg scored a one-handed goal against Canadian goalie Cory Hirsch in a shootout, he ended up on a postage stamp in Sweden, a hero for the ages.  If that doesn’t say anything, then nothing can or will.

I understand why many are crying.  From 1998-2014, we were spoiled.  We saw the best of the best play for their respective countries.  We saw Dominick Hasek single-handily backstop the Czech Republic to the Gold medal in 1998; we had Herb Brooks coaching Team USA in 2002 at Salt Lake City.  They played the Russians on February 22 with the winner advancing to the Gold medal game.  Exactly 22 years earlier it was Herb Brooks and Team USA beating the Soviets/Russians at Lake Placid.  Like 1980, Team USA would win, only to lose to Canada two days later and thus, a Silver medal.

2006 was a surprise with Sweden besting Finland for the Gold Medal and in 2010 and 2014, the Canadians flexed their hockey superiority by winning back-to-back Golds.

The 2018 tournament has barely started and the media are already bemoaning it.  Each team has played just one game and the critics are out in force.  We all know that the quality of play will not be as good as it was in the previous five Olympiads.  It will be more of an AHL feel than a NHL feel, but why is that bad?  Is watching AHL hockey worse than cleaning latrines?  Why can’t the media settle in and look for stories?  Well, that takes time, research and work.  It is much easier to go the rink, sit in the press box and mope about slow skaters, unskilled players than it is to hustle and look for angles.  There has to be some.  The Canadian team has several players on its roster past the age of 33.  Why not round them up and ask them what drives them; why they’re still toiling in the KHL, the Swiss league or the AHL and what does it mean to them to be representing Canada in the Olympics?

Team USA captain Brian Gionta played 15 seasons in the NHL.  He scored 289 goals, and assisted on 299 over 1,006 games.  Oh, and he won a Stanley Cup with the 2002-2003 New Jersey Devils.  In the summer of 2017, he signed a minor league contract with the AHL Rochester Americans—a practice only contract, so he could stay in shape and finish his hockey career in the Olympics.

So, tell me, what’s a better story; Gionta, the old Canadians, the attempt by former NHL player Jim Paek (born in South Korea) to make Korea a legitimate hockey country?  Or, is the better story to sit back and lament the “poor” play after six games of the tournament?  One story requires work; the other requires typing and donut eating from the press box.

I know I’m not the brightest, but I know that the Olympics are as much about storytelling as they are about the games.  Criticizing and scolding the NHL for staying home is not a story of these, the Olympic Winter Games.  The time to do that was over the fall and in December.  That time is over.  There is no need to write this narrative, save it for 2021 when the Beijing games draw near.

In ten days, the Olympic hockey tournament may not go down as the greatest of all-time, but it could be 1994 all over again if the scribes and broadcasters watching it would give it some time to breathe.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Is Football Too Hard To Digest?

February 4, 2018

by John Furgele (The 228)

The Super Bowl is the biggest sport event of the year, but is there an expiration date?  This year, there were 281 concussions in the NFL, yet the games go on, with packed stands, crazed fans and despite a recent downturn, high television ratings.

When the game ends, those at the various networks will break it down.  On Monday, all the big radio hosts—Jim Rome, Colin Cowherd, Dan Patrick, et al—will offer their insights and analysis as to why the Pats or Eagles won or lost.

Many of us love football.  Unlike the other sports, football is special.  There are fewer games for one, so each game means more than an NBA game, which is 1 of 82.  There is a ritual for each as well.  Most of the games are played on Sundays, a day where the majority of America is not working.  Even the most ardent Boston Celtic or New York Yankee fan has to struggle to watch games on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.  They have stuff to do.

When I was younger, I would often close my eyes and imagine being a professional athlete.  When I swing (and yes, I still do) my Wiffle Ball bat in the living room, I pretend I’m connecting and driving a ball over the wall or into the gap.  When I run my three miles and kick hard in the last 300 meters, I am visualizing that gold medal that waits at the end.

Football is the one sport that I don’t ever pretend or visualize myself doing.  Why?  Because the sport is too violent and the hits are just too hard.  Going deep to beat the Yankees with my Wiffle Ball bat—yes—but catching a pass over the middle?  No.

When you think about football, it scares most of us.  On every play, there is hitting.  When you see a running back run up the middle, he gets hit by 6, 7, 8 or even 9 guys each time.  The rules protect the quarterback as much as they can; yet, he still gets pummeled, crushed and concussed during games.

Is anybody feeling guilt about watching football games at all?  A lot?  A little?  A smidge?  Or, do we overlook it because it is so entertaining and exciting even when it’s not?

When Junior Seau killed himself and the autopsy showed stages of CTE, did we question our love of the sport?  Or, do we see an 82 year-old Jerry Kramer speak with clarity and say, “see, he played football for 11 years and he’s fine?”

Where do you stand?  Do you love football as much as you used to, or are you concerned about the game?  It’s like smoking; people know it’s bad for you, but many still do it.  The same for drinking and the same for eating steak every day.  Is football like smoking for some, so bad that you are quitting it, or are you the person that despite its warnings will still indulge?

There are a lot of positive aspects to football.  It really is the ultimate team game; it takes 53 players to win a Super Bowl, but many who watch, would not let their sons play this game.  That is the conundrum of conundrums—you love the games, but you don’t want your kid to play this game.

We saw Rob Gronkowski get his bell rung in the AFC Championship Game.  If we see something similar in the Super Bowl, will that appall some so much that they will quit watching?  Will the ratings keep going down?

On a day where there is a lot of food, here is some food for thought.