By Stu Hackel
Let’s take a skate around the hockey world and see what’s interesting today…
The biggest story has to be the historic comeback/collapse in the World Junior gold medal game with Canada blowing a 3-0 third period lead and falling to Russia, 5-3. If you watched this tournament, you had to notice that the Russians just refused to lose in the medal round, coming back from a two-goal deficit against Finland in the quarterfinals to win in OT and downing Sweden in the semifinals after surrendering a go-ahead goal with just over three minutes to play, then tying it up with 1:30 left in regulation before winning the shootout.
Needless to say, the mood in Canada today has to be downcast. As Roy MacGregor writes in today’s Globe and Mail, “When we win, as in the Vancouver Winter Games (both men and women), we swagger. When we lose, we wallow.”
That’s especially true this time because, as Bruce Arthur writes in his excellent National Post column, the Russians showed “grit, guts, heart, all those adjectives that Canadians sometimes believe to be their own exclusive property….
“They played like a team, but eschewed Canadian percentage hockey. Instead, they used breakaway passes, skillful rushes, pretty passes, and dangerous sniping. The Russians have often been the anti-team of late, a collection of talent that cannot be meshed. Well, not this time. Russia is a hard country, and a country of artists, and this team managed to blend them both.”
U.S. goalie Jack Campbell, who was drafted by the Dallas Stars, was named the tourney’s top goalie. The top defenseman was Canada’s Ryan Ellis, drafted by the Nashville Predators (who have certainly stockpiled a number of great defensemen), and the top forward was Canada’s Brayden Schenn, who has played for the Kings this season. The brother of the Maple Leafs defenseman Luke Schenn, Brayden was also the tourney’s top scorer with eight goals and 10 assists in only seven games and named to the all-tournament team along with Campbell, Ellis, Russian defenseman Dmitri Orlov (drafted by the Capitals), Canadian center Ryan Johansen (Blue Jackets) and Russian forward Evgeny Kuznetsov (Capitals).
Back in the NHL, just hours after we lauded the Tampa Bay Lightning for beating the Caps 1-0, they walk into Pittsburgh and get crushed by the Penguins, 8-1. Nothing went right for Bolts, including this penalty shot attempt by Steven Stamkos…
…that he attributed to the previous play in which he went tumbling into the boards and lost the edge off his skates. “That’s the last thing you think to check is your skates after that,” he said (quoted in The Tampa Tribune). “The first thing you check is your stick and make sure everything is OK. You don’t think to check your skates, but I had to get both of them (sharpened). There was no edge, they were completely gone,” he said. “But there’s not much you can do. That’s what makes it a little easier to swallow. You go to cross over and lose an edge, there’s just absolutely nothing you can do.”
The Senators are sinking slowly in the East and GM Bryan Murray refused to give coach Cory Clouston a vote of confidence yesterday while addressing the Ottawa media. “I can’t answer that honestly and I’ve talked to the (coaching) staff about that,” Murray said when asked about Clouston’s status (quoted in The Ottawa Citizen). “We’re all in a position where we have to do a better job.”
Both GM and coach are in the final years of their contracts and judging from Murray’s remarks, the next couple of games — in Chicago on Friday and at home against the Lightning on Saturday — could reveal much about Clouston’s future.
“In a perfect world, the Senators will rebound immediately and rally to compete for a playoff spot,” writes Ken Warren in The Citizen. “In the more likely scenario, the Senators will be on the outside looking in at the postseason race, meaning the Senators will be in the position of selling veterans in favor of re-stocking the future of the team with prospects and/or draft picks before the Feb. 28 NHL trade deadline. If it’s that second case, all signs point to a new coach being behind the bench. Or, possibly, Murray will serve in a dual capacity as coach and general manager.”
Earlier this week, Don Brennan in The Ottawa Sun listed five possible replacements for Clouston: Murray, Bob Hartley, Rick Wamsley, Guy Carbonneau and Craig MacTavish. But Brennan, like Warren and others who follow the team, don’t fault Clouston as much as the players for their poor performances this season.
One team whose fortunes are quietly changing for the better is the Wild, who have grabbed 13 of a possible 18 points since mid-December and climbed back into the berserk race for a Western Conference playoff spot — with the 10 teams packed between 4th and 13th separated by a mere four points.
The Wild, who play in Boston tonight (Thursday), have jumped past a few teams lately and a big reason is the rejuvenated play of defenseman Brett Burns, who is finally healthy after two seasons in which he dealt with concussion problems and then shoulder surgery. Always a good offensive catalyst, the 6-foot-5 Burns is now also being used as a shutdown defenseman by coach Todd Richards with good results. Burns is profiled today in The Minneapolis Star-Tribune by Michael Russo.
Russo quotes former Wild forward Brian Rolston, who says Burns could be a Norris Trophy-winner some day and compares him to Rob Blake.
Asked by John Shipley in The St. Paul Pioneer Press what has sparked the Wild’s turnaround, Burns said, “I think maybe it’s just everyone clicking, and once it starts, it snowballs. It was tough at the start, when you play one good game, then a bad one. You start throwing some wins together, everybody starts having more fun. It’s looser, and it just keeps getting better. You play tight, you play scared, bad stuff happens, you know?”
Flyer on the mend: Another player returning to health is Philadelphia defenseman Chris Pronger, who has been out since he broke a bone in his foot on Dec. 15 in Montreal. Sam Carchidi, blogging for The Philadelphia Inquirer, reports that Pronger got clearance on Wednesday to start light skating today and he’ll be re-evaluated next Wednesday to assess his progress. The Flyers have split the six games they’ve played in his absence so far. They play the Devils tonight.
Dangerous butterflies: James Mirtle Globe and Mail writes today about “a story that should have received far more attention around the league than it did, Sports Illustrated chronicled the problem facing butterfly netminders late in the 2008-09 season, breaking down how the up-and-down style inspired by Patrick Roy was causing all sorts of groin, knee and especially hip woes for his disciples.”
One of the subjects of that SI story by David Epstein was Jean-Sébastien Giguère, who is now with the Maple Leafs. “Every time you go on your knees, you hit the ice so hard,” Giguère told Mirtle, demonstrating what he meant by smacking his hands together. “With that force, you can imagine, you’re maybe two or three feet from the ice and you hit it so hard, every time.
“It drives through your bone, hits the hip bone and there’s always a bone spur that’s formed. That can be really, really painful.”
Epstein identified the hip condition as femoroacetabular impingement, which also tends to manifest itself as back pain or groin pulls.
Mirtle writes, “It’s an injury that has affected countless goaltenders recently, including some at a very young age. Rick DiPietro, Niklas Backstrom, Brent Johnson, Ray Emery, Tim Thomas and Josh Harding, among others, have all had hip surgery within the past two years.”
Almost two years ago, Epstein wrote, “The butterfly is so effective in closing off the lower portion of the net that goalies will use it regardless of the risk.” Sure enough, Giggy told Mirtle this week, “I can’t see anybody playing any other way.”