Thursday, June 28, 2012

Pavel Bure Gets Inducted into the Hockey Hall Of Fame

From 1991-2003 Pavel Bure attracted many fans to come to the arena to watch him play in the NHL. He was the type of player that had the ability to score at any point of his shift and could make something out of nothing.

Out of his thirteen years, he played nine of those years with the Vancouver Canucks. While playing for the Canucks he scored 254 and added 224 helpers. He played in all but four of his playoff games with the Canucks and took the Canucks to within one game of winning the Stanley Cup in the spring of 1994.

For Bure, the spring of 1994 was a time he and most Canucks fans will not forget. The Vancouver Canucks entered the 1994 Stanley Cup playoffs as severe underdogs. They were up against the heavily favored Calgary Flames who were poised to win their second Stanley Cup in six years.

After falling behind 3-1 in the series, Geoff Courtnall and Trevor Linden scored overtime winners in Games five and six. This set up an enormous Game seven back in Calgary. After five periods, the teams were still tied at three thanks to Kirk Mclean's amazing save to keep the Canucks season alive. In the third overtime, Pavel Bure was sprung free on a break away and beat Mike Vernon  to give the Canucks the series upset.

That moment is what most Canucks fans remember about Bure. He had an outstanding run in the playoffs in 1994 leading his team with 16 goals. 

After the 1995 lockout shortened season, he started battling injuries in the 1996 and 1997 seasons.  He only played in 78 total games in two years. In 1998, Bure bounced back to have a 51 goal season. Unfortunately, Bure was traded the next year to Florida on January 17th 1999. The most exciting Canuck to ever wear the black and yellow had played his final game with the team who he had got drafted by.

In the next four seasons as a Panther and a New York Ranger, Bure had two more successful seasons.  He led the Panthers in scoring in the 2000 and 2001 seasons. He finished up his career as a New York Ranger. At this time, his point total had dropped off significantly as he only tallied 30 points in his final year.

On top of his achievements as a Canuck, he also played numerous times with the USSR and eventually Russia after the dissolution of the USSR in 1991. Bure collected eight medals including two at the Olympics. (Silver in Nagano and Bronze in Salt Lake). In 43 international games, Bure racked up 39 points.

Despite not winning a Stanley Cup ring, Bure had a very exciting a brilliant career. He surely deserves getting inducted into the Hall Of Fame. For his career he was over a point per game in the regular and the playoffs. He also was close to his 500th goal milestone at the end of his career. He will also receive the honor of being the first Vancouver Canucks player inducted into the Hockey Hall Of Fame in Toronto. 

Monday, June 25, 2012

Nightmare in L.A.; Galaxy win 3-0

The Whitecaps on Saturday night had another disappointing road performance. The Whitecaps had thought they had turned a corner from last years 3-0 type outings but have now produced poor efforts away from B.C. Place three out of the last four times. These nightmare games were a huge problem last year and are now starting to become nightmares this year.

Saturday night’s painful 3-0 loss to the L.A. Galaxy is what might keep this team from not coming elite. The Whitecaps are a year and a half into their MLS career and have showed signs of inconsistency. Last year, the team would win 4-2 and then come back the next game and lose 4-0. This year, the team is more mature but the effort isn’t there every week.  

When the Galaxy went up 3-0 on Saturday night in the 41st minute, L.A. had more goals then the Whitecaps had shots on goal. That wasn’t the start that any soccer team wants on the road, let alone when you’re playing the defending MLS Champs. It was if the Whitecaps had went to Disneyland in the morning and had came to the Home Depot Center forgetting the real reason they were in California for.

The Caps are still in a good position, third in the Western Conference and seven points clear of not making the playoffs. The team will be in a great spot if they get their act together on the road. The Whitecaps are currently on five games, four time zones and two-country road trip. The road trip is quite crucial, as losing games could put this team in a hole moving forward.  

It will be impossible to tell what direction Vancouver is going in. They lost their chance at the CONCACAF Champions League last month and might lose their shot at MLS playoffs. Despite being new to the MLS stage, expectations are high for the Whitecaps. Therefore, if the Whitecaps are going to take the next step forward, blowouts on the road have to stop.

The Whitecaps will have a bit of a break before their next game. Vancouver will travel to Colorado for a critical game against Colorado FC.  The game starts  at 6:30 and can be seen on Sportsnet One.  

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Luongo Or Schneider

When backup goalie Cory Schneider was putting up starting goalie like numbers during the Canucks magical 2011 season, a lot of fans knew this situation would come for the Vancouver Canucks. That situation is finally taking place.

Schneider who will become an RFA at the end of June, is due for a big pay raise. Therefore, the Canucks won't be able to afford to keep both goalies.

Over the next three weeks or so, General Manager Mike Gillis will have to decide of what goalie he wants move forward with for the Vancouver Canucks. Before the playoffs, I thought they would be going with Luongo. He gets way too much criticism for what happens with the Canucks. To be honest, without him the Canucks don’t even get to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final.

However, since the avoided goalie controversy this year and the fact that Schneider started the remaining three games of the Western Conference Quarter Finals against the Kings, it would make no sense to let Schneider go now. Cory Schneider has proven numbers in the playoffs. He has now played in four playoff games and has given Vancouver a chance to win in every game.

In addition, despite Luongo’s harsh media attention after some losses, it might be time to move on from the Luongo era. Letting Schneider go, might solve nothing in net. Except for 2011, the Canucks have to an extent underachieved during the playoffs. Yes, the playoffs are a coin toss sometimes but his problems weren’t always on the ice. His answers to the media after games weren’t always the best. His “at least I didn’t let in seven (goals) its progress” after Game 6 of the 2010 Western Conference Semi Final. The remark didn’t sit well with the media.

A new era could also bring fresh air to the locker room. At some parts of last year it seemed that there was a Stanley Cup hangover around this team. Only time will tell if that was a one-year thing, If it happens again next year there will need to be massive changes. On a lot of nights last year the Canucks seemed to be just going through the motions. If Luongo is traded, there could be a mind shift to get this team focused in winning a Stanley Cup.

The only reason why it makes sense to trade Schneider is because of trade value. At age 33, trading Luongo won’t be as appealing as trading Schneider. The one thing that Vancouver will get back in the Luongo deal is relief in where Gillis won’t have a huge contract to deal with. In contrast, trading Schneider, the Canucks will get more back in return.

At the end of the day I think Luongo will be traded. If that weren’t the case, Luongo wouldn’t have made a list of teams he preferred to go to. Whatever decision Gillis makes, it will be a significant trade in Canucks history. If he makes the right trade he’ll be a genius. However, if he makes the wrong trade he’ll be a goat.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Interleague Play in the Eyes of Greg von Matt

In most professional sports, interleague play happens through out the year, big matchups are usually hyped and  are often circled on the fans calendar of when an important team is scheduled to come. The rules in each conference are generally the same and are sometimes divided geographically.

Baseball is different. The thirty-team league is divided into two leagues. American League and National League. In the American League there are 14 teams, while in the National League there are 16 teams. In the American League there is a Designated Hitter, however in the National League the pitcher will bat often in the 9th spot.
Those are just some of the differences that separate Baseball from the other three professional leagues (NHL, NBA and NFL). In addition, in baseball interleague is only 11% of the 162-baseball season. In other sports, it can be go up to 25% of a team’s schedule.

Every year since 1997 around June, interleague play has taken center stage. Now a days; what broadcasters talk about is how baseball can make interleague play better. Personally, I think a lot of that stuff is cliché. Nothing in life is perfect and there are always cons to adjustments with anything that is made in life or in sports. In fact, I have my own opinion on adjustments interleague play that I could share at a later date.

For me, since I was born in 1993, it’s hard imagining a season without interleague play. It always seemed to be a staple in the Mariners schedule. Every year, the Mariners would play the Padres six times and an alternating division another ten or so times. I thought that it was cool that the Mariners pitchers had a chance to step up to the plate a handful of times. I never questioned it. I just accepted it.

Being a Mariner fan also meant something a bit more when the Mariners played on the road in interleague play. That question was where would DH Edgar Martinez hit? Edgar was a converted DH when he had a horrible hamstring injury in an exhibition game at B.C. Place in 1993. Therefore, he was forced to play an unusual position or come off the bench late in the game to pinch-hit on the road in interleague play.

Now, interleague play is something I look forward too. After all, the Mariners lack of wins should bring some smiles to the fans. Since interleague play begun the American League has won the majority of games against the National League.

Next year, interleague play will be thrown a curve ball. The Houston Astros will be making the switch from the NL Central to the AL West. This will even up the two leagues so that each league has 15 teams. As a result, there will be interleague play every day next year. The move can only help baseball, as I believe this interleague play idea that was started in 1997 is going in the right direction. 

Saturday, June 16, 2012

The Catch 22 of the Vancouver Canucks

It has been exactly a year since the Boston Bruins beat the Vancouver Canucks in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final. The memories are still with us, they will always be with us. The dramatic Stanley Cup run was special but the nothing will please this Vancouver hockey market unless they win the Stanley Cup.

When the defending Western Conference Champions started their season, the team had one goal. That goal was to mirror what the Pittsburg Penguins did a few years earlier, which was, lose the Stanley Cup and come back the next year to win it.

The task was very challenging. Before the Penguins did it in 2009, the last team to accomplish the challenge was the 1983 and 1984 Edmonton Oilers. The Oilers had lost to Mike Bossy and the New York Islanders in 1983, but had came back in 1984 to return the favor to Al Arbour’s hockey team.

It’s a task that is completed every quarter century. The fans of the Vancouver Canucks expected it to happen almost twice in half a decade. Of course a Game 7 loss to the Boston Bruins on June 15th wouldn’t have been possible if it weren’t for the heroics of Alex Burrows on April 26th 2011.

On April 26th 2011, the entire province was focused on one thing that night. Only one thing mattered that day. Nothing else mattered. That one thing was a Game 7 between the Presidents Trophy Winning Vancouver Canucks and the defending Champions the Chicago Blackhawks. The Canucks were on the verge of blowing a 3-0 series lead against their arch rivals. The Blackhawks were giving the Canucks nightmares in every way. Fortunately, the Canucks were able to prevail in sudden death overtime to give the Canucks some revenge to the team who had knocked them out of the playoffs the previous two years.

Why is this important? As the Canucks season wore along this year, it was evident that the Canucks had no gas left in the tank. Their two-month Stanley Cup run from a year before was finally taking a toll on them.

However, it becomes a catch 22 for the Vancouver Canucks. As a result of the unpredictable matchups in the Stanley Cup playoffs, it is quite easy to say the Canucks could have streamed rolled their way through the Western Conference. The Canucks would have hit the jackpot by getting the sixth seed New Jersey in the Stanley Cup Final.

As good as it may have sounded, this may have not been the case. Lets say Chicago does beat the Canucks in that seventh game. It’s not as easy as to say the Canucks would have gotten rested up for another Cup attempt. A first round exit to the same team three years in a row would have meant changes. The changes could have been all the way from 1-2 players from the Canucks current core to the head coach.

Those changes could have led to a different style of Canucks hockey this year. Therefore, the Canucks wouldn’t have been in as good of a position to make a Stanley Cup run. As it turned out, the Canucks Stanley Cup run in 2011 resulted in the Canucks having no energy to make another run this year. It all becomes a catch 22 that was hard to avoid for the Vancouver Canucks. Just take a look at the Vancouver Canucks stats in their first round series against the Los Angels Kings. The stats told the story of the series and half the reason that was the case was fatigue. 

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

A win is Great, A Tie is Good and a Loss is Reality

It could be a very significant day for the Canadian Men’s soccer team on Tuesday. For the first time in over a decade, it seems like there is a bit of fresh air underneath this program. Canada has a chance to bury their Central American rivals with a win. It is a significant day because Canada has a chance to put them in a great spot to qualify for the final group of six.

That’s why the win in Havana was so critical. Thanks to the 1-0 win over Cuba and Panama’s 2-0 upset win over Honduras, Canada has a chance to be six points clear of third place by tomorrow night.

The only way that becomes possible is if Canada defeats Honduras and Panama defeats Cuba. (Very likely) It would be something that most young Canadian soccer fans have never experienced before. Most young soccer fans have images of Canada playing down to the other teams level.

However, if Canada were too defeat Honduras on Tuesday, it would be anything but playing down to their opponents. The reality is, a Canadian win tonight and this Canadian team will become contenders for the 2014 World Cup, instead of pretenders, which they have been for several years now.

Honduras will be coming into BMO Field angry. Their players and their fans both
Know that 2-0 losses at home are unacceptable. This Honduras team is way better than Cuba. Therefore, if this Canadian team, will half to bring their A+ game in order to get the win.

The dangerous thing about tonight’s game is that a loss could be deadly to Canada’s World Cup chances. Unless there is a tie, it’s going to be a six-point swing for one of the teams. Either Canada will be six points up, or Honduras and Canada will be nodded up at three with the return leg in Honduras still to come.

The bottom line, tonight’s game will be a test for Canada. Honduras is at the right challenge level for Canada. They’re not as good as USA or Mexico; however, they’re a bit better than the Costa Rica or Jamaica.

I feel that like the game on Friday, tonight’s game could go a long way for Canada’s qualifying chances. I believe that a loss for Canada tonight and their confidence might go down the drain. In contrast, a historic win tonight and the hype could start to build at rate Canada has never seen before.

Tonight’s game really could go either way. I don’t expect it to be too high scoring. The last time these teams met Canada found themselves on the winning end of a 2-1 game. World Cup Qualifying games are usually played tightly with fewer chances. For me, it comes down too a win is great, a tie is good and a loss is the harsh reality.

The game starts at 4:30PT/7:30ET and can be seen on Sportsnet One

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Canada Defeats Cuba 1-0; Holds on with Ten Men

The resilient Canadians took a huge first step in the third stage of CONCACAF World Cup Qualifying with a 1-0 win Friday over Cuba. Team Canada did everything possible that they could come home with the maximum three points. They were in no mood to share the points.

Canada had to deal with scorching heat, unfamiliar humidity, terrible field conditions and down to ten men. None of those things were able to get in Canada’s way of a historic win in Cuba. The win was historic because Canadian wins are generally few and far between. Especially, in the third stage of qualifying when the stakes become high.  

Coming into the game, Canada knew the game was going to be very critical in order to qualify for the World Cup. It’s only three points, however, these three points could be worth gold at the end of this qualifying phase.

For the majority of the game, Canada had the balk of the scoring chances and was close on a few occasions. Their closest chance came in the last minute of the first half when Canada found the crossbar.

Early in the second half, Cuba put the pressure on Canada. Their best chance of the game came in the 49th minute when the Cuba’s striker directed a shot just wide of the net. In the 54th minute Canada countered with hopes of breaking the deadlock. David Edgar’s cross was placed beautifully for Olivier Occean to head it in the back of the net to give Canada the 1-0 lead. It was just the thing that Canada needed to lift their sprits in a challenging environment.

After the goal, the game started to get aggressive. Cuba was getting frustrated and Canada was retaliating. In the 64th minute, Lars Hirschfeld’s deliberate handball outside the box was enough to be given a red card and a ticket to the showers. Canada was forced to play the remainder of the game with ten men. However, that didn’t limit Stephen Hart to substitute a normal player for a backup goalie.  Milan Borjan filled in greatly for Canada as a replacement. He stopped all shots that were directed at him and was very cautious with handling the ball in his box.

The remainder of the game was very intense. Cuba was trying to muster up anything they could manage to get a tie. Ironically it was Canada still getting the better chances despite being down a man. Canada was being very conservative on the defensive end making sure they didn’t make any foolish turnovers.

When the final whistle blew there was a sigh of relief from Canadian fans from as far west as Tofino British Columbia too as east as Moncton New Brunswick. Canada had avoided a nightmare on the road in World Cup Qualifying and is now in the drivers seat in Group C.

Craig Forrest and Gerry Dobson, who called the game on Sportsnet, mentioned that Canada preferred a draw between Panama and Honduras later that day. However, I disagreed. Even though I understand his logic, I believe a Panama win benefited Canada more. Fortunately for Canada, Panama’s upset win over Honduras did happen. This gives Canada an amazing opportunity to put a dagger into Honduras World Cup plans. At the start of Qualifying, Honduras was emerging as the favorite to win Group C, now they will be fighting for their World Cup lives. Losing two straight Qualifying games is significantly damaging to any countries World Cup hopes. Canada should be delighted to do that honor when Honduras comes on Tuesday to BMO Field in Toronto.

Coverage beings Tuesday at 4:30pmPT/7:30pmET on all four Sportsnet channels.  

Friday, June 8, 2012

Canada Travels to Havana to Play Cuba in World Cup Qualifying

Canada has a great opportunity to set the tone for their World Cup Qualifying if they can get a win at Cuba today in Havana. Canada has not had great success in qualifying. In the 2010 World Cup Qualifying, Canada failed to record a win in the third stage.

Despite Canada’s mediocre 77th position in the latest FIFA Rankings, Stephen Hart’s club has their best chance to get the maximum three points on the road. Cuba is coming into Qualifying struggling mightily. Cuba is ranked 145th in the world which is by far the worst team reaming in the CONCACAF Qualification.

Both teams will be looking at this game similarly. Cuba won’t mind the draw because they feel that this is a winnable game for them. Canada is no soccer power and is very capable of laying an egg in a difficult environment.

Not only will Canada be going into a hostile Caribbean soccer environment, they will also be dealing with temperatures that the Canadians won’t be used too. Temperatures are expected to be in the 30’s tomorrow. Once the humidity is factored in it could be close to a 40-degree day. The conditions are just above the seasonal temperature for Cuba. When a team is struggling as much as Cuba is right now, they will take any break they can get their hands on. The further the game goes along, the more fatigued Canada will get.

In the past, today’s game would be a recipe for disaster. The images of Canada going on the road in World Cup Qualifying, are almost as scary as Saw I, II and III were combined.  Even if Canada were playing a winnable team, they would find a way to lay an egg at the worst time of the game.

However, today’s game isn’t a winnable game. It goes under the must win category.  Not picking up three points in the game today could become fatal towards then end of the group phase. Canada hasn’t won a meaningful third phase and beyond World Cup Qualifying road game since May 2nd 1993. At that time, Brian Mulroney was our Prime minister, Sidney Crosby was playing Timbits hockey and the Toronto Blue jays were defending World Series Champions.

Canada has a chance to do something they don’t do all that often, question is, will Stephen Hart have his team ready and prepared enough to avid the upset? I say yes, but only time will tell.

Today’s game is set for a 10:30amPT/1:30pmET start. The game will be on all four Sportsnet Channels. 

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Team Canada: World Cup Qualifying Preview

The CONCACAF World Cup Qualifying third round will get under way on Friday. Like past years, the federation has been rewarded with three and a half berths. At the end of round four, the fourth place finisher will have to play an inter conference two legged playoff against the Oceanic Champion of their qualifying campaign.

The twelve remaining teams have been slotted into three pools of four. The groups are completely random, however, the twelve teams had three different plots to avoid any groups of death.

Personally, I find the groups are quite even. Canada, USA and Mexico were placed into three different groups. This is not often the case; in fact, Canada had a 66.67% chance of being in either Mexico’s or the Americans group.

Fortunately for Canada, the other 33.34% fell in their favour. Canada defeated Honduras the last time they played in Montreal and Cuba is coming off a horrible 2011 Gold Cup where they lost all three games by a combined score of 16-1. Furthermore, Panama needed an injury time goal to draw with Canada the last time they played.

No one can argue that Canada got the group they wanted, what the fans can argue about is whether or not Canada will take advantage of the fortunate group. Canadian soccer fans have been waiting 26 years since their teams last appearance in the 1986 World Cup in Mexico. Ever since than it has been extremely disappointing from our National team. In the past, it has been frustrating set backs that have turned wins into a draws, or a draw into a loss. A little thing here or there for this team is the difference from success to failure.

Especially at the CONCACAF level, after the United States and Mexico there becomes a major logjam of teams fighting over 3rd, 4th and 5th. For instance, the average soccer might fan might say that Costa Rica is the next best team after USA and Mexico. That person’s guess might be accurate however, Costa Rica finished sixth in last years Gold Cup. In addition, Trinidad and Tobago who is usually at least in the Top 10 in the CONCACAF rankings failed to qualify for stage three.

Parody, is surely the name of the game when it comes to qualifying for the World Cup.  It’s why it’s so important that Stephen Hart has his team playing the best soccer at this time of year. The team showed signs of that on Sunday when they played the Americans to a 0-0 draw in Toronto. The qualifying formula goes like this: If Canada is too win their home games and draw their away games, surely this Canadian team will find themselves playing in the Final group. It’s easier said than done, but it’s not impossible. If the cards fall in the right places, Canada’s game AT Honduras might not mean anything if Panama is that far behind. In contrast, the half glass empty thought is the game won’t mean anything to Canada because they will have already been eliminated.

Realistically, this team does have a chance to do something in qualifying that they haven’t done in quite awhile which is qualify for the final group of six. Anything farther well, we’ll cross that bridge when/if we have to. For me, this team will have a much better campaign then last time around but it won’t be enough. Until this team proves to me that they can win in Central America I’ll refuse to put them through to the final round of Qualifying. Canada will be eliminated on the final day of Group C play.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Canada Faces USA in International Soccer Friendly

World Cup Qualifying for the 2014 FIFA World Cup is just around the corner for the Canadian Men’s soccer team. However, Stephen Hart’s team will be focusing on something else today at BMO Field.

The something else is an International Friendly against Canada’s rival to the south. USA will be a difficult challenge for Canada. Despite the Americans 4-1 loss to Brazil on Wednesday, the States are a talented team that will be looking to get back in the wining ways.

For Canada, it’s a measuring stick game. The world knows that USA is a more superior team than Canada; look no further than the FIFA World Rankings. Canada sits 75th in the world and 9th in CONCACAF. In contrast, USA is 29th in the world and 2nd in CONCACAF.

For both teams, this will be the final Friendly before World Cup Qualifying gets underway this Friday. Canada was plotted in a group with Honduras, Cuba and Panama. While, the United States is in a group of Jamaica Guatemala and Antigua and Barbuda.

Both teams have different expectations for qualifying. For USA, failing to qualify for the World Cup would be disastrous. USA narrowly missed out on the Quarter Finals in the 2010 World Cup As for Canada, advancing to the final stage of qualification would be a small step in the right direction. Canada’s 26-year World Cup drought is surely weighing in on Canadian fans.

Canada has not fared well against USA in the past. Their last meeting was in 2011 Gold Cup when USA beat Canada 2-0. The last time the Canadians beat the Americans was April 2nd 1985. (However, they beat them in penalty kicks in 2002). The wins are few and far between but it doesn’t mean today’s task is impossible.

If Canada is going to get the result they want today they will have to play a lot better when they did on February 29th against Armenia. Canada opened the scoring in the fifth minute from a goal by Kevin McKenna. After that, the game was an embarrassment.  Armenia added three goals for themselves on route to give Canada the loss. If you were unaware this game took place you would had been in the majority. In fact, I have never even heard of Armenia let alone be able to locate it on the map.


I believe Canada will come out hard today. Their going to want to prove to their fans that this team has a chance to compete for the three and a half World Cup spots those are up for grabs. Canada will lose 3-2 in a highly entertaining game.

Today’s game kicks off at 7ET/4PT on all four Sportsnet channels.