yankee hockey

GOOD, BETTER, BEST

Posted in Uncategorized by yankhockey on March 1, 2009

I was recently sent an article to read, 5 reasons the NHL is better then the NBA, and I found it to be very true, but also lacking some very key reasons. So, in order to fill in the blanks, here is my own five reasons why the NHL is better then the NBA.

1. The NHL is the real international game.

I’m well aware that the NBA is getting more and more international players into the league. I am also aware that the US is no longer the powerhouse it once was, even losing in the Olympics… twice. But the NHL has been international for at least thirty years. Ever hear of the Summit Series? It was between two teams, the best Canada could ice vs the best from the Soviet Union that occurred regularly during the Seventies.. Edge: Soviet Union, barely. The best hockey players regularly come from Canada, and you can see it on the rosters of the NHL teams, but you’ll also see Russians, Slovaks, Czechs, Germans, Swedes, Finns, Danes, Austrians, Swiss, Belorussians, and the occasional American.

Just taking a look at international play in the last twenty years will prove my point. Since ’88 four different nations have won gold in the Olympics, The Soviet Union twice, Sweden twice, Canada, and the Czech Republic. There was a fifth gold that was won by the “Unified Team” aka the various newly independent Soviet States, so basically Russia with three then. Since ’88 the US has won four of six gold medals, as many medals for us as different nations winning in hockey. Don’t be surprised if it’s yet another nation next year. And while someone other then Canada winning Olympic gold is hardly newsworthy, when we lose in basketball it’s an international upset.

Basketball is just now finding a niche outside of North America, and I imagine it must be pretty exciting for basketball fans. But already the NBA has talked about expanding to Europe. I think that is horribly immature. Hockey is a sport that people in cold climate countries can get excited about. Not only that, it is a source of pride for countries with good players. You don’t think Sweden doesn’t rub it in Norway’s face that Norway couldn’t field a world class team to save themselves? I think it goes back to constant competing between the capitalist West and Soviet East. If a country like Czechoslovakia could beat a country like the Switzerland it was a great source of propaganda. Especially when it was the USSR constantly beating such giants as the US and Canada.

Anyway, the NHL will be expanding to Europe, and probably soon too, and I think it’s a great idea. Already the Kontinental Hockey League is Russia is poaching NHL players, and most of the best Russian players are preferring to play there then to come over here. Swedish and Finnish players would love to play at home against the same sort of competition that they do in today’s NHL. It’s only a matter of time and I think it will be a great success.

2. Playing the body.

I believe that a big part of team sports is playing the body. Sports are supposed to be competitive and the people playing should be working as hard as they can to be victorious. In every sport but basketball playing the body is a huge part of the game. In American football it’s obvious so let’s skip to baseball. There’s charging the catcher, there’s sliding into second to break up a double play, there’s pitching inside to a batter crowding the plate. All of these things tell you that the players are working hard. In hockey it’s not just about body checks, you want guys to get into scrums for the puck in the corner. You want guys to fight for position in front of the net. Hell, you just want guys to fight.

In basketball if you brush someones fingers it’s a foul. If you breathe at the wrong time it’s a foul. But if you are Lebron James and you take eight steps it’s not travelling. Bah! These are men, big men, big men who want to win. Let them bump each other, let them lean on each other, let them slap at each others hands. That’s competition. In basketball, you might as well just let them shoot. If they miss and you get the rebound, awesome. If they don’t miss your team is probably gonna make a basket in the next thirty seconds anyway so who cares.

3. Playing hurt.

One year Stevie Yzerman played the entire post season with a broken leg. He helped Detroit win the Cup that year. Players in the NHL play hurt all the bleedin’ time. Willie Mitchell of the Vancouver Canucks got a stick to the eye last week and didn’t miss a shift even though he was cut very badly across the nose and upper cheek. Clint Malarchuk was playing goal for the Sabres in 1989 when he was cut in the neck with a skate blade and almost died from blood loss on the ice and played again a week later. Hockey players are well known for being touch sons of bitches. I’m not saying that NBA players aren’t tough, or don’t play through pain, but certainly at the level it is in the NHL. There are many instances of hockey players suffering from horrible ankle sprains and staying in the game, only to have to have their skates cut off their feet because the swelling is so bad. But they’ll probably be back the next game. The only things that seem to stop hockey players are serious eye injuries, deep leg lacerations, and the dreaded concussion.

4. The Original Six.

Is there any group of teams more magical in sports then the Original Six? Basketball has it’s Lakers v Celtics, but that’s really about it. That’s nothing compared to Boston – Montreal, or Detroit – Chicago. How about the all Canadian Montreal – Toronto. The great thing about the Original Six is you can partner them up any way you want, each way is a classic match up. And their uniforms… the only change is from wool to synthetics. These teams have been going at it for so many years it’s ridiculous. And it’s led to some crazy statistics, like 24 Stanley Cups for the Canadiens. These teams are like the sentinels of hockey. No matter what the team you follow may be, it’s always hard to root against an Original Six team.

5. An actual minor league system.

Don’t tell me anything about the NBA’s development league, it’s garbage. It might be useful for getting guys ready for the big show, but there’s not a basketball fan in the world who gives a damn about development league games. The NHL, however, has a great set of minor leagues. Even better, there’s an awesome set of junior leagues. Hockey fans, and by this I mean dedicated hockey fans, follow an NHL team, and AHL team, an ECHL team, and occasionally even a WHL team. And if you’re a Canadian you definitely follow a major junior team and have probably let one of the players live in your basement. NHL fans love to watch prospects rise from major junior, high school, college, or even international leagues, following their progress either to the NHL or to obscurity. I know each member of my NHL teams AHL affiliate, I know who’s scoring goals, who’s in a slump, who’s moving up from the ECHL, who’s moving up from major junior… it’s an important part of the game. The NBA doesn’t have that kind of process. The college game is close, but in the NBA the stars are stars almost from birth. The game of hockey is not so easy as that, some players mature rapidly, some a little more slowly. Sometimes a player comes out of nowhere, a sixth round guy (Pavel Datsyuk anyone?) and suddenly he shows something really special in the AHL and gets that magical call-up and becomes an important part of your team. Now that’s something special that is lost in the NBA.

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TRADING DAY

Posted in Uncategorized by yankhockey on February 25, 2009

So we are roughly a week away from the NHL trading deadline, and I have to say I am a little excited. I know it’s an over-hyped, under-achieving sort of day, but there’s still some suspense in it all. If my team are buyers, will they pick up the player they need? If they are sellers, will they sell the whole team or only the disappointing big contract player.

Last year my team basically stood pat, and it cost the job of the GM. Even though the trading deadline was lame for my team, and for me as well by association, even the lack of moves produces its own set of emotions.

This year there are only a couple of big names on the market, Jeremy Bouwmeester from Florida being the big one. But also you might see Chris Pronger or Scott Niedermayer moved from Anaheim. You might see Ray Whitney moved from Pittsburgh. Maybe Marion Gaborik from Minnesota if he is healthy and someone actually believes he will stay that way.

But I’m not here to start rumours or make predictions, for one I don’t want to be another Eklund, but also because trading day predictions are all hogwash. It’s easy to see what two teams would benefit from exchanging two packages of players, but that is not in any way an indication that it will happen. There is much more to making a trade then just saying “I need offense, you need defense, let’s trade”. There’s salary considerations, there’s team depth, there’s no-trade clauses… even fans come into play. Owners aren’t stupid, they know if they trade a fan favourite they are liable to alienate the people who spend their money coming to games. Not to say it doesn’t happen, but it certainly has never panned out well in my experience. Fans also want to see something good in return, so even when making a little deal, GMs want fans to believe they have gotten something dynamic in return.

Even though I won’t be going into who’s going where myself, I love to keep up with it. I love to hear what other people think is a good deal. I love to tell them when they’re wrong (seriously people, it doesn’t matter how many first round picks you offer, Washington is not giving up Ovechkin), I love it when someone brings up an offer I hadn’t thought of before.

In the end, I’m sure my team will be unable to make any kind of significant deal, just like every year. Even my baseball team can’t make a deal. What’s up with me a sports? But, regardless of what my own team accomplishes, I’ll be back on the fourth to analyze the days deals for all of you, and maybe then make a few predictions of what those deals will mean for their respective teams.

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ROID RAGE

Posted in Uncategorized by yankhockey on February 10, 2009

The Alex Rodriguez revelation has brought steroid use in sports back into the spotlight. Just when we thought we could forget about it until Bonds and Clemens came up for Hall of Fame voting. Not that it’s surprising. It’s hard to believe any player in baseball in the last 15 years was clean. Certainly there were players who only enhanced their performances with skill and effort, but I can’t imagine a single player who I would be surprised to discover was using steroids or HGH. For baseball this just enforces that there is nothing sacred anymore, but what this means for other sports is somewhat foggy.

There is no doubt that there are athletes in every sport, both male and female, using performance enhancing drugs. Our sports heroes no longer get a free pass, knowing what we do now it’s hard to believe that people like Lance Armstrong, Usain Bolt, or even guys like Super Bowl winning quarterback Ben Roethlesberger are successful through nature and training alone.

In most sports it’s easy to see how performance enhancing drugs can help. In individual sports, such as track and field, where races are won in tenths of a second, being a little faster can mean the difference between last place and first. In sports like football being stronger and heavier can be more important then being more skilled. In sports like baseball, where one’s actions are very repetitive (hit the ball a little harder, pitch the ball a little faster), and non-pitcher positions only have to play roughly a third of a game at most performance enhancing drugs could most definitely help. But what about hockey? Is there an epidemic of steroid users in hockey as there are in baseball?

There is something different about hockey. For one, foot speed does not equal skate speed. Arm strength does not equal puck speed. A big chest does not make you a better hockey fighter. Being stronger and faster does not make you better. Look at Wayne Gretzky, the Great One. He wasn’t very fast, and he definitely wasn’t very big. What he was was smart… hockey smart. Look at Bobby Orr, the original Great One. He was fast sure, but he wasn’t very big, he’s real skill was skill. Great hockey players would make great NASA scientists, or psychic hot line readers, because what great hockey players have is an incredible ability to predict the future. You can imagine a game of hockey like a fencing match. The participants must anticipate their opponent’s moves at lightning speed instead of trying to react to them once they’ve made a move. In fencing if you a reacting you are losing, you have to be one step ahead. A truly great hockey player is able to see the game like a chess match. What we see as one minute of fast paced hockey, a great player sees as a slow, calculated series of moves, and that can’t be improved by steroids or HGH. Even brawlers won’t be helped much by steroids. Sure, you could be stronger, but fighting on ice is more then just being the Incredible Hulk, it’s almost a ballet. Steroids don’t make you more steady on your feet, or help you sneak a punch inside a players defenses. In fact, it’s not even so important that you win a fight in hockey. Most last about thirty seconds and consist of a bunch of whiffed punches before one of the guys falls. Sure, it’s nice to get the win in a fight, but even if you don’t you’ve made your point.

I’m not totally naive though. Certainly there is steroid use in the NHL. Even if the advantage that it gives you is middling, that small advatange could mean the difference between playing in the AHL and being a top line player. Even more significant is the ability of steroids and HGH to help recovery time with injuries. Hockey players just want to play hockey, especially in the playoffs. I can’t believe that some die hard player hasn’t decided that taking HGH was worth it so that they could get back in time for the semi-finals.

I’m also sure that there are a good many players coming out of the AHL and ECHL who have taken performance enhancers their entire careers. Who wants to spend their entire lives playing in the minor leagues when you could take an injection and get a slightly better chance at making it to the pros? Especially since there is currently no testing procedure in the NHL.

So do I think it’s a real problem in the NHL? Well, since I believe in the spirit of competition I think any chemical advantage is a problem. And no, I don’t think caffeine counts, I’ve had caffeine plenty of times in my life and it hasn’t helped my sports skills a lick. Furthermore, there are definite health risks associated with taking steroids and HGH that not every player is willing to take, so if everyone isn’t on them, no one should be. However, when comparing to other sports being played I think there is no epidemic in hockey. I have no doubt that should there be a test like they had in baseball in 2003 where everyone was tested to try to get a percentage it would be roughly the same. That doesn’t mean that I think that the amount of users in hockey is equal to that in baseball, for one I think baseball is much more technologically advanced and many of the substances being used cannot be tested for yet. Also, the first baseball test was not random, players were aware of it for months, and still more then 10% of the players tested positive.

Steroids, HGH, and other like substances have no place in sports, but anything that gives you an advantage will always have supporters in the shadows. And if history has taught us anything, it’s that the cheaters will always be a step or two ahead of those trying to stop them. Alex Rodriguez and others will eventually make it so that hockey has to address the steroid issue. I do believe that steroids offer little assistance in the game of hockey, and that most of our beloved players aren’t on them, but that doesn’t mean the game is clean. Until they institute a testing policy and harsh punishments for those that test positive, the NHL has it’s head in the sand.

MORE REASONS TO LOVE HOCKEY

Posted in Uncategorized by yankhockey on February 1, 2009

So I admit it, I watched the Super Bowl today, and I must say it was actually a very entertaining game, very competitive, and compelling to the end. This kind of game is great for sports, regardless of whether you are a football fan or not. However, as good as the game was, there was one thing, one thing that every sport but hockey gets wrong, that bothered me. After the game the championship trophy was lavishly presented to the general manager!

Pardon me if I missed something. I may have turned away for a second, taken my dog out to the yard, or maybe was paying too much attention to the dip at some point, but I don’t remember the general manager ever taking the field to win the game for his team. In practically every sport I can think of the trophy is handed to the general manager or the owner despite the fact that their entire contribution was to earn money. If they wanted to hand it to the coach maybe, at least the coach plays an integral role in the playing of the game. But the owner or the management staff? How about handing it to the marketing department, or sales.

Hockey is, of course, the exception. In hockey Lord Stanley’s cup is presented directly to the captain of the winning team. That shows respect; respect for hard work, respect for accomplishment, and respect for winning. Handing it to the GM implies that all the effort the players have just put out wasn’t as important as the guy who makes the contracts. The NHL takes it one step further, allowing each player of the winning team to skate around the rink lifting their newly won trophy over their head. This tradition was started in 1950 and completely exemplifies what hockey is all about.

You see, despite the hitting, the fighting, the blood, and Sean Avery, hockey is a gentleman’s sport. I have covered this topic before, but never in regards to the Stanley Cup. It’s least an honorable gentlemen could do to allow his teammates, the men who have followed him the entire year, played with him through pain and hardships, fought their way through team after team to reach the championship, the least he could do is allow them to hold their hard won trophy and proudly skate around the rink.

It’s not that football isn’t an honorable sport. Just watch a player help another player up after tackling him and you know there’s honor there. But there is something so much less… I dunno… engaging about the Vince Lombardi trophy. I would love to watch the players run around the field with it, but I feel like the game itself is the prize in football, not the trophy. See, Lord Stanley’s cup has been around for over a hundred years. Even players born outside of North America dream of winning the Stanley Cup. Win the Super Bowl and you get to go to Disneyland, win the Stanley Cup and you get to be enshrined with the gods of your youth, your father’s youth, even your grandfather’s youth.

Still, I don’t care if the trophy is made out of tin foil and was created in the last two minutes of play. Give it to the players. Every player who was in the game today is going to go home with bruises, both physical and mental. The GM is going to go home probably a little drunk but no worse for wear. For all the work that they went through, the players should be directly rewarded. It’s like you created an amazing proposal at work and your boss gets a raise for hiring you while you just get praise. Hand it to the players, they’re the ones we want to see with it, they’re the ones we want to hear speeches from, not some old guy in a suit.

Just add that to the long list of things the NHL does better then every one else.

Unless we’re talking English football, in which case I love the way they exchange jerseys. NHL teams should start doing that.

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NO YANKEE HOCKEY THIS WEEK

Posted in Uncategorized by yankhockey on January 21, 2009

Because of some responsibilities I have this week I will be unable to update Yankee Hockey. Sorry to my readers, we’ll be back in full force next week.

WIRE PROBLEMS

Posted in Uncategorized by yankhockey on November 2, 2008

Apparently there’s a problem with my phone line and the internet over here is somewhat sporadic. They say that it won’t be fixed until Wednesday, so I’m not sure if my Monday or Wednesday posts will be up in time. this is just a friendly heads-up, don’t want you folks thinking that I’m dropping the ball.