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Rollercoaster season sees Canucks fight injuries; score heavily.

The 2009/2010 regular season comes to a screeching halt after seeing the Canucks deal with all kinds of adversity and successes, expectations and disappointments, highs and lows, and one of the NHL’s highest total of mangames lost to injury.  Still, they persevered, and once the dust settled they found themselves repeating as Northwest Division Champions, 2nd in league scoring with Henrik Sedin leading the way as the Art Ross Trophy winner, a 1st round match with the young and dynamic LA Kings, and a lot of questions to be answered.

Will the team’s depleted defense keep them from reaching their potential?

Will Luongo shake off the post-olympic cobwebs and regain his masterful form in time to keep the Canucks rolling?

Will the Sedins continue rolling and light up the other team’s goaltender?

Can Kesler and Burrows continue to get under the skin of their opponents while continuing to put up points?

There’s a lot that needs to be answered going into Thursday’s playoff opener at GM Place.  It all depends on which Canucks team shows up.  The Canucks have shown that when they are interested, they can beat anyone in the league as evidenced by wins over Chicago, Detroit, San Jose, Washington and Stanley Cup Champion Pittsburgh.  They’ve also shown their ugly side with inexplicable losses to Columbus, Carolina, Edmonton, and the Islanders.

Their first round opponent, the LA Kings, provide the Canucks with a serious competition.  They are young, fast, and physical.  They have depth at forward as well as on defence and have been overlooked by many around the NHL as this year’s “one-hit wonder”.  In my opinion, this team is for real.  They will give the Canucks all they can handle and meet the Canucks hit for hit and shot for shot.  The Canucks will need to be disciplined and stay put of the box as much as possible and they will need to have the better goaltender.  If Luongo is Luongo, the Canucks will win this series.  If we see the same Luongo we’ve seen since after the Olympic break, things may not go as well for the Canucks.

All in all, I expect this series to be very entertaining and well-played.  I expect that the Canucks will defeat the Kings in 7 games (as long as the refs stay out of the way).

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Pre-season Prognostications and Predictions

Well, here we go.  Another hockey season is about to start.  Amidst the excitement of another winter chock full of hard hits, great goals, and spectacular saves, we bring you our take on the Canucks upcoming season and what we expect to see in the NHL’s 2009-2010 edition.

Let’s start by looking at the Canucks roster.  Many expected Cody Hodgson to make the team…he hasn’t.  Up until a few weeks ago, not many had even heard of Sergei Shirokov let alone pencilled him in to the opening day roster…yet here he is.  Henkrik has an “A”, newcomer Mikael Samuelsson is expected to give the top 2 lines a boost, and both Pavol Demitra and newcomer Matthieu Schneider will start the season on the IR.

Here is how your humble blogger here at Sporting Vancouver would line up the team if he were  Vancouver Canuck’s head coach Alain Vigneault…which, thankfully, he is not.

D.Sedin      H.Sedin      Shirokov

Many expect Alex Burrows to pick up where he left off last season by continuing his great offensive production on the wing with the twins.  However,  I think he would be more effective on another line and Shirokov has already displayed incredible chemistry with the twins after playing just two games with them.

Bernier     Kesler     Burrows

Yes, re-uniting Burrows and Kesler is the best thing for this team.  This threesome will offer strength in every aspect of the game, causing serious match-up problems for virtually any team they face.  Wether head-to-head with the other teams top-scoring line, or facing a shut-down line themselves, this option will free up the other lines to do some significant damage while doing some themselves.  This line will provide speed, hitting, scoring, as well as good defense.

Raymond     Wellwood     Samuelsson

This line can score a number of different ways.  Wether it be Raymond’s speed, Wellwood’s play-making, or Samuelsson’s shooting.   If this line can develop some chemistry look for them to put up big numbers against the other teams second or third defensive pairings while keeping the puck away from the other team’s first or second line.  Once Demitra comes back I would bump Raymond down to the fourth line and alternate with Hordichuk.

Hordichuk     Johnson     Rypien

What can we say about this line.  A great face-off man  and shot blocker in Ryan Johnson anchored by two of the best pound-for-pound fighters in the league; both of whom love to hit.  This line will provide energy and keep the other teams off balance.  Once Demitra gets back Raymond can platoon in this unit against smaller, faster teams that don’t fight.

Mitchell     Bieksa

Re-uniting these two as the shut-down tandem is just the right thing to do.  Yes, Salo did seem rejuvenated when playing with Mitchell but I think these two together are just a mean piece of business that the other teams’ top lines will dread playing against.

Edler     Ehrhoff

I see these two possessing very similar traits.  Both have size, can skate, can move the, puck, can blast it from the point, and are strong defensively.

Salo     SOB

A puck mover with a stay at home guy.  This unit ensures that no matter which pairing the Canucks have on the ice, they are strong defensively.

Luongo

I think if I were AV I would start Bobby Lu in net…

The Canucks, in my opinion, are icing the most powerful and balanced team since the 1994 team.  Expectations are high in Canuck Nation this year with many prognostciators predicting them to rise above the Flames, Sharks, and Wings and get to the Stanley Cup final.  I am not quite convinced the Canucks will make the final.  I am not saying they can’t or won’t, but the competition in this conference is so steep, that an injury here, or a bounce there is enough to set you back.  I think this is probably the strongest team the Canucks have ever had based on high-end talent and depth.  I predict they will beat out the Flames for the division crown, finish second in the conference, and make it to the conference final.  I think they will face San Jose and that’s as far as I’m going with them for this year.  I think Nabokov when he is hot is good enough to cancel out Luongo’s contribution, Thornton and Heatley will outscore the Sedins, and the experience that Blake and Boyle offer from the back end will finally push the Sharks to the final and probably give them enough to hoist the cup.

Re-learning the CFL rulebook

September 26, 2009 Leave a comment

Not to sound like I’m making wine with sour grapes…but…last night’s game between the Calgary Stampeders and the BC Lions at McMahon Stadium was, in my humble opinion, not decided by the players.  The referees seemed determined to ensure the home team walked away with the victory.  The interpretation of certain plays by the officials were, at times, laughable and were all in favour of the Stampeders.  Some of the calls the refs made were extremely creative.

Where to start?  Let’s start with the one that seemed to confuse every objective football fan who thinks they know something about the rules of the game, including the TSN play-by-play team of Chris Cuthbert and former CFL star Glen Suitor.  Yes, I am referring to the Nick Lewis “catch” on the 3 yard line with the game tied at 17.  Calgary Stampeders receiver Nick Lewis leapt into the air to catch a Henry Burris pass and was hit while in mid-air by a Lions defender.  Upon coming back to the ground the ball popped out of his grasp and into the hands of Lions safety Barron Miles before hitting the ground.  So, as a former football player, and long -time football fan, I celebrated what appeared to be either a Lions interception or fumble recovery…depending on wether the officials would rule it as an incompletion which was intercepted at it had never hit the ground, or a fumble recovery as the receiver did not survive contact with the ground as clearly stated in the CFL rule book.

The game officials, who set a new standard in incompetency time and time again throughout the game, upon reviewing the play when challenged by Stampeders head coach John Hufnagel, ruled that Nick Lewis had not only caught the ball, but survived contact with the ground, did not fumble the ball, and was ruled down by contact.  This took some serious creativity to come up with an explanation that favoured the Stamps.  There is no way that he was down by contact as the only part of his body that hit the ground after contact was his elbow which caused the ball to come loose, thus, by definition, resulting in Lewis not surviving contact with the ground.  The officials explaanation was inherently self contradicting.  Oh well, no matter…this is the CFL after all…logic, reason and the rulebook should not come into deciding a key play in the game.

On the ensuing play, Henry Burris threw a pass to Jermaine Copeland in the endzone.  Copeland stretched out to make an athletic catch mere inches from the ground hanging out of bounds but with both feet in bounds.  The problem?  His knee was touching the out of bounds line.  No problem says the ref.  After reviewing the play challenged by Lions head coach Wally Buono the head referee declared that the TD would stand because Copeland did in fact have both feet in bounds.  Of course, that was never the question…Buono challenged wether his knee was out of bounds before the catch…which it was.   But that is neither here nor there.

Later in the game, yet another controversial catch by another Stamps receiver saw a catch made in mid-air and the receiver falling to the ground when a Lions DB would strip the ball from the receiver.  Fumble!  BC recovers, right?  No…this is the CFL…and the refs were determined to not allow all of their previous hard work to go to waste.  After another Wally Buono challenge, the referee declared that the Calgary receiver was, again, down by contact.  But…what contact?  The replay clearly showed the Stampeder receiver fell to the ground on his own and was never touched…the only contact coming on the stripping of the football.  Again….Wally Buono was wrong!  I wonder how he became the CFL’s all-time winningest coach…clearly (at least in the referrees minds) this man has no clue about the rules of this game despite having played and coached in the league at the highest level for decades.’

There were several other, albeit smaller, descrepancies throughout the game all of which favoured Calgary.  Holding only called when BC did it, roughing the passer only called once on a borderline soft call against the Lions despite Buck Pierce taking multiple Stampeder head shots, pass interference called only one way, etc.   I know being a ref is hard.  I know they are human and make mistakes…but when there are that many mistakes?  and they ALL favour the same team?  it leaves on to wonder.

It is a shame, really.  There are so many great athletes and coaches in the CFL.  The style of play leads to an exciting brand of football as well…its just too bad the standard of officiating is dismal and greatly affects the outcome of the game again, and again.

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One step forward, one step back for Canucks

The off-season for the Vancouver Canucks thus far has been, depending on who you ask, either highly successful or completely uneventful.  On the optimistic side of the coin, you could argue that in re-signing Henrik and Daniel Sedin at the last possible moment, that they were able to acquire not one but two top-line players who are both consistently in the top 25 in league scoring…and considerably under market value at that.  You could argue that Mathias Ohlund is long in the tooth, not as effective as he once was, and Tampa Bay’s offer was ridiculously over-priced.  The optimists will tell you that Mikael Samuelson and his Stanley Cup experience are the piece that is missing from the Canuck puzzle, and his 20 plus goal seasons of late on the third line in Detroit will translate to 30 plus goals if he gets a chance to play with the twins or gets even a bit of power-play time.

Then there is the glass half-empty set that will tell you that Mike Gillis has basically done nothing to improve this team that failed to get past the second round last year.  They will say “Congratulations on signing the twins, but didn’t we already have them before?”.  Matias Ohlund has been replaced by Aaron Rome….say what you want about Ohlund, but at least we’ve heard of him which is something we cannot say about his replacement.  Mikael Samuelson…nice pick up…but he just replaces Mats Sundin, Taylor Pyatt, Kyle Wellwood, or potentially all three…do we really have a net gain here?

It is easy to look at the glass either way with this team.  It just seems like one of those off-seasons so far where there are just as many questions in late July as there were when the season ended.  One can’t definitively say that this team is significantly better or, really, any worse.  It appears as thought the Vancouver Canucks will head into the 2009/2010 season with a team that is pretty much at the same level that last year’s edition was.  It will have a solid defense, adequate scoring and will depend on Roberto Luongo to take him as far as he is able.  One can say that not much has changed here….the problem is, much has changed around them.  The Calgary Flames, somehow, managed to stick it to the salary cap by signing all-star defenseman Jay Bouwmeester, while Edmonton addressed their main weakness by putting Nikolai Khabibulin between the pipes.  The Chicago Blackhawks, the team that eliminated the Canucks, went out and added Marian Hossa.  So, maybe the status quo isn’t really the status quo.  Canucks Nation better pray that Roberto Luongo can walk on water for them.

BC Lions start 2009 season 0-2

I know the Lions started last season 0-2.  I know they ended up with quite a respectable record at the end of the year.  I know they won the Western Semi-Final and with a few breaks against Calgary might have gone  to the Grey Cup.  But this year seems different.   This year 0-2 looks like it could easily turn into 0-4…or worse.

Now, I am a HUGE Wally Buono fan, and I agree with 95% of his decisions.  He has clearly made this team a perennial threat to win it all since he has been here.  His penchant for finding talent, especially at quarterback is unrivalled.  I can’t argue with his coaching record either as he is about to pass his friend, colleague, and rival Don Matthews to become the winningest coach in CFL history provided he can win 5 games this season.  However, it looks like that is no longer a slam dunk.

With the departure of stars Cam Wake and Stefan Logan to the NFL, and Rob Murphy to the Toronto Argonauts, it can be argued that the BC Lions lost 3 of their 4 best players, Geroy Simon being the other.  That would cripple any team without question.  But to follow that up with the sending away of multiple-time CFL Outstanding Canadian Jason Clermont to the arch-rival Saskatchewan Roughriders, Otis Floyd who last week ended the Lions comeback attempt with a key interception for the Hamilton Tiger Cats, veteran Canadian lineman Kelly Bates, as well as stalwart defensive lineman Tyrone Williams many questions have been rised as to the direction Wally’s squad will be taking this year.

The above-mentioned names comprise half an all-star team.  They were replaced by….um, well…let’s see here…oh yeah, depth offensive lineman Walter Stith (now released), rookie lineman Dean Valli, previous year send-off and recent Calgary Stampeder cast-away Bobby Singh and a bunch of no-names and previous camp cuts.  The one pleasant surprise, in my opinion, has been import running back Martel Mallet, or as I like to call him “The Hammer”.   From what I have seen he has done a superb job filling in for the departed Stefan Logan.   I just wish they would give him the ball more often.

While it seems as though this article is full of criticism and laced with despair, I am very confident in Wally Buono’s abilities and the abilities of his staff.  I think the team will turn things around and make the playoffs and hopefully by then be firing on all cylinders and make a run at the Grey Cup again.  It is just not the near certainty it has been in recent years.