Bettman vs the Olympics

What’s greater than representing your country in the Olympics? Skipping it and competing in the same league as per usual, according to NHL commissioner, Gary Bettman. Negotiations between the NHL and the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) are fraught with tension. On the 21st March, the commissioner had this to say, in regards to the 2018 Winter Olympics:

Assume we are not going

We, being the NHL players who would be representing their countries in PyeongChang. The main issue is that because it falls in January/February, the NHL season must shut down for almost three weeks in the final push for the playoffs. The added weeks cause the season to lengthen… the final game of the Stanley Cup in 2014 was played on June 13th and the pre-season then began three months later on the 21st September. But it’s less than three weeks, once every four years… IT’S THE OLYMPICS. If they want to shorten the season then cut down on the number of games, collapse teams, remove the all-star game or the recently introduced bye week.

There is also a thinly veiled concern for “player injuries” – this is coming from a league that sparsely enforces its player safety, shows little consistency, displays favouritism, and has lawsuits against it from former players due to the effects of repeated concussions. I say their concern is not genuine because they do not show much concern for fourth liners, but because their star players are at the Olympics – the ones who draw in viewers and the cash – they worry about the size of their wallet.

This is terribly disruptive to our business

For big bosses like Bettman, hockey is just that, a business.

Candid photo of Bettman guarding his gold

However, to players who have given their entire lives to this sport, the opportunity to represent their country on the biggest stage and win a gold medal means everything. IT IS THE DAMN OLYMPICS. Bettman is complaining about the costs involved in sending the players (around $15-20  million due to accommodation, charter costs, and insurance),but as the majority of these players are on contracts worth millions of dollars per year, I’m sure they’re capable of producing the money as individuals to have the chance to play for their country.

Take the Russian Machine, Alexander Ovechkin, for an example. He’s said that if the NHL refuses to send players then he doesn’t care and is going anyway. Ovi is the face of the Washington Capitals franchise and if he says “nope, I’m out” then others might follow suit. Caps owner, Ted Leonsis, has even given Ovi his blessing to go to the Olympics.

He knows I have his back on this one. If this is what’s so important to him and he wants to go to the Olympics, he should be able to do that. Alex has meant so much to us. He doesn’t ask for much back. I’m not shy about saying it, I would support the player in this instance.

And if Ovi goes, what if his team mate Backström decides he wants to play for Sweden? And if Crosby says he wants to win his third gold and leave the Penguins for three weeks? And if McDavid and Matthews want the opportunity to represent their country for the first time? Who will stand in their way?
Another of Bettman’s issues is that participating in the previous Olympics has had no benefits to the NHL. Olympic games would be broadcast in the morning in North America due to the time difference and in February, only hockey and basketball are the major sports on. It’s absolutely ridiculous. People will still tune into the Olympics no matter what time of day it is hosted.

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Bettman pushed the World Cup of Hockey enough – a poor man’s replica of the Olympics – but hockey exists outside the NHL of course. Canada and the USA would most likely send teams made of AHLers, college athletes, or ex-NHLers. Russia could come with a very strong KHL team (and Ovi leading the way as an abdicator). But here is the real kicker… Bettman is keen to line his pockets with as much money as possible, or so it seems: With the arrival of the Las Vegas Golden Knights, the NHL has ANOTHER team in the desert. He also would like to penetrate the Chinese sports market because there is lots of cash to be had there. Guess who is hosting the Olympics in 2022… Cha-ching, China! The NHL planned to hold games every year there in the lead up to generate interest* in ice hockey, but Rene Fasel, head of the IIHF has declared:

If the NHL doesn’t come to Korea, they can’t just go to China.

Yikes! The greedy heads of the NHL could potentially shoot themselves in the foot and lose this lucrative Chinese market if they do not participate in the Korean Olympics.

That being said, the NHL didn’t agree to the Sochi Olympics until June 2013, so it is still up in the air… at least until Bettman stops throwing his dummy out of the pram.

*cash, you know it’s for cash. These new “fans” would have to watch games first thing in the morning… oh wait wasn’t that an argument against going to Korea?


All the Gear

You ever met somebody with all the gear but no idea? We’ve all been there. This last post will cover a little more of the equipment used in hockey.

The Stick

When it comes to sticks, they’re customised too. Some prefer longer, some shorter. There are official limits in the NHL, although some exceptions are made e.g. Zdeno Chara has special permission for his stick length. Some players prefer straight blades whereas others prefer a curve. There’s also a personal preference for the amount of lie in the stick – the lie determines how much of the blade will come in contact with the ice. Then there’s the colour of the tape; black is often used because it hides the puck better.

Traditionally, sticks have been made from wood – specifically rock elm – but due to Dutch elm disease, it has become a scarcer resource. White ash has been used as an alternative by manufacturers but it’s less study than elm. However, as technology has adapted, newer materials have crept into the world of hockey. It’s common to see sticks made from aluminium or carbon-graphite, and these types provide a lot of strength but weigh less than wood.

What the Puck?

That poor phrase has been used to death and I’m ashamed to be a part of that.

In the earliest hockey times, a ball was used, but in 1860 in Kingston Harbour, Ontario, a puck was used for the first time – allegedly. Nowadays, the puck is primarily made from rubber, but it’s one of the most elastic substances in existence, so it is compounded with other materials to strengthen it and reduce elasticity. The standard puck is 1 inch thick and 3 inches in diameter.

PImage result for hockey puck pyramidrior to use, pucks are frozen to reduce bouncing. During a period, as the puck is moved and passed around the rink, it increases in temperature This increased heat energy leads to the puck bouncing more. Pucks reach speeds of 100mph in a game.

Whilst the standard puck is 6 ounces, lighter pucks (4 ounces) can be used for younger players, or heavier ones (10 ounces) can be used for developing shot strength or stick handling. To increase wrist strength, steel pucks can even be used and these weigh around 2 pounds. White pucks can be used for goalie training to improve reactions.

The Goalie

Goalie’s can wear around 50 pounds of gear when they’re on the ice. If you’ve got a Shea Weber slapshot coming at you then you’re gonna need all of it.

The Stick: These are usually made from wood and have a curve to play the puck as well as stop or deflect it.

The Pads: In the past, the pads were made from leather but these absorbed sweat and water making them heavy. Now, they’re constructed from synthetic materials that provide strength, but are far lighter and less absorbent so the goalie can move faster.Capture-579x356.png

The Mask: Goalie masks are made from fiberglass and/or Kevlar – the same material used for bulletproof vests. For top level goalies, a plaster mould is made of the player’s head to ensure the mask fits perfectly. The masks are also personalised with decorations.




Blades of Glory

So now we have the ice, all we need is the gear.

The Science of Skating

A combination of strength and mechanics is responsible for the differences between players’ speeds. To accelerate, the skate is dug into the ice and the skater leans forwards to exert a strong force on the lower body which propels the person forwards. However, if you’re not intending to accelerate but lean forwards anyway then you’ll likely fall over… so be warned!

There’s an ongoing debate over what proportion of skating is due to strength or technique. Individual differences also play a role – some people are just naturally better than others. The speed race in the All Star Game allows us to see the players demonstrate their full speed and the ability to turn direction abruptly. Last year’s winner was Dylan Larkin who holds the record of 12.894 seconds.

Even at a top professional level like the NHL, players still talk about wanting to improve their skating abilities and whilst cross-training activities can benefit, there’s no real replacement for skating itself to improve.

The Skate

A skate consists of the boot, a blade holder that is attached with rivets, and the blade itself. Skate blades are made from steel and the blade surface is concave as opposed to flat. To create the sharp edges that are used for stopping, starting, and changing direction, a process called hollow-grinding is engaged. An equipment manager is employed to sharpen the team’s skates and even the referees’ skates in a home game.

The stone wheel, used for sharpening, is shaped with a diamond tip then the skate is passed over a few times to identify the exact centre then the blade is passed over the stone again to smooth it. For the final pass, a light coat of oil is added to provide a blade polish and remove any debris. A hand stone can also be used afterwards then the skate is wiped clean.

exagerated-skate-sharpening-hollowsImproper alignment can cause one edge to be longer than the other which means skates will have plenty of bite to turn and stop in one direction, but will cause slipping in the other direction. Sometimes this difference can be seen visually, or a coin can be balanced on the blade to notice the tilt.

The size of the hollow (the arch between the edges of the blade) is dependent upon personal preference. Generally, a goalie prefers a smaller hollow because they need to move quickly from side to side, and a deeper hollow could catch an edge in the ice. Further, players have their own preference about how frequently their skates should be sharpened e.g. every period or every couple of games. The colder/harder the ice, the quicker the skates will dull.

A hollow is very small but can have a big effect on a game.

Smaller Hollow Larger Hollow
Deeper cut on skates Flatter cut on skates
Better suited to lighter players who dig in less Better suited to heavier players who grip ice
More energy lost into ice Less energy lost into ice
Extra effort required to skate More efficient skating
Lower top speed Faster top speed
More responsive to turns and stops Turns and stops less quick/sharp
Quicker, more explosive acceleration Acceleration limited

If the edges get too dull then the skates can come out from underneath a player. Lots of things contribute to “losing an edge”, for example coming into contact with another skate, with sand or dirt by the benches, with a goal post, during a check near the boards. Until the player makes a sharp turn or a stop, they likely won’t realise they’ve lost an edge… until they’re sprawled on the ice.

Reasons to Celebrate Auston Matthews

This nineteen year old is pretty special. He’s already a whopping 6’3″ and 216lbs. (Honestly – what do they feed hockey players?). Rather than playing in North America, he decided to go pro the season leading up to the draft in Switzerland where he played alongside – and against – real men. With Zurich, Matthews posted 46 points last season. The Maple Leafs won the draft lottery and selected Matthews first overall in the 2016 draft then he was named to the Team North America roster for the World Cup of Hockey before he’d even played a single NHL game. Even in such a short tournament, up against the very best of the best, he managed three points.tumblr_oeynpx8Smj1qhc7aqo1_r1_500.png

Not satisfied with that, Auston Matthews set an NHL record on his debut. In his first ever NHL game he scored four goals. No player has done that on their debut in the NHL’s history. Players round the league posted their shock and amazement on twitter. But in the most Maple Leafs way, the team still lost the game 5-4 to Ottawa.

Besides his obscene talents, there’s a few other reasons why Matthews should be celebrated.

1) He is the highest drafted Latino in NHL history.  Although he is white passing, Auston’s mother, Ema, comes from Mexico, making him Latino. It’s a big deal because the league has historically been white. Even now, only a small percentage of players are non-white. Without delving too deeply, this is tied into the historical contexts of access to hockey and money. Just take my word that it’s a big deal. Just like when Yakupov became the highest drafted Muslim and Tatar.

2) He grew up in a family that has no ties to hockey. His father’s side played baseball, not a whiff of hockey. They had no idea how talented their son was until people started to say “hey, this kid is gonna go far!” then they had to improve their own knowledge to best help their son.

3) Not only did he grow up with a non-hockey family, he also grew up in a non-traditional hockey state. Born in California, he grew up in Arizona – the freakin’ desert. Legend has it, his family took him to a Coyotes game and he was transfixed by the Zamboni. Nonetheless, getting ice time in the desert is hard and his family had to put in a lot of work to get him as much ice time as they could. Well, looks like it’s paid off!

4) Bucking the trend of other players, Auston’s hockey idol is Anze Kopitar – a European player. Not just European, he is from Slovenia, a country which has had a very low representation in the NHL across the years. Whilst that’s not a huge fact, it’s still kind of cool that he said nah to the typical USA/Canada answer.

Team USA

Oh mama don’t you cry, USA hockey is do or die! Team USA tends to dominate the majority of  sports they compete in – just take a look at the medal table from last month’s Olympics – so they are expected to at least reach the top three here. They underperformed in the Sochi Olympics with 4th place, and in the World Championships the team hasn’t won a gold medal since 1960, so they will be hoping to stamp their name as a big hockey team.

They’re one of the tallest teams in the tournament as well as the heaviest at an eye-watering average of 209lbs. Some of their best young talents, Gaudreau, Saad, Eichel, and Matthews all feature for team North America, therefore this team has taken the experience route; the average age of the team is 29.3years.

Head coach Torterella faces the tough challenge of choosing a starting goalie out of skyscraper Ben Bishop, two time Stanley cup winner Quick, or technically gifted Schneider. For now, Quick has the nod. The heavy weight of the team may be skewed by the sheer size of a few players: On the blue line, Erik Johnson weighs in at 225lbs, Jack Johnson at 230lbs, and Dustin Byfuglien comes in at 260lbs. It will probably be better for you to be hit by a Zamboni than one of these guys charging down the ice. It’s likely the USA will be playing a very defensive game in the tournament, and they don’t have too many reasons to be worried as their defenders are pretty solid.

tab-sp-stanley-phil13june-jpg-jpg-size-custom-crop-1086x724The USA has made a potentially fatal mistake by leaving Phil ‘The Thrill’ Kessel off the roster, who is arguably one of their best offensive players and has had 80 point seasons in the past. They have Pavelski, Kane , and Pacioretty hungry for goals, but they need the other forwards – Oshie, Parise, Kesler, Backes –  to show up and play big, particularly when facing Canada. They share the group with their fiercest rivals, Canada, the Czech Republic, and team Europe. They could finish second in the group if they keep the defence tight, goal solid, and ensure their forwards are working in their lines rather than single all stars.

It will be interesting to watch how this team gels together – if they need inspiration then they can always watch Miracle.


Team Sweden

Sweden enters the tournament as the smallest team with an average height of 180cm and weighing around 195lbs – which can only be considered small in ice hockey. It’s unlikely to make a huge difference, but it’s still worth making a note of.

one_sweden06og_03In Sochi, Sweden left with a silver medal – a huge achievement for the most part – but it was filled with many ‘what if’ questions. Henrik Sedin was unable to play due to injury, Zetterberg also withdrew after one game due to injury, and Nicklas Backstrom was ineligible to play due to a doping scandal that proved to be false. The team got to the gold medal game without three of their strongest players, but what if they had been healthy?

The youngsters of the team are in good company, their mentors for this tournament are riddled with years of NHL and international experience. Lundqvist is naturally in goal having helped the team to Olympic gold in 2006, alongside Zetterberg, Kronwall, and the Sedin twins who also feature in this tournament. Canucks teammate Loui Eriksson has also been selected to play for his country, so their club chemistry will be of benefit to Sweden in this short competition.

Speaking of the youngsters, one player who is sure to bring excitement is Filip Forsberg, or b904173ae527c7343bc31e5251a7ffe5Filip Scoresberg. The Capitals traded him in 2013 and have surely been kicking themselves since. In the 2015 playoffs, he became the youngest player in franchise history to score a playoff goal and also the first playoff hat-trick in history for the Predators. The following season he scored two natural hat-tricks within four days , led the team in scoring for the second year running and tied the franchise record for 33 goals. Not too shabby. Alongside
Forsberg is Gabriel Landeskog, who made history as the youngest NHL captain at 19 years and 286 days for the Colorado Avalanche – and he’s still only 23.

The most recent Stanley Cup winners, Hornqvist and Hagelin have also been named to the roster, so they will be hoping to continue the winning streak. Niklas Hjalmarsson, who also doubles as a brick wall for the Chicago Blackhawks, will no doubt be putting his body in the firing line for his country, as will phenomenally talented Erik Karlsson. Interestingly, Karlsson is the only player to come from the Senators, poor guy carrying the entire franchise on his back… Their defensive players are excellent skaters and good with the puck.

Surprisingly, Klingberg was omitted from the roster. He is a top scorer and is right handed – something this team is lacking – so it would have been good to have on the team, however the depth of this team shows that they should be okay without him.

Finland versus Sweden will provide a very fun game as both teams have gone for skill over brute force, plus the love/hate relationship between these brother countries is always an interesting one.

Team Russia

Russia always has a strong team in competitions and this one is no exception. d0582c061de32aa15b3f657c2b5bb65aThe team is captained by all star Alexander Ovechkin and his Washington team mates, Orlov and Kuznetsov will be playing alongside him. At 23, Kuznetsov is beginning to light up the NHL with his dazzling skill set so this will be a chance to prove himself on the national team and to link up with Ovi to push Russia beyond exceptions. In Sochi, the team had a somewhat underwhelming performance, playing as a group of individuals rather than a cohesive team therefore they will be eager to prove themselves. Having Panarin and Anisimov of the Chicago Blackhawks will be a big benefit to the team as this duo (alongside Patrick Kane) had an exceptional season.

Their goal tending is pretty solid with the options of Bobrovsky, Varlamov, or Vasilevskiy, and their forwards have a great deal of offensive power. Team Russia boasts Tarasenko, Malkin, and the magic man Pavel Datsyuk who has recently returned to his home nation leaving Detroit behind him. Datsyuk is 38 now, but still one of the best play makers who will be sorely missed in north America, so this is his last chance to wow the crowd in Canada. paveldatsyukdetroitredwingsvpittsburghzv5spa9xefsl

Montreal’s Markov and Emelin will provide strong support in defence. Emelin often sacrifices his body to block shots, which is an asset for Russia, but it might leave Therrien sweating. At 36, Markov hasn’t shown too many signs of slowing down yet; he has suffered a few set-backs through injuries but remains a great playmaker on the power play.

Notably absent from the team are Ilya Kovalchuk and Val Nichushkin.  Kovalchuk has had his time with the national team (though he is still a good player), but really at 24 Nichushkin ought to be breaking into the team and demonstrating his worth.

They’re not expected to win this tournament but could provide some upsets. They share a group with Sweden, Finland, and North America, so should at least pull a win against Sweden.