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Good show, eh? March 2, 2010

Posted by Casey in Hockey.
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With the Olympic stage to themselves, Team Canada and Team USA played a Gold Medal Game worth its title. Hockey’s poster child Sidney Crosby scored the winner in OT to talk Canada back from its collective cliff.  American Ryan Miller has been touted as the best goalie in the NHL and preformed like it in these Olympics.  The well balanced US team made up of young scorers and experienced campaigners defied pre-tournament expectations to beat Canada in the preliminary round and push on to play for gold.  An early two goal deficit was trimmed to 2-1 by Ryan Kesler (playing in his home NHL arena) before Zach Parise’s dramatic last minute equalizer.  Americans everywhere jumped, whooped and hi-fived like it was Miracle 2.  The Canadians used the intermission to recover well and the US never really seemed to match up in the 4 on 4 sudden death overtime and Crosby and Jarome Iginla combined to score the winner 7 minutes in.  Canada deserved their victory and their gold (2 out of last 3), and Americans everywhere remembered what a breathtaking sport hockey is.

The 2010 Olympic tournament did a great job showcasing the worldwide talent in the game, two particular days stood out to me, Sunday Feb. 21 and Wednesday Feb. 24.  The 21st was the last day of preliminary round play and featured a tripleheader: Russia-Czech Republic, Canada-US and Sweden-Finland.  All are regional rivalries and combine to feature most of the best players in the world.  The second date featured all four Olympic quarter-finals:  US-Switzerland, Russia-Canada, Finland-Czech Republic, and Sweden-Slovakia.  Again, the combination of talent all competing in the same tournament on the same day is jawdropping.  While a few blowouts took some of the excitement away from the knockout rounds the gold medal game undoubtedly delivered.  Those who just can’t wait for more international hockey don’t have to look too far ahead.  The 2010 World Championships are staged in Germany in less than 3 months and will feature NHL players (wait for it….from teams that miss the playoffs, but NHL players nonetheless).  The games will be aired on Universal HD and begin May 7th.  An event as big as the World Championships should’t be held during the NHL Playoffs when the best players will not be available.  Simply put, it benefits no one, later in the summer or before the season is a must.   This same dilemma affects the startup World Baseball Classic and to be fair there is no easy answer.  All I can say is let’s hope NHL players will represent their countries in Sochi, Russia in 2014.

What can hockey do from this?  To start they have made NHL Center ICE (access to EVERY game)available for free this week (March 2-8), look for a block of channels somewhere in the nether regions of your cable box (COX Cable Hartford Channels 673-684).  Versus and the NHL Network will have a pick of the games each night featuring top teams.. I know what you’re saying, “They don’t try as hard during the regular season”.  I can’t argue, the players won’t play like the gold medal game but there is still plenty to be excited about.  Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin have the makings of transcendent stars, and have already developed an intra-conference rivalry.  Perennial power Detroit faces a fight to make the playoffs, Ovechkin’s Washington Capitals have a one point lead on San Jose for best record and there is a group of talented teams vying for playoff positioning.  The NHL faces an important time period and a boost in ratings (and add revenue) could make it easier for the NHLPA and the owner’s to agree on a CBA before the words ‘lockout’ or ‘strike’ appear on anyone’s lips.  The current CBA expires after next season, 2010-2011, and with impending problems in the NFL and NBA it would be a nice to change to see both sides quietly agree to a deal.   With the emergence Kontinental Hockey League (24 teams in Russia and 3 other former Soviet republics), it’s important that the NHL avoids another work stoppage and ensure it retains the world’s best player for years to come.  If you catch one game make it New Jersey at San Jose on Tuesday night, featuring American stars Zach Parise and Jamie Langebrunner against San Jose’s Canadian line of Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, and Dany Heatley.  I know it’s on late but should be fun even for just the first period.   The trade deadline is Wednesday and the stretch run begins now, don’t get left out!

National Games This Week:

Monday:  9:00 ET – Detroit @ Colorado -VERSUS

Tuesday: 7:30 ET – Philadelphia @ Tampa Bay – VERSUS

10:30 ET – New Jersey @ San Jose – VERSUS

Wednesday: 7:00 ET – Washington @ Buffalo – VERSUS

7:30 ET – Vancouver @ Detroit – NHL Network

Thursday: 7:00 ET –Pittsburgh Penguins @ New York Rangers  – VERSUS

7:00 ET – Tampa Bay @ Washington – NHL Network

Saturday: 7:00 ET – Toronto @ Ottawa  – NHL Network

Sunday: 12:30 ET – Detroit @ Chicago – NBC

8:00 ET – Montreal @ Anaheim – NHL Network

Games EVERY NIGHT on NHL Center Ice’s Free Trial!

Thanks for reading and I hope to post a weekly preview tomorrow.

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