Friday, 30 October 2015

ESPN pulls the plug on Grantland.

A friend sent me the news by way of a Deadspin link: Grantland is dead.  ESPN has decided to kill its online magazine, a few months after canning its raison d'être Bill Simmons.

(Here is more detail and background by Deadspin.)

I’m a little surprised, although I don’t know the financials at all, since the site has produced some outstanding articles, gave great writers a great platform.  Parent ESPN is going through some tumult right now, laying off hundreds of staffers.

I’d just visited Grantland today and there was no mention of this yet. I read everything Sean McIndoe writes, he’s funny as hell, creative. I also really like Katie Baker on hockey, although she reduced her output and broadened her focus to include football and pop culture.

Robert Mays and especially Bill Barnwell on the NFL were must-reads, very enlightening, with links to in-depth articles that covered football analytics.

Steve Hyden on music was excellent too, although I’ve kind of lost track on music, some of the new bands he’d write about, he’d compare to some other bands who were also a complete mystery to me, so the comparisons fell flat.

When Bill Simmons was let go, it was obviously a big blow to the site, he was meant to be the editor and inspiration for an irreverent cross-discipline source for sports and pop culture. His departure didn’t reduce the quality though, they kept pumping out good stuff, so I thought they might continue.

It was interesting that ESPN tried to launch a similar site but for African-American readers, called The Undefeated, to try to focus on an underserved market. They hired reputed columnist Jason Whitlock to serve as editor-in-chief and provide the same presence Bill Simmons did at Grantland, but it was a reported disaster, Deadspin covered that mess intensively.

Yet apparently ESPN is pouring money into The Undefeated while it pulls the plug on Grantland. Seems odd, but this article says that ESPN wants more control over its ‘properties’, and the culture at Grantland didn’t allow that, it had been launched as Bill Simmons’ independent, arm’s length project, and they couldn’t reel it back in, the staffers balked. The writers apparently were very loyal to Simmons and Grantland, but didn’t necessarily want to work for ESPN and be muzzled when talking about concussions, the NFL, Roger Goodell, daily fantasy/gambling, etc...

Mark Barberio playing a big role in the IceCaps' strong start to the season.

I love it when a plan comes together. This summer we were a little surprised that Mark Barberio was signed to a contract, with our glut of young players on the blue line. After looking at it a little more, I concluded that he was brought in as organizational depth, to maybe compete as a longshot for a spot on the Montréal blue line, but more likely to bring a veteran presence to the AHL team, along with a left shot, with our prospects all being righties save for Mac Bennett.

Sure enough, he played well at camp but couldn’t unseat the incumbents or the other waiver-eligible youngsters, so he was sent down, and actually made it through waivers, contrary to Frank Corrado for example, who was plucked from the Canucks by the Leafs when he was sent down.

A few years ago, Pierre Gauthier had looked at his blue line and figured he might need some depth, some size and experience, so he’d brought in free agent Jeff Woywitka, who had an okay camp but could have been expected to contribute during the season. Except they tried to send him down to the AHL and he was claimed by the Rangers. As if those jerks hadn’t robbed us of enough blue line talent already…

I’m not saying it’s a direct result, but that’s the year we eventually traded for Tomas Kaberle.

[Barf break…]

In this instance though, the pieces fell into place. The organization retained an asset. The IceCaps get a solid blueliner who is used by Sylvain Lefebvre on his first pairing and in all situations, a player who knows the AHL well and can act as a steadying influence on the young bucks. He’s piling up points, producing, a big part of the team’s strong start.

Thursday, 29 October 2015

Game 10: Canadiens 1, Canucks 5

Some jumbled thoughts on the Canadiens' 5-1 loss to the Canucks, snapping their 9-game winning streak and foiling their quest for a new record.

1)  Pre-game at Dunn's Vancouver, the other boys are pleased with the choices, but abstain from a full-fat sandwich, choose a more-familiar Reuben sandwich instead.  My disdainful look mollifies Matt, the younger more impressionable member of our group, to change his order, which he ultimately doesn't regret.  Jay grumbles and follows suit.

I mean, come on, right?  You don't go to the Greek restaurant and order the pasta, you get what they're famous for, no?

Turns out they're fans of smoked meat now.  Despite that inconvenient WHO report on processed meats that dropped at precisely the wrong time.  Where's Stephen Harper when you need him, these are the scientists that need to be muzzled, not some loons who worry about climate. A couple of degrees, that just means a nicer, balmier spring, right?  It's cyclical.

2)  The joint is packed when we get there, including a huge 16 person table with mostly Canadiens but some Canucks jerseys.  Lots of kids in Gallagher jerseys, some Price, West Coast kids who like their local boys on their favourite teams.  I'm seated near an older gentleman in a Jean Béliveau jersey, which I believe is anachronistic, since he has the nameplate on the back.  From memory, I don't think Monsieur Béliveau ever had his name on his jersey, just le numéro quatre.  Names on jerseys came later, mid-seventies I think.

One young man nearby has a Pavel Bure jersey, the horrible black and orange 'skate' jersey.  I avoid conversation, even eye-contact with this gentleman.

3)  Our winsome waitress, a tiny sprite of a girl, speaks passable English, with a strong accent.  As she explains the menu, I switch over to French to help her out.  She looks at me blankly.

Turns out that wasn't a Québécois accent, but rather a Spanish accent.  Egg on my face.  I save it by busting out my rusty basic travel Spanish.  The boys give me the gears, tell me she's digging me.  I respond with my classic Ralph Furley line, "I'm old enough to be her older brother."  But even that, that's starting to stretch it a little bit, these days, getting to be a reproductive implausibility.

4)  I confidently ask our waitress when we're settling up that they must have known tonight would be a big night for them, with the Canadiens in town and all.  She rolls her eyes and chuckles, explains that she was supposed to start her shift at 6, walked by at 4 to drop off her stuff and then go do some shopping, but her harried manager 'requested' that she start immediately.

They didn't know about the game, the crowd, the Montréal tie-in, none of that.  They don't know what they're doing there, apparently, but at least the food didn't suffer.

5)  Last year, Michel Therrien wrote in Mike Weaver and Dale Weise and Brendan Gallagher for the opening faceoff, former Canucks and Giants.  This year, he just went with Tomas' line, just Gally was on.  Willie Desjardins had Brandon Prust and Yannick Weber out for the opening faceoff.

6)  My seatmates are Hugo and Photis.  I know, because after he told me his name a couple of times, I asked him to spell it.  Never, ever heard that name before, read it, saw it anywhere.  I was going to ask more about it, but Hugo started asking questions about which team I was supporting, where we were from.  He's happy to find that I'm a Canadiens supporter and a Québec native, he says they used to live in Montréal, but now they're in Victoria but are still Canadiens diehards.

7)  Not an easy Google, but apparently Photis is a Greek name, meaning 'light'.

8)  As the game starts, Matt reacts to David Desharnais darting around in the offensive zone, with the following quote: "David Desharnais is my least favourite player in the NHL."  I think that's hilarious, and probe further, asking how with guys like Brad Marchand and Eric Gryba and Derek Dorsett running around.  "Just the way he skates," he says, and does something with his shoulders, pantomiming a skating stride, screwing up his face into a mask of grim determination.  "The way he keeps both hands on his stick all the time," with more pantomime.  "He looks like a rec league player who tries too hard."

If I hadn't known the kid, I'd have sworn he was a plant, there to antagonize me.  As it is, I find it hilarious, and he doesn't quite understand why.

9)  Of course, we're seated in the Canucks end for the first period, and David's line buzzes around in their end.  I keep waiting for him to pop one in, and Mat's white-knuckling it, hoping he doesn't have to eat his words.

10)  I yell at him frequently when he's on the ice, "Allez Desharnais!," with lots of people turning around to see what's the meaning of this.  Is there irony?

Matt asks me what 'uh-lay' means.  A shocking indictment of the Canadian educational system.

11)  Not to assign blame, but instead of being divine, Carey is more pedestrian, snake-bitten.  What started as an even matchup quickly degenerates, and the air is let out of the building.  I actually have to struggle to stay awake.  The previous night, I didn't sleep well, I kept waking up, anxious that I'd overslept and missed my alarm, kind of like an overexcited kid before leaving on family vacation.  I'm now struggling to keep my eyes open.

12)  Luckily, they blastblare awful shlocky 90's rock every time there's a whistle.  And that's the right word, I'm coining it, claiming it, blastblare©.  They take it right to the threshold of distortion, then add a generous 25% more disciples it screeches like.  So my snoozes are intermittent, not so egregious that I end up with black marker all over my forehead.  Kids today, you gotta be careful.

13)  We probably had some bounces go our way during the 9-game win streak, and now the luck regresses to the mean.  Lots of opportunities flubbed, missed shots, guys who are wide-open for a one-timer but the pass just ticks off a Canuck outstretched stick.  Meanwhile, Carey is a mere mortal.

14)  Some Canuck fans try to start a derisive "Caaaa-reeeeey, Caaaa-reeeeey, ..." chant, but it never gets off the ground.  Respect?  Refusal to humiliate a local likeable kid?

15)  I have yet to re-watch the game on TV, to solidify some impressions, figure out what happened on this play or that sequence, etc.  On the one hand, watching the game live is so much better to get a feel for the game, for the flow.  You see opportunities happen before they happen, you see defensive breakdowns and get a sinking feeling in your stomach before the opponent is sprunged for a breakaway.

What you miss though is the replays, the various angles that show why that guy missed the wide open net, or whether he missed at all or it was a great save, etc.

Except it was such a sucky game, I haven't had the stomach to rewatch yet.  I erased the Sportsnet version off my PVR, and have yet to break open the Canadiens Express version.  We'll see.

Sunday, 25 October 2015

Game 9: Canadiens 5, Leafs 3

Sturdy Thoughts on the Canadiens 5-3 win over the Leafs:

1)  Remember back when the Leafs traded for Roman Pollak, and we were a little jealous?  Big, a little mean, rightie, would clear the crease, stay at home and prevent goals?  'Member that?

2)  Remember when our defence was a hopeful combination of Jaroslav Spacek, Raphaël Diaz, Yannick Weber, Josh Gorges, Hal Gill, and a callow P.K.?

3)  I've whined before about the Canadiens lack of finish when the opposition net is empty.  Nearly four minutes of torture tonight.  The David Desharnais line had four or five shots blocked, deflected, hit posts, miss the wide open net, in one single shift.  Even Max missed.  I'm starting to think conspiracy, with pro wrestling refs involved somehow.  Geoff Molson wants to keep beer drinkers in his barn rather than streaming for the exits.

4)  I wondered idly if, when the coaches go over the video with Alex Semin of his giveaway in the defensive zone, when he tried to pass through the middle instead of making a 'strong play' with the puck off the boards, maybe they'll hold off and get Andrei to gently discuss it with him.  I can't imagine it would be too long a conversation.  "Don't do that again, doofus."

5)  Any Martian who's landed on Earth and listened to the broadcast to learn our ways and integrate seamlessly into human society has come away with the surety that Byron Froese is that Son of God he's been briefed on.

6)  Just to instigate, cause the reactionary 'groupuscule' to lose its marbles, I want Michel Therrien to give the boys a day off tomorrow.

7)  Just as there's a two-minute penalty for sending the puck in the stands or netting in the defensive zone, there should be one for sending a puck onto the players bench, either one.  It's just as much a delay of game, with the added danger that someone will one day get really, really hurt.  Zero tolerance.  Control your puck near the benches, or go sit and feel shame.

8)  Pierre-Alexandre Parenteau, you're not a bad guy, no hater here, but get your redemption elsewhere.

9)  If Jeff Petry has a poutine named after him, Carey Price should have a filet mignon with peppercorn sauce bear his name.  With sautéed mushrooms, spinach and steamed asparagus drizzled with garlic butter, and roast potatoes.  With an icy lager on the side.

10)  Did I hear right that Andrei and P.K. already have thirty points amassed between them?

11)  Nine wins in a row.  That's kind of a nice number, has a certain resonance to it.  Le numéro neuf.

12)  I get to see the Canadiens play against the Canucks at the New Pacific Coliseum and try to tie the record.  Should be an even split between bleu-blanc-rouge sweaters and blue-green jerseys.  And it will be another nice number.  Le numéro dix.

13)  Jonathan Bernier.  Ayoye...  He should review those Nelson Mandella tapes, to better pattern his game after him, get inspired.

14) tells me that the Leafs have lost 8 in a row to the Canadiens.  Can we please put to rest that rivalry balderdash, retire it?  Please?

15)  You'd think that with even the powerplay now clicking, the Canadiens would silence the critics, but they go and allow 50 shots against.  Brace for calls to trade for Zenon Konopka, a tough defensive fourth-line centre.

16)  I hate Nazem Kadri.

17)  Not crazy about Dion Phaneuf either.  Listen up, ahem, Captain, you've made a career of dishing out elbows and crosschecks and late hits and more dirty crap.  When you get rocked into the boards, take your medicine like a big boy.  Suck it up, you weasel.

18)  Torrey Mitchell got owned in the faceoff circle.  15% FO wins?  Can that be right?

Saturday, 24 October 2015

More thoughts on Rugby World Cup's excellent approach to refereeing.

Have you been watching the rugby, with respect to the refereeing? Amazing what a great job these gentlemen do, how they control the flow of the game, manage it, constantly talk to the players, but are still decisive and impartial. Also, how great it is that they openly, while ‘miked’, confer with touch judges and the video referee to arrive at decisions, none of this cloak of secrecy the NHL feels is necessary, when they come up with decisions that are dubious, probably assisted by other sources that officially are verboten.

The video referee is telling. The NHL foists a second ref on us, puts him on the ice, and he’s as blind and powerless as the first, gets in the way, is hesitant to upstage the other ref who’s closer to the action, or who’s more senior. What a mess.

At the Rugby World Cup, the video ref is in constant radio contact with the ref, tells him when an infraction has been missed, and at the next stoppage they’ll review it, none of this “I didn’t see Milan Lucic castrate Danny de Keyser”, or “I didn’t see Brad Marchand punch Tomas Plekanec in the head, because my own head and the second referee’s head was buried in the minutiae of the game clock.” Nothing is missed, nothing gets through, no commentators chuckling about a wily vet doing his job with a good bit of cheating he got away with. The British commentors cluck about bad mistakes and losses of composure instead.

The process is so refreshing. You’ll hear during play, live, the video ref saying “Romain, I have a instance of charging for you to review when you have a chance.” At the next stoppage, the ref will blow his whistle, call for the game clock to stop. The video ref will then put the footage of the infraction on the video screens at the stadium, for everyone to watch: the ref, the two teams, the fans, the viewers at home. “Romain, it’s #3 red, cleaning out #7 black with a shoulder, no attempt to wrap with the arms, at the 45:33 minute mark.”

Everyone watches, then the ref will ask the video judge “Okay, I see it. I think it’s a penalty, but not a yellow card. Do you agree?” The video ref will agree, the ref will then call the captain and offending player of the red team over, give them a verbal warning, and the award the penalty kick to the black team.

It’s clear, it’s quick, it’s fair, it’s open and transparent, the game moves quickly, the Zack Rinaldos and the Chris Neils can’t hide and do their dirty business in the shadows. It’s friggin’ amazing. None of this business with the refs in headphones talking in hushed tones with Toronto control, and other refs to keep players away, so they don’t hear anything. None of this referee running the length of the field to get ‘under the hood’ and watch who knows what and come up with a decision who knows how.

Talk about a qualitative difference in approach, rugby has a special term for a player who knows he’s beaten or about to be, and does something to spoil the play, they call it a ‘cynical’ offside or knock-on or whatever. In that case, not only does the aggrieved team get a penalty, but the offender is sent off the field for ten minutes with a yellow card. It’s so amazing to see, when a play is developing and a player just spoils it, voluntarily, and gets rightfully punished, instead of everyone shrugging, qué sera sera…

I used to complain about the refereeing like I did about the weather, with no real hope for change. Or rather, with no belief that it could change, that things had to remain the way they are, fallible and unreliable. I no longer believe that. The NHL is criminally negligent in the way it referees its sport, and diminishes the spectacle for its fans. If the NHL can’t be trusted to run hockey at the highest expression of its form outside the Olympics, we need to blow it up and start fresh.

Rugby World Cup: Canada 15, Romania 17

Okay, I've put this off long enough, let's dive in...

In a disappointing ending to a frustrating World Cup, the Canadian team dropped a 17-15 decision to Romania which they should have won.  The loss meant that the Canadian team for the first time lost all its games in a tournament.  In 2007, the best the Canadian team could achieve was to tie Japan, but in every other editions, always managed at least one win.

What makes this result so bitter is that the Canadian team played very well against France, and fumbled away a very achievable win against Italy in the second half.  After these near-misses, mathematically eliminated, what remained was to bag a victory against a strong but inferior squad.  And we couldn't manage that either.

The Canadian team was on the attack for most of the game, running the ball aggressively and trying to advance, to score tries.  Unfortunately, they also committed many handling errors, dropping passes, knocking the ball forward, missing open men.

In previous years, the Canadian team played a more conservative style, predicated on ferocious defence and tackling and hope.  Its approach has evolved along with the game, you can't kick the ball exclusively like England used to do and expect to win nowadays, but maybe the technical skills of the Canadian players as a whole lags behind the ambitions of the coaching staff.

This of course does not apply to the superb, electric DTH van der Merwe, the Canadian wing who set a first in World Cup history, being the first player from a Tier 2 nation to score at least one try in every game his team played in the pool round.  Again in this game, his try was a thing of beauty, although for a change it wasn't a looping long-distance run.  He got the ball 15 metres out and juked and slid his way in over the line between some overmatched defenders.

The next Canadian try by Jeff Hasler, the other Canadian wing, was another crowd pleaser.  Getting the ball 20 metres out, he sped towards the goal and stiff-armed and bulled his way past tacklers, refusing to go down after contact, pushing his way past and sliding in under the goalposts.

This brought the score to 15-0 Canada, and our team should have put this game away.  Unfortunately, many dangerous opportunities to add another try were fumbled away, and kicks at goal were missed that could have decided the game.

Instead, Romania set a Rugby World Cup record for the biggest deficit at halftime overcome to win a match, an embarrassing distinction for the Canadian team to be a part of.  The Romanians used their 40 kg pack advantage in their favour, they started using their scrum and close mauls to overpower the Canadians, instead of trying to get the ball out wide, which they weren't successful with, committing lots of handling errors.  Both their tries came from mauls that they pushed over the line.

Add in some more surefooted kicking, and that was the deciding factor.  Along with an early yellow card to the Romanian team that the Canadians didn't seem impatient to capitalize on.  I thought I saw the Canadian team being a little listless, indecisive after breakdowns, instead of hurrying with a throw-in or put-in.

There were some players on the Canadian side who caught the eye.  Captain Jamie Cudmore, who I thought had a muted World Cup, seemed to realize this was his last kick at the can.  He played with more energy, and was more of a factor in open play, rather than just a steady veteran to power the scrum.  In previous games, when he had the ball, he seemed to choose an opponent, put his shoulder into him and go down willingly, posting the ball, having been successful in his phase, his job done.   This time, he'd run with ferocity, trying to elude tacklers, or at least drive them back a few yards before going down.

Aaron Carpenter for me was a revelation.  Any player who can play hooker one game and Number 8 the next is amazing to me.  He was clever in open play, useful with the ball, ranging out wide with the backs or playing close to the pack.   I have nothing but respect for his effort in this game and tournament.

The forwards, while they were expected to be outclassed by a much stronger and heavier Romanian pack, acquitted themselves quite well, again.  Their tactic in this tournament, which worked reliably, was to win its ball quickly and out of the scrum, instead of trying to drive back a bulldozer.  Our scrum half would put in the ball and a second later take it out the back and feed it to the fly half, no muss, no fuss.  And no opportunity for the opposition to feast on a potential weakness.  Great job, great execution.

The Canadian team continued its practice of not contesting opposition lineouts, not trying to spoil, but rather hanging back and getting ready to defend.  I'm out of my depth to analyze whether that's sound strategy, I'm not solid on the pros and cons, but it grates a little bit that we concede their throw-ins, it's dangerously near to admitting defeat.

And therein lies the kernel of a thought I'd like to discount, but I wonder whether the Canadian team, historically the plucky underdog who doesn't expect to win but will not be beaten easily, the minnow among the sharks, maybe in the back of its mind expects to lose.

It might be realistic to go in against Ireland or New Zealand or others knowing your best-case scenario is to keep it respectable, maybe it's inescapable, but when you're in a game that's close, when victory is at hand, against a more reasonable opponent, maybe the voices, the self-talk in the psyche of the Canadian team is a little defeatist.  And when the tide turns a little or a tough call happens, instead of bucking up, like the Japanese team did against South Africa in their win for the ages, maybe our boys think "Here we go again..."

But that's for another time.  I'll dissect this corpse at greater length later.

Overall, despite the fishtail ending, I'll giving our boys grudging applause and a pat on the back.  If not for a few bounces, this could have gone very differently.  And that's the nature of sport, sometimes the narrative at the end isn't necessarily what was pre-ordained before the game started.

Maybe this is just a case of more time, more test matches, better or at least different coaching and philosophies, and we may tell a very different tale in 2019.

Saturday, 17 October 2015

St. John's IceCaps 5, Rochester Americans 2

The future of the Montréal Canadiens, in the near and medium term, resides with its AHL affiliate in St. John's.  Many of its brighter prospects will be there, playing for the IceCaps, developing under the tutelage of head coach Sylvain Lefebvre.  

For the last decade and more, the Canadiens have had their farm team in Hamilton, which wasn't an ideal situation.  Observers explain that the sporting landscape in southern Ontario is dominated by the CFL's Tiger Cats, and by the Maple Leafs in hockey.  In terms of drawing fans, the Canadiens were fighting a battle with the local residents' natural instinct to cheer against the Canadiens, a natural rival of their Leafs.  The Bulldogs were never able to really take off.

With the shuffling of franchises in the AHL, and four of them shifting to California, the St. John's team needed a parent club and the Canadiens were only too happy to fill in.  They'll be the big dog in the local market, and have a deep pool of lifelong Canadiens fans to draw from to cheer on its young protégés.

The team started the season with a quick two-game road trip to play the Bridgeport Sound Tigers, earning an opening 3-1 win and then an ugly 6-1 loss, with goalie Dustin Tokarski allowing five goals in the third period.

Here are some notes on the 5-2 home opener win against the Rochester Americans.

Watching it on a standard def broadcast on my 50″ Panaphonics, I guess that’s all we get in St. John’s too, like in Hamilton. Could be worse I guess. 
The Amerks just tied it at 1-1 at the end of the first, 4 minutes left.
Play-by-play guys talking about how great it is to see le bleu-blanc-rouge, how they both grew up Habs fans.
Sven Andrighetto makes it 2-1early in the second, with assists from Bud Holloway and Charles Hudon. Play started as a nice odd-man rush, hit post, Sven cashed in the rebound.
Christian Thomas on a nice rush partial breakaway, wheeled around and caught a pass skating backwards, turned back forward and sniped a shot home. Assists from Mark Barberio and Morgan Ellis, the first defence pairing.  3-1 
The IceCaps is the youngest team in the AHL, average age of barely more than 21 years old.

They’re up against the Americans, farm team of the Sabres. Names that I recognize:

Andrey Makarov, a goalie who played with Darren Dietz and Dalton Thrower with the Saskatoon Blades, and who played with the Russian WJC team.

Cal O’Reilly, the brother of the Tim Horton’s enthusiast.

Jack Nevins, former Bulldogs enforcer we traded away at the deadline for Torrey Mitchell. I haven’t heard his name called yet.

William Carrier, Justin Bailey, two guys we wanted to draft in 2014.

Patrick Kaleta. Ugh.
The IceCaps are driving the play, dominating their opponents.
Gabriel Dumont is all over the ice.
Jacob de la Rose had a good look at the goal on a rush, missed the net.
Mike McCarron and Jérémy Grégoire are a penalty-killing pair, kind of cool.
Mike McCarron with a good toe-drag and deke around a defenceman for a good chance on goal. 
Nikita Scherbak almost cashed in a nice backhand pass from Mark Barberio, cut off by the goalie. 
Second period over, all to the IceCaps’ advantage. 
22-20 shots for IceCaps, who are 0 for 2 on the PP. Amerks are 0 for 3.
Amerks head coach Randy Cunneyworth will be a guest during intermission. 

In probably related moves, the IceCaps announced that they have signed Eric Neilson and ceded big Stéfan Fournier to the ECHL's Brampton Beast.
Mark Barberio is playing with Morgan Ellis, Joel Hanley with Darren Dietz, and Mac Bennett with Brett Lernout for your defence pairings.
I guess Josiah Didier, Dalton Thrower and Ryan Johnston are healthy scratches. (Oops, apparently they're all injured.)
3rd period started, Brett Lernout earns an early minor penalty, his second of the game. 
Marc Bergevin and Larry Carrière are reportedly in attendance. 
IceCaps kill off the penalty, then buzz around in the offensive zone, until Christian Thomas scores his second, cashing in a bouncing puck in front of the net. Morgan Ellis and Daniel Carr earn assists. 
4-1 IceCaps. 
 A shot hits Zach Fucale in the mask, Jack Nevins cashes in the rebound.
4-2 Icecaps.
IceCaps go on the powerplay immediately after.
IceCaps were killing a penalty, the Amerks pulled their goalie, great work by the ‘Caps, until Bud Holloway scored into an empty net. 
Both Jérémy Grégoire and Jacob de la Rose could have gotten their first goal earlier on if they’d been a little more lucky, had gotten a bead on the empty net. 
Final score 5-2 IceCaps.
Zach Fucale gets his first AHL win. 

Three stars are:

3) Jason Akeson

2) Sven Andrighetto (2 goals)

1) Christian Thomas (2 goals)

Hardest-working Player of the Game:

Morgan Ellis (2 assists, great work on penalty kill)

And a link to the game sheet.

Monday, 12 October 2015

World Cup Rugby refereeing is vastly superior to the NHL's variant.

I vowed to be insufferable about the Rugby World Cup, in no small part to exact vengeance for all that soccer talk last summer perpetrated on HIO.  And I feel I've not quite been living up to my promise.

But this morning as I've got one of the many rugby games backlogged on my PVR playing in the background, the Samoa-Japan game, I'm shocked to see the referee award not one but two yellow cards in quick succession against the Samoans, early in the game.  A yellow card means a player is sent off the field for ten minutes.  So fifteen minutes in they're playing 13 against 15.

One was for a high, late tackle with no attempt to wrap up the tacklee with the arms, it was more of a shoulder charge, like a body check in hockey or a block in football, which isn't allowed in rugby.  The second was for a tackle of an opponent who was in the air contesting a ball that was kicked.

This is notable for a few reasons, and in stark contrast to NHL hockey when it comes to refereeing.  One important point is that the Japanese side is excellently coached, is an attacking team that is creative and aggressive with the ball.  It's a team on the rise in the World Rankings.

Meanwhile, the Samoan side, while comprised of incredible specimens, naturally large and gifted players, tends to rely on its size advantage to excess, they try to intimidate and impose their will, and usually lapse into instances of indiscipline.

You can see where I'm going with this.  In hockey, the Samoans would be the tough, physical team who play old-time hockey, who push the boundaries, and generally get one penalty called for every ten infraction they make.  Because if you called every infraction, that team would be two players down the whole game, they'd have five or six guys in the penalty box, and that's not 'fair', right?

Well in this instance, in rugby, the referee didn't take this into account, he didn't put his thumb on the scale.  He didn't overlook an obvious infraction to give the team already a man down a fighting chance.  He saw an obvious infraction and called the penalty and assessed the additional yellow card.

Further, the second yellow card wasn't just an annoying technicality that had to be called due to the rulebook, like an illegal formation penalty in the NFL.  The Japanese player was up in the air trying to field a kick, to receive the ball and do something with it.  The Japanese player was trying to play rugby, the Samoan who cause the infraction was just trying to prevent that, to bog things down.  He had the option to contest the kick too, to jump in the air as well to try to catch the ball, he just elected to take out the Japanese fullback instead.

So the referee is protecting the players, mindful of their safety with his strict but correct interpretations, with his management of the game, but also keeping the game open and exciting, an important consideration for fans.

And he's undeterred, unafraid to call more.  Unlike Saturday night in Boston, when the Bruins got an early penalty and were scored upon, and were then given free rein, the refs fearful to 'inject themselves into the game', to decide the outcome.  Brad Marchand was allowed to run rampant, to impregnate the game with his brand of vileness, with slashes and slewfoots and cynical punches to the head.

Here, in this game, the ref just warned the Samoans that if they cause another offside infraction, they'll incur not just another penalty, but a further yellow card.  It's understandable what the Samoans are doing, they're creeping up on the play, trying to negate the Japanese team's speed and ball handling advantage by taking away their space, with early tackles, but the ref is having none of it.  He's making them respect the letter of the law, and not incidentally, favouring a more open, exciting, fan-friendly brand of rugby, as opposed to a game where you can't advance the ball, and both sides just start to tediously kick the ball back and forth.

The comparison to hockey is easy to make.  How many times do you see a team outclassed in terms of speed or talent or both resort to thuggery, to hooks and slashes and post-whistle scrums to slow down the opposition?  Sound like Brandon Dubinsky against Sidney Crosby?  The Bruins against the Canucks in the Stanley Cup Final?  If the refs called the game tight, according to the rule book, the Bruins would get mauled by the Canadiens or the Lightning, but they get bashful after a few whistles against one team.  They feel they have to 'even it up'.

But Gary Bettman keeps telling us that the game is growing, revenues and attendance are increasing, so everything's great right?

Except that the NFL, MLB and NBA's are rising much faster than the NHL.  They're on multiple channels and forefront in the American public's mind, while hockey is an afterthought, behind golf and NASCAR and college sports and Dancing with the Stars.

But don't worry, Gary has a plan, all he needs to do is figure out how to shoehorn a Dorion Suits logo on the Blue Jackets uniform.

New scientific approach to conditioning and rest for hockey players, Canadiens.

Interesting Hockey News article on DNA testing and how it's used by hockey players and coaching staffs nowadays.

I would tend to be suspicious of this at first glance, afraid it will veer into the diet hokum too many people will fall prey to, that they're 'allergic' to potatoes, beef and sunflower oil, and have to eat a late breakfast because of "enzymes", but no, this is actual science, not snake oil.  How it's applied is important, there will be fits and starts, ten years from now we'll look back and shake our heads at some of the stuff we used to do, used to believe.  Think of how much training, stretching, nutrition, all these have advanced in the last few years, and a few things everyone used to do now have been completely abandoned.  Partner stretching, static stretching, isolation of muscle groups during weightlifting.  That whole cycling craze that the Sens and Canucks were heavily into.

The Canadiens, with Pierre Allard a big proponent I suspect, and with their retinue of medical staff, are probably leading the way in this area.  I've in the past wondered about the dramatic change of fortune our team has had, going from being one of the most injury-plagued teams to one that has been suffering from the fewest in the league.  I asked if anyone had a handle on this, floated the theory that the change of board and glass system in Brossard and at the Nouveau Forum to one with more 'give', that absorbed energy on contact, might be a major factor.

And I also asked if the much skimpier injury list we now face is partly due to the wholesale change in the training and conditioning staff a few seasons back.  Pierre Allard seems to be getting results.  He has an interesting background, had a minor pro and European league playing career, and then as a young retiree went back to school to get his kinesiology degree, since that was his field of interest as a player.  He explained he realized early on that if he was to have a career, he had to work harder than the others, and would derive an advantage from being more fit, from outworking others in his off-ice workouts.

Little things like the Canadiens having great results in the third period the last couple of seasons, as well as the avoidance of injuries, indicates to me that there's at least circumstantial evidence that his programs, his approach is paying dividends.  The subject of days off is controversial to some, who think that players who make millions shouldn't be getting coddled.  The only solution to any situation is to work harder, right?

Except there have been hints, in interviews with the coach, on 24CH, that the Canadiens approach to days off isn't improvised.  It appears they're decreed not just because the coach is an old softy who spares the rod.  The Canadiens appear to be taking saliva or blood samples to gauge fatigue levels in their athletes, to gauge when they might be better off giving them a rest day as opposed to another 'spirited' practice.  Extra practices which might be the first inclination for a coach dealing with a loss the previous night.

The NFL trainers are on this same page.  The accepted wisdom now is that tired athletes are much more prone to pulls, hamstring problems, back spasms.  We knew in the past that muscle cramps seemed to result from dehydration, but now it's more specific than that.  Players who reported a hamstring twinge in the past were set upon by massage therapists.  Now it's the vampires with the blood testing kits, apparently.

We see today that after the game in Ottawa and flight to Pittsburgh, Michel Therrien gave the boys a day off today, cancelling a scheduled practice.  In the old days, this would be interpreted as a reward for good play, for a third win in a row to open the season, but now, I tend to suspect the strong influence of Pierre Allard and the docs, with their newfangled science, have a strong say in these decisions, in their quest to keep the players operating at peak efficiency, instead of drained and operating on fumes.

Sunday, 11 October 2015

Game 2: Canadiens 4, Bruins 2

The Canadiens win an easy one in Boston, 4-2, a thoroughly predictable game in which the Bruins were outclassed and classless, as always.

Mike Boone, in his "About Last Night", writes:
Had the Canadiens’ power-play been sharper – particularly during a third period 5-on-3 – the game would have been a rout. On the other hand, garbage time in Boston is usually thuggery time, so we can be thankful the final score was deceptively respectable.
While this is not incorrect, it's unnecessarily specific.  Any time is thuggery time for the Bruins.

Trying to integrate into the Bruins, maybe fill the shoes of the deahly depahted Milan Lucic, Matt Belesky?  Charge and obstruct Tomas Plekanec, well after the puck is anywhere near him, and when you feel that you kind of didn't quite fill him in, give him a cynical backhanded elbow/forearm.  Of course "in the opening minute?", it will sendamessagesetthetone.  Yeah, that's it, like that!  Sneer and shake your head, and dispute the ref's call all the way to the box.  Never mind that the ref was right there looking right at you, and had to duck out of the way of your wayward high-stick lest he be decapitated.

David Desharnais just scored a pro forma powerplay goal against you, Joe Morrow?  Do you feel like you kind of got globetrottered?  Give him a generous forearm/facewash, two or three seconds after the red light goes on and play has obviously stopped.  Yeah, right in the head, in these times of "increased concussion awareness".  We're the Big Bad Bruins, that's the way we play.  We're not the frigging Penguins, trying to score goals and shit.

No, no, we're serious, our play-by-play guy will actually be talking about embellishment and "snapping your head back" while describing the Matt Belesky penalty that led to this goal, so the refs won't dare call another penalty now.  It's this thing we do, it's wholistic and hierarchic, horizontally and vertically integrated.  We own the Board of Governors, league operations, the refs, the newspapers, Jack Edwards and his straight man, reality, logic, common sense, ...

P.K. Subban has the puck corralled behind his own net on a powerplay, and you're trying to chase him down Brad Marchand?  But he's kind of shifty and hard to knock off the puck?  Why, just slewfoot the heck out of him, no probs dude.  We know someone, don't worry about all those warnings you got about that kind of behaviour.  Gary Bettman knows what side his bread is buttered on.

Patrice Bergeron, you kind of want to skate through that nice blue-painted patch of ice there?  Go right ahead, never mind that it's called the 'goalie crease', that's a nebulous concept we don't really subscribe to, all that distance away from Ttuukkaa Rraasskk.  And if Alexei Emelin is protecting the corner of that crease and won't let you pass, just barge right through the goalie.  Whatever you do, don't stop your forward progress because there are players or 'rules' in the way.

Zach Rinaldo, you didn't even get ten minutes of icetime in this game, but are on the ice, by dint of some impenetrable reasoning by Bruins coach Claude Julien, in the final minute of a game you're losing 4-1?  Want to justify your paycheque?  Your entire miserable existence?  Run Brian Flynn from behind into the boards, why don't you, and since you kind of had to put on the brakes a little there, with all that to-do with Raffi Torres, whack him upside the head with your stick before skating away.  Don't worry, the refs are gunshy, after calling that penalty in the first minute, they're afraid for their job now, they'll let you get away with anything not approaching lethality.

The NHL is a joke of a garbage league.  But it's not even a funny joke.  The league can't or won't see how to stop these instances of anti-hockey, of talent nullification, since it's always been that way, so it doesn't even try.  It futzes and agonizes over the hand pass.  It trumpets that coach's challenges will be available for offside calls, the most trivial of infractions, but head shots, punches to the face, crosschecks, trips, slashing, charging, spearings, those are subjective calls, they can't touch those, no sirree.

"Look buddy, there's rat turds and bugs in our food, of course there are.  What do you expect, our kitchen is infested with them, that's where they want to hang out.  If you want to eat, you better get used to it.  There have been rats and cockroaches since the dawn of humanity, there will always be rats and cockroaches, they're part of the deal.  That's never going to change.  What are you, some kind of twinkletoes can't stand a few rat turds?  It used to be much worse back in the day.  Besides, rats keep the mice away, you're better off."

Meanwhile, at the Rugby World Cup in the U.K., games with fifteen superbly conditioned and excitable mesomorphs a side are being controlled by an on-field ref, a couple of touch judges on the sidelines, and a video ref in the pressbox with a couple of propellerheads to assist him.  There's tonnes of stuff going on, but nothing gets missed.

If the ref doesn't see something, the video ref talks to him on their radio and lets him know there's an infraction they should both look at.  They talk to each other, live, so we can actually hear on TV, none of this headphones and secrecy crap, and they discuss what they see, agree on a consequence, and move on.  The only complaint heard about the system is when it takes longer than a minute or so, the play-by-play guys sniff that 'this is a minute of my life I'll never get back.'

And nothing is to be reviewed or not reviewed, nothing is verboten.  Someone trips someone, or intentionally knocks the ball forward, it gets seen, it gets caught, and there's a penalty awarded and a yellow card.  And the cardee walks off the field with no drama, no Brad Marchand soliloquies.

True story: Canadian captain Jamie Cudmore, during the game against Romania, sensing his team was gassed and discombobulated, faked an injury to take a breath and settle things down.  While this was going on, the refs talked to each other and said, "Hey, you know that thing from a minute ago?  Let's have a look at that while we have time."

Sure enough, the Canadian team had committed an infraction that got lost in the wash, but was plainly visible on camera.  Peep, the whistle blows, the Canadians get assessed a penalty.  Jamie Cudmore is hoisted by his own petard.

Compare to the lunacy we saw tonight.  P.K. Subban is telling the ref "Hey, Brad just slewfooted me!", and the ref is sternly admonishing him, no he didn't, pipe down, get ready for the faceoff.

Compare to the lunacy of the Lions-Seahawks game, when K.J. Wright intentionally batted the ball out of his endzone, but the referee in the endzone evidently didn't know the rulebook.  The situation room in New York knew the rule, the other refs knew the rule, but they couldn't discuss the play, couldn't backtrack, couldn't watch video of it.  The eminences grise in the New York control room were powerless to rectify the error, because there's this entire Code of Hammurabi around what's 'reviewable' or not, who can talk to who and when and how under what circumstances, ...

What would be so wrong about a coach saying to the ref after a whistle, "Hey, my guy got slashed back there, he was about to make a pass and create a breakaway"?  Who would it harm if a line judge could blow his whistle and stop play, and tell the ref "Number 54 black is a piece of shite, and he just delivered a huge crosscheck to a nice young fellow in white"?

I'd almost come to accept the putrid standard of officiating in the NHL, like I do muggy days in the summer: I'm still going to whine, but understand that it's inevitable, immutable.

The Rugby World Cup and its outstanding referees and systems show that it's not so.  The only reason the Broad Street Bullies and the Boston Bruins and the Senators exist and thrive is because the league want them to, despite their ramping up the denial machines as it heads to trial for endangering the life and health of its workers.

Saturday, 10 October 2015

St. John's IceCaps season preview

Really like the preview to the IceCaps season links that were provided last thread.  I'll re-post them for convenience.

The St. John's IceCaps do a good job of covering their activities, and so does the local newspaper, the Telegraph.  The team website has a good season preview, as well as the team roster as of now.

Really crowded roster, 17 forwards, 10 defencemen, 3 goalies, have to think some of these guys get sent down to Brampton soon, although I'm not sure what the usual timelines are for that for AHL-ECHL training camps.

I suspect Marc Bergevin is pleased to have Mark Barberio down on the farm, providing the veteran presence and left shot on the blue line that will be missed now that Jarred Tinordi and Nathan Beaulieu won't be patrolling the ice there anymore.  Only two more lefties, Mac Bennet, who had a so-so first season in the pros, and Joel Hanley, who's got a season plus in the pros (AHL-ECHL), so Mark will be asked to do some heavy lifting I would guess.

On the right side, a bit of a logjam, and some of these youngsters need to play, so either a trade is coming or some of these youngsters go down to Brampton for more icetime.  I can't imagine they want Brett Lernout to spend too much time on the bench, but who sits with Darren Dietz, Morgan Ellis and Dalton Thrower more senior to him, and youngster Ryan Johnston jockeying for position?  There's also Josiah Didier, who got signed to an AHL contract and must be primed for some games in Brampton, but is still an intriguing specimen as a player, just a huge kid who may have more success in the pros than college.

Same at forward, lots of rookies who we've been sitting on for years who finally get to the pros.  Guys like Mark McMillan, Tim Bozon, tryout signee Markus Einsterhossenfeffer, will some of them be sent down to Brampton to get more icetime, more Top 6 time than they'd otherwise get if they stayed in St. John?

Exciting stuff, and we finally get to see Mike McCarron and Nikita Scherbak in the pros, see what they're made of.  Second season of Charles Hudon, third of Sven Andrighetto, fourth of Christian Thomas, who has now twice sailed through waivers, and must be thinking he's under the gun, that this could be a make-or-break season, that lands him in the NHL or condemns him to an AHL career.

Is Connor Crisp going to shake his bad injury luck and show a little more promise?  Bud Holloway had an unconventional career path, but he's now an Alternate Captain and veteran teammate, does he perform so well that he's at the head of the line when callups start?

Who goalers the goal, the young drafted goaltender, the veteran and local favourite goalkeeper, or the chastened young goalie who goes back to the salt mines after a one-year reprieve, and a trip through waivers with no takers?  Who goes down to Brampton, is it based on merit again, or does it come down to strategery, the brass taking le jeune dauphin through a guided journey of discovery as #1 in the ECHL, then #1 in the AHL next season?

This is another young team, not stacked with vets, but it does have talent, should have more cohesion, since a lot of these guys have known each other for a while, played with each other, been at prospect camp, etc.  There shouldn't be the reliance on the old excuse that the Canadiens are more interested in development than AHL wins, that only goes so far.  You learn how to win by winning, learn how to compete by being competitive.

Looks like we'll have an entertaining season watching these boys, with better coverage and better TV watching than in Hamilton.  The future looks bright!  I'm modestly optimistic.

Saturday, 3 October 2015

Alex Semin doesn't want to dwell on the past, looks forward to a good season.

Richard Labbé of La Presse takes an in-depth look at Alex Semin in this article.  He describes some of the controversies attached to him during his career.

Mr. Labbé repeats how uncomfortable he is dealing with the media, fiddling with his equipment and looking at the ground while answering questions.  He flatly answers that he doesn't want to go over last season, to even remember anything about it.

"I'm just eager for the season to start.  This season will be a better on for me.  I want to forget about what happened last year.  This is a new team for me, with new (translation: feelings, emotions?)."

He's asked about his game, his previous successes on offence.

"I have to shoot more.  I like to pass the puck, but I need to shoot more.  I used to have five or six shots per game (in his best season in Washington), and that's why I scored.  We'll see what happens here.  I like playing with those two (Eller and Galchenyuk), certainly."

"I just hope to have a very good season.  I hope to win the Stanley Cup."

"It's not my first season in this league.  I know very well what hockey represents in this town, I know that the fans are crazy about hockey, I know there's a lot of media.  But that's nothing new for me.  I'm here to do a job."

Again, this is a low-risk signing with a potentially big payoff.  With a player who's out to prove himself, in a better situation, with better support and leadership compared to his previous team, this is a good bet to take.  I see him as a better option than another season of Pierre-Alexandre Parenteau in the same role.

Add in Zack Kassian as a likely upgrade over Brandon Prust, and GM Marc Bergevin can't be faulted for not addressing the team's scoring woes, while keeping an eye on the future and the long-term health of the team.

Nathan Beaulieu about to take the next step, along with the Canadiens defencemen.

With respect to Nathan Beaulieu, there's an interesting article by Marc Antoine Godin in La Presse today.

It argues that, with the fledgling of Nathan and the addition of Jeff Petry, and the focus on producing more offence, the Canadiens are poised to derive more goals due to their mobility and headiness on the blue line.

Tom Gilbert says the defenceman will support the attack in the offensive zone "from the opposite side that zone entry was made".  So basically Andrei Markov's backdoor move.

"Last season, our style was more north-sourth early on.  Our forwards had to move the puck up as fast as possible.  But as the season went on, we defencemen were encouraged more and more to support the attack, especially backdoor.  I think that will be more apparent in our play this season.

Michel Therrien went over this with the media, covering old ground from last season, when he made his famous 'no defenceman has a bungee tied to him to prevent him from moving up the ice' declaration.

"We've never asked our defencemen to not involve themselves in the attack.  To the contrary, we've always encouraged them to do so.  But these things come with confidence.  We can feel it more and more in our defencemen.  They're able to read the play, the opportunities to support the attack.

"Jeff Petry, as soon as he got here, he adapted really quickly to this.  The results followed and that's probably one of the reasons he decided to stay in Montréal."

The article covers that Nathan has offensive talent, but the team asked him last year to not worry about points and polish up other aspects of his game.  As he gains in confidence and experience, we can expect to see him also 'judiciously' support the attack.

Michel Therrien:  "Nathan Beaulieu has gained maturity in his game.  He plays with confidence, but he can't lose sight of the fact that he's at the stage when he's establishing himself in the NHL.  He has to improve every day, and Jean-Jacques Daigneault works with him a lot to show him when it's time to jump up in the play, and when it isn't time.  He's still a young d-man."

So a good overview of the maturation of Nathan, and the progression of our squad this season.

Personally, I've loved what I've seen from him.  In the scrimmages and pre-season games, he looked sometimes like the 16-year-old who sneaks onto the ice to play shinny with a bunch of 12-year-olds, he jumps out at you so clearly with his mobility.  There's an awareness in his game, the way he carries the puck with his head high, I dare to use the word 'panache' to describe it.

After some growing pains and rough patches, I can't say enough about how he's approached his situation.  He could have pouted and done some Nazem Kadri declarations, how he's just as good as Cam Fowler or Kevin Shattenkirk, but instead, he kept his nose to the grindstone, did what he was asked to do, and said all the right things.  He was entrusted this spring to play with youngsters, notably Noah Juulsen on Thursday, which is a mark of confidence from the coaching staff.

We've fretted about who could/would replace Andrei Markov in a couple of years, or at least reduce his workload presently.  It seems likely now that Nathan is going to be the answer to this problem.

Friday, 2 October 2015

Marc Bergevin readies for his fourth season as GM of the Canadiens, interviewed by Ron Fournier.

Ron Fournier of 98.5 Sports interviewed Marc Bergevin after the Canadiens 5-2 preseason loss to the Senators.  There's a writeup and an audio link in the article, but here's my translation of the interview, which was conducted in French.

-He’s starting the season with an objective of 100 pts, which he says will guarantee a post-season berth.

-He’d never seen Noah Juulsen play before he was drafted, so he was happy to see him last night, liked the mobility and the competitiveness. He thinks the kid has two more junior seasons in front of him.

-Agreed with Ron Fournier that the Galchenyuk line looked good but may be a “little too fancy”. Marc wants them to still play responsible hockey. He makes the distinction between being responsible and being defensive. (Shades of that press conference when he took exception to the ‘defensive style’ line of questioning.)

-About Tinordi-Barberio, “I know where I’m headed with this.” Ron Fournier insists that Mark Barberio should be retained, that you keep the best player, never mind the first rounder status of Jarred, etc. Marc says we’ll know what the decision is on Tuesday when rosters have to be handed in.

-He’d taken a close look at Thomas Fleischman at the trade deadline, but Dale Tallon didn’t want to help another Eastern team and sent him out West. So far he’s happy with his performance.

-Mike Condon has been having a good camp, they’ve seen him play well in practice, but he points out that he can be sent to the AHL without waivers.

-Ron Fournier brings up the liberties taken by Chris Neil during the game, asks him about that, his comfort level with his current team. Marc believes in ‘team toughness’. Ron interjects that in the Carbo years they also believed in team toughness, and got pushed around something fierce. Marc says he’s comfortable with his team. If it comes to it, Marc says that Zack Kassian is a big kid, that Detroit for 25 years never had an enforcer, that Toronto’s Reign of Terror has ended, that Chicago doesn’t have an enforcer, …

Ron insists that it appears other teams may delight in picking on us, maybe more than on Detroit or others.

-Ron lists four teams as elite teams, NY Rangers, Tampa, Anaheim, Chicago. Asks if we’re missing something to reach that level. Marc says that it’s really tight, brings up Pittsburgh, Washington. Ron asks what’s missing from our team to reach the elite level. Marc continues that we were two points away from being the regular season champs.

-Ron says that the Canadiens may be very good defensively, but are lacking something on offence, Marc returns to being responsible, and not trying to be too fancy, expose yourself with turnovers.

-Alex Semin is a calculated risk, can make a big difference, with his talent, “it won’t take him five chances to score to score.”

-Ron asks about Tomas Plekanec, about his putative trade value, his playoff showings. Marc says that playing 20 minutes against Getzlaf, Giroux, Crosby, that’s not easy. If you don’t pay attention you miss the little things that he does. He’s not a perfect player, but a darn good one.

-On Devo, Marc wants more from him. “We talk to him regularly, on things we want him to improve, but he brings something to the team. He brings speed, when he’s in good shape, he’s got a good shot. He’s an intelligent player, he makes plays, a big guy who’ll go to the net.”

-Sven Andrighetto is getting closer, but the step between the AHL and NHL is a big one.

-Charles Hudon played better tonight, was more responsible. Offensively he makes good plays with the puck. He got caught on one goal, maybe the second, but it’s normal for a young player, Michel and the other coaches are working with him to improve his game.

-Ron asks whether he relies on the trade deadline to improve his team if it’s headed the right way in the spring. Marc says no, flatly, that you can’t, too many factors like which players will be available and your salary situation to control. It’s getting rarer that a GM can pull a rabbit out of the hat at the deadline.

-Marc says the other 29 GM’s would say right now they have at least one problem on their team they need to work on. About “doing something” on waivers, he cautions that if you take a player, you have to give up a player usually. Younger teams can have more leeway to manoeuvre.

-Asked about whether there were surprises at camp, he mentions Mike Condon, Zack Kassian and his skating. Good hands, able to make plays, it’s something “we all knew”, not really a surprise. Still very early in the season.

-Asked about what’s going on in Boston, he says he’s got one team to run, he’s not going to start running others.

-In his closing, Ron says the team keeps improving since Marc has been the GM. Marc says that there’s been stability in the organization, and that this is very important.

Generally, a very good job by Ron Fournier, who often gets on my nerves, but in this case asked the same questions a fan would, directly. Too often Marc Bergevin’s appearances on L’Antichambre or other shows turn into a love-in, and he’s asked about the day-to-day, and not the deeper roster questions that we bat around here every day.

Rugby World Cup: Canada 18, France 41

While Canada lost its third match in a row at the Rugby World Cup, by a lopsided score of 41-18 to the French team, our lads may have played their best game of the tournament.  France is a perennial rugby power, and the Canadian team kept it close until halfway in the second half.  While there was no realistic expectation that the Canadians could actually win going in, they battled and scored some gutsy tries, and ratcheted the pressure on the French, who need a clean sweep in the prelims to assure a high seeding in the quarter-finals.

France got in on an early breakdown and what the play-by-play team called "flimsy defence", and scored the earliest try in the tournament so far, in the second minute.  It bode ill, since Canada seemed outclassed, and needed to play with hope to keep it close.

One area that I thought would tilt the game dangerously in France's favour was their pack and scrummaging.  Heavily outweighing ours, and much more experienced and technically proficient, they were poised to eat our lunch I thought.

Again though, the Canadian forwards did really well, holding France to a standstill twice on their put-ins, even once earning a penalty.  Mostly though, the boys played it smart, and like they've done all tournament, concentrated on winning their own balls clean and quick, and getting the ball out to the backs.  No sense trying to beat the French at their own game.  As the commentators said, the Canadian pack "doesn't like to wrestle."  But again, our boys were perfect, winning all of their own balls, and stealing three from France.

The lineout play was similar to previous games, with Canada electing to not contest France's throw-ins, focusing on defending off their lineouts, but that was met with more debatable success.  I think the French scored three tries off mauls that they instigated off lineouts.

France was up 17-0 and the thought was that this might be a runaway when DTH van der Merwe, him again, pulled off another magic act, getting the ball ten metres from the goal line, but faced with numerous French defenders.  He juked one out of his boots, then scampered in for an amazing try.  From there, the game was much closer, the gap eventually narrowing to 17-12 on a try by Aaron Carpenter, and an unfortunate miss on the conversion.

Canada's only points from there were penalty kicks, and although they threatened the French goal line a few times, couldn't put in a couple more tries for a bonus point.

Meanwhile France kept its composure, which isn't guaranteed when the stakes are low and expectations high.  They can come unraveled when things aren't going their way, historically, but this might be a different French team.  They may not have the sublime skill they've shown at previous World Cups, but they're a focused, disciplined, resilient bunch, not resorting to cheap shots or experiencing meltdowns or trying to be too fancy.  They may go far in this tournament.

Next up for Canada is the last game of its prelim round, and of the tournament, being mathematically eliminated.  They'll try to salvage pride by winning one game against Romania, who will also be trying the same thing.

Another World Cup for Canada where they show lots of heart but a talent deficit, and it may be that the rest of the World is passing us by.  I'll be interested to see what changes occur during the next four years.