It wasn’t your typical Hollywood underdog sports story. Underdogs generally don’t win 9 straight heading into a championship final. Underdogs don’t tend to be one of the top-scoring teams in a tournament, finishing tied for the most goals. Underdogs don’t boast incredible goaltending, finishing second in team save percentage.
That is, however, what Switzerland did at the World Hockey Championships, defeating Sweden, Canada, the Czech Republic (twice!), and USA enroute to a landmark appearance in the gold medal game. Despite ultimately losing in a rematch with Sweden in the final, it was still an incredible tournament for the Swiss.
The national team’s performance, combined with the emergence of Swiss players in the NHL, is an indication that Switzerland is once again poised to be a top tier nation in hockey.
Throughout the playoffs, the NHL has been parcelling out announcements of the post-season award nominees. This has led to the usual debates: did Player X get snubbed for Award Y? Should the Hart be for the player most valuable to his team or for just the best player in the league? Do purely offensive defencemen belong in the discussion for the Norris trophy?
For some fans whose teams didn’t make the playoffs or got bounced in the first round, these arguments can be a welcome distraction, if they still want to think about hockey at all.
But what I find interesting is that the Selke award is the only one that still has all three nominees in the playoffs. At least one nominee for all the other major awards either didn’t make the playoffs or got knocked out in the first round.
In 1981, Dino Cicarelli was a fresh-faced rookie for the Minnesota North Stars. In the playoffs, he went on the greatest scoring run of any rookie in NHL history, scoring an amazing 14 goals in 19 games, a rookie record that still stands today. Ciccarelli was third behind Steve Payne and Mike Bossy in goalscoring that year. He even had as many points as Gretzky! Granted, Gretzky played in 10 fewer games, but still.
In Cicarelli’s honour, I inaugurated the Dino Ciccarelli Award last year for the NHL’s best rookie in the playoffs. The regular season has the Calder for top rookie, but it takes something special to excel in the playoffs as a rookie. Many of the league’s top rookies don’t even make the playoffs, as teams with high-impact rookies generally aren’t particularly good. There’s a reason they have ice time available for rookies.
The first round of the playoffs had some excellent performances from rookies. Let’s run down the top candidates for the 2013 Dino Ciccarelli Award. Warning: get ready for a lot of Ottawa Senators:
One of the most stunning stories from the first round of the playoffs has been the performance of the New York Islanders, who tied up their series with the Pittsburgh Penguins on Tuesday with a 6-4 win. The Penguins were the prohibitive favourites to come out of the East this season after loading up at the trade deadline, adding Brendan Morrow and Jarome Iginla to an already stacked forward corps and beefing up their defence with the hulking Douglas Murray.
Meanwhile, you would think the Islanders would just be happy to be in the playoffs at all, having missed the playoffs for five straight seasons, finishing fifth in the Atlantic Division each time. Very few people even gave the Islanders a chance in this series, with most predicting that the Penguins would win in five games, since predicting a sweep is a little too bold.
But the Islanders have done more than just show up. They’ve surprised the Penguins with their speed and tenacity and reminded everyone why there are still question marks surrounding Marc-Andre Fleury. It’s the classic tale of David versus Goliath, if Goliath had awful goaltending.
What fascinates me is how these Islanders were constructed. They’re a team full of cast-offs and misfits cobbled together by a general manager under extremely limiting financial constraints.
Hockey Ughs is the cynical sister to Puck Daddy’s Hockey Hugs, a feature written by my same-sex blog-partner Harrison Mooney from Pass it to Bulis. While Hockey Hugs highlights the joy of scoring a goal and celebrating it with your bestest buds, Hockey Ughs highlights the agony of the other team’s fans right behind the glass, watching those hugs.
(Hannah Foslien, Getty Images)
Buying a ticket to a playoff game is a massive gamble. Sure, the atmosphere is electric, the hockey is at its most passionate, and seeing your favourite team win in the playoffs is incredibly emotional, but you’re also setting yourself up for a potential heartbreaking experience.
Just imagine the Leafs fans who paid premium prices to see the first playoff game in Toronto in nine years, only to see the Bruins thump the Leafs 5-2. Or consider the Canucks fans who travelled all the way down to San Jose to see game three and watch the team collapse in the third period and lose by that same 5-2 score. If you were given the odds of your team winning a particular and were asked to place a bet equivalent to the price of going to that game, you’d most likely pass.
But this is what being a fan is all about. You take a risk supporting your team, knowing that at any given moment you could experience euphoria or misery. There’s plenty of time to focus on the joy of being a hockey fan; let’s have some fun with the sorrow for a little while.
Here are the best Hockey Ughs of the first round of the playoffs so far.
I had no choice. My soccer team had a game scheduled for 9:00 pm, an ungodly hour for physical activity. I couldn’t skip the game: I’m the captain of the team and, since our regular goaltender is recovering from an injury, I’m also our goalie right now. Also, we were already going to be short a number of players.
I’m not sure why our spring soccer league starts the season during the NHL playoffs (probably something to do with the start of spring), but it was unavoidable: we had a game scheduled and I wasn’t going to be able to watch the Vancouver Canucks play the San Jose Sharks in game one of their series.
I was going to have to record it and watch it later. There’s something that just doesn’t feel right about watching a playoff game out of sync with everyone else. It’s an odd feeling watching a playoff game hours after it’s already been completed.
This year is the 20th anniversary of both the seminal NHL ’94 and the last time a Canadian team won the Stanley Cup. Way back in 1993, the Montreal Canadiens, with Patrick Roy in net and Jacques Demers behind the bench, defeated the Wayne Gretzky-led Los Angeles Kings in five games for their NHL-record 24th Stanley Cup as a franchise.
18 seasons have come and gone since then. Canadian teams have come close since — the Canucks made it to game seven of the Finals twice, the Flames and Oilers once each, and the Senators lost in five games — but haven’t been able to carve their names into the Cup itself.
As a result, every year around playoff time, the debate rages over who will be “Canada’s Team,” the marginally non-racist version of the “Great White Hope” that will battle for the pride of Canada and wrest the Stanley Cup from the evil clutches of the United States. For the first time since the 2005-06 season, there are four Canadian teams in the playoffs and thus four claimants to the throne. Who will be Canada’s Team? Who?
How about none of them, since the entire concept is idiotic.