Yesterday my Twitter feed flared up after the release of a column about Phil Kessel and how he looked “sluggish” in his return to practice for the Toronto Maple Leafs post-Olympics. I’m not a huge fan of promoting stuff I think isn’t very good (for what should be obvious reasons), but I can’t deny the concept was pretty silly. The guy was probably right, by the way, but it was oh-come-on-able for other reasons.
The NHL’s hottest player in 2014 goes to the Olympics and looks electric while leading the tournament in scoring, then flies home from Russia for his first practice back (which he wasn’t yet obligated to attend), and gets a column written about how he didn’t look up to par.
So fine, silly.
But even if Phil hadn’t just done all those things I rattled off above, he would have to practice in a beer helmet filled with umbrella drinks to get singled out for his work ethic. Not only is he the team’s best player, he’s one of the league’s best, and he works his tail off in games. There’s a reason Allen Iverson was all shocked in his infamous PRACTICE? interview. He was a rare talent who consistently brought it in games. And you wanna ask him about PRACTICE?
Unfortunately for the rest of us mere mortals, we don’t all get the No no no, you take it easy, as long as YOU’RE happy treatment. Kessel is a rare case, one of maybe 20 guys in the league who basically have immunity from their coach’s occasional lack of diplomacy. On the other side of the coin, some guys have the privilege of becoming the coach’s whipping boy, and whooo doggy is it a long season when you earn that title by (I see you, Drill Wreckers).
So without further ado, introducing EPE, or Expected Practice Effort. Let’s look at what coaches generally expect for effort in practice out of each type of generalized player, and how one becomes a coach’s target. …Generally.
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Playing defense involves doing a bunch of stuff forwards hate, which basically all boil down to stops and starts. We’re really good at loops and curls, not so much at making adjustments based off reading opponents. We prefer to read the puck (we shouldn’t).
But that’s the reality of playing defense – you often aren’t doing what you want so much as you’re trying to read and react to what opponents are doing. You’re the ego to forwards’ id. In the corners you have to play the mirror game, in the neutral zone you best be reading your opponent’s speed.
Gap control through the neutral zone is important at all levels because if you you’re backing in too fast you allow forwards to go east-west inside the blueline and create, and if you’re too tight you risk getting your doors blown off wide. It ain’t easy matching someone’s speed in a backwards-versus-forwards race.
In the NHL it’s even more important, because it isn’t too many strides inside the blueline before players are in a dangerous shooting area. And by “not too many strides” I mean like, seven feet of gliding, especially since they intend to use you as a screen. Most of these guys have bombs, which makes that area of the ice a little dangerous.
Carolina’s goal to tie up Buffalo with four minutes left in the third was the product of bad gap control – I’ll get to why it was so bad in the body. And yes, I feel sort of bad about highlighting a Canes goal in a game the Sabres actually won in regulation. Sort of. Read the rest of this entry »
Lane MacDermid, left, shown a few different jerseys ago.
Playing hockey for money is pretty awesome. You see, what happens is, you play hockey, and then they give you money. So that’s pretty much why I think it’s cool.
But it does change things – for one, how you play starts to matter. And not “matter” in the youth hockey sense, where playing better might mean you get more ice time, and that’s good because playing hockey is great. It starts to matter matter, where not playing well costs you real dollars and the chance to earn your way up the ladder where even more money awaits.
It’s mentally draining when you find yourself in a bad situation – your coach won’t play you, or you’re organizationally buried, or you keep getting traded. The sand is running through the hourglass on every young player’s career, so you become acutely aware of every day good things don’t happen, and even more aware of the bad things.
I don’t know the man personally, but I do know that Lane MacDermid of the Calgary Flames handed in his retirement papers this week at 24-years-old after 21 NHL games and hundreds of AHL contests, which is something you almost never see at or near the top level. Read the rest of this entry »
I’m still pretty floored by the idea that Nick Backstrom was told he couldn’t participate in the gold medal game of the Olympics because he apparently took Zyrtec-D.
The effect Sudafed (which contains the ingredient pseudoephedrine, hence the name) has on a hockey player’s body likely varies, but in my own experience it made me feel zero percent better, faster, or more awake. I still occasionally took them before games because when you’re competing in athletic competition breathing as clear as possible has to help, logically (particularly with recovery), so I figured why not. They weren’t illegal (or maybe they were, who knows, I was never tested in the AHL, ECHL or NCAA), and a lot of guys took them, so sure, toss me a couple of those, will ya doc? If everybody’s popping them pre-game, they must do something?
A quick web search explains how pseudoephedrine operates:
Pseudoephedrine works by acting on alpha receptors that are found in the walls of blood vessels in the linings of the nasal passages and sinuses. It causes these blood vessels to contract and narrow, thereby decreasing blood flow into the linings of the nose and sinuses. This reduces the feeling of congestion and also reduces the production of mucus.
So sure. Maybe they help performance a bit, maybe they don’t, mind as well take the at-worst-placebo and “be at your best.” Read the rest of this entry »
Gary Suter enjoyed 17 seasons as one of the NHL’s most productive defensemen. He won the Calder Trophy as the league’s top rookies in 1985-86 and won a Stanley Cup in 1989 with the Calgary Flames. Suter also had a knack for dishing out some of the game’s more notable acts of violence. Here’s a look at four of Suter’s most despicable incidents.
4. Suter staples Scott Young in the 1995-96 playoffs
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So another Olympics have come and gone with Canada’s Golden Generation — probably the greatest single stock of hockey talent ever produced in a 10-year period by any nation — having waltzed a bit more breezily straight through to the gold medal for which they were always the heavy favorites.
There aren’t a lot of lessons to be learned, in general, from “Best team wins” headlines, and anyone trying to attribute this to anything bigger than Canada having the talent to medal if they’d sent two teams to Sochi (an oft-repeated trope, but a 100 percent accurate one) is romanticizing things.
On the other end of the spectrum is the country that has in the last several years really cemented itself as the single biggest threat to Canada’s continued international success overall: The United States of America. They beat the brains out of everyone that sucks, barely snuck by Russia thanks a dumb rule that’s so dumb even the depthlessly incompetent IIHF is not going to let it exist any more, and then got creamed by both Canada and Finland en route to an embarrassing fourth-place finish. Read the rest of this entry »
The surprising thing about Canada’s defense of their gold medal was how clean it was. En route to the Stanley Cup you usually mix in a few poor games, you fall behind at some point, you get outplayed for awhile. Canada’s only sketchy moment was not beating Latvia by more – the final wasn’t all that close. Canada played like assassins methodically and systematically destroying targets without remorse. Target acquired, target eliminated, what’s next?
It sucks that Sweden wasn’t able to dress their best team. While it’s fun for Canadians to win (well, if you’re Canadian), they played a Swedish team without Henrik Sedin, Henrik Zetterberg, and surprisingly, Nick Backstrom (more on the Backstrom absence here…weird situation). Those are three elite players that could’ve greatly altered the course of the game.
I know “Canada likes hockey” isn’t the most compelling thought, but the city of Toronto was absolute mayhem. I’ve only been here for 16 months after leaving Phoenix, but it’s silly. My wife and I lined up at 5:50 for the seven a.m. game, waiting in a line of roughly 100 people, and had this pic of us taken before puck drop. Read the rest of this entry »