Saturday, February 27, 2010

OLYMPICS: Grand Goodbye on a Bronzed Stage

Vancouver, BC - Two legends of the game will bid farewell to the Olympics later tonight. One will definitely leave with the record for the most points scored in Olympic history. He could also leave with a bronze medal...or it will hang from the neck of his former cross town rival in Southern California.

Ziggy Palffy, a star for the LA Kings a decade ago, and Temmu Selanne, still chipping in goals for the Anaheim Ducks, will lead their respective countries. Truth be told, neither was really expected to medal this year. Just don't tell Ziggy or Teemu that - they don't want to hear that type of noise.

Palffy had 329 goals in the NHL, 150 with the Kings. He's now playing in Europe and has been telling reporters all week long the only reason he came back this year is to play in these Olympics. He's one game away from going home with his first medal.

Selanne has 597 NHL goals and is the all-time Ducks leader in games played, goals and points. He also won a Stanley Cup with the team in 2007. He's expected to retire this spring.

So, this is it. The swan song for two of the best players of their generation. Like most games, this will probably come down to goaltending. As recently as three days ago many would have said that favored the Finish team, with Miikka Kiprusoff in net. However, after getting shellacked by Team USA on Friday he pulled himself from the game and headed straight to the locker room. He may already be back in Calgary or Finland by now. Who knows if he'll be right between the ears come game time.

Kings fans will have plenty to cheer for in this game. Joining Palffy on Team Slovakia are former Kings Pavol Demitra, Lubomir Visnovsky, Joseph Stumpel and current Kings warrior Michal Handzus.

The final North American game for Ziggy Palffy. Can he and the EuroKings defeat Teemu and the Fins? Come on Ziggy - make Kings fans everywhere proud...down the Duck!

Puck drops at 7pm PST.

The Mayor

For more Olympics coverage on MayorsManor - including some exclusive photos - simply type OLYMPICS in the search box near the top left corner of this page.

Friday, February 26, 2010

OLYMPICS: Precious Metal Awaits USA

Vancouver, BC - Be it gold or silver, the Team USA hockey team is guaranteed to be coming home with medals around their necks after destroying Team Finland earlier today at Hockey Place.

Some game notes and observations:

* In the thousands of games I've witnessed in the last 20 years I don't recall ever seeing a goalie pull himself from the game, but it sure appeared that way after the U.S. scored their fourth goal. Calgary Flames netminder Miikka Kiprusoff skated away from his Finish goal crease, he made a beeline for the bench and proceeded directly to the locker room. One of the strangest things I've seen during the Olympics. Like Russia on Wednesday, I would have bet the team was switching goalies when they called the timeout. Nope. They left him in there and the results were pretty much the same.

* Poor Dustin Brown. He's having a solid tournament, no complaints. Big hits, solid passes, the whole nine. But, damn - he can't buy a goal in the tourney so far. His line mates are cashing in, yet it's a big fat zero in the goal column for #32 after five games. Perhaps he's saving up for a big finish on Sunday.

* Jack Johnson on the other hand - he's reestablished himself as a rock solid dman. Doughty has deservedly taken the spotlight in LA over the last 18 months, but there is no doubt about it...Jack is on a mission to make a point here.

* I just can't say enough good things about Ron Wilson. I've had tremendous respect for many, many years. Heck, after the '96 World Cup he pretty much can do no wrong in my book. That said...he's found a way to take it to the next level. He has shown such patience and poise it's amazing. He's matched the guys up with line mates in ways that allows each of them to play their own game and play as a unit. Today he used the youth and speed of Team USA to dominate the experience of Team Finland. He deserves a ton of credit for getting the Americans to the game on Sunday.

* More on Wilson - nice move by the coach to put Tim Thomas in net for the third period. Obviously, the U.S. had the game in hand and it was a courteous thing to do - let the guy get some real action on the ice, after Ryan Miller had taken the team this far. Class all the way.

* And Wilson part 3 - taking nothing away from Terry Murray, just thinking back... the Kings fired Marc Crawford a few summers ago and looked around to see who was available to coach in LA. They hired Terry Murray. Either the next day or two days later the San Jose Sharks surprisingly fired Ron Wilson. Just think. If things had gone different by a few days, he PERHAPS could be the coach of the Kings. Again, taking nothing away from Terry Murray. He's doing a more than fine job. Just kinda reminds me of that movie Sliding Doors. Mere minutes one way or the other can change your life.

* The EuroKings are back for one more go at it tonight. Two funny stories about the last Slovakia game. One, I'm wearing an old school Slovakia Palffy jersey (when he was wearing #33, rather than the #24 he's wearing this time) and a guy walks by me in the lobby of Hockey Place - only seeing the number on my jersey - and says "Bad call, everybody hates Chara!" Then, during the next intermission a guy comes up to me as I'm leaving the restroom and says "Oh I love Ziggy, too bad this will be his last game in North America." I usually just ignore these type of people, but I turned and said "I think he has a few more in him." Thankfully, I was right. Slovakia downed the heavily favored Swedish team...or the Euro Red Wings if you prefer.

* Dustin Brown and Jack Johnson will have to battle one of their LA King teammates on Sunday for the gold. Will it be Doughty and Team Canada? Or will it be Michal Handzus and Team Slovakia?

* Can the EuroKings do it? Can Ziggy, Stumpy, Zues, Lubo and the gang rally one more time? It would be incredible on so many levels. To see Canada go down in flames would be crushing for the red leaf army. More importantly, to see the EuroKings play for the gold would be one of my personal high points of the tournament. And before you write me - yes, I'll be pulling for Team USA on Sunday regardless of their opponent.

* On Sunday - GO RYAN!

The Mayor

For more Olympics coverage on MayorsManor - including some exclusive pictures - simply type OLYMPICS in the search box near the top left corner of this page.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

OLYMPICS: Quarterfinal Wrap-Up & Pictures

Vancouver, BC - After another four games played on Wednesday, all of the Kings players are still alive at the Olympics!

Team USA beat Switzerland in the morning game and will now meet Finland (winners over the Czech Republic) in the semi-finals on Friday.

The other semi-final game will be Canada vs. Slovakia. The host country won in a blowout over Russia in the afternoon game. This was expected to be a close, exciting game - featuring two of the best players in the world in a Sid vs. Ovi match-up...instead, Russia never looked comfortable and Canada looked like they were out to make a statement.

Sweden was upset in Wednesday's late game by Slovakia. Ziggy, Stumpel, Lubo, Demitra and Zues just weren't ready to go home yet. The EuroKings live to play another day. Their semi-final game with Canada looks to be a tough one though.

The views today were amazing. Row 4 behind the U.S. bench for the first game. Row 2 next to the penalty box for the Canada-Russia game. Then, row 4 behind the Slovakia bench in the nightcap. What a day.

I'll have tons more news and views in the days to come. That was nine hockey games in four days! For now, I need some sleep.

There will be tons more pictures are some to get you started...

The Mayor

For more Olympics coverage on MayorsManor - including some exclusive pictures - simply type OLYMPICS in the search box near the top left corner of this page.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

OLYMPICS: Be careful what you wish for...

Vancouver, BC - That's all I kept thinking when the guy behind me kept screaming "We Want Russia" early in the third period. Sure, Team Canada was dominating Germany. But, come on. All in good time brother. The game will be epic - Sid vs. Ovi...the NHL has to be thrilled.

Before we get to that game though, let's start with the morning game: Switzerland vs. Belarus.

Igor Larionov was in the house to catch the game. I had a chance to chat with him for a few minutes and he remains very high on Kings prospect Andrei Loktionov. You may recall Loktionov was working out with the Russian legend when he first came to North America. Larionov also played with Loktionov's father as a youngster in Moscow.

Along with the sold out Hockey Place (it will return to 'GM Place' after the Olympics), he was treated to a rather dull game for the first forty minutes. Belarus came out with all guns blazing in the third and turned it into a thrilling finish. They came up short though, still tied after 10 minutes of overtime...and eventually losing in the shootout. The Ducks' Jonas Hiller was in net again for the Swiss. He and his countrymen will now get a rematch with the U.S. in the Quarterfinals on Wednesday at noon PST.

All of Canada was probably secretly holding their breath for the 4:30pm game with Germany. Sure, they were supposed to beat them soundly. However, if the sea of red maple leaf wearing fans have learned anything this past week, it's that nothing should be taken for granted.

That said, things finally went according to plan for Team Canada - as Scotty Bowman looked on from one of the many corporate suites. Not to far away was a collection of former Oilers in another suite - Craig MacTavish, Kevin Lowe and some guy named Gretzky.

On the ice, Jumbo Joe Thornton had the only goal in the first, giving Canada a 1-0 lead after 20 minutes. They must have taken a giant exhale during the intermission because from that point on it was all Canada and they came in waves. When it was all said and done, the 8-2 victory earned them a game with Russia tomorrow at 4:30pm PST. Can you say big game?

LA Kings phenom Drew Doughty was his usual stud self. He finished the game with 1 assist and was a +4 in just over 15 minutes on the ice. He seemed to do no wrong and even had a couple of near miss goals. One thing I can't stress enough is how much the Canadian fans LOVE this kid. They can't stop talking to me about him. Praise, compliments, astonishment and more - all rolled up into one. Some guy said to me tonight 'You watch him every night - is he really this good all the time or is he just having an outstanding tournament?' and before I could even answer he added 'He's probably been our best defenseman.' I keep hearing this over and over this week. The secret is out folks.

The night cap was the Euro Kings (Team Slovakia) vs. the upstart Norway team. For some reason all the Canadians in the arena were cheering hard for Team Norway. Perhaps they fed off the energy because some how Norway made a game of things. LA Kings (underrated) forward Michal Handzus put Slovakia up early 1-0. Former Kings Stumpel, Palffy, Lubo and Demitra seemed to be on the ice all the time in the first half of the game - each picked up an assist before the night was over. The Euro Kings won 4-3 and will face off with Sweden tomorrow evening. That could be a tall task for the Slovaks.

Interesting game note - Ziggy is playing with a wooden stick. Don't see much of that anymore.

At the other arena across town it took overtime, but the Czech Republic knocked off Latvia to advance to Wednesday's Quarterfinal game vs. Finland.

More soon...

The Mayor

For more Olympics coverage on MayorsManor - including some exclusive pictures - simply type OLYMPICS in the search box near the top left corner of this page.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

OLYMPICS: Tuesday's Qualifiers

Vancouver, BC - After a much needed day off on Monday, men's ice hockey returns today for the 'real' start to the tournament. Courtesy of the IIHF website, the final pool standings are below - with the USA, Sweden and Russia the winners of their respective pools. With the best record among the non-pool winning teams, Finland also received a bye into tomorrow's bracket.

Things kick off today with Switzerland-Belarus. The winner will play Team USA at noon on Wednesday.

The entire country of Canada will be on pins and needles when Team Canada takes on Germany at 4:30 pm PST. The winner gets a loaded Team Russia tomorrow.

Czech Republic will meet Latvia at the Thunderbird Arena in game three today.

The night cap will be the Euro Kings (or Team Slovakia, whichever you prefer) vs. what should be a undermanned team in Norway.

Wednesday's pairings will be:

I'll have more later.

The Mayor

For more Olympics coverage on MayorsManor - including some exclusive pictures - simply type OLYMPICS in the search box near the top left corner of this page.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Hockey's Most Exclusive Club

Vancouver, BC - Most of the best hockey players on the planet have descended upon Vancouver this month. Most are here to play in the Olympics. Some are here to watch, having played before.

Twenty two of those players were honored earlier tonight for their accomplishments.

This wasn't just any group through and this wasn't your normal awards ceremony. These 22 were here because out of the more than 4,000 hockey players that have skated at the Olympics, these 22 have won the gold. Out of the more than 9,000 players that have tried to win the Stanley Cup, they've done that too. And although more than 15,000 players that have tried to win an IIHF gold medal, this group has one of those as well.

It's a small club. Just 22 members. Each of them having achieved the ultimate hat trick, putting them all into the Triple Gold Club.

With only 22 members it has to be the toughest team in hockey to be part of. The group reads like a who's who of every great game or series you can probably remember. Guys like Brendan Shanahan, Peter Forsberg and Nicholas Lidstrom. Igor Larionov, Rob Blake and Nicklas Lidstrom are members too. Need more? How about - Henrik Zetterberg, Chris Pronger or Jaromir Jagr...they were all there too.

During the ceremony at Molson's Hockey House, in the shadows of the arena hosting this year's Olympic hockey action, each player received a customized Triple Gold Club jersey, a Tissot watch with his name engraved and a special membership pin.

According to the IIHF, there are 42 active players who have won two of the three titles.

Six of those 42 are here in Vancouver looking for a gold medal to complete their entry into hockey's most exclusive club - Eric Staal (Canada); Pavel Kubina and Josef Vasicek (Czech Republic); Jere Lehtinen (Finland) and Sergei Fedorov and Ilya Bryzgalov (Russia).

Guess we'll know by Sunday night if the club is expanding.

The Mayor

For more Olympics coverage on MayorsManor - including some exclusive pictures - simply type OLYMPICS in the search box near the top left corner of this page.

One of the longest and best days of my life...

Vancouver, BC - It's almost noon on Monday and I just woke up. My voice hurts, my feet hurt - heck, my whole body hurts. However, it was all worth it. Taking in three hockey games in one day is tough on anybody, regardless of your love of the game.

I've been fortunate enough to see the Kings play in Canada a number of times - Calgary, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Toronto, you name it - the host fans have always been more than gracious. Very polite, accommodating people - glad to have you in their town. Flying up here I expected the same for the most part. In 2002 Salt Lake was a fun atmosphere, the spirit of the Olympics was alive. Great hockey, great people. I was looking forward to more of the same this time around.

The first game didn't disappoint. Russians wanted nothing to do with me in Salt Lake when they played Team USA. Here, the fans were great. Russia-Czech Republic was a party like atmosphere. Flags everywhere, people chanting in different languages...and a tight, close game kept the energy level up until the very end - minus about a seven minute period in the middle.

Right at center ice, on top of the Olympic logo ironically, Ovehckin laid an incredible hit on Jagr. As he skated away with Jaromir flat on his back, all I could think was 'Well, that didn't embody the spirit of the Olympics.'

That was the turning point in the game. It took quite some time for the Czech team to get their composure and confidence back after that hit. When they did, there just wasn't enough time on the clock. Russia looked good in their win...and despite their suspect defense (Denis Grebeshkov, anyone?), they look like a strong bet for a medal.

Leaving that game I knew the entire day was about to change. Canadians take their hockey VERY serious. This town had been buzzing about the USA-Canada game all week. People were whipped up into a frenzy and it I just knew it was about to get worse.

Then something changed. I don't know when, where or how it happened exactly.

This town -which had been so boisterous about their team...where people of all ages couldn't wait to tell you how superior their team was...suddenly, none of them had something to say.

And I'm talking about BEFORE the game started.

Walking into the arena for Canada-USA was like walking to a funeral. If you weren't here, you would never believe it. It was quiet...and I mean drop dead quiet. You could feel the proverbial noose tightening around their necks. All the hype, all the pressure was starting to get to them. They had talked so much all week long, now reality was hitting. Could they back it up?

Forty five minutes before game time it was VERY quiet inside the arena, even though the entire place was a sea of red. No cowbells rattling, no 'Oh Canada' chants. Nothing. Did we make a wrong turn? Were we in church or at one of the biggest hockey games of all time?

Perhaps it was the beer, perhaps it was the music in the arena, I don't know. But once their team hit the ice for warm-ups the Canadian fans woke up. The energy level rocketed up...quickly.

A guy next to me kept elbowing me out of the way during warm ups. He was intent on showing his sign proudly proclaimed 'Hockey is Our Game' across a Canadian flag. When some kid tried to get a puck from one of the American players he was quick to let him know 'It's just a Canadian tire, it's not even worth a dollar.' Again, not exactly feeling the Olympic spirit here guys.

By the time the puck dropped for game time it was a sea of red...ninety percent of them wearing a Team Canada jersey. Flags were flying. Men, women and children were chanting, cheering and causing commotion everywhere.

Then, it happened. Forty one seconds after it started, Brian Rafalski puts one in the net. USA 1-0 and they all began to grip hard. No, real hard.

Throughout the building they tried to shake it off. They tried to tell themselves and their neighbors it was going to be OK. You heard it all - bad goal, no big deal, their only goal of the night, whatever. They were trying to convince themselves they were still going to win the game. However, you could see it their eyes, they didn't really believe what they were saying.

8:53 of the first - Eric Stall scores to tie the game. The Canadian fans were clapping and high fiving. But, then it happened...

Just 25 seconds later Rafalski scores AGAIN to put the U.S. up 2-1. Their looks said it all...could it be? They were baffled at intermission how they could be down by a goal.

Before I move on I'd be remiss not to mention Canadian fans love for Doughty. They won't stop talking about him - and this is even before they know I'm from LA. Tons of praise. They're starting to realize how special he is.

Heatley scored early in the second to tie things up. Finally they started to show some confidence. The next 13 minutes featured some of the most exciting hockey you'll ever see. Back and forth action that had the entire arena on the edge of it's seat. That is until Chris Drury scored for Team USA with just a few minutes remaining in the second.

Down 3-2...and trailing for the second intermission in a row...people were holding their breath going into the third. One of my favorite moments might have been when I was in line to get food and some lady looks at me says 'How does it feel knowing all these people want to punch you in the face?' E-A-S-Y lady. Calm down a bit, would!

You probably already know the rest - at least you better! - Lagenbrunner scores early in the third to put the U.S. up 4-2 (my cynical mind has me worried at this point - I'm thinking about the U.S. team letting Canada back into things at the World Juniors on New Years Ever)...the refs started looking to even things up (not a complaint, just a fact) - so Canada gets a couple of powerplay opportunities...Crosby scores with 3:09 left in the third to give the entire nation hope...a few minutes later they pull Brodeur - hoping to get that big goal to tie in, forcing over time.

It doesn't happen. Home town Canuck, Ryan Kessler, scores into an empty net to ice it for Team USA. They did it! They beat Canada on their home turf. And poor Kessler will probably get boo'd when he returns to the NHL after the Olympic break. Locals may not let him forget the knife he put in their back while wearing the red, white and blue.

Ron Wilson also deserves a ton of credit. Perfect game plan, perfect execution. The team remained calm, focused and never let the crowd get into their heads.

The Canadian fans were very gracious in defeat, acknowledging Team USA was the better team on this given day.

After the third and final game (Sweden-Finland) we eventually ended up at a local pub to unwind and celebrate Super Sunday here in Canada. One local summed it up best as we discussed the USA-Canada game...'Your goalie stood on his head, our goalie shit the bed.'

That's about it, eh!

The Mayor

note - I've posted several pictures from the games (including current and former Kings) on my twitter account. Click here to see the links and photos.

For more Olympics coverage on MayorsManor - including some exclusive pictures - simply type OLYMPICS in the search box near the top left corner of this page.