Friday, February 29, 2008

5 Minutes of Fame for Yours Truly!

So about a month ago, I was contacted by a freelance journalist with the Vancouver Canucks. After googling him, I decided to go ahead with the story, the target of which was "Canucks fans in strange places," or something of that jist. So 3 weeks and some sporadic e-mailing later, I find myself on the Canucks website, sitting between an article on Prostejov, Czech. and the furor that is the NHL Trade Deadline.


A diamond in the rough
Derek Jory
Feb 22, 2008, 5:05 PM EST
In Cambridge, England, soccer and rugby are the sports of choice and they have been for quite some time. That’s not about to change anytime soon, but if Johan van de Ven had his way, hockey would reign supreme throughout the country.

Vancouver Canucks hockey, that is.

A diamond in the rough if ever there was one, van de Ven is a die-hard Canucks fan who prefers sticks and ice to cleats and mud. This makes him a rarity in his hometown and an easy target at school.

“I do face scorn from classmates who think of hockey as a ‘soft’ sport, despite my attempts to persuade them otherwise,” said the 16-year-old, who is currently in grade 11.

Living in England and liking hockey is a bit uncommon, but certainly not unheard of as the NHL’s two regular season games that were played there this past September were a rousing success. Becoming a fan of the sport and the Canucks during the 2004-05 lockout season is a tad unusual, however.

Originally a fan of the Colorado Avalanche and/or Detroit Red Wings, van de Ven had a Canucks epiphany one morning during the lockout that change his alliance forever.

“I watched a program called Transworld Sport, which had a feature on the lockout, including a segment talking about the three Canucks playing for Modo Hockey, the Sedins and Naslund.

“So for the rest of that season, I was to be found praying that the NHLPA and the owners could reach an agreement, but even though that season was lost, my passion for the Canucks was more alive than ever.”

A fan of everything from the players to the logo, van de Ven became entrenched in the world of the Canucks from that season on, so much so that NHL 2002 became his favourite video-game. His favourite opponent? That would be his twin brother, a fan of the Los Angeles Kings.

“His allegiance to the Kings stems from Los Angeles being our mom's hometown, and he is forever giving me grief over the Canucks miss on Anze Kopitar in the ‘05 draft. All I have to do is remind him of Jeff ‘the Barbarian’ Cowan and he goes quiet pretty quick.”

Despite the 14-hour time difference between England and Vancouver, van de Ven has managed to keep pretty good tabs on the Canucks over the last few years thanks to the Internet. Highlights, stats and stories galore have helped him become enormously educated in all things Canucks, even though he hasn’t watched a game for some time.

“In a way, the past few seasons have been almost like a soap opera, with so many tremendous highs and lows that it almost seems scripted, and this turbulence is again a captivating factor. Of course, I also like the cosmopolitan nature of the team, and the strong European presence on the top few lines is an attraction, considering my status as part-Euro (English, Dutch, and American nationalities).

“Nonis's system of youth cultivation is also impressive, considering the money-hungry nature of most sports, and this is already reaping rewards, in the shape of Kesler, Edler, Raymond, Bourdon, etc.”

When van de Ven isn’t keeping pace with the Canucks, he follows the Peterborough Phantoms, his favourite English Premier Ice Hockey League team. The local squad helps fill his hockey appetite between Vancouver games.

“That league still houses several NHL draftees, and Latvian Olympic goal scorer Maris Ziedins. So whilst fan population is not huge, most are extremely knowledgeable - I once overheard a conversation about Pascal Leclaire after he had just been called up to the Blue Jackets.”

van de Ven now waits on pins and needles with other Canucks fans from around the world to see how strong of a push Vancouver can make towards the playoffs. He hopes Naslund and the Sedins will lead the Canucks to glory, but if not, he’ll make sure they at least beat the Kings in NHL 2002.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

How Times have Changed

I remember sitting in the school library in Nanjing, China, hurriedly checking the Canucks score before the teacher came peaking over my shoulder. I dreaded the days we faced the Minnesota Wild, for more often than not, Wes Walz would steal a win for the mind-numbingly dull Wild whilst the last days of the Crawford run-and-gun era petered out in front of the GM Place faithful. I remember thinking how unfair it was that such a boring team (Wild) could beat such an exciting team (Canucks.)
Oh, how times have changed. Minnesota has added players such as Brian Rolston and Pavol Demitra. The paradoxically stagnant, passive hockey played at the XCEL Energy Center is a distant memory. The Northwest-leading Wild is still strong defensively, but they still sit at a respectable 19th in the NHL for goalscoring, with 162 so far this year.
As is key in the sport of hockey, the Wild are solid right through the line-up with potential All-Stars right through the line-up. However, the success of the Wild is perhaps not entirely their own doing. I don't like to make excuses, but the injury bug seems to have skipped over the Wild this year and instead given Colorado, Edmonton and Vancouver double doses. Still, it's all very close in the Northwest, as 11 points separate top from bottom and 6 points from top and 4th. Bearing mind that the last 9 games of the season are intra-divisional, the stretch drive really could come down to the wire this season. Unlike in the Southeast Division, where likely only the divisional champs will make the post-season, there is a healthy possibilty that 4 out of the 5 Northwestern teams will advance to the playoffs, with Edmonton Oilers likely being the odd ones out. All thats certain, is that times have changed.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

The Future Looks Bright

It is the consensus amongst the NHL that the Los Angeles Kings are the only team in the league with no hope of making the playoffs. I, for one, am surprised. This team, that sits last in the NHL on a meager 53 points, couldn't have started the season more brightly, with a 4-1 win over reigning Stanley Cup Champs, the Anaheim Ducks. Highly touted prospect, Jonathan Bernier was displaying the kind of skill, even guile, that had not been seen on Figueroa Street since the days of Felix "The Cat" Potvin.
So why Dean Lombardi returned Bernier to the Lewiston MAINEiacs, I don't know, but I am pretty sure it sparked the Kings' ugly fall to the bottom of the standings. Considering that the Kings had 8 forwards who would make the top six on most teams, a future Hall of Famer in Rob Blake on defense with his housemate, blue-chip prospect Jack Johnson, it simply doesn't make sense that the Kings' season has gone so cataclysmically wrong.
However, this failure has given promising youngsters such as 1st Rounder, Brian Boyle and AHL All-Star Ted Purcell a chance to show their worth to the Kings hierarchy. The Kings also have one of the best PR teams in the league, headed by model-turned-spokeswoman Heidi Androl. The style epitomizes the Kings' youth movement, with a happy-go-lucky ambiance in the dressing room.
Whilst luck appears to have forgotten SoCal's "other" team, a return to the limelight appears to be in order. Unloading the inflated salaries of Rob Blake, Ladislav Nagy and the recently departed Brad Stuart will give the Kings cap room to play with. The key priority must be to upgrade the defense, building around a core of Tom Preissing and Jack Johnson. As previously stated, the Kings are strong upfront, and will still have a strong top six even if all FAs walk away, and Jonathan Bernier should be ready to have another go as the Kings' starting netminder.
Whatever happens, the Kings look to have set the foundations of a bright future.

Give it a rest!

I sat euphoric as Eduardo Da Silva and Croatia romped past England and into the European Championships. Yet for me the key difference was the sportsmanship between the two teams. All you have to do to understand the epitomization of this is to watch the player's reactions whenever an England player is allegedly fouled. The Croats take the referee's decision, usually with little reluctance. It appears however, that England forgot not only to take notes when learning how to beat the offside trap, but also passed a blind eye over the finer points of footballing etiquette.
A typical scenario: the whistle blows. The poor referee faces a charge not disimilar to a Panzer division. The expletive-spewing Wayne Rooney is backed up by his trusty steed, the horse-snouted Rio Ferdinand. Similary, Fat Frank and John Terry berate the referee whenever a decision goes against them.
It was this lack of sportsmanship that made it feel very hard for me to feel sorry for the Three Lions when they lay, destitute on the muddy pasture that is Wembley. I wrote this seeing my Gunners being hammered by the Devilish Reds, so take that for what you will.
Ironically, I am a former Man Utd in hiding, disillusioned by the arrogance that was, and unfortunately, still is, a ever-present feature of the Arena of Nightmares - no, sorry - Theatre of Dreams. So you can imagine my sense of deja-vu when Nani went waltzing down the pitch playing keep-up. And a big thank you to Mathieu Flamini for restoring normalcy with what can only be described as a "heavy" -but legal- challenge. If only the midfield terrier had started the game, then Manchester Utd would not have been able to take such liberties with the Gunners and the result would have, perhaps been a little different.

Monday, February 11, 2008

When the smoke clears...

With over half the primary elections and caucuses already out the way, political analysts were predicting a clear picture of the Democratic presidential nominee. However, both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have enjoyed waves of momentum, and each so far have taken around 1000 delegates thus far. Recently, however, this momentum has flowed like a pre-tsunami tide towards the Obama camp, taking all 5 votes this weekend. It seems the press loves him, the students love him and in this day where the internet is so powerful, those are two very important demographics for any candidate. Time Magazine ran a feature on the elections this past weekend, detailing the endeavours of a New York 5-year old, rallying support among his classmates.
Yet Obama has also struck deep into the predominantly Clinton areas - the white working class. For instance, he took Maine, one of the poorest states in the North East, despite early polls suggesting that Hillary was to relieve Obama of some of his massive weekend momentum.
This is what makes Obama special - he has at least a degree of fanatical popularity amongst every demographic, and not since Bill Clinton has America seen a potential President with such common charisma, rallying people from all walks of life. The only potential roadblock stopping this surge of momentum is the primaries in Texas and Ohio, where Hillary is expected to take the majority. Hopefully, though, this will be more a pothole than roadblock.
Whilst its commonly accepted that Obama casts a better public image than his rival, his cult popularity is harder to define. All I can do is talk about my views on him.
Simple as it may sound, Obama's skin tone may get him into the Oval Office. America is desperate for wholesale change after 8 years of stagnant Texan conservatism, and the newly eligible vote looks to be in the hands of Obama for this very reason. His skin tone is different, his voice is different, his background is different. At this moment, there are only two similarities between Obama and Dubya - both attended Top 20 colleges, and both are guilty of substance abuse, one more openly than the other. Its this honesty that is a breath of fresh air, in a country that was suffocating from sordid foreign policy, tense union relations and draining public support for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
2000 was the 1st election I watched closely and we all know how that ended, but 2008 has what is for me a foreign element. Something resembling reasonable confidence in progressive change.