For All The Marbles…

It is the battle that most everyone in North America had hoped for at the start…it will be Canada vs. USA for Gold Medal glory on Sunday afternoon in Vancouver.

The US had the easier path to the final after crushing Finland 6-1 earlier today, scoring all six goals in the first 13 minutes of the game before backing off and playing a simple game to ease into Sunday’s game.

The Canadians had more of a struggle against the upstart Slovaks tonight, holding on (almost literally) to a 3-2 win to make it to Sunday’s rematch.

Of course, the US won the first match-up, 5-3, in the preliminary round.  It was a game where Ryan Miller outplayed Martin Brodeur in net and Miller has continued to roll in the tournament.  Goaltending hasn’t been stellar for Canada, including Roberto Luongo who looked shaky down the stretch tonight.

For me…I’m a bit torn.

I’m a native American, born and raised here in Oregon but consider myself an adopted Canadian.  I have family heritage there as my Mother’s family immigrated from Quebec back in the 1800’s and I had an ancestor on the LaBonte side of the family that actually voted whether or not the Oregon territory would be part of Canada or the US at what is now Champoeg Park.   He voted Canada, obviously…but came out on the short end.

My favorite sport is Canadian…my favorite band is Canadian…and Team Canada has the Winterhawk ties with Brenden Morrow.

In the end, if the game lives up to the hype and we are treated to a game with similar or more intensity than the first meeting earlier in the games, as hockey fans…there will be no losers.   There will be disappointment on one side of the border, for sure, but both teams can take pride in what they have done to have a chance to compete for Gold.

The puck drops a little after high-noon on Sunday and it will be shown live (thankfully!) on NBC…I cannot wait as I’m sure it will be a fitting climax to what has been an incredible hockey event in Vancouver.

Lastly…I have to say how impressed I have been with the Slovakian team and the former Hawks who played for them.   Marian Hossa is his normal beast on the ice and his brother Marcel played well, as well.  The true joy was watching Richard Zednik as he has been out of the NHL this season.   He has played an incredible tournament, playing with fire and determination that we saw in his time as a Winterhawk.   It has been great to see and I truly hope they skate away with the Bronze against the Finnish team tomorrow night.

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In Medal Contention…

Photo Credit Luis Acosta/AFP/Getty Images

Former Portland Winterhawk Brenden Morrow is shown celebrating his eventual game winning goal against the Russians on Wednesday evening at the 2010 Olympic Games in Vancouver.

Morrow and the rest of his Team Canada teammates will take on the surprising Slovaks, led by former Hawks Marian and Marcel Hossa and Richard Zednik.

Marian Hossa had three assists in the Slovaks 4-3 win over the Swedes last night with Zednik setting up the other goal.

Hossa is tied for the Olympic lead in scoring with 2-5-7 in five games as he is tied with two Team Canada players (Dany Heatley and Jonathan Toews) as well as his countryman Pavol Demitra.  Zednik has five points in five games for the Slovaks.

In the other semifinal, the USA squad will take on Finland in what should be a tight checking, low scoring affair.  The US team beat Switzerland, and current Hawk Luca Sbisa, in a close 2-0 game that came down to an empty netter to seal the win.   Sbisa went off in the first period after blocking a shot with his hand (and it looked nasty on TV), but returned to play the final two periods and he showed himself very well.

All in all, the Olympic tournament has been great hockey and it is great to see all the former Hawks (and current Hawk) playing so well.   We know that that there will be at least one playing for Gold on Sunday…can’t wait.

Before Henrik Lundqvist came crashing down to Earth in the second period last night against the Slovaks, he set a new record for consecutive shutout minutes in the Olympics games at just over 170.   Did anyone notice who had the record previously?

It was former Portland Buckaroo goaltender Don Head, who was in Portland and honored at the recent Buckaroo night at the Rose Garden.  Head, who played for Canada, went 164:19 for the Canadians in the 1960 Olympic Games in Squaw Valley, CA, when Canada won the Silver Medal.

It must have been incredibly fulfilling for Head to have his name in the Olympic Record Books for 50 years…

Cam Neely will be dropping the puck at the Hawks game on Sunday night against the Prince George Cougars.  Neely, of course, won the 1983 Memorial Cup with the Hawks and is now a member of the NHL Hockey Hall of Fame.

Also, the Hawks announced their inaugural class for the newly formed Winterhawks Hall of Fame and in addition to the founders, Brian Shaw, Ken Hodge and Innes Mackie, who brought the team to Portland, the Hawks will add Dennis Holland, the Hawks second all-time leading scorer.

Holland is now a scout with the Dallas Stars and he will be at the game on Sunday night as well.  I’ll sit down with him before the game for a radio interview to get his thoughts on the selection and also his thoughts on the Hawks draft eligible players.

That’s it for now…

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The Day After…

“You can go out, you can take a ride
And when you get out on your own
You get all smoothed out inside
And it’s good to be alone”

Face Up – Lyrics by Neil Peart

It was a late decision to drive myself to Kennewick yesterday instead of hopping the bus with the team.  Normally, I’d jump on the iron lung and make the trek, but I decided to drive myself as I had to do some business while in the car and that is easier to do from the comforts of my vehicle.

I admit I wasn’t a very happy camper (or Kemper for that matter) when I left the Toyota Center last night.  The game, obviously, didn’t turn out anywhere close to where the Hawks or their faithful thought it should and I admit that I was glad I could hop into my car, turn the IPod on shuffle, turn up the volume and, as the lyrics above suggest, get all “smoothed out inside”.

Ironically, the song “Face Up” was the second song to hit the playlist as I made my way toward home, preceded by another Rush song “Driven”, which talks about being “driven to the edge of a deep, dark hole”, and that wasn’t all that inspiring as I started my four hour trek back to Hillsboro.

The game itself, after the opening minute, wasn’t that bad for Portland as they created scoring chances and played evenly with the Americans for large sections of the opening 30 minutes, but the game took a nasty turn when Todd Kennedy went head-hunting (and there really isn’t any other way to describe it) on Eric Doyle in neutral ice.   Now, I like big open ice hits…the kind where a player puts there shoulder down and lays out a guy with a shoulder to shoulder or shoulder to chest hit.   This wasn’t one of those…the video evidence is here.

This is the exact kind of hit to the head that the hockey bodies are trying to remove from the game.  Kennedy is a physical player who hadn’t been in a game since early January due to an injury.  I understand he is trying to earn a regular spot in the Americans playing rotation, but this hit is senseless.  It is suspension worthy, the question is how many games?  We’ll find out soon enough, I guess…

As for Doyle, I left before I got an update on his situation so I can’t address that here, we’ll find out this weekend as the Hawks prepare for games with Seattle and Prince George.

After the hit, the Hawks got away from their game and paid the price being short-handed multiple times, including extended two-man disadvantages in the final 30 minutes.   In the end, the Ams had 13 power plays to four for Portland and that has been a trend in the series.  One of the reasons that Tri City is 7-1-0-0 against Portland is that in the eight games, Tri City has had 61 power plays in the series while the Hawks have had 32…a difference of 29.

In fact, for the season, the Hawks are -29 in power plays against the Ams and +2 against the rest of the WHL.  I’m not saying that Tri City didn’t deserve the extra man advantages, just that is has been a major factor in the series.

These two teams will meet again two more times, both in Portland, before the end of the season.  I’m hoping that the focus in those two is on hockey…

Next up…Seattle on Saturday…will Luca Sbisa be back for that?  Will Doyle be able to play?  Stay tuned…

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Back…Great Weekend of Swimming & Hockey…

First things first…congratulations to my daughter Aiden for doing very well in her lone event at the Oregon 10 and Under State Championships in Springfield on Saturday.

She is shown above doing her best to chase down the leader in her heat of the 100 yard Butterfly.  She went in with a seed time of 1:48:52 and she took close to three seconds off of that time at State, posting a 1:45:72, a very good swim.

Her Mom and I are quite proud as Aiden didn’t have a qualifying time in this event until mid-January and since she posted her first time then, she has dropped six seconds in the event in a little over a month…remarkable.

I want to thank the Winterhawks for letting me take the night off and to Todd and Dean Vrooman for filling in so I could go and watch the meet.

Speaking of the “Vroo-men”…they did a great job calling the 3-2 win for the Hawks over the Kelowna Rockets Saturday night.  I only got to listen to the third period, but it sounded like a great rally for the team and a nice recovery after dropping two games heading into the game.

The Hawks will look to make it two straight over the Tri City Americans on Tuesday night in Kennewick.

Haven’t the Olympics been great?  I mean, the hockey has been tremendous, especially the Canada/USA showdown yesterday afternoon.  And we still have the medal round to go.

I may be bias, but I have a hard time figuring out how anyone can think that there is a sport with more excitement and action than a hockey game, especially at that level.

Luca Sbisa and his Swiss teammates must knock off Norway to get another shot at USA in the quarter finals.   That game will be tomorrow at 12/noon PST.

That’s it for now…more later this week…

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Critics, Olympics and Time Off…

Judging by the comment section lately, there’s nothing like a two game skid to bring out the armchair GM’s…

Yep…losing the past two games stink and come at a bad time as the Portland Winterhawks battle for playoff positioning in the tough Western Conference.  The game on Monday especially hurt after leading by two early in the third.  Last night, it was winnable as well, but in the end, you look forward not back and you prepare for your next game.

This is a young team that is still learning how to win on a consistent basis, but the facts remain that the team is 15 games over .500 and are 9-3-1-0 since January 23rd.

The goaltending hasn’t been great the last two starts, but it comes on the heels of giving up only 27 goals in 11 games (an average of 2.45/game).   Players at this level are streaky and I’m sure both Ian Curtis and Mac Carruth will work their hardest to get back to the level they were performing at before this week.

What a game tonight between Switzerland and Canada in Vancouver in the Olympics.  The Swiss hung tough and forced it to an extra round in the shootout before falling to Sidney Crosby and the Canadians.

It was great to see Luca Sbisa get a ton of playing time, including penalty kill, and get some recognition for some tremendous defensive plays.  I just wish that the NBC crew would mention that he isn’t currently playing for Anaheim and that he is still a junior player.

It’s been a great stretch of hockey for Switzerland since the World Jr.’s and it’s great that the Winterhawks have two of the prominent players on their roster.

Can’t wait for Russia/Slovakia later tonight…

And…with that…I’m officially taking the weekend off.  I will be heading down to Springfield/Eugene to cheer on my daughter Aiden as she competes in the Oregon State 10 and Under Swimming Championships.

I will leave the broadcast of Saturday night’s game in the trusty hands of the Vroo”men” (as they have been dubbed by KCMD board operator Mike Schacker), Todd and Dean Vrooman, to deliver the game to our great listeners.   I know that they are both looking forward to working together.

I will talk to y’all again next week…

Have a great weekend…

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Catching Up…

The month of February for me will be remembered as the I-5 month as once again I’ve made my way up the Interstate to Seattle for a few days of work with a Hawks game in Everett mixed in tomorrow night.

The drive this morning gave me a chance to think about yesterday afternoon’s loss to the Moose Jaw Warriors and while it was a tough way to lose, it isn’t the end of the world.  The Hawks had picked up points in a season high nine straight games (going 8-0-1-0) prior to the loss yesterday.

Something about playing the Eastern Conference brought out the offense in the six games in Portland this year as the Hawks and their Eastern Conference opponents combined for 62 goals in six games (an average of 10.33/game) while for the season, the game average has been 7.31/game.

Had you asked most people if getting six out of eight points was reasonable when you looked at the schedule starting last Wednesday with the Tri City Americans coming to town, add in the long trip to PG for the back-to-back on Friday/Saturday and then the long trip back to Portland for the afternoon game on Monday, most would have said that getting six would have been more than acceptable.

The loss was the first for the Hawks this season when leading after two periods, they had gone 25-0-0-0 prior, and that was tough to take and I think Mike Johnston is right in his comments to the papers that the Hawks appeared mentally tired.  I know that I was and I just had to call the games, not actually having to play in them.

In any case, as with any loss (or game for that matter), there are things you can learn from them and I’m sure the coaching staff will use Monday’s game as a teaching tool as this young team continues to push for home ice advantage in the first round.

I do know that the Hawks from the net out will need to be better than Monday to get two points out of the Comcast Arena tomorrow night.

I didn’t get a chance to see the U.S./Switzerland game today as I was traveling, but I understand that Luca Sbisa got some playing time for the Swiss.  It is just really cool to have a player on the Hawks roster on that big of a stage.

I did watch Canada destroy Norway, after the first period anyway, and am looking forward to seeing Russia do the same to Latvia later tonight.

The Winter Olympics are just a tremendous time, I hope that all of you get a chance to watch some of the action (albeit mostly taped delayed thanks to NBC).  At least the hockey has been live today on CNBC and USA.

More later this week…

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One Down…One To Go…

It wasn’t pretty, but the Portland Winterhawks gritted out a 5-2 win over the Prince George Cougars last night at the CN Centre.  The win, coupled with losses by Everett and Tri City, helped position the Hawks into second in the U.S. Division and closer to the Americans in the race for first overall in the Western Conference.

Luke Walker scored twice, including a penalty shot, in the third period to break it open and give the Hawks their three goal cushion at the end.

The Hawks could have finished this one earlier had they been on target earlier in the game as a number of chances just missed the net on open shots.

Tonight, Ian Curtis will make his first start since stopping 51 shots against the Vancouver Giants on January 24th at the MC.  He will face his former team tonight and I can imagine he is eager to get back in game action after Mac Carruth has gone 6-1-1-0 in the last eight games.

With a win tonight, the Hawks can sweep the season series in Prince George for the first time in their history and also reach 20 wins on the road for just the fifth time in team history.  The last time the Hawks hit 20+ road wins was in 1997-98 (the Cup year) when they went 23-11-2 away from home.

Last night was a physical affair and I expect tonight to follow that pattern as well.   I’m hoping it goes quick so we can load up and head home as early as possible…the weather here is almost springlike and that should make for good roads all the way back to Portland.

I’ve come down with a bit of a cold, but the voice should be fine for the back-to-back and then Monday afternoon against Moose Jaw…

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