Stick on the Ice:
Amazing hockey. It is hard to sustain the level of energy and emotion that I saw from the U.S. players for two weeks, but they managed to do it. It was really impressive. Overall, I thought the hockey was excellent. I enjoyed seeing some of the older NHL faces and some of the new ones. I think that a ton of die-hard fans and a tighter ice surface did some good things too. As good as the hockey was, the Roenick/Dillberry Show was really tough to take...and I believe that "Continental Refuse" is the politically correct term that the former Islanders GM forgot. However, the hockey was strong enough to off-set all the idiotic programming decisions and painful banter. Up until I watched USA-Canada, I was a little irritated with the Olympic break because I think it really messes up the NHL schedule and is a huge distraction to the league's best players. However, I now feel like it was worth it. That was some really good hockey. I think the players' ability to participate in the 2014 games will be a big bargaining chip with the Player's Union, and ultimately I think they will play. Patrick Kane said he was going to play in Sochi regardless, and that in itself indicates how some of the NHL's best feel about the Olympics.
I really enjoyed the Olympic hockey tournament for several reasons. First, I had pneumonia during the second week of the tournament and having a game on at 3, 7:30 and midnight was a great schedule to work with nap wise. Having the best hockey players in the world competing for their country is never a bad form of motivation and almost everyone brought it every night.
The Americans announced to the world they're going to be an international force sooner rather than later as the young core of Zack Parise, Patrick Kane, Jack Johnson, Eric Johnson, Ryan Suter, Phil Kessel, Ryan Kesler, and tournament MVP Ryan Miller look to be a worthy rival of Crosby & company. Miller, in particular, endeared himself to American hockey fans that don't get to see him on a regular basis (myself included) for his play and his demeanor. Kid's a winner and I'll pay a lot more attention to Buffalo going forward. Same goes for Parise. I was glad to see Chris Drury make a significant contribution to that team when a lot of people said he shouldn't have been on the squad. Brian Rafalski was the bees knees too. I appreciate the effort of Kane, Kesler, and Backes put forth for our country and was in their corner while they were wearing the red, white, and blue. I even was moved by Kane keeping the sweater on for an hour plus after the game was over. But the three of you can go pound sand now that you're back with your respective NHL clubs. All in all, a feel-good effort by the U.S.A. who, in the words of Nuke Laloosh, 'announced their presence with authority.' I hope RJ Umberger is a part of this squad when they get together next.
The Canadians were a juggernaut to watch, once they got going. There were some hiccups and backfires along the way, but once the coaching staff figured out who should be playing with who, they were too good to stop. I really think the moment Canada got moving in the right direction was Nasher's goal against Russia to make it 3-0. Pairing him with Toews (who was brilliant) and Mike Richards and pairing them up against the opposition's top lines turned out to be a great move. The press will give Babcock the credit, but not here....Hitch probably suggested it behind the scenes.
In the end, the Canadians were too deep. Too much firepower from familiar faces like Iginla, Marleau, Heatley, Thorton, Pronger, & Niedermeyer, but the scary part is all the young guys Canada has too: Crosby, Nash, Toews, Hello Shea Weber, Keith, Seabrook, Perry, and Getzlaf. Their firepower made up for the shaky goaltending they got from Brodeur and eventually, Luongo. I think Fleury and even Steve Mason get a serious look over the next four years to take over that net.
The Russians were dazzling early with Ovechkin blasting the original mullet, Jaromir Jagr, with a sweet open ice hit. They had almost everyone bought in that they were the team to beat for the gold until they let Slovakia hang around and beat them in a shootout and they found themselves having to play Canada before the medal round. Canada was too much from them and it was evident that they didn't have the depth or the desire to keep up with the syrup makers. They'll hope for better luck in their home country, but unless they start to develop some depth to go with the top tier talent of Ovie, Malkin, Kovalchuk, Radulov, they're going to be playing for the bronze going forward.
The Slovaks were a pleasant surprise, except to Blue Jackets fans who saw trade bait, Milan Jurcina, exasperate his sports hernia and lower his trade value in the process. Story of this season, eh? The Czechs, Sweden, Germans, Belarussians, and Swiss all had their moments and provided for some entertaining hockey.
Doc Emerick was an absolute gift to listen to, especially to CBJ fans who have to endure Rimer's six hole seventy five times a year. Eddie O provided some great insight and a steady laugh track to Doc's fun....and isn't hockey supposed to be fun?! I can even endure Pierre Maguire because there's always the possibility he'll catch a puck in the yap while he's pontificating. The studio group was a different story. Plain guy + controversial dickhead + controversial dickhead does not equal enjoyment for anyone. If you want to keep one of the controversial dickheads, I guess JR can stay, but put him and his butt chin in the corner. Milbury and his 'Eurotrash' blast should probably exit stage right.
NBC's treatment of hockey just showed that they took the NHL's commitment to the Olympics for granted. One of the only good things about Time Warner is that they have MSNBC, CNBC and Animal Planet (there were some games on there, right?) in HD. I know that isn't the case across the board for cable and dish providers. It's crap that NBC made it so people didn't get to see every single one of these games in HD, in favor of the housewives and ice dancing. The NBA doesn't have to shut down their season to accommodate the Olympics like the NHL does, but their preliminary games are buried on the lesser channels as well so I guess I can't get too up in a huff about it. The gold medal game was the icing on the cake for the Olympics and NBC.
Gotta go back in 2014.
Amateurish to an extent, however there's no denying Doc Emrick is the man! I could listen to that guy call a chess match. And, I have to give them credit for the use of what's called Liberovision (brand name), the 3D tool that allowed analysts like Ed Olczyk to move an image around the screen to break down the play in real time. That was a pretty cool technical advantage that I hope they continue to use moving forward.
But, relegating hockey to a third tier cable channel to televise live ice dancing is just a slap in the face. I hope the NHL is carefully evaluating their network options because it's clear their "broadcast partner," NBC, still doesn't get it and isn't prepared to do what is necessary to help the NHL monetize the Sunday afternoon "Game of the Week," with the exception of the Winter Classic.
I love international hockey at all levels. And to me, the Olympics is the pinnacle of international competition. While I believe the World U20 Championship is now the premier amateur event that captures attention (especially in Canada), I like reserving the Olympics for the pros considering it happens just once every four years rather than annually like the World Junior Championships. I say NHL'ers to Sochi in 2014.
Certainly the best hockey tournament I've ever seen. It is not often a game lives up to it's hype, but the Gold Medal game was beyond my expectations. I was holding a 3 month old sleeping baby while trying to watch that game, and let's just say she didn't sleep well. Even going back to the early rounds, with Canada faltering and being able to feel the weight of a nation on its shoulders, to Ovechkin laying Jagr out... it was just an awesome display of hockey.
Tape delays, hard to find cable channels, no HD on those hard to find cable channels for lots of viewers. The reasons for faulting NBC's coverage are multiple and valid. Roenick and Milbury? Holy Moses, they were painful... I do not want to see Jeremy Roenick in HD ever again, ever ever. And resuming coverage after a commercial break with the puck already in play? Simply atrocious. To whatever degree NBC had a hand in bringing the Medal Round games without commercial breaks during the games is deserving of note, but I don't know if that was NBC or the sponsors that made that possible. All in all, great hockey, amateurish television coverage. NBC's got nothing on Versus.