Monday, 26 January 2009

Home Ice (dis) Advantage?

What a difference we have in this league in terms of the rinks (Patinoire). After playing in Grenoble on Saturday night, in front of 3500 fans, there is a huge gap in professionalism in our league. I don't like to pick on Neuilly, who is currently fighting for their lives to stay in our league, but when comparing Grenoble to Neuilly, it is night and day. Since I have dedicated an entire blog entry to our basement dwellers I will not give further descriptions on their facilities however, I will tell you about Grenoble.

From my impressions upon arriving in Grenoble, it seemed like a North American city, with a shopping mall and many new modern looking buildings and a nice fancy ice rink. With a sellout crowd every game of 3500 fans, NHL quality ice, VIP boxes and a giant inflatable burning wolf the team skates out of before the game, all you can say is that this place is "PRO."  What an advantage this must be for them. Well from a personal standpoint, I think the opposite. As a player, when I see Grenoble on the schedule, I think "oh great, they have such a nice rink and so many fans, this is going to be great to play there." But on the other end of the spectrum, if a player from Grenoble sees on the schedule, next week they play in Epinal, they think "Shit, that rink is crap, horrible dressing rooms, and the ice is like playing on a pond, this is going to be a tough game." 

Grenoble still sits near the top of the standings every year, and already with the Coupe de la Ligue title, and heading to the finals in La Coupe de France next month, they manage to win games by only 1 goal, maybe 2 with an empty netter. Before handing us a 3-2 loss in their building, their last five home games before that (winning all of them) 3 of them were against teams well below them in the standings like  like Dijon, Strasbourg, Amiens. Normally these games should not be 1 goal games because the difference in our team and the others mentioned should not be a 1 goal difference with a team like Grenoble. But it is the fact that every player loves to play in Grenoble and every player brings their best game for that rink. It is the NHL of France, where the rink is first class, security guards are in suits with walkie talkies and the media room for post game interviews is like a TSN studio.

After the game I was called up for a TV interview along with a radio interview with a website that covers our league, and for a minute I thought I was a pretty big deal, haha. But I was wearing a Team Canada t-shirt and a Montreal Canadiens backwards hat. I should have dressed better for this right?  But then I think about a NHLer like Ryan Smyth (my favorite player), who is just dripping in sweat and tosses on a team hat and does the interview like that, so if he can do it like that, then I must be doing something right!

When asked if I wanted to do the interview in English I thought about it for a second but then said "No, let's do it in French" so if you are interested in hearing me blab on in French I have posted the link below. And to sum the game up, we got scored on the the first minute of the game, were trailing 2-1 in the third period when I hit the post from a shot in the slot. And only about 20 seconds later Grenoble goes down and scores to make it 3-1.  With under 5 minutes left, Jan Plch hit me with a pass in the slot, I faked the shot and made a move around the defender, then snapped a shot glove side to make it 3-2. But that was a close as we would get.

Though we were badly out shot, we stuck around and were always in the game.  For our new players, it was a great experience for them to play in such a nice rink and for our veterans, it was great for us too because if you could pick 1 rink in the whole league you would want to play in, it would be there. Only going home with a victory would make it better. So close, but really, so far away.

Monday, 19 January 2009

3 in a Row, go for 1 more, Go for it...

We have had a successful week and half now, after winning both games in the Alpes then finally putting Neuilly away with a win on Saturday night. The game got off to a bit of a strange start. Before I tell you about this, I must say, that in all my years of hockey, as a player and avid fan and student of the game, I have never seen anything like this happen...

So with the game only 2 minutes old, we are killing a penalty when Michal Petrak is sent in on a breakaway. Mike has a bit of a reputation for diving or embellishing, or in France we sometimes call it "Cinéma" or "Simulation."  So he is sent in alone and gets a little tug on the arm, affecting his shot enough to warrant a penalty shot, but not something that should send him flying into the end boards like a kamikaze fighter jet from WWII. 

But in a way that's what he was, because he drew a penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct for the embellishment and therefore was sitting in the penalty box and unable to take his penalty shot. After last Tuesday's shootout win in Morzine, our coach went with the hot hand and picked me to take the penalty shot. I wasn't even on the ice, so not sure if that was allowed but the officials didn't think to take the numbers of the players on the ice because nothing like this has ever happened before. Maybe never in the game of hockey???Moving I jumped over the boards and without thinking, took off down the ice, grabbed the puck and was looking 5 hole like I shot in Morzine. I gave a head fake and the 5 hole closed up pretty quickly so a quick fake to the backhand to get the goalie moving, then I slid the puck into the open side on my forehand. A great start for us as we are 7-2 when we score the first goal of the game.

The game stayed close the whole way through, trading goals back and forth on bad defensive errors, and even scoring into our own net. Since we won and this player made up for his mistake by scoring his second goal of the game shortly afterwards, I have to mention how Ilpo Salmivirta, in his first game back from injury, threw the puck into our own net. We were on the power play when Neuilly blocked my shot and came 2 on 1 down the ice against me. The shot was taken and goaltender Stan Petrik made the save but the puck flew up in the air, and with nobody around him, Ilpo attempted to catch the puck but from what I understand, baseball is not a very popular sport in the Scandinavian countries and our Finnish Flash tossed it right into the net.

But like I said, he got it back, ripping a one timer top corner and we sailed to a 6-4 victory. Now with Grenoble in our sights, as we will make the trip out there on Saturday, we have a week to prepare. We had a team workout this morning, focusing more on some core, agility and quickness, then a few of us went to the gym in the town for an additional workout, more focused on upper body (chest/back) and a hard core/abs complex to finish off.  The team is rolling with 3 wins in a row, and we will look for our 4th. Like the old commercials said "It's 3 in a row, go for one more, go for it, CONNECT FOUR!!!" 

Friday, 16 January 2009

Shootout Win

As we now look ahead to tomorrow's game against Neuilly, I would first like to recap what happened on Tuesday night in Morzine. Like on Saturday against Mont Blanc, we departed from the rink here in Epinal at 9:30am. We stopped again at the same restaurant in Switzerland to have our pre game meal before continuing.  

What a difference it makes visiting Morzine in January as opposed to October like we did last year.  Now, the prime ski season, the village was filled with tourists, most speaking English and hailing from England or Ireland. Since we had so much time before the game, we walked around for a while and a few of the guys even stopped for a coffee at the Dixie Bar (Irish Pub).  Most of the people spoke English and even the servers struggled when one of our French players tried ordering a coffee. Though in France, in that place, French was a foreign language. After spending 15 euro for 7 saucissons in St. Gervais, it was only fitting to continue with the trend and add some great cheese to the mix. Here I spent roughly 20 euro on 750g of Comté and 500g of Tomme de Savoie!  I must maintain some control here as I could get pretty fat if I don't eat this stuff in moderation.

Since we eat around 1pm, I usually pack a few sandwiches to hold me over until after the game, but this time it was not enough and I found myself very very hungry at the rink. And to make things even worse, as I was warming up in the stands, doing some stair runs, there was a group of about 35 kids on a field trip, sitting together in a section, waiting for the game to start. No big deal right?  Well I did not mention that they were all eating Croque Monsieurs!!!  I could just see the melted ham and cheese and I actually had to leave the section and continue my pre game warm up elsewhere because I nearly snatched one right of out an unsuspecting French kid's hand. 

In the game, my hunger still very present, was now channeled to wanting to win, instead of wanting to eat as many grilled ham and cheese sandwiches as I could.  We were down 3-1 in the third period but we still believed we could win.  We got an early power play and I was able to get us to within a goal when my wrist shot from the blue line went off the post and off the goalie's back and trickled in. Petrak tied it for us with about 4 minutes left to play in the game off a scramble in front. Then 10 minutes of overtime settled nothing so we were headed for a shootout....

We shot first as our captain Jan Plch was stopped on a shot to the blocker side, then goalie Eero Vare made a huge save, doing the splits to stop the Morzine player. Chassard was our next shooter and he made a great move to his backhand and scored, putting us up 1-0 in the shootout, but their next shooter scored tying it 1-1. I was called upon to shoot 3rd and I made no mistake ripping one 5 hole giving us the lead and putting lots of pressure on Morzine's final shooter. Eero made the stop and our comeback was complete! 

Being in the Alpes again, I thought for sure Tartiflette, it is cold, it is the season, here we go!  But no, it was a steak with a pepper sauce and fries. A pretty good meal, something that you might get at the Keg Steakhouse back home, so I was delighted to eat that.  

Tomorrow night is big though, we have lost 3 times to Neuilly (twice in coupe de la ligue, once in regular season), as they sit at the bottom of the standings, but coming off a close 3-2 loss to Rouen. We have to score a few early and break their spirits to earn the win.

On a side note, yesterday was my sister Elise's 39th Birthday!!! Happy Birthday Lise, love you!!!

Monday, 12 January 2009

Alpes x2

So after arriving early at 5:30am Sunday morning from our game against Mont Blanc in St. Gervais, I spent most of the morning sleeping. This is normal for us to arrive early in the morning after a weekend game, but we usually don't follow it up with another long trip on 3 days later to a place just as far and only 54.9km away from where we played on Saturday night. The idea was tossed around a bit about staying in the Alpes for both games, practicing there and hopefully coming home with 2 wins.

That didn't happen, so as per usual we had our team workout this morning and will practice tonight before leaving again on that same route tomorrow morning at 9:30am.

In St. Gervais, I was not only impressed with the name of the town (haha), but the quality of the ice they had in their rink would have to rank up there with the best I've ever skated on. I would say second only to GM Place in Vancouver where the Canucks play. A few years ago at UBC our team played 4 games there, but that is NHL ice, this is France we are talking about here. Some of the reason for such great ice could have something to do with the -15 temperatures inside the rink. You could even see your breath on the bench in between shifts!  

In all seriousness, it was a pretty solid road game for us, finnish goalie Eero Vare played very solid in net, after giving up a weak goal in the first period. With his solid play in net, we were able to cruise to a 5-1 victory with yet again a depleted lineup. Missing Jan Simko and still Ilpo Salmivirta from our lineup. Other changes saw the forward lines being moved around with our lack of scoring as Alex Sundquist, centered a line with Jan Plch and Tarik Chipaux, and the 2nd unit had Petrak centering Chassard and Papelier. The changes must have sparked Chassard as he delivered a much needed 2 goals and Papelier added an empty netter.

So back to the Alpes tomorrow as we will face Morzine, a team loaded with all French players and we will look for some revenge as they beat us earlier this season in our own rink and also handed us 2 losses last season as well. 

Sunday, 4 January 2009

Loss for us-Win for Canada

We knew we were in tough facing the high powered offense of Rouen last night, but we were hoping the new year would bring us some much needed luck!  We lost 6-2 at home to start off the month of January and it was the direct result of defensive breakdowns. In fact, 5 of the 6 goals were 2 on 1 tap ins, and the other went off the foot of Fabien Leroy. 

Our next test will be a week from today against Mont Blanc in St. Gervais. I will be sure to buy a post card from this place as it bears my family name!  Then we play on Tuesday in Morzine, both game are in the Alps and a few nights stay would be a huge benefit, rather than making two trips up there on the bus. We still do not have any confirmation if we will be able to stay over night in the Alps for a few days, but with the way our team is rolling right now, struggling to score goals and making glaring defensive mistakes, we could use this trip to try and bond a bit and come together as a team to get out of this funk.

Both Mont Blanc and Morzine are below us in the standings, and with the high altitude playing a role, it is always tough to win up there.  Last season we were able to beat Mont Blanc in overtime but really took one on the chin in Morzine losing by at least 5 goals.  

On another note, for any Canadian, Christmas time means vacation, presents, spiced rum and egg nog, but possibly most important is the World Junior Hockey Championships!!!  Last night after our tough loss, I was getting ready for bed when I realized the Canada/Russia Semi Final game was just starting.  I tuned in on the online scoreboard for a bit but could not get any audio to work. The teams were going back and forth trading goals. As the game continued, I was not sure if my roommate and fellow Canadian, Ryan Caicco was sleeping or not....

So instead of going down 1 flight of stairs to his room to check, I remained in my bed like a corps and just signed on to MSN Messenger to see if he was online. He was but did not know the game was on.  I gave him the link and he was listening to it live on TSN immediately and at that point it was the 3rd period and tied 4-4, so I decided to get my butt out of bed and go down to his room to listen in with him. As soon as I got down there, Russia scored with just over 2 minutes remaining. SHIT!!!  So here we are, sitting on the floor in his room, huddled around his laptop with a blank screen and the voice of Gord Miller and Pierre McGuire telling us that Canada has now pulled their goalie and time is ticking down. This scene here in France must replicate what it was like for many people in the 40s and 50s listening on the radio to Foster Hewitt's play-by-play on Hockey Night in Canada..."Hello Canada, and hockey fans in the United States and Newfoundland" (note- Newfoundland was a British Colony, before joining Canada in 1949) But everybody knows that right?

Anyways, there we are time is ticking down, 10, 9, 8, 7, then Gord Miller's voice starts racing, John Tavares wins a battle along the boards and sends a backhand to the net, it is blocked by a Russian defenseman, but then quickly scooped up and deposited into the back of the net by Jordan Eberle. "TIE GAME!!!!" Only 5 seconds left.  I immediately jumped up, having no idea what to do, I raced over to Caicco's neatly made bed and did a flip and landed on it, jumped back up for a standard two handed high five with my fellow compatriot. Did I mention it was 4am in France??? 

The game goes into overtime and Ryan and I are dying because we cannot watch it. "Wait, I have a plan!" I call my dad and have him sign into Skype, so now I have him on the web cam in Windsor, and having him manipulate his Macbook so that his camera will face the TV screen in my parents basement. PERFECT!!!  This is as close to home as I've been since last April.  So now we are watching the game live, and the overtime ends after 10 minutes and we are heading for a shootout.  Holy crap, this is out of control, it is now 4:30am, 3 of our roommates are asleep and we are just going nuts (roommate's nationalities are as follows: Finnish, French, American- all are out of the tournament).  

As this blog entry is getting long, I will sum it up as this... Canada scored on their first 2 shots in the shootout to seal the victory and head for a gold medal showdown with Team Sweden. A rematch of last year's gold medal game, which I missed as I was in the hospital getting my teeth taken care of from that errant puck that so perfectly crushed 8 of my teeth. 

Only fitting to mention the TSN Turning Point. TSN chose the game tying goal with 5 seconds left to play, but my TSN (France) Turning Point was my dad setting up his computer so we could watch the overtime and shootout! Thanks Dad