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Sunday, February 26, 2006

Sweden gets the gold

Well, my family went dark on the internet for a week. It was also a week that had the best hockey I've seen in so short a period. Because of the wedding of Wolfkeeper and Holly, I've had the chance to meet so many of the posters on Wolfkeeper.org face to face. I watched great Olympic hockey, what did you guys watch?

On Sunday morning, during the great gold medal match, the three NBC guys were discussing hockey. Which is better NHL, or the Olympic/ World championships? They all agreed it was the NHL.

I had to think about this. The Olympics are a different animal than the Stanley Cup competition: a sprint versus a marathon. Wide-open play versus the compression of the North American rink. I lov this game, played both international style and North American style. Those differences are rubbing the right parts. There is an intensity to the play I've seen these past weeks that is not present in the Stanley Cup or Calder Cup races. I like the race to the finish in the NHL and AHL, but when you strip it all away, it's really about money. There is elan' in the Olympic tournament that is unmatched in the NHL.

For me, as a fan, I loved to watch Italy, even knowing it had no chance, in this tournament. Although I had no stake, I felt the intense emotions of the Finns as they lost this morning to the Swedes.

One of the reasons I followed the Finns was that Antero Nittymaki was in the goal. Of all the people on the ice against the Wolves last season, he is the person I was most deeply impressed by. I've never met the man, yet, he has continued to be short-changed by the Philadephia fans and the AHL media despite his key roll in defeating the Wolves Calder Cup campaign in 2005. And, I've identified with him as a result of the backhanded treatment he's received by Philadelphia fans and the AHL East Coast media.

If I hadn't followed the Wolves, a minor league team, Nittymaki wouldn't have shown up on my radar. I understand that hockey is Canada's real national sport. I hope the International Olympic Committee continues to support hockey and offer improvements. I'm so happy it has become my personal sports interest.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Rockford Ice Hogs and the Olympics

The Rockford Ice Hogs, who I've briefly written about here, have an 11 game winning streak going, have run away with the Western Division (? Conference) and are just two games from tying the longest winning streak in UHL history. Assuming they beat Fort Wayne tonight in Rockford, they'll play to tie the record in Flint Friday and then break it in Muskegon on Saturday.

Two key Hogs are not on the ice as crunch time comes. Michel Robinson, has been given a try out by the Milwaukee Admirals. Robinson has been up and down before. He was here at one time in the season during the worst of the turnstyle days. He was on the bench in Chicago just days ago, called up by the Crunch. Released today, he was quickly grabbed by a Milwaukee team that has sudden goalie problems. He was named UHL rookie of the month and goalie of the month this month.

Bob Nardella is captain of the Italian Olympic team. Nardela is a guy you often see in Wolves colors at the end of the season and the post-season. It seems we often need defence help, and Bob has been there for the Wolves for 1994-2004. He was also a member of the Milan (Italy) club and Alleghe, also of Italy.

Bob has played with the Wolves in each post season, except last season and 2002-3. The Italian team, of course, are there as a courtesy to the host country. Italy would not have been able to compete otherwise this year. Go Bob.

They may be affiliated with the Ads, but go Hogs.

The Olympic flame always burns a bit brighter when someone you have seen at this level is out there. Personally, we were hoping a niece would compete, sadly she withdrew last year. Instead we have Nardela and two goalies: Antero Nittymaki of the Philadelphia Flyers is third goalie for Finland. I credit Nittymaki with shutting the Wolves out of the Calder Cup last year. Without Nittymaki, who was then playing for the Phantoms, the final series would have been very different. I'll be hoping for metal for Antero.

Another net minder, one who I hope gets crushed, is Ilya Bryzgalov of Russia. Now in his second Olympics. I know he was expected to be the third choice for Russia in goal. He isn't on the roster right now, I hope that continues. This cheap shot artist now plays for the Ducks of Anaheim. Last year, while playing for the team formerly known as the Ducks of Cincinnati, he was in net against Chicago. Karl Stewart made a break away, was tripped by one of the defending Ducks, slammed into the boards-- unconscious. It's bad enough that Stewart was given a penalty on a play that sidelined him with a concussion for most of the rest of the playoffs. This Russian cheap shot artist in goal proceeded to slash the unconscious Stewart.

A lot can be written about former minor league hockey in Cincinatti, I think that incident will forever sum my thought on their play.

Friday, February 10, 2006

The NHL Refs are here

The good news this week, for AHL fans, is that the NHL has sent its experienced refs to the AHL during the Olympic break as a refresher. The bad news is that it appears that Harry Dumas continues to ref AHL games after a terrible game in Binghamton, January 20 versus Wilkes Barre/ Scranton.

In that game, Dumas, who has a ranking among the ten worst refs in the NHL, according to the web site Internet Sports Ranking DB, awarded 121 minutes of penalties, most in the second period, to Binghamton, versus 35 minutes to Wilkes-Barre.

One of the minor reasons I've not been able to write recently is a struggle with the issue of Harry Dumas. He is as much a block to my writing at the moment as he is to an enjoyable hockey experience. It is easy, too easy, to blame Harry Dumas for everything that went wrong recently in the game between Wilkes-Barre/ Scranton and Binghamton. Let's lay out a few thankless ideas: The Senators lost control and were rewarded with a lot of penalties. The calls were 12 minutes against the B-Sens in the first period, two of which were in the final eight seconds of the period, 107 minutes in the second period, two minutes in the third period.

The Senators hadn't lost their cool yet in the first period and they had regained their composure in the final period. I think that the first and third period of Senator play demonstrates a central thesis I believe about sports: players and coaches must adjust to the official. The Senators were able to do that in the final period. They were not in the second frame.

I also feel, that whatever wrath Dumas deserves, Senator fans should look at their own organization for the reasons the team couldn't discipline itself enough to adjust to Dumas. Lack of discipline, could it be a reason the team sucks this year?

At the end of the first frame, the score was already 2-0 Pens. The Senators were already behind, and the poor officiating hadn't even begun yet. The fact is, the Senators needed to play a more disciplined game of hockey in the final frames to win, and they didn't. And, they lost.

Why was I surprised that Dumas continues to work in the AHL? Well, there appears to be a hole in the schedule, no Dumas, a little Dumas, then no Dumas again. From what I can research, it appears that Dumas was assigned to a game on January 22 between Hamilton and Toronto. After that, the next games I can find are a pair of games involving Wilkes-Barre in February, two weeks ago.

I asked the AHL to respond to the seeming light load award Mr. Dumas. They have not responded. Undoubtedly, two of the reasons his load is light is the arrival of the NHL officials and the AHLAll-Star game.

But, Dumas lacks the maturity that is necessary to officiate heated contests. Fans are not paying to see games in which the officiating is the issue. Fans are not paying to see games in which the outcome is cast in doubt by poor league management.

The on ice official must share responsibility for the management of the game. Dumas, who was challenged by Bingo players to explain his calls throughout the second period, responded by penalizing these attempts. Clearly Dumas didn't have to explain anything, and he didn't. And because he didn't, the game became a farce.

What you'll note about having the NHL refs on AHL ice this month is that they are explaining their calls. For a related story on the burn-out of minor league referees.