Sunday, January 6, 2013

Red, White, Blue & GOLD

For me, the real hockey season has come and gone (regardless of the news by the NHL & NHLPA out of New York City this morning) and I believe I'm not alone in my feelings. I'm speaking of the World Junior Hockey Championships, recently concluded in Ufa Russia.

From Boxing Day to yesterday, the best junior aged male hockey players on the planet displayed their considerable talents (albeit at 0130 in the morning on occasion for those of us on the left coast of North America [thank you PVR]). And this year, all the best junior players were available thanks to the NHL lockout so no Canadian excuses that some of their best juniors were playing professionally in that league.

Congratulations to Team U.S.A. and the coaching staff for winning the gold medal! As I said on my Facebook page, once again we are reminded that it's not how you start, it's how you finish! The Americans did not start fast. In fact, in their group, they suffered two defeats which in past years might have put that team on the next aircraft home with no chance for a medal of any kind. But their group w/l record did qualify the team wearing red, white & blue for the medal round but forced them to win three games back-to-back-to-back to claim the title, which of course, is exactly what the team did.

Attitude going into the medal round I'm sure played a prominent role with the key game being the first one, the quarter-final. In the semi-final and final, they were playing with "house money" as both of their opponents had avoided the quarter-final by winning their group (Canada & Sweden). Certainly in the game with their continental compatriots it was obvious to me that the Canadians were playing "not to lose" while the Americans played "to win". Playing not to lose is never a good idea!

The bye to the semi-final or final in any sporting event is fraught with danger. Ed Werenich ("TheWrench") was once asked about playing semi-final games as opposed to advancing to the final. He said that there was only one downside to having to play a semi-final. You might lose! He understood "momentum" or "being on a roll". Ask the Detroit Tigers about waiting several days for their World Series opponent in their last two appearances in "The Fall Classic". In our sport, the Page System has seen many bye-to-the-final teams go down in the title game. I'm to the point that I'm not so sure that it's worth winning that 1v2 game and I'm dead serious when I say that. It's more difficult to get it going than it is to keep it going!

As the group stage of the tournament concluded, I felt that Team U.S.A. was "the dangerous team". There's always one in every event. It's the team with "low expectations" and "high trust in their skills". As I've said before, don't misunderstand that "low expectations" part. That's the "playing with house money" term used above. It's the release of the pressure valve that "going for the gold"* (are you listening Canada?) that's in place many times for one's opponents. Marry that with complete faith that the players and the team have the tools needed to perform, and you have the "dark horse" or as I prefer, the most "dangerous team" in the playoffs. So no surprise here that Team U.S.A. are World Junior Hockey Champions! From a Canadian supporter, thanks Team U.S.A. for bringing the WJHC trophy back to North America.

As I also pointed out on my Facebook page, there was irony in that American triumph and it came in the persons of John Gibson (Team USA goalkeeper) and Team Canada coach, Steve Spott. Gibson, clearly the best player on Team USA throughout the tournament, plays in the Canadian Hockey League for the team in my hometown, The Kitchener Rangers. Guess who coaches The Kitchener Rangers? You got it, Steve Spott. Should be an interesting next home game for the Rangers in the Kitchener Memorial Auditorium! I'm sure my fellow citizens in Kitchener will applaud enthusiastically for John's success!

* In one of my favourite movies, clips of which I use frequently with teams, "Cool Runnings", there's a scene near the end in which John Candy's character as the Jamaican bob sleigh team coach, is asked to explain by one of the Jamaican team members, why as a bob sleigh driver he "cheated". After attempting to justify his actions with the "win at all costs" explanation, the athlete said that he still couldn't understand why he threw is all away for a gold medal.  Finally Coach Blitzer said,"If you not enough without the gold medal, you'll never be enough with it!"

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