Turning Japanese: Team Canada and the dreaded Nagano shootout

Jagr and Gretzky shake hands post game. (Photo: Kathy Willens)
Jagr and Gretzky shake hands post game. (Photo: Kathy Willens)

It’s Olympic season so I thought I’d take a little trip down memory lane. It’s not such a great memory but one that sticks out of Canada’s hockey history like a sore thumb. The lessons learned at the 1998 Olympics in Nagano, Japan were pivotal to the shape of how Team Canada creates and maintains it’s roster in the present time. Sit back and enjoy the tale of Team Canada and Czech Republic’s quest for hockey gold.

The 1998 Canadian Men’s Olympic hockey team came into Nagano looking for a score to settle with the United States. Just two years earlier, the US captured gold at the 1996 World Cup. What both teams didn’t expect though, was neither of them even medaling.

The Canadian team was put together with once again gold in mind. With it being the first time the National Hockey League would take a break from their regular season and allow NHL players to compete, household names such as Patrick Roy, Steve Yzerman, Joe Sakic, Scott Stevens, and Martin Brodeur complemented the greatest player in the world. That player named Wayne Gretzky.

With a stacked team at hand, Team Canada made its way to the medal round with a perfect 3-0 record. Wins came from the beatings of Belarus, Sweden and the aforementioned Team USA. While coming into the game against Kazakhstan a bit cocky, the hockey gods bestowed its power against the red and white. Proving just anything can happen in Olympic sport, Joe Sakic strained a knee ligament and was out for the rest of the tournament. The not so good turning point for Team Canada.

Hasek. Fleury.
Hasek and Fleury.

Entering the semifinals against the Czech Republic, Team Canada again once had the advantage. The Czechs iced a team that at the time only had 10 players on its roster playing in the NHL. Things were neck and neck and anxiety was at an all time high as both teams entered the third period with a score knotted at one.

The Canadian team was carefully put together by none other than Mr. Broadstreet Bully, Bobby Clarke. With a little input from head coach Marc Crawford, the Team Canada brass was beaming with pride with their selections. On paper, there was no way anyone could come close. Back home, some of the choices were controversial. Eric Lindros was named captain ahead of the likes of Gretzky, Yzerman and Raymond Borque. Clarke’s pick of Lindros may have been a bit biased as he was General Manager of Lindros’ Flyers at the time. A sleeper pick that had heads shaking was Rob Zamuner. Continue reading “Turning Japanese: Team Canada and the dreaded Nagano shootout”

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Australian Nathan Walker invited to Washington Capitals Rookie Camp

In a historic moment for international hockey, Australian player Nathan Walker has been invited to the Washington Capitals rookie camp and could become the first Australian to play in the National Hockey League.

(Photo credit: USHL.com)
(Photo credit: USHL.com)

Walker is already over in North America suiting up for the Youngstown Phantoms of the USHL. He began his career in Australia at the age of 6 and was dominating the compeition. As a result, he was scouted by a coach from Slovakia and was invited to play for HC Vítkovice of the Czech Extraliga. During the offseason, he returned home and kept his form up by playing for the Sydney Ice Dogs of the Australian Ice Hockey League .

The majority of his career has been spent in the Czech Reupublic. However, at the age of 19, he has already participated in the Spengler Cup, won gold with Team Australia in 2011 at the IIHF World Championships (Division II) and played in the 2013 USHL/NHL Top Prospects game. If only the Canadian Hockey League could get his hands on him, he’d have all of North America covered!

For a second straight year, Walker was passed upon by all 30 NHL teams in the entry draft. They are definitely missing out on a top quality offensive forward. At 19 years old and a solid 5’10 frame, Walker is yet to fill himself out. He would be a welcome addition on any team, regardless of league stature. In his 29 games with Youngstown earlier this year, he notched an impressive 27 points. If it wasn’t for injuries, he was well on his way to notching 50. He has the tools to become a point a game player.

(Photo: ushl.com)
(Photo: ushl.com)

The dream is alive. Nathan Walker wants to become the first Australian to play in the National Hockey League. I have no doubt that he will.

SOCHI 2014: Team Czech Republic

Czech Mate!

6929Time to look at one of my personal favourites going into Sochi 2014, Team Czech Republic. The Czechs have been on the podium in the past 3 World Championships and are not going to go down without a fight. In Vancouver they finished a distant 7th but don’t count them out as the IIHF has them ranked 3rd in the world. That’s saying something.

2010 Winter Olympic GamesThey have a depth of talent on the forward front. Lead by veterans Jaromir Jagr and Patrick Elias, look for David Krejci, Jiri Hudler, Tomas Plekanec and Jakub Voracek to all earn their keep.

On the defensive side, Marek Zidlicky and possibly Tomas Kaberle could be your first lining pair. Along with Filip Kuba and Roman Hamrlik, these are two strong defensive pairings. Almost wall like. As long as Kuba doesn’t play like he did in Ottawa.

ondrej-pavelecGoaltending has a wealth of depth as well. Winnipeg’s Ondrej Pavelec will definitely start followed by Tomas Vokoun and Michal Neuvirth. All 3 have had plenty of experience under pressure situations and well be sure to be rock solid.

One thing’s for sure, don’t count out the Czechs.

Q&A With Cornwall River King, Alex Bourret

Alex Bourret is a feisty right-winger who grew up in Quebec. Being drafted 16th overall in the first round of the 2005 NHL Entry Draft to the Atlanta Thrashers, Bourret  has played in many leagues both here and across the pond. Last season he started off with the Cornwall River Kings and then finished up in Russia. This season, he’s back in the River Kings line up for his second year.

March Hockey: How does the style of of play in Russia compare to that of North America like the LNAH or ECHL for example? What was it like with the language barrier?

WIth Brno Kometa of the Czech Republic.
WIth Brno Kometa of the Czech Republic.

Alex Bourret: I’ve played in Russia, South Korea, Czech Republic and the language barrier has always been hard (they don’t speak any English or they’re not willing to try). It’s a different game overseas, ice is bigger and it is less physical but they can play hockey that for sure.

MH: Wait a minute….South Korea?! What was THAT like?

AB: They treat you real good over there. Japan, China, nicest hotels and private jets; Everything! But hockey is another story…

MH: Are the fans/players/teams just us passionate as us Canadians are for the game?

AB: Yes they are!! Some don’t know much about hockey; It’s more a big party for them but when you hear 15 000 people  screaming for 2 hours,  it’s great. Gives you a lot of energy.

MH: Growing up who was your biggest influence on your style of play??

AB: I always compare myself to guys like Sean Avery and Darcy Tucker. I like the way they play and they are not the biggest guys either.

MH: You’re a bit of a fighter, who’s the toughest player to go toe to toe with you?

With the San Antonio Rampage of the Central Hockey League
With the San Antonio Rampage of the AHL.

AB: I remember one night in junior playing in Rimouski against Sidney Crosby. I was all over him and at one point Eric Nelson, (one of the tough guys at the time), asked me to go. Probably to scare me, I told him “Let’s go big guy!” with a BIG smile. I did pretty good on that one.

MH: And finally, if you could play with any player past or present, who would it be and why?

AB: Probably Thomas Beauregard. He was my linemate with the Wichita Thunder a year ago and we did good together. He is a sniper and I’m more of a hard-working forward.