The good, the bad and the ugly in hockey on Saturday
Sunday, 6 January 2008
The Good: Canada Golden Again at World Juniors
Congratulations to Team Canada for winning its fourth consecutive gold medal at the IIHF World Junior Championship in the Czech Republic. A couple of days ago, I questioned whether Canada’s mental focus was where it needed to be heading into a potential final with the Russians. Of course, that never materialized, although it easily could have, as it took overtime for Sweden to oust Russia in the semi-finals.
Today’s gold medal game could also have gone to Sweden, which racked up a 14-3 shots-on-goal edge in the third period to tie it up at 2-2 before Matt Halischuk’s in-tight OT winner. This Canadian team was probably not as strong as any of the four national teams that preceded it (including the 2004 edition that fell to the USA on Marc-Andre Fleury’s own goal), but it found a way to win, as Canada proverbially does.
Significant players should be available to return in 2009 for both Canada (John Tavares, Steven Stamkos, Zach Boychuk, Thomas Hickey etc.) and Sweden (Oscar Moller, Victor Hedman, Mikael Backlund, Magnus Svensson-Paajarvi etc.). It wouldn’t be surprising at all to see these two nations square off again for bragging rights in Ottawa. Certainly, the Swedish team this year showed more cohesiveness than any recent American entry.
The Bad and the Ugly: Downie Gives Hockey (and Jason Blake) Another Black Eye
Would someone please explain what Steve Downie of the Philadelphia Flyers is doing in the NHL? It’s not a matter of whether the rookie 20-year-old winger is capable of playing in this league: we all know he’s a gritty, intense difference-maker who likes to stir the pot and brings a playmaking dimension, blah blah blah.
But based on the sucker punch Downie threw at Toronto’s Jason Blake on Saturday, I say: “Go ahead. Suspend Downie for the rest of the year. He has obviously learned nothing from the 20-game ban he received for his cowardly headshot on Ottawa’s Dean McAmmond in pre-season.” The punch left Blake with a massive welt under his left eye, and it was delivered while Blake was being restrained by a linesman along the boards and was totally unaware of what was coming. It was a completely reckless and malicious attack on a guy who’s not even a fighter. (Even Don Cherry disapproved, for crying out loud.) Let’s say Blake’s head was one inch lower. He could have suffered permanent damage to his eye. Much like Chris Simon’s attempted skate-stomping of Jarkko Ruutu, this act deserves to be punished based on how bad it could have been.
For a guy in his first NHL season, Downie hasn’t taken long to establish himself as one of the dirtiest and most psychopathic players around. That grin is pretty telling. Downie should be looking for alternative employment alongside Simon.