Friday 02 Dec 2016

Olympic Hockey 2014
Bob Stark

Many of the great ruins that grace the deserts and jungles of the earth are monuments to progress traps, the headstones of civilizations which fell victim to their own success. In the fates of such societies – once mighty, complex, and brilliant – lie the most instructive lessons ... they are fallen airliners whose black boxes can tell us what went wrong.

Ronald Wright
A Short History of Progress

The world is full of ancient ruins and monuments to past civilizations, many of which remain mysterious and only reveal their meaning one stone or grain of sand at a time. Stonehenge, the various stone circles in Scotland and the Pyramids are ready examples.

The one mystery that intrigues me the most are the monolithic stone carvings of Easter Island, called the Moai.

"Archaeologists,” according to Wikipedia (sic), “believe that the statues were a representation of the ancient Polynesian’s ancestors. The Moai statues face away from the ocean and towards the villages, as if to watch over the people. The exception is the seven Ahu Akivi, which face out to sea to help travelers find the island."

The third chapter, of “A Short History of Progress” called, appropriately, "Fools” Paradise,” examines the rise and fall of two civilisations, Sumer and Easter Island. Both flourished, but collapsed due to resource depletion; both societies were able to see their land, as it eroded, but were unwilling to reform. On Easter Island, logging, in order to erect statues and build boats, destroyed their ecosystem and led to wars over the last planks of wood.

 If you look at photographs of the statues, you will note that some are more heads, set or sinking, in the ground, than full bodies. One even looks like Bart Simpson if one stretches the visual cortex imagination centre or, maybe, that was the alcohol taking effect. In any case, not one of the faces appears joyful or happy, but austere, bleak or foreboding. If they had arms and fingers, their stone digits would likely be pointing at us in a “tsk, tsk” manner.

I have my doubts that the ones facing the ocean are to help travelers reach shore. My own take is that they could be warnings to stay far away.

As for stone faces pointing toward the inhabitants and their being there, in the first place, could represent a last gasp ritual by the quickly falling society to appease their gawds. This is much like the Mayans and other lost societies who in their final days turn to their gods even as it seemed those gods and their human conveyors, the local priests or shamans, had no power at all to avert the oncoming ecological disaster and societal collapse. These monuments stand as ceremonial burial sites - "we were here ... and by the way don”t be as stupid as us." Black boxes indeed.

As the world stands on the brink of several climate-tipping points, perhaps we slide towards the same end. Our “burying our heads in the sand” monuments, like the statues on Easter Island, may well be our Olympic structures. In Greece, something like 21-of-24 legacy venues from their Olympics stand empty and unused, at a cost of several million dollars per year each to maintain. Are these more black boxes?

In such desperate times, one can never overlook the warnings of our poets who may have better insight and power than any priests or shamans. In that regard, one of my favourite poems is from Percy Bysshe Shelley, “Ozymandias,”

I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed:
And on the pedestal these words appear:
"My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty and despair!"
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

Given the outrageous costs of Sochi’s Winter Games 2014, these thoughts I could not suppress, even if I am guilty of burying my own head in the sand.

Let the Games begin.

I do enjoy the competitive nature of the Olympics. Watching the “slope style snowboard” competition, one is in awe at the beauty as well as the risks involved in seeing young bucks fly through the air, twisting and turning and landing, something this old fossil will never attempt in this lifetime!

Alas, it has also gotten a bit crazy re the flag-waving and emphasis on the medal count. Although the games remain a much more positive engagement between countries than war, I was struck by one TV clip from Russia wherein the country’s Olympic athletes were being blessed by the clergy, smoke and hand-signs in full swing, while Putin smiled and gave his support to the “troops.” It reminded me of the ritual of sending soldiers off to the Crusades!

Ice Hockey: women

Few would predict a gold medal final that doesn’t pit the American forces against those of Canada. Women’s hockey still is in development, in many nation states and the Yanks and Canucks should dominate. Perhaps, as home country, the Russians we should not disregard them, nor should the Finns or the Swedes.

The odds-makers suggest that Canada, in both men’s and women’s hockey, will repeat as gold medalists. Favourites, however, do falter.

In preliminary games between the US and Canada, the Americans, without their best player, kind of creamed us. T’is true, Canada was dealing with a new coach mid-exhibition season and time has passed since. With nothing at stake, Canada said they were experimenting and not showing their true Olympic game plan.

There are strong rules about hitting and so forth, but the refs seem to ignore those rules once the puck drops against these two rivals, who pretty much disdain each other with a deep passion.

Some of our players are getting a little long in the tooth. “Hayley’s Comet” is no longer the dominate player of old. Yet, she still has game and who knows; maybe she’ll shine on the International stage one more time. We will need our recent youth movement to come up big, as well as our usual suspects. Our goalie may have to steal one.

Alas, dear friends, I am going to pick the USA. It’ll be close; maybe it’ll even take overtime or a Shoot-out to win.

I hope I’m wrong. Go Canada Go!

Ice Hockey: men

Okay, unless there are dark forces afoot, the following teams aren’t “threats” to any one’s homeland security: Slovenia, Austria, Norway and Latvia.

The Czechs

There are two unknown KHL goalies and Pavelek from the Winterpeg Jets. Unless one of the KHL goalies is a dark horse, Pavelek will have to play better than he has so far this season in the NHL.

Defence is adequate but certainly not overwhelming. Thomas Kaberle? Well ya never know who might rise out of ashes when they put on their country’s uniform.

This team has a few good forwards who will likely need to keep the puck in the other team’s end, a great deal. Speaking of ancient, how bout Peter Nedved!

Prediction: the Czechs could surprise any team in a winner-take-all one-game quarterfinal, remember Nagano? Alas, I would give the Slovaks a better chance at that and thank world politics that these players have separate countries now!

Slovakia

In nets, it is likely to be Halak or Budaj. Either one, especially Halak, could carry his team to the medal round.

The Big Z, Chara, will not only carry the flag into the stadium opening ceremonies, he will carry many opponents into the corner. He’ll play in every important situation and likely won’t leave the ice unless he has to pee. Even then, don’t count on that. Meszaros and Visnosky aw well as Sekera will aid and abet Zedano on the Blueline.

Upfront, Marian Hossa is the most recognizable name. Again, there are European players who are unknown factors. This is where a good coach can come in and meld a “team.” Yet, although they have a definite edge in my opinion on defence and in goal, in comparison to the Czechs, it may be a struggle to put the black rubber thing in the opponent’s net.

Prediction: I like the Czechs; the Slovs could make it to the medal round if they get hot goal-tending and timely goals. They’ve played the underdog role well in previous world tournaments. Overall, however, any medal round entry would have to be considered an upset, as in 2010 when they knocked-off the Swedes in the quarter-finals and almost did the same to Canada in the semi-finals.

The Swiss

I usually have a habit of misspelling that as “Swizz.” Many teams, including Canada, have misread this team’s strengths, at times, almost to their demise. Almost is the word. Can they be a surprise, dark horsey thing? Don’t misspell this name. “Zees” are for snoozers. Snooze and ya lose.

Jonas Hiller is likely going to have the job in goal. Retto Bera, of the Flames will be the next best bet. Hiller will be a UFA in the NHL this summer unless the Ducks sign him. In any case, he will be displaying his talents as best he can under the big top. Look out if he gets hot.

Hey look! The Canucks may feature two defencemen, in Weber and, recently, acquired Diaz. Alas, Weber is hurt and his chances of playing now are not high. The other NHLers are Streit and Josi. The former has been a bit of a disappointment in Philadelphia. Josi is from Nashville Cats Nation. Nuff said. The Preds are masters at developing excellent d-men. The other four players are from the Swiss league. Ergo: who knows, the Swiss will need everybody at the top of their game, or even Hiller will not survive.

Upfront here is where we get back to the “team” concept. Only 2 NHLers - Brunner and Niederrieter, but a whole whack of Swiss league-guys who may already have a lot of chemistry together. In a short time span, team chemistry can go a long way.

Prediction: depending on how things go in the first round, I would make these guys the definite dark horse ahead of either the Czechs or Slovs. No one expects the Spanish Inquisition. No one will expect a Swiss Army Knife either. Take this team lightly and you’ll be checking your boarding pass home.

Team Teemu Selanne aka Finland

Now, we’re getting into serious challengers, starting with the Finns goalies as well as Tuukka Rask, Antti Niemi or Kari Lehtonen. Rask or Niemi will get the nod as numero uno. Niemi has won a Cup, but Rask may be the lead contender. Perhaps all three will get a game in the first round; maybe the best threesome in the tournament.

The weakness however may be on the blue line. The two with the most NHL experience, Sami Salo and Kimmo Timonen are getting a little long in the tooth. Everybody says the larger ice surface will be a determining factor. Speed can and will kill. Supporting NHL cast are Vatanen (Ducks) and Maatta (Pens). It will depend on the pairings and the talent of the unknown European players who will fill out the other four spots.

Again, with four KHL players upfront it’s not easy to completely assess the overall strength of this team’s offensive prowess. Let’s just say that the line-up doesn’t send shivers up my spine, down my back, or into my jockey shorts. What we do know is, as always, the Finns come prepared to boogie. Their stature at all international levels has gone from “close but no cigar” to hoisting medals, including Gold.

Prediction: Canada is the only known opposition in the opening round, the Finns will finish no lower than second in their grouping. From there, with all teams, it depends on whom one dances with and what music they choose. There will be some surprises, upsets, as well as some teams growing better as the competition moves into the elimination round. I think the dream ends here for the Finns - in the quarterfinals - no matter the match-up, but one great game by Rask or Niemi could put much sad faces on the opposing team.

Team USA

Miller, Howard and Quick are the goaltending tandem. Miller was arguably the best goalie in Vancouver. Quick took the Kings to a Cup. Little Jimmy can be brilliant but is likely third man here. Both Quick and Howard have had injuries. Are they healthy? Quick has suffered from a lack of scoring in L.A., to which Miller might reply, "Tell me about it"! Despite tending goal for the worst team in the league, Buffalo, Miller has excellent numbers. As the silver-medalist in Vancouver, it’s his job to lose in my opinion. He will be heavily motivated to get to the next level on the podium.

This is the first team herein that has a full complement of NHLers on defence. While there were rumblings about Handle and others overlooked, this is more than a fine selection of blue liners. With Miller in nets, most games should be low-scoring affairs, which will make the Yanks a definite contender.

Upfront, again, all NHL calibre players as well as a combination of leadership, grit, speed and scoring ability. Yikes!

Prediction: the Americans, barring an upset, should make it to the final four. None of the other projected semi-finalists should get comfortable if they have to face them. Personally, if it comes down to a showdown between Canada and the US, let it be in the Gold Medal game.

The Rooskies

Bobrosky or Varlamov will battle it out for the starting job unless the Russians go back-and-forth, which may not be a bad strategy given the number of games in such a short time-span. Neither has faced this kind of pressure ever!

IF the home squad has a disadvantage, it may be on defence. In this area, I would put the Americans ahead of them. With the goal-tending not as experienced as some of the other contenders, the Rooskies will have to rely on that home field advantage and their crowd cheering them to victory.

Upfront, they have Malkin, Ovechkin, Semin, Kovalchuk and, if healthy, the master, Datsyuk. Throw in a Ragulov and others from the KHL and the other teams must be ready for an onslaught. Under no circumstances can any team take a penalty, when playing the Russians.

Prediction: another Gold Medal possibility if all goes swimmingly. That has not always been the case. The knock against previous Russian All-Star teams is their penchant for playing like the puck has their name and only their name, on it. Everyone wants to be the hero. If they gel, they could out-score opponents enough to stand on the highest podium level. If they falter, they could go out in the quarterfinals. For me, they are the most vulnerable of the four possible contenders for hockey gold.

Sweden

Lundqvist, Gustavsson and Enroth may lead many to think the Swedes have a chance at Gold. Yep, but the road to the podium goes through or more so does not go through the five-hole. Well, let’s be brutal. If King Henry isn’t at his best, the other two do not scare me in the least. These are famous last words!

No Hedman or Brolin on defence, but that’s no problem. This contingent may be the best of the tournament. Whom do you sit? Maybe King Henry doesn’t have to steal a game. Team Canada got some timely goaltending from Louie in 2010 but he was hardly thee best goalie. Again, however, the Swedes have to hope that their main man doesn’t get the flu or Tommy Salo-like jitters.

Things just keep getting better for the Swedes, as we move to the forward position; there’s a grand mix of youth and experience, some grit and defensive strength here. Blimey! Too bad Henrik Sedin will not be there. Nor will “the Mule,” Franson.

Prediction: it is going to be supremely difficult to keep these players off the podium. Be Bold. Unless they face Canada in the semi-final, the Swedes will play for Gold.

Team Canada

The biggest potential for group gulping is over Canada’s chances in nets. None of the three selected are having great Januarys, as evinced by Price and Luongo? Well, I heard Marty Turco make a convincing argument why it might be, should be, Mike Smith. He likened him to Brodeur, the 2002 Marty Brodeur. His ability to play the puck up ice, which Turco says is a definite plus on the big ice surface; his skating ability and his will to win. One wonders. I’m certain all three will get playing time in the first three games. Unless there is a very leaking boat, Canada should win their first two games and then battle Finland in the third game for quarterfinals placement. Until the real competition starts and even thereafter, goaltending may be our Achilles Heel or Heal if you prefer. Of course, Carey Price is saying “Chill.” Does he mean the champagne or the icebox, where he goes, if we lose?

The good news is on the blue line. The top 8 here is like reading a who’s who Fortune 500 list.

We’ve already reviewed the forwards post selection day. Since then, Stamkos was ruled out. Replacing him will be Marty St. Louis. Coach Babcock said that was a unanimous decision. It certainly was the right one morally. We’ll see if it was the right one from a hockey standpoint.

Prediction: repeating as Olympic Champs will be no easy feat. This is a capable team, as good as or better than, the one that won in 2010. If the goaltending holds, my only concern would be meeting the Yanks in the semi-finals. Though no potential semi-finalists is a pushover and we better not take any quarterfinal opponent lightly, because it could be one of those favourites, Canada should get the chance to play for Gold. I suspect, as Fate usually has had it, we’ll meet the Rooskies, at some point along the road to Gold. We pretty much embarrassed them in Vancouver. Let’s not count on that happening again.

Of course, Canada will win! Yet, if we don’t, let’s not start building any statues or other monuments, in fear that the world is ending.

Go Canada GO!

Bob Stark is a musician, poet, philosopher and couch potato. He spends his days, as did Jean-Paul Sarte and Albert Camus, pouring lattes and other adult beverages into a recycled mug, bearing a long and winding crack. He discusses, with much insight and passion, the existentialist and phenomenological ontology of the Vancouver 'Canucks,' a hockey team, "Archie" comic books and high school reunions. In other words, Bob Stark is a retired public servant living the good life on the wrong coast of Canada.

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