A Canuck Nation Growing

As we draw near the end of the eastern road swing for the Vancouver Canucks, there is one constant occurance that has come to my attention. The fan support in the east has strengthened for our beloved team, and surprisingly really showing up strong in the arenas away from home. In fact, many comments throughout the league about the growing support for the Canucks in eastern cities. So what triggers the surge of support?

Montreal had to be the one town that wouldn’t sway their loyalties. The Bell Centre is a different beast from the other two arenas visited. Although I have noticed the pockets of Canucks fans seem bigger than those of previous visits. I have to say it is one arena where you know the undying love for the Habs will never be overshadowed of that of the visiting team. It was enough to propel les Canadiens to a shutout victory (2-0) over our Canucks.

In Ottawa, the pockets for Canucks supporters were evidently quite bigger than it has been in the past. I’d dare say the Canucks had about a third of the arena on their side. That’s a significant number of supporters in the nation’s capital. It was great to see a few westerners also make an eastern road swing trip to support the boys on Remembrance Day on their way to a 6-2 victory over the Senators. There was even a small bar meet-up (so I was told) after the game of Canucks fans. Unfortunately for me, being sick with the flu, I had to decline.



Toronto is Canuck Land? Photo taken by Justine Galo


Now the most surprising surge of support for the Canucks was in the “Centre of the Universe, also known as, Toronto. I used to live in Toronto, both downtown and on the east side, and I’ve run into very few ‘vocal’ Canucks fans in the 416 (or 905 for you suburban people). Usually, the only time I see those fans are when the Canucks visit the Air Canada Centre and even then, they are more reserved. This year, the support for the Canucks in Leaf territory, was, for me, surprisingly stronger than I could have imagined. The support for the Canucks was crazily visible in the stands. Not just pockets of supporters but rows of Canucks fans. More than it has been in the last four years since they started doing the home and home once a year again. Canucks fans were yelling, “Lu!!!!” at the ACC. It was so evident that it couldn’t even be masked on Hockey Night In Canada’s broadcast of the game. I remember just last January, when the Canucks visited the ACC, and the out-right support for the team wasn’t as vocal and in abundance. That was only 11 months ago! I’d dare say the Canucks had about 2000 fans on Saturday night, and that is a huge feat in Leaf Nation. I think only the Montreal Canadiens and the Canadian Sabres fans would be greater in numbers.

So the Canuck fan base is growing, but why? Could it be Luongo winning a gold medal for Canada at the Olympics, or the playmaking of the Sedins? Or could it be that they are a very good team, it makes the easterners realize they probably have the best chance of the Canadian teams to contend for the Stanley Cup. I’m not quite sure, and to be honest, I don’t really care, but it’s been nice to see Canuck Nation growing, especially in places it was once shunned.

On to Buffalo…


Justine Galo [tweetmeme]

The Ghosts of Le Centre Bell

So, it’s another visit to the Bell Centre and it’s another loss for the Vancouver Canucks.  I am not quite sure what is the matter with the Canucks is when hit the ice at le Centre Bell, but they don’t play like a team that has won six games in a row. The team that is red-hot, and gunning for a divisional lead.  In fact, the Vancouver Canucks haven’t won in that building since 2007, when Roberto Luongo shut out the Canadiens 4-0.  Did he provoke a curse upon his team by embarrassing the Habs that night? I’m beginning to wonder.

On February 25th, 2009, the Canucks were shut out by Jaroslav Halak 3-0, a game I was privileged to watch with a very good Habs fan named Dave.  Although it was a hard night for me as a Canucks fan, it was a great experience to talk to amazingly knowledgeable, although almost as fickle (as Canucks fans) fans at the Bell Centre.  It was also very fun to debate in French, which I don’t get to do very often.

Last year, more of the same happened. Although I went with a few more Canucks fans hoping to fend off the spirits, the Montreal Canadiens managed to snake bite a 47 shot effort by our boys in the royal blue and Kelly green to squeeze a 3-2 victory out.  I guess the Habs didn’t like the 7-1 spanking they received at (then) GM Place earlier in the season.

Again this year, even though at times the Canucks played some sloppy hockey and had a few open nets missed, they did play with some effort.  Carey Price now shut out the Canucks with great skill and a little bit of luck.  I am beginning to think the ghosts of the Forum made their way to le Centre Bell.

After Roberto Luongo’s shutout in 2007, the Canucks have played some very good hockey at the arena but never had victory since.  The Canucks come off a seven game winning streak last season before playing the Habs to get their streak unceremoniously ended. This year the Canucks had a six game streaking, and had that halted. I think Luongo angered the Forum ghosts and now they won’t let him win on Habs home ice.

As I am sitting watching the game, I’m looking around and wondering if there is a curse that was bestowed on the Canucks after Luongo’s shutout. Why is it the ice seems too bouncy and the team can’t control the puck?  Why is it when the nets are practically empty the Canucks managed to miss them at close range?  Could it be the ghosts of Canadiens past helping their team and propelling them to victory over the Canucks? Who knows, all I know is, it would be nice to watch a victory there again. It’s been a while.   So what do the Canucks do next year to possibly ‘lift’ the curse? Maybe starting Schneider could break the drought.  It’s a suggestion, but it could work.

Oh well, off to Ottawa.

Justine Galo[tweetmeme]

The Loser Point: How Overtime Losses Helped Send the Washington Capitals Home

By Chris Withers: CanucksCorner.com

Alexander OvechkinThe first round of the NHL playoffs was arguably one of the best ever, and certainly one of the most unpredictable. But one of the most improbable upsets in league history, Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals losing to the 8th seeded Montreal Canadiens, would not have been possible except for a controversial decision, made some 10 years ago, that was designed to open up overtime. Where previously teams would get no points for a loss, now both teams would be guaranteed a single point for getting into overtime, and would compete for an additional point in the 5 minute extra frame. The decision, while arguably well-intentioned, has created a bewildering points system for the NHL. It is unlike the systems used by every other professional sports league on the planet, it is no longer relevant, it is costing teams playoff berths and it is past time for it to be changed.

First, a little history on the ‘loser point’. In the late 90′s, the NHL was beleaguered. The work stoppage of 94-95 was still fresh in people’s minds, ratings were slipping, the novelty had worn off for fans of the sun-belt expansion teams and the game had slowed to a crawl after the success of Jacques Lemaire’s New Jersey Devils and their stifling neutral zone trap. Some in the league office felt that the new American expansion markets would never fully accept a sport that embraced a tie. Like baseball, basketball and (usually) football, there must be a winner in hockey! The premise of the OTL rule was that teams would no longer have a reason to play ‘kitty bar the door’ hockey, since there was no penalty for a loss but an extra point for the win. The NHL also sought to make the OT period more fun to watch with an accompanying rule change that made all OT periods 4-on-4, thus opening up the ice and making the neutral zone trap more difficult to implement.

In practice, the rule changes worked. The amount of goals scored in overtime ballooned from 22 in 1998-99 to 114 in 1999-2000. That’s a better than 500% increase!

There were, however, consequences to the extra point. First, it made it significantly more difficult for teams to gain ground (or separation) in the standings. Teams were picking up points in more situations. A team could go on a 6 game winning streak, the team it’s chasing could win 1 out of 6 over the same stretch, and the difference could be as little as 5 points. Second, and most importantly, it allowed teams to quite literally lose their way into the playoffs. In the first year of OTLs, both the Anaheim Ducks and the Carolina Hurricanes were denied playoff berths because the teams in front of them had more ‘loser points’ than they did.

Fast forward a few years and another work stoppage, and the NHL introduced more rule changes. The game, start to finish, became more exciting. The tie was forever banished from professional hockey, replaced by the shootout (love it or hate it, you must admit it’s exciting!). The premise for the OTL point, namely spicing up the extra frame, seemed to have been taken away, yet the points system remained unchanged. In fact, the issues that OTLs present are now amplified. Rather than an extra point being awarded in approximately 44% of OT games (as had been the case from 1999-2004), 100% of OT games are now worth 3 points. This accounted for an average of about 150 extra points being distributed in the standings each and every year. As a direct result of this change, a total of 6 teams since the lockout have missed the playoffs; in one extreme case, the Carolina Hurricanes would have won their division under the old system. With the shootout, they missed the playoffs by 2 points.

Presently then, the NHL has a system for awarding points that only made sense in the context of the rules of the late 90′s. The shootout has obviated the need to make overtime more exciting, and simultaneously made a disproportionate number of games worth 3 points. A team is now penalized for losing a game in regulation, rather than in OT, without a corresponding penalty for teams that win in OT, instead of in regulation.

There are two solutions going forward. The simplest would be a straight Win/Loss system, but that is troublesome because of the shootout. Basketball and baseball are able to use that system effectively because the rules remain constant in those sports throughout extra time. The NHL breaks deadlocks with a skills competition that has little to do with the game itself. An outright loss for the team that loses the shootout would be unfair to those teams that build for 60 minutes of hockey instead of a penalty shot competition.

For an equitable solution, the NHL should look to international hockey. In round robin international play, all games are worth 3 points. Period. An outright win garners 3 points and a loss 0. Take it to overtime, and the points are split 2-1. It’s fair to everybody, understandable by all fans, and it properly benefits teams, like our beloved Canucks, that get their business done outright and don’t win 38% of their games in overtime, like the Phoenix Coyotes.

Colin Campbell was asked in 2007 about the league’s decision not to go to a 3 point system. He was quoted as saying “It’s time to establish continuity. You can’t keep making changes.” If the folks at NHL head office don’t think there’s a reason to change the system now, they may wish to take a poll of New York and Washington hockey fans; the Rangers would have been secure in a playoff spot this year even before that dramatic shootout with the Flyers to end the season. Who would have been on the outside looking in? The Cinderella, Cap-killing, Habs.

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