The round-robin portion of the World Junior Championships in Ufa, Russia, ended Monday with a scintillating game between Canada and Russia, won 4-1 by Canada. The hockey was fast and skilled and often breathtaking– in short, nothing that any self-respecting NHL strategist can't coach out of the game.
The Canadian win hinged on a crucial five-minute power play in the first period against Valeri Nichushkin, their "hulking, draft-eligible forward," in Ray Ferraro's felicitous phrase, during which Canada took a lead it never surrendered.
There's comfort in these Russia / Canada matchups. With their soccer background, the Russians still would rather circle than steamroller. The Canadians, in spite of the finesse they've acquired, still believe the shortest distance to the goal is through an opponent. The contrast is enduring. As Mark Twain said, it's a difference of opinion that makes a horse race.
@CH_WillyPalov The world is finding out what people in Halifax (and around the Q) already know. (Jonathan) Drouin having himself a game today."
@DonCherryParodyYKNOW THE ONLY TEAM FOR THIS KID DROUUUUIN IS THE BRUUUUUINS! LET'S GO!"
THEM'S FIGHTING WORDS
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the TSN broadcasts is the hostile tone of the commercials toward the NHL. RBC has a commercial showing kids preparing to play hockey with a voice over talking about labour talks and negotiations. At the end, the kids skate on the ice and we're told that all that glitters in hockey is not the NHL.
Nike has been running a similar commercial juxtaposing the lack of NHL against voice overs describing what hockey means to them. One kid says he'll move to Russia to play (and gets approval from Alex Ovechkin). The commercial ends with Tampa star Steve Stamkos mouthing some platitude, but no one is fooled. The NHL is the bad guy.
If the NHL has any doubt about the backlash it's generated with its ill-advised labour conflagration, it need only consult how its corporate market is responding. "Hockey Canada is extremely intelligent with this," says David Kincaid, Managing Partner and CEO of LEVEL5 Strategy Group, whose study on public disaffection with hockey made news in December.
"They realize hockey not just a sport, it knows people want to be involved on levels besides playing. And its sponsors like Nike and RBC are very sophisticated marketers. They have come to that realization, too. Yet I still haven't seen one attempt by the NHL to reach out to fans yet."
CELEBRATION EDGE TO RUSSIA
TSN has conveniently provided wake up calls from their manic host Jay Onrait that you can order online to get you up in time for the early morning games. Not so conveniently, they wake you up in time for the pregame show.
One advantage to Russia. Their kids seem to have worked out their goal celebrations better than have the Canadians. The Canadian players are still working the conventional swipe-the-ice , grab the crest on the jersey themes. Russians, however, were in full Michael Jordan, tongue-dangling mode.
LOST IN TRANSLATION
Wonder what the Ufans make of Canadian Tire ads on the boards? Probably the same thing Canadians think of the young cheerleaders rinkside doing Stuck Inside of Ufa With The Magnetiigorsk Blues Again.
Or what the Russians think of TSN Radio 1050 host Mike Richards, who's broadcasting his morning show live back to Toronto from Ufa.
@MikeRichardsTSNOhhh Baby!! 3-1 Ohh Harry, these guys got it going and I don't think they're gonna stop!"
BROTHER CAN YOU SPARE A JOB
Black Monday in the NFL produces a slew of coach firings. Lovie Smith (Chicago), Chan Gailey (Buffalo), Andy Reid (Philadelphia), Romeo Crennell (KC), Pat Shurmur (Cleveland) and a slew of others. Yet Jason Garrett (Dallas), Rex Ryan (NY Jets) and Jim Schwartz (Detroit) still survive. There is no justice.