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Spring Hockey Choices & Dilemmas

May 11, 2012

Earlier in April, I addressed the teams that didn’t make the playoffs in a post about ‘Spring Cleaning.’ But a hockey fan’s spring is about championships, no matter if ‘their’ team is still competing.  One doesn’t have to be a bandwagon fan to enjoy the rest of the Stanley Cup Playoffs; you can choose to support a team for its proximity to your own locale; because they’re playing a hated rival team, or even because you tossed a coin and figured ‘what the heck, they look like a good bet.’ At the very least, no matter who wins or loses, you can shrug off that triple OT loss because ‘aw, I didn’t really care who won or lost, anyway.’

If you can’t stand to watch the NHL any further because your favourite team was ousted by ‘those damn [enter rival team’s name here],’ you can always look up their farm teams in the AHL or ECHL. (Yes, I’m looking at Toronto fans now, of which I am one, because we can still cheer on the Marlies on their run to the Calder Cup.) One can still hope that some of those now-bearded young prospects will one day make the show and you can say “I saw them win the Calder/Kelly Cup and just knew they’d be great!”

If you’re reaching further into your team’s prospect pool, there’s also the NCAA (now complete, of course), and the CHL (QMJHL, WHL, OHL). Every one of these leagues is bursting with talent and exciting action. Following the local college or junior team can be intriguing as you watch these young men follow their dreams.  Some are already drafted and looking to impress the team that owns their rights, some are draft-eligible and working hard for that coveted draft spot in June, and some are just hoping to show well enough to catch on with a minor pro or European team. All of them are chasing a championship of one sort or another. I highly recommend the CHL’s Memorial Cup tournament, which will be played this year in Shawinigan, Quebec and features the league champions from the QMJHL, WHL and OHL.

Last but not least, there are the International Ice Hockey Federation’s World Hockey Championships (IIHF WHCs). Granted, they are usually more important to the Europeans, but this year is different, because this tournament helps set the seeding for the upcoming Sochi Olympics.  Although there doesn’t appear to be a clear decision (due to the upcoming NHL CBA changes) on whether NHL players will be permitted to participate, you have to believe that every player will want their country to get a bye straight to the tournament.

The one thing about international tournaments is that its not difficult to pick a team to cheer for, unless you happen to live somewhere that doesn’t ice a team in the tournament.  If you are so affected, you can always cheer for the team that has the most players from your favourite NHL team or something along those lines.  In any case, international hockey has always been a favourite of mine, as has Team Canada – you can’t go wrong with the red Maple Leaf.

This year’s edition of the WHCs has not been without its controversies. Host countries Finland and Sweden have been blasted for their ticket pricing and have subsequently introduced ticket packages, reduced prices and even offered free live YouTube streaming (now shut down) under pressure from the public and also due to poor attendance, strange in two supposedly pro-hockey countries.

Team Canada, always in the spotlight in international tournaments, found themselves faced with an internal controversy as captain Ryan Getzlaf was allegedly spotted causing a disturbance at a nightclub.  And, as if to show that headshots and concussions were not just the province of North American hockey, French player Sasha Treille was given a match penalty and a 5 game suspension for his elbow to the head of Kazakhstan’s Roman Starchenko.  So much for the safe, limited contact play in the international arena.

On the whole, there are several ways to feed that hockey craving and all of them are worthy selections. In fact, as my Twitter feed shows, many fans choose to follow several leagues/games/series all at the same time. I myself am currently tracking the NHL playoffs (no firm team selection), the AHL Marlies (Toronto, eh?), the London Knights (current hometown), and of course, Team Canada.  Yesterday was a difficult night for my gf since games for all four teams were being televised throughout the night. So remind your non-fan friends and family, don’t give up on us, we’ll be free for other sports and activities in say… July?

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