Monthly Archives: June 2013

Hockey takes the lead in fighting homophobia

In April of this year, it was announced that the NHL, the NHLPA and You Can Play, an organization focused on eliminating homophobia in sports, have partnered up, and are going to work together to make hockey more accepting of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community.

You Can Play, an organization co-founded by Patrick Burke (son of former Toronto Maple Leafs General Manager Brian Burke), is dedicated to fighting homophobia in sports. The NHL is the first of the major sports leagues in North America to join with any anti-homophobia organization, which is a prime example of the great steps the league is making to be the most inclusive professional sports league. Many NHLers have openly voiced their support of the organization, with several groups of them taking part in promotional commercials for You Can Play. Two current NHL players, Tommy Wingels and Andy Miele, are even on the advisory board, demonstrating the commitment of the league to fight homophobia. The organization goes by the slogan “If you can play, you can play”, a mentality that the NHL is very proud to both support and follow. Commissioner Gary Bettman pointed out that the NHL’s slogan is “Hockey is for Everyone”, and feels that the partnership with You Can Play reinforces that position. You Can Play will be holding seminars at the NHL’s rookie symposium, while at the same time making their resources available to all NHL teams and players.

This news was also followed by the more recent story of basketball player Jason Collins publicly coming out, becoming the first openly gay athlete to be currently playing in any of the major sports leagues in North America. The amount of support that Collins has received from teammates, players, coaches and general managers from around the league has been tremendous, and the public has reacted in a generally positive manner. It is a very firm statement of how far the world of sports has come with regards to eradicating homophobia.

However, it is still not far enough.

What Jason Collins did by being the first openly gay athlete in a major sport took great courage. He himself stated that he did not intend to become the first openly gay athlete, it was simply the time to do it. He has done what no one else has done, and he is incredibly brave to do so. The irony is that it shouldn’t be considered heroic to be who you are. The LGBT community has made incredible steps in the last few decades to being seen as equals in society, which is exactly what they deserve.

An area that has been slower to react, however, is the world of sports. Homophobic slurs and stereotypes still reign supreme in many locker rooms and arenas, both in professional and amateur sports. For too long have many sports (hockey, football, etc.) been tagged as heterosexual sports, while others are labelled as ‘gay sports’. I cannot tell you how many times have I heard people make rude comments like “leave figure skating to the gays”, along with many other vulgar slurs being casually thrown around. Whether you are gay, straight, or anywhere in between has absolutely no impact on your skill in sports. It should also have no effect on how you are treated in the locker room.

Everyone deserves to be comfortable in their own skin, and being an athlete is no exception. At this moment in time many athletes, both professional and amateur, do not feel comfortable being openly gay. That is not their problem, but ours. They have the right to be who they are, free of judgement. They have the right to be proud of who they are, instead of being labelled, stigmatized and shamed into hiding.

What You Can Play and the NHL is doing is a great step forward to getting rid of homophobia in hockey (and other sports). Acceptance starts at a young age. If athletes are taught from a young age that sexual orientation has nothing to do with skill, drive and passion in sports, maybe we will begin to see a more accepting culture. Society in general has become increasingly accepting of the LGBT, and although there is still much work do be done, we are moving in the right direction. The world of sports is lagging behind, but organizations like You Can Play combined with the open mindedness of leagues like the NHL will help bring sports closer to the acceptance the LGBT community deserves.

I look forward to the day where a gay athlete is no longer a news story.

NHL Playoffs: Stanley Cup Final Predictions

I’d like to begin with congratulating both the Boston Bruins and the Chicago Blackhawks for making it to this year’s Stanley Cup Final. They both got there with very dominant series wins, proving that they are the two best teams in the league. I was right with both my predictions, however I did not think the Bruins would sweep the Penguins. I had them winning in 7 games. I was right on with my “Chicago in 5” pick. That brings me to 10 out of 14, which I am very happy with. Now let’s have a look at this final. I am extremely excited for this final to begin, and I think it is going to be a very hard-fought battle between these two rugged, skilled teams.

Chicago Blackhawks vs Boston Bruins

This is it. It’s the final countdown. We have the two best teams in the league now fighting to be crowned champion. This is going to be a tough battle for either team. Let’s look at both teams from top to bottom.

Goaltending – These guys are good

Both of these goaltenders have almost identical statistics, from both the regular season and the playoffs. Corey Crawford finished the regular season with a GAA of 1.94, and Tuukka Rask finished with 2.00. As for save percentage, Rask finished with a  .929, with Crawford had a percentage of .926. The stats are almost identical for the playoffs as well.  Crawford leads all goalies with a GAA of 1.74, and Rask is second with a GAA of 1.75. Rask leads all goalies with a save percentage of .943, and Crawford is second with .935. They both lead the league with 12 years, and Rask has only 1 shutout more than Crawford. These two goalies are clearly playing their best hockey of their careers so far, and they have proved themselves as elite goaltenders. To be honest, I don’t feel that it would be fair to give either goalie an edge in this series. They’re both so similar, and they  both have good teams in front of them.

Edge: Even

Defense – It wins championships

When it comes to the defensive corps, both teams have a superstar on their blueline: Duncan Keith for the Blackhawks, and Zdeno Chara for the Boston Bruins. Keith has been a powerhouse on the Blackhawks’ back end, and he has helped his team make it as far as they have. Chara had a slow but steady regular season, yet he has taken his game to another, almost superhuman level. He silenced one of the best players in the world, Evgeni Malkin, holding him to zero point in their four game sweep of the Penguins. Although the Blackhawks have a solid Defensive core, it is difficult to compare it with the Bruins. Boston’s blue line has incredible depth, with Seidenberg, Boychuk and Ference and McQuaid being their best defenders. That is an impressive top-5 defensemen on any teams, and yet they still have rookie sensations Krug, Bartkowski and Halmilton, ready to go. Not only have their defensemen successfully shut down some of the best players in the world, they have also contributed offensively. I realize that the Blackhawks’ defense has been crucial for their success in these playoffs, but I still believe that the Bruins have a stronger group all around.

Edge: Bruins

Forwards – Firing on all cylinders?

When it comes to offense, both teams have some awesome firepower. At first glance, the Blackhawks seem to have the upper hand. They have incredible talent in Toews, Hossa, Kane, Sharp, and secondary scoring from players like Handzus, Shaw and Frolik. The biggest surprise from the Blackhawks’ lineup is Bryan Bickell, who has earned himself a huge pay raise over the summer, with many teams looking to pick him up when free agency opens up. Even with some of their biggest stars, most notably Kane, not playing up to their full potential, the team still finds a way to win, which is exactly what a championship team needs. There is always someone there to pick up the slack, and winning is more important than personal stats. This is also true for the Bruins. Although the Bruins’ first line of Krejci, Horton and Lucic have been firing on all cylinders, the whole team has contributed to their success. Even though the Krejci line has been the hottest line in the playoffs, players like Marchand and Bergeron have also been clutch. Their overtime heroics against all three teams they’ve faced so far has been key to their success, none more important that the overtime win against the Leafs. And nothing has been more of an indication of what the Bruins are willing to sacrifice then Gregory Campbell’s 80-second shift, after breaking his leg blocking a Malkin slap shot. Campbell showed the type of sacrifice and courages it takes to win it all. His team won’t forget what he did for the team, and I’m fairly certain that seeing that type of courage from a teammate makes them want to win a championship for them. Two years ago, they rallied around losing Nathan Horton. This year, they’ll rally around Gregory Campbell.

Edge: Bruins

Prediction: Bruins in 7. This is going to be a tough series for both teams. It’s going to be an incredibly close one, and unfortunately, one team has to lose. When two teams are this close talent-wise, drive and passion can change a series. The Bruins will fight their way to the cup, and they’ll bang and bruise the Blackhawks on their way. I have a lot of respect for both of these teams, and I hate to pick between two such great teams. But the Bruins are playing their best hockey of the season, and they are going to be incredibly tough to handle.

NHL Playoffs: Round 3 Predictions (once again, late. This time I have a reason!)

Once again, I am late with my predictions. Once again, I swear that they were written before round 3 began. The reason this time was that I was having internet connection issues over the last few days at my house. As for round two, I went 3/4, with the San Jose/Los Angeles series being the only one I got wrong. That makes me 8/12 so far, which I’m pretty happy with!

Here we go with round 3. This is going to be a difficult round to predict, because for the first time in a while there are no real underdogs. These are the four best teams in the league, and they’re also the last 4 Stanley Cup winning teams. A fellow blogger, Kevin (check out his blog HERE), discovered that there are 56 players from the four remaining teams who already have their name on the cup. These are teams that have already proven that they can win it all, and I’m sure they’re all hungry to do it again. This is going to be a fun to watch.

EASTERN CONFERENCE

Pittsburgh Penguins vs Boston Bruins

This is going to be an amazing series. The big story everyone it talking about is the Jarome Iginla “snub” of Boston. The whole Iginla saga is really for the fans and the media, and I am quite confident that it is not being discussed in either locker room. These guys are professionals. Iginla made a decision, and Boston has moved on. No hard feelings. No bad blood. So now that we’ve covered that non-issue, let’s discuss the important details of this series.

There’s no doubt, in my mind anyway, that Pittsburgh and Boston are the two best teams from the East this season. They are the two teams that deserve to be in the final, and that makes for a tough, entertaining series. Pittsburgh has some of the most talented players in the world on their team, and they did everything they could to make it even better before the trade deadline. I’ve heard a lot of experts saying that Pittsburgh will be Boston’s greatest challenge so far in these playoffs, but I feel that people are missing something; Boston will also be Pittsburgh’s biggest challenge so far. With all due respect to the Islanders and the Senators, they aren’t exactly powerhouses in the East. Both teams defied odds by making it to the playoffs, and they played their hearts out against the Penguins. But now, Boston is going to give Pittsburgh their biggest challenge yet. Unlike the Islanders and Senators, the Bruins are solid from front to back. They are tough, they can score, they can hit, and they can defend. The Bruins also have the big, tough players that can hit the Penguins stars enough to get them off their game, much like the Flyers in last year’s playoffs. When the Penguins are off their game, they take penalties and go for the big hit, instead of focusing on scoring. That plays right into the Bruins’ advantage. However, if the Penguins can resist the urge to retaliate and take stupid penalties, then they have good odds for beating the Bruins.

The penguins’ biggest weakness is when they are in their own zone. Although they have all the talent in the world offensively, they are surprisingly bad in their own zone, especially with man-to-man coverage. If the Bruins can keep the Penguins crammed in their own zone, the chances will show up. What the Bruins need to watch out for is taking penalties, because the penguins have the best power play in the league. The Bruins also have the best penalty kill, but there is no point in tempting fate. This series might come down to Pittsburgh’s’ power play against Boston’s penalty kill. We’ll see how that works out.

Prediction: Boston in 7. A tough choice, but I think Boston is going to get Pittsburgh off their game right from the start, and the Penguins will have a tough time scoring against the Bruins’ solid defensive core.

WESTERN CONFERENCE

Chicago Blackhawks vs Los Angeles Kings

Alright, last round I doubted the Kings. I felt bad doing it, because they are a good team. Unfortunately, I have to do it again. The Kings are a great team, and they have the best goalie in the league playing some of his best hockey. They have great talent up front, and a superstar in Doughty, who is just inches away from being the great offensive defenseman from last year’s Stanley Cup-winning run. But Chicago is simply too strong. They have an incredible tandem of offensive players, some of which haven’t even hit their stride yet. If Toews and Kane really get going, much like how they were in the regular season, then the Kings will really be in trouble. They’ve been winning courtesy of their other lines, and some excellent goaltending by Crawford. In reality, the Blackhawks have been able to win, even if they’re not playing to their full potential. It’s only a matter of time until that time bomb ticks for the final time, and they get going with everything they’ve got.

The Kings have had a lot of trouble scoring consistently, and they’ve been able to get by thanks to one man: Jonathan Quick. He has been phenomenal, and I challenge anyone to tell me otherwise. But you can only rely on one man for so long until it comes back to bite you. Against a team like Chicago, you need more than just an excellent goaltender to get by. You also need to be able to score, which is extremely hard to do against a stingy Chicago team. Unfortunately for the Kings, I believe that this will be the end of their cup run for this year. Chicago is just to hot to handle, and Los Angeles is going to figure that out extremely fast.

Prediction: Chicago in 5. Chicago is going to make to the Cup final this year. A team that lost only 7 games in the regular season, that’s exactly where we all though they would end up.