Monday, January 3, 2011

Canada and USA Meet Tonight

That was the headline Canadian hockey fans have been waiting for throughout the current edition of the World Junior Hockey Championships.

It's not that we were bored or disinterested with the first eight days of competition, not in the least. The Canadian powerplay continues to be gorgeous, watching Brayden Schenn pile up points was impressive and the Russians and Swedes both made us fully aware why Canada, for maybe only the third time in the last 15 years, wasn't the overwhelming pre-tournament favourite.

Besides, this is the World Juniors! Hockey Canada and TSN have done a tremendous job building the WJHC into a "monster" and other than Pierre McGuire, we absolutely lovvvvvve this tournament. The Stanley Cup hasn't been won by a Canadian team since 1993 and over the last 17 years this tournament has become our annual reprieve, our appetite growing year after year. For most of us, the WJHC is a chance to tune out our crappy NHL team for a couple of weeks and actually have the opportunity to receive some satisfaction in return for our emotional investment. (Yes, I am looking directly at you Brian Burke.)

However, this year things are a little different. The rabid-dog, crazed enthusiast, World Junior Hockey fever that normally sweeps across our nation...hasn't. It could be that we're still basking in delight from our 2010 Olympic Gold and that victory, combined with years of dominating the World Juniors, has resulted in a fat cat attitude for Canadian hockey fans at the moment. Maybe because there wasn't a Crosby, Tavares, or Hall on the roster, a household superstar that we could rally behind, we were willing to file this year's team under "Can't Win 'Em All" and simply move on.

Or maybe the biggest factor in our collective softened excitement this year is that other than Canada, the U.S.A., Switzerland and maybe Sweden, none of the countries seem to be improving. Actually, they appear to be getting worse. Finland has been at best treading water for years. Russian hockey is a mess. At the turn of the century both the Czech Republic and Slovakia were threats in any tournament, but in recent years they have looked un-organized and over-matched.

On the other hand, after developing a genuine dislike for each others program over the last decade and on the heels of two unbelievable games (Gold medal and New Year's Eve) at last year's World Juniors and the instant classic that was the Olympic Gold Medal overtime battle, the Canada/U.S. hockey rivalry is at it's all-time peak.

All of which means that as of today, after two weeks of tempered enthusiasm for Team Canada, this tournament has our attention. This game matters to us.

We stand on guard for thee.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

2010: The best of Sports on TV

Here are my favourite non-live action television sporting moments from 2010. That doesn't quite work, does it. Suppose I'll try again.

Here are my favourite non-game television sporting moments from 2010. Crap. That sucks too.

Below are my favourite televised moments from 2010 that didn't primarily involve live-game coverage. Still awkward, but it'll have to do.

5. Gatorade Replay Series
Available on Rogers Sportsnet (though you'll have to stumble upon it to find it) this one hour program reunites rival highschool teams who had a memorable game cut short or finish in dispute, and then replay it. The games in question typically occurred in the late '90s so it is fascinating to see all these late 20 and early 30 year-olds trying to get back into shape so they don't embarrass themselves in front of the entire community. The producers develop storylines with a few key players from each team and Gatorade brings in a couple of their big-time endorsers (Dwyane Wade, the Mannings, etc.) to serve as honourary coaches. I've seen hockey, basketball and football episodes and all were definitely worth watching.

4. HBO 24/7 Penguins Capitals
The other day I read where someone said that the Oil Change documentary series following the rebirth of the Edmonton Oilers was just as good as the Pens/Caps HBO series, and that it was done on a sliver of the budget. I could not disagree more, aside from the budget of course. The Pens/Caps series is wildy entertaining and offers a real glimpse of behind the scenes action in the life of an NHLer. Oil Change so far has been 15 guys sitting around a boardroom twiddling their thumbs and staring blankly at each other while Kevin Lowe or Steve Tambellini talk in circles so as not to reveal any meaningful or interesting information.

3. Friday Night Lights
Now in it's fifth and final season, and in my opinion, the best sports television show ever. If you've never watched this series, season one is amazing, push through season two, and then prepare to be inspired in every aspect of your life by listening to and watching Coach Eric Taylor, who strikes a perfect balance between tough and fair. Well, maybe not inspired, but thoroughly entertained. The football is Sportscentre worthy and the drama is 90210 level (the original, not the remake). Just watch it.

2. Ken Burns "The Tenth Inning"
The two-part follow-up to Burns' original and epic "Nine Innings" baseball documentary, which outlines the history of the game from the very beginning, is excellent. The Ninth Inning left off in 1990, just prior to the official launch of the steroid era as well as the lockout (1994) that killed baseball in Montreal. Burns weaves his way in and out of stories and topics managing to cover every issue the game has faced over the last 20 years and recreating each historic moment. A must-watch for any baseball lover.

1. ESPN 30 for 30 Series
These 30 documentaries, one for each year in ESPN's existence, are nothing short of superb. Each directed and creatively owned by a notable filmmaker, the 30 riveting stories began airing on TSN in the fall of 2009 and just recently completed their initial run. They aren't necessarily the 30 biggest sports stories from the last 30 years, but rather a look at many that have either never been told or not fully explained and every single episode has something to offer. The most notable in my mind were King's Ransom, Without Bias, The Two Escobars, Once Brothers and The Best There Never Was.