Archive for the ‘Sports’ Category

Thoughts on the Canadian Open

January 16, 2023

I didn’t get to watch much of this because the earliest draw started at about 2pm my time which meant that any other draw started way too late for me, so I really only caught the women’s quarters and the final.  I could have watched the men’s final but it featured two teams that I didn’t care much for so I skipped it and watched the Bills-Dolphins game instead.

Anyway, on the women’s side, Japan’s Satsuki Fujisawa beat Kerri Einarson to become the first Asian team to win a Grand Slam, while Einarson’s team has made the finals in six straight Grand Slam events.  She had faced Rachel Homan’s team in the final in the last two events, but they met in the quarters this time — after Einarson struggled and had to come through the C-side in this event — which left the path to the finals and possibly to the championship clear until Fujisawa, who had played an aggressive game that kept all of her other draws close, played things a bit more conservatively and held on for the win.

One interesting thing is that Anna Hasselborg’s team had to play with three players, and I had noted in the past that teams that have to play with three players often tend to do much better than expected, and hypothesized that going with three players meant that at least the first two players — who throw three rocks apiece instead of two — get a better feel for the ice that way.  However, Hasselborg’s team didn’t do all that well.  They squeaked into the playoffs and then were eliminated in the quarters.  So going with three players isn’t a recipe for an automatic great run, as the talent on that team is good enough that they would have been expected to get that far even if having only three players was a disadvantage.

Another interesting thing is that Fujisawa’s team is constantly referred to as “the happiest team in the world”, because they are very expressive and really seem to be having fun out there.  Now, there are controversies in other sports over being too expressive during games and to be honest I am kinda on the side of the traditionalists in that regard, and yet here I agree with almost everyone else that from them it seems to be refreshing.  Why is that?  Well, I think it can be summed up by what happened at the end of the match.  This was their first win on the Grand Slam tour, and they were clearly very, very happy to have won.  And yet, when it came time for the end of game handshakes they were remarkably restrained and respectful and serious.  They didn’t celebrate in any huge way until after that was done, at which point they went, well, absolutely bonkers.  So their attitude is different from the ones that come across as problematic.  They really seem to be acting that way because they are having fun and enjoying the event and are happy for themselves, and are not doing it in any way to try to show up the other team or to draw attention to themselves.  This is in sharp contrast to the other sports — especially baseball — where it seems to be more to show up the other team or draw attention to themselves.  This is the same reason why I liked Alexander Ovechkin at least in his early seasons because while he celebrated his own goals he celebrated the goals of his teammates at least as much (and sometimes more), so it really looked like he was just enjoying himself and not trying to show anyone up.  So when we hear complaints about celebrations it might we worth taking a look to see in what the spirit of the celebration is.

The next curling should be the Scotties in February.

Thoughts on “The Masters”

December 12, 2022

So the second event in the Grand Slam of Curling happened this past weekend, with the WFG Masters.  On the men’s side, Joel Retornaz won the final over Bruce Mouat, becoming the first Italian team to win a Grand Slam.  Italy has made huge strides in curling, at least in part because of how popular curling was in the 2006 Torino Olympics.  They now might be a consistent threat and a new player in Europe and internationally.

On the women’s side, Rachel Homan and Kerri Einarson faced off in the final, which Einarson won 6 –  5 in an extra end.  It was a very interesting game, especially towards the end, with Homan taking 3 to take the lead after Einarson opened with 2, and Homan having a shot for 2 to win the game in the eighth but missing it to only get one … but that only happened because she was trying an in-off on an Einarson stone, hit it quite hard, missed the Einarson stone she was trying to hit but the stone that she hit first bounced around and knocked that other stone over just enough to get a point and the tie.  There seemed to be more great shots in this game than I normally see, and more of the errors were tactical rather than just missed shots.  One thing I did notice, though, is that both Homan and Einarson are very aggressive at calling the line when they are throwing their stones, and often are doing so against what the person who is supposed to be calling the line is saying.  Presumably Einarson trusts Val Sweeting calling the line and is just being overly enthusiastic, and obviously the sweepers are more likely to listen to Sweeting than Einarson there (as they should), but Tracy Fleury is new to the team and at times it seemed like they were cutting her out of discussions (at one point, during a timeout, she asked them to come down the ice to the rings when they were standing at the other end and chatting about the shot).  The sweepers are more likely to listen to Homan than Fleury right now, but Fleury is supposed to be calling things.  The team is doing remarkably well — they had something like a 16 game win streak snapped — but I am still very interested in seeing how the personalities work out with that team, given how competitive most of the team is, especially Homan.

Speaking of Tracy Fleury, Selena Njegovin took on the skip’s role for Kaitlyn Lawes’ team, who is out having a baby.  Njegovin did the same at the Scotties last year when Tracy Fleury was out with Covid and had a great performance, but they lost their last round robin game and their playoff game when Fleury came back.  Here, the results were the same:  starting with three straight wins before losing the last round robin game and their playoff game.  Njegovin does seem capable of skipping, but it’s unclear if she can skip well enough in the big pressure games to lead a team to a championship.  This isn’t unheard of, as one can argue that Val Sweeting is the same type of player and so while she had some success as a skip was only able to have great success as a third.

The next curling comes up early in January with the Canadian Open.

Thoughts on the Pan Continental Cup

November 7, 2022

So, this weekend’s event was not, in fact, the Continental Cup, but was instead the Pan Continental Cup.  What’s the difference, you ask?  Well, the Continental Cup is kinda a Ryder Cup equivalent for curling where North America takes on the rest of the world in a number of different curling events to see which side can score the most points overall and take the Cup, making it a fun little event featuring many of the world’s best curlers.  The Pan Continental Cup is a qualifier for the curling World Championships from the Pacific, Australian and North American region, making it a lot more serious.  And in watching it, I couldn’t help but conclude that there has to be a better way to do that than what they did here.

The basic idea is that they take the top nine teams in those regions and put them in an A division, where the top five teams make the World Championships, and then have five teams in a B division hoping to get promoted to the A division to replace the two teams that get relegated the next year.  On the men’s side, only the top four were going to earn a spot because Canada is the host nation for the next Worlds and so even if they ended up out of the top five they were going to get a spot.  However, as it turned out there was really only one spot available — taken by New Zealand in both the men’s and women’s sides — because the teams from Canada, the U.S., Japan and Korea were just so far ahead of everyone else that they easily took the first four spots.  On the men’s side, Japan even struggled out of the gate and still handily made the top four (and the playoffs).  Given the disparity in quality between the teams, it also meant that if one of those top four played against the teams in the bottom five it was generally a blowout and ended soon after the six ends that they were forced to play before calling it a game.  The only games that were at all competitive were when the top four teams played each other (although even that didn’t hold a lot of the time) or when the bottom five teams played each other.  And since they were fighting for a spot in the Worlds, there was that to play for while the top four teams, especially as the week went on, were pretty much only competing for the title.

Which most of them weren’t all that concerned about, showing an issue for Canada.  While most of the other countries pretty much have one or two teams that they could send to such events, Canada has a host of them.  As such, Canada tends to have to try to pick one team to send to do the qualification.  They tend to send the team that went to the last Worlds, but that team might not want to go and might want to prefer getting some rest or playing and preparing for Grand Slam events.  The same thing would apply to the rest of the top four teams, as pretty much all of them play in the Grand Slam of Curling.  So what happens is a team is picked to try to get this spot from a country that’s pretty much guaranteed to make it, and so they show up, blow out the weaker teams to win their spot, and then play for a mostly meaningless victory — although, as they say, it’s always nice to win something for your country, even though for countries like Canada the teams here aren’t the teams that they most want to beat on the world stage — and then go back to their normal lives.  And getting slaughtered can’t be good for those weaker teams.  Sure, one way to get better is to play against better teams and learn to do what they do, but at this stage it doesn’t seem like a lot of them are at the point where they could learn much just from getting slaughtered by these teams.  So, essentially, countries that are pretty much guaranteed a spot — and that we really want to see — in the Worlds have to show up and pound some weaker teams just to prove that.  God forbid one of those teams have a terrible week and miss out on the playoffs, as a team that would definitely be weaker and that curling fans wouldn’t want to see as much as that team would make it through.

Since they do this in Europe as well, what I’d suggest is use a similar approach to what the World Hockey Championships do and give the teams that finish in the top X spots an automatic spot in the next one.  The teams that finish lower than those are relegated to the qualifying round, which has those teams plus the bottom five from the A pool.  Do this worldwide and not just in these regions, so that you don’t need to have as many teams qualifying.  Then relegate the bottom X teams from that to the B pool and promote the top X teams from that to the qualifying round.  Doing this would keep the best teams in the Worlds year after year without them having to qualify every year, provide some better teams for the hopefully up-and-coming teams to play against, give more countries a chance to qualify since turnover in the qualifying round would be higher, and would make things more competitive and hopefully avoid as many blowouts as we saw in this tournament.  And it also would stop penalizing deeper countries by forcing them to pick a team to send to a mostly meaningless tournament just to qualify for the Worlds.

Another interesting point was that the commentators were talking about rocks speeding up and slowing down and commented that the teams needed to be able to read the “slide paths”, which are paths that more rocks or less rocks had been thrown down and that had been swept more or less which changes the speed of the paths and how much the rocks will curl.  Now, from what I recall I think that this was always a concept, but don’t think it was as prominent as it was now.  Yes, if you had a lot of rocks down one path and the sweepers were hammering it, things would change, but it seems far more drastic now.  I wonder if this is an artifact of the new brushes and brushing techniques.  When they were first introduced, someone proved them by taking a new synthetic brush and directional sweeping and making the rock move left and then right and then back again in a zigzag pattern, something that no one could have believed possible before this.  While the curling governing bodies have added restrictions so that this isn’t possible, the new brooms and directional sweeping can still have a huge impact.   So I suspect that this is causing there to be more slide paths and more polishing of the ice, causing more discrepancies between different lines on the ice, causing more misreadings of the ice, causing more missed shots and mistakes, which explains why I’m seeing more games settled by mistakes than I recall seeing in the past.  Since I don’t care for games settled by mistakes, this isn’t a benefit for me.

Finally, Canada won gold on the men’s side — Brad Gushue blowing out the team from Korea — and bronze on the women’s side with Kerri Einarson winning a relatively close one over the United States after losing a very close one to Japan in the semi-finals.

The next curling for me is I think the next Grand Slam Event in December.

Tour Challenge

October 24, 2022

So the next event on the Grand Slam of Curling was the Tour Challenge.  On the women’s side, Rachel Homan beat Kerri Einarson  and on the men’s side, Niklas Edin’s team beat Matt Dunstone’s team.

The reason that I said “team” for the men’s side is that Niklas Edin’s team won it without him as he was injured before the semi-finals, hurting his knee, and so his third Oskar Eriksson stepped into calling the game and throwing the last stones and the other two players threw three rocks apiece.  Normally, this is considered to be a disadvantage, and yet they managed to upend too really good teams in Brad Gushue’s team and Dunstone’s team.  Now, this could be seen as an anomaly but earlier in the season there was a women’s team that also had to go with a three person team and did far better than anyone expected, and over the past few seasons there have indeed been cases where a team had to go to three players and in general they seem to have done quite well.  Of course, it’s known that players that throw more rocks will get a better feel for the ice and so will have an advantage that way, but that’s supposed to be outweighed by the fact that they only have one sweeper and so that important part of the game will be impacted.  It doesn’t really seem like that’s actually the case, as the recent games have shown.  It was already pointed out that the second sweeper doesn’t have that much impact on how far a rock will go or how straight it will run most of the time, which is why a number of teams decided to focus on only having one player sweep instead of having two.  About the only real disadvantage, then, would be that it’s potentially easier to switch between sweeping the rock for it to run straight and sweeping it so that it will curl, as you can just switch players instead of having the one sweeper have to switch what they’re doing, but since with two sweepers that has to be coordinated I’m not sure that it is that much easier to switch who is sweeping instead of switching how the one sweeper is sweeping.  For dragging it, it seems like two or three players can make a difference, but those sorts of desperate drags aren’t that common anymore.  So it looks like either two sweepers are no longer needed or else teams aren’t doing enough when playing a three-person team to make sweeping really relevant.

On the women’s side, it was a relatively high scoring game (Homan won 8 – 4) but that happened mostly because of mistakes.  Early on, though, there was a difference in the mistakes the teams were making.  Homan’s team made more mistakes on their throws, missing shots that they probably should have made, but what got Einarson’s team in trouble was mistakes in strategy.  In one of the early ends, they seemed to be setting things up to concede a deuce at most but at the very last minute went for a freeze to try to force Homan to just one point, missed it, and gave up three, and later they tried I think a double that wasn’t the best shot and again missed it to give up more than they wanted.  Even the commentators noted that the shots seemed like poor decisions.  While Einarson’s team also missed shots later, it really does seem and has seemed to me for a while that teams like hers and like Homan’s aren’t as great at strategy as they should be, calling much more difficult shots than needed and while they are talented enough to make them a lot of the time they can also go badly and cost them games.  I haven’t seen that as much in the men’s games I’ve watched, as for example Brad Gushue will often call really difficult shots but the strategy is usually reasonable and it makes sense, as there’s no easier shot that would be that much better or the situation in the game is such that it’s worth the extra risk.  So the women’s teams might need to do some work on their strategy.

This was also the first time I was able to really watch Homan’s new team, and while they are doing well together and in one of the segments Fleury talked about how she’d known them all since they were teens meaning that it makes more sense for them to join together, I was struck by how I don’t think that adding Fleury really added anything that Homan’s team lacked.  Homan throws the last rocks and Fleury throws third stones and arguably calls the game, but Fleury isn’t a better game caller than Homan and Fleury was not a player that was known to struggle under pressure.  This is why Sylvana Tirinzoni’s team works, and Tirinzoni did feel that the pressure of throwing last stones didn’t work for her and Alina Paetz clearly doesn’t have that issue, while you have to think that Paetz thinks that Tirinzoni is at least as good a shot caller as her if not better and definitely feels comfortable letting Tirinzoni mostly run the show knowing that she will set up the end for shots that Paetz can make (which is pretty much all of them).  But when Homan is throwing last stones she pretty much gets to say what shots she wants to make but if Fleury is calling the rest of the end there is the potential for Homan to get frustrated with how the end set up for her last stones, and if she pushes too much for how she wants to set up the end then she might as well just be calling the game, which would reduce Fleury to simple third role which, given this structure, she might not be happy with.  Clearly, it worked in this tournament but it still seems like an odd arrangement to me.

Also, there are commercials for I think Goldline where Homan’s team says things that reflect failure but then switch it to talk about that that’s what people say when they want them to quit but champions don’t quit and they’re champions.  This commercial really annoys me because a) most people didn’t want them to quit, b) the errors and letting down the fans don’t sound that unreasonable and c) most importantly, champions accept their mistakes and learn from them and overcome them, including cases where they might have “choked”.  It’s just a really aggressive commercial for this team given that it really does seem to be referencing at least Homan’s failures at the Olympics where while it may not be totally on her there are indeed things that she could have learned from them, and it not only doesn’t seem like she has, it seems like she’s insisting that she doesn’t need to.  I really think that that commercial and statement is one that didn’t need to be made.

The next curling is the Continental Cup, starting on Hallowe’en, before returning to the Grand Slam in December.

Boost National

October 10, 2022

This isn’t the first curling that I watched this season, but it’s the first Grand Slam event.  Since the Blue Jays made it to the playoffs (only to bow out in two games) my watching of this event was a bit hit and miss, both because I was watching that instead and because the channel that has the curling was also running the baseball and so sometimes had to shuffle the curling off to their streaming channel instead of having it on the normal broadcast channels.  However, since the Blue Jays went out in two games I did manage to watch both the men’s and women’s finals.  In a game that started with great shots but ended on a bunch of mistakes, Brad Gushue beat Niklas Edin in the men’s final, while it was a more consistently inconsistent game that Silvana Tirinzoni won over Kerri Einarson, which was a bit of a weird one for me since I kinda like both teams, was getting a bit sick of Einarson winning all the time, but since Tirinzoni replaced half her team over the break it wasn’t really the team that I had liked in the past.

At any rate, one thing of interest was Rachel Homan’s team, that brought on Tracy Fleury who used to skip her own team.  From what I had heard, the original idea was that Fleury was the skip and Homan threw fourth stones, but in the previous tournament they were going to call it Team Fleury but then changed it at the last minute to Team Homan, and in this tournament Fleury was definitely being treated as a third (she had to do a measure at one point, which is normally done by the third and she wasn’t used to that).  I’m not sure that she feels that that was what she signed up for.  Also, I noticed that Emma Miskew at at least one point was dominating a lot of the discussion like she did in the past, which I had thought was her acting a lot like a skip.  That’s okay but not necessarily ideal in a third, but now she’s a second and that wouldn’t be her role anymore.  Sarah Wilkes also chimes in (and used to be a third, if I remember correctly) and so there might be issues with too many people who have their own complete ideas of what to do generating too much discussion.  You can say that the same problem could have existed with Einarson’s team which had all skips, but the front end accepted their roles pretty quickly and left the strategy up to Einarson and Sweeting more and only chimed in when explicitly asked, which didn’t seem to be the case here.  It’s going to be very interesting to see if the new Homan team can gel.

Another new team is that of Jennifer Jones, who joined up to lead Mackenzie Zacharias’ old team, with Mackenzie herself throwing second stones.  Watching the team, I was curious about whether Jones is going to stay for the entire four years leading up to the Olympics.  If she does, then this makes her look like an aging athlete trying for one last chance at a championship by taking up with a young talented team that she can be the veteran on, and thus makes it look like this move was more for her than for them.  If she doesn’t and didn’t plan on staying for the four years, then it would look like her taking the opportunity to pass her knowledge and experience onto a young team while playing out the last couple of years of her career.  Since I’ve never been that fond of Jones, I could believe that it’s the former, but hope that it’s the latter.

Another thing of interest comes from the team formed by Jones’ old third, Kaitlyn Lawes.  It turns out that she’s expecting a baby and will be stepping away from this brand new team in November.  And her third, Selena Njegovin, is also expecting and will probably be stepping away sometime in March.  This is a wrinkle that women’s teams have that men’s teams don’t have to worry about.  Sure, you can take the stance of “Women can do anything while pregnant” — and Rachel Homan played through most of her recent pregnancy — but the issue here is that the changing weight distribution can play havoc with how they throw the stones, which is incredibly important to making the shots.  So what they have to do is practice and change their delivery to accommodate that — since it has to be automatic and unconscious — and then change it back after they deliver.  This doesn’t seem like an ideal time for two members of this very new team to do that and be away for a significant amount of time.  Then again, if women curlers are going to have children the first two years of a four year cycle seems to be the best time to do that, since they’d have the last two years to settle everything and the children would be older by the time the Olympics come around.  So do you lose the time when building a new team, or right before the important games, or do you put off children until after your career?  Biology means that this is a decision that women have to make and men don’t, and so it’s an issue for them and not the men.

The next event is the Tour Challenge, which starts next week.

Is Women’s International Hockey Competitive?

September 9, 2022

So, the Women’s World Hockey Championships have been running for the past couple of weeks, and ended on Sunday with the finals.  I’m not going to talk about the final because I was barely paying attention to it (I had Canada’s semi-final on while eating because nothing else was on and I didn’t feel like putting a movie on), except to note that as per usual it ends up being Canada vs USA in the final.  In women’s international hockey, it’s pretty much always Canada vs USA, but the hope was that the other countries would catch up.  For the longest time, Finland and Sweden were the second tier, which meant that in general they could topple one of these teams if they didn’t pay attention but that that rarely happened, so they pretty much always played for third and fourth place.  With Czechia and Switzerland in the bronze medal match, you might think that things are getting more competitive, even though Canada and the USA are still the class of field.

Or, at least, you might think that until you look at the semi-final scores, where Canada won 8 – 1 and the USA won 10 -1.  Canada outshot Switzerland 56 – 6 and the USA outshot Czechia 39 – 10.  Even given that there are more teams with a shot at playing for bronze, it doesn’t look like there’s more parity.  The teams still can’t touch Canada and the US, and so no other team has anything like a reasonable shot at winning any international competition.  Heck, given these scores, even getting back to a final seems like a pipe dream.

Now, this has been the case for a long time, and there have been a lot of arguments saying that women’s hockey should not be in the Olympics because it is simply not competitive, and so all it does is provide an extra medal for those two countries.  It can be countered that it’s worth having there anyway to encourage women’s sports, but the issue for the Olympics is that it’s difficult to dedicate time and resources to an event where the only really quality, competitive games are the two that you get between Canada and the US.  Even if the games between the “also-rans” are competitive in the sense that the teams are at the same level, they won’t be high quality games compared to the games between Canada and the US … and anyone following the games is going to be able to see that quite easily.  So the argument that has been made for the past several years is that keeping these events going is the only way to make things competitive, as having these sorts of events and having Olympic medals up for grabs will encourage other countries to invest in the sport in the hopes of getting them.  The fact that there is such a distance between the top teams and the third place teams actually helps with this because it means that there’s a decent chance of getting a bronze medal, which can be used to request funding.  Given that the bronze medal game features newish teams to the bronze medal game, it can be argued that it’s working and the sport is getting more competitive.

This would only be true, of course, if the reason this is happening is primarily because the lower teams are getting better instead of primarily because Finland and Sweden are regressing.  Obviously, the lower teams are improving as they build formal teams and get more international exposure and games, but it doesn’t look like Finland and Sweden are getting better given where they finished.  Finland is now a perennial threat and contender in men’s hockey, but here they had to play against Japan for position.  Sweden made it to the quarters and had to play Canada which meant that they weren’t going any further, but Canada was disappointing that they only won 4 – 1, especially given that they also badly outshot them.  It doesn’t seem, then, like Finland and Sweden are improving to be in the same tier as Canada and the US, but are instead collapsing their tier by falling back to the same level as the up-and-coming teams.  If this is true, then it doesn’t look like the teams are going to catch up to Canada and the US any time soon.

Now, in my opinion, I think that these sorts of international competitions might, in fact, be responsible for this, at least in part.  The first thing to note is that one of the arguments is that this builds a fan base in these countries and so gets more girls interested in playing the game, and so increases the talent base that can be recruited, which increases competition and so improves the overall quality of the team.  However, the problem here is that the fans can be energized when the sport starts up and can be energized when the team has notable successes — like a bronze medal or a shocking win over the established teams — but fans don’t like watching sports where their teams get slaughtered every time they play and when they have no chance of winning.  In short, if fans feel that their team is nothing more than an also-ran then their interest will fall off a bit and so it won’t get the prestige that it needs to spawn that recruitment drive.  Losing close games where the teams are underdogs but feel that on a really good day they might win is tolerable, but getting slaughtered every game is not at all fun to watch or cheer for.

Second, I also think that it’s bad for the players and for those potential players that they’re trying to recruit.  If fans don’t like it when the teams get slaughtered, just think of how the players feel.  Players that are already on the team aren’t going to quit over it — especially if they might get bronze medals out of it — and players that find and love the sport itself are going to join, but you aren’t going to get those really competitive players who are good and the game and desperately want to win.  If they have a choice between a sport where they get slaughtered and might have a shot at third or a sport where they might be able to win, or at least be competitive.  So it’s going to hurt recruitment for the sport as well.

And it arguably hurts the sport overall.  Sure, Canada and the US find it fun to watch their teams blow away the other teams and then fight it out for gold, but any neutral observer is going to find everything except the gold medal game boring and uninteresting.  It would make the sport look, well, like a joke, with only two good teams with the rest, well, being teams that I guess play the game.  If everyone was at the same level — and people will argue that compared to the men’s game the women’s game is indeed that inferior — then at least we’d get the competitive mix to work with, as everyone is roughly at the same level.  But when two teams are so far ahead of everyone else you get a tournament of a couple of good teams and a bunch of also-rans, and that isn’t something that fans of the sport itself find fun or credible.  So keeping events like this that aren’t credible obviously doesn’t help the sport.

Now, one issue that follows on from this is that because it’s women’s sport and there are a lot of issues with women’s hockey itself at the moment, it’s getting a lot of attention.  You can justify giving these sorts of things that much attention if they are at least competitive (women’s soccer is more competitive, as even though the US dominates there are a lot closer teams and closer games and it really is the case that there are a number of teams that can beat the US on any given day, and not just a really good day), but if the sport isn’t competitive it doesn’t work.  We don’t see any reason why we should take women’s hockey seriously on the international level when there are only two good teams, which is only made worse by constant reminders that women’s sports, in general, aren’t close in terms of overall skill level and quality to the men’s teams (basically, the idea that if you took those dominant women’s teams and had them play against men’s teams the outcome would be as lopsided as it is when the dominant women’s teams play the weaker teams).  So it’s not the highest quality version of the sport and it’s not even a very competitive version of the sport, which means that the tournaments themselves aren’t very credible.  And since those are supposed to be the top examples of the sport, that means that women’s hockey itself isn’t very credible.  And then we wonder why, other than the fact that it’s women’s hockey, it’s getting so much attention and is seen as being that important.

The thing is, we’ve seen sports actually rise from relatively being non-competitive where a couple of countries dominate to ones where a lot more teams are at the same level without degrading the performance of the top countries, partly inspired by Olympic participation.  Curling, for example, was dominated by a couple of countries — including Canada — but when it got Olympic participation a number of countries started to ramp up their programs and have become teams that you have to watch out for, but the teams from the other countries and particularly from Canada have not dropped in quality.  Some of the best teams on the Grand Slam of Curling are the teams that Canada sends to the Olympics and the other international tournaments and they are still in tough and still have a difficult time winning, even against non-standard teams like China and Japan.  I think the fact that curling never had one team or country that was that dominant and quite quickly ended up with a competitive field is what helped it move to being a credible international sport.  Women’s hockey isn’t there yet, but with the morale crushing Canada and US in the field I wonder if it will, indeed, ever get there.

NHL Playoff Predictions: Summary

June 27, 2022

So, the Colorado Avalanche won the Stanley Cup last night — and immediately dented it — in six games, preventing the three-peat for the Tampa Bay Lightning.  I had predicted that Colorado’s goaltending would be an issue, but it didn’t turn out that way, and some weak moments by Tampa Bay’s goaltending likely was the difference in the series.  That left my final record for these playoffs at 8 – 7, which is better that .500 and so was at least a moderate success.  However, since Colorado was the team with home ice advantage and pulled it off, it left home ice advantage at 9 – 6, which meant that I would have been better off picking all the home ice advantage teams than actually trying to choose what teams would win.  At any rate, that’s it for hockey for this year, and so it’s pretty much baseball for me until curling starts up again in the fall.

NHL Playoff Predictions: Finals

June 12, 2022

I noted before the semi-finals that I needed to go at least 2 – 1 over the last three series to go over .500 for the playoffs.  Well, I had a really good semi-finals, going 2 – 0 which leaves my overall record at 8 – 6.  Since I did that by predicting that Tampa Bay would win their series against the Rangers and since the Rangers were the team with home ice advantage there, that meant that home ice advantage went 1 – 1 and so is also at 8 – 6 for the playoffs.  So, for the most part here, I’m playing with house money to go over .500, but I of course want to do as well as I can.

Finals:

Tampa Bay vs Colorado:  This decision is actually a really tough one.  Tampa Bay is going to have to lose sometime, and over the past few decades — since the Islanders’ run of four straight — teams haven’t managed to win three in a row.  In large part, that’s because you have to play a lot of hockey to win each year and that ultimately wears teams down.  However, Tampa Bay has a bit of an advantage in that over the past couple of seasons they haven’t had to play full seasons, which would help with that a bit.  Still, they have to lose sometime, and so the only question is whether Colorado is the team, right now, that can do that.  And the biggest question for Colorado is their goaltending.  Yes, their rookie backup goaltender did well enough against what was probably the most dynamic offense left, but the Oilers were vulnerable defensively and with their goaltending which meant that they could be outscored.  Tampa Bay has been playing a lot better defensively and so will be a bigger challenge, and so that one extra save might make all the difference … and their goaltender has overcome some slow starts to seemingly return to form.  Also, being off for so long might cause Colorado to come out flat in the first game while Tampa shouldn’t be that tired from their various series to make fatigue be a factor, and one extra game win might make all the difference.  So I’m going to go with Tampa Bay for this one.

Summary:

Tampa Bay vs Colorado Incorrect

Overall Record:  8 – 6
Home Ice Advantage Record:  8 – 6

NHL Playoff Predictions: Semifinals

May 31, 2022

The second round was the round to go for upsets, as home ice advantage went 1 – 3 in that round.  Since I had already known that I picked all the home teams in the second round, that meant that I also went 1 – 3.  This leaves my overall record at 6 – 6, with home ice advantage staying at 7 – 5.  So I need to go 2 – 1 over the last couple of rounds to stay over .500 for the playoffs.

Eastern Conference:

Tampa Bay vs Rangers:  This is a tough series to pick, as while Tampa Bay swept Florida in the second round they didn’t look that great in the first round, but then the Rangers have had to fight back in their series as well.  On the one hand, Tampa Bay got a lot more rest after their sweep than the Rangers did, but on the other hand sometimes that causes rust and teams to come out slowly.  The Rangers having fought back from being down in series are never going to give up and are going to believe they can win no matter what, but Tampa Bay are the defending champions and so know how to win in the playoffs.  I’ll go with Tampa Bay this time.

Western Conference:

Edmonton vs Colorado:  Edmonton’s stars are playing really well and they have gotten good goaltending, at least at times, but Colorado’s stars are also playing well and they seem to have the better team.  I’m going to stick with Colorado this time.

Summary:

Eastern Conference:

Tampa Bay vs Rangers Correct

Western Conference:

Edmonton vs Colorado Correct

Overall Record: 6 – 6
Home Ice Advantage Record: 7 – 5

Wild World of Sports

May 30, 2022

Yeah, I said that I wasn’t going to post this week, but it turns out that there are a couple of sports posts that I want to make.  The other one is my predictions for the next round of the NHL playoffs, and this one is talking about the wild weekend in sports, or at least in the sports events that I happened to watch yesterday.

It started off in the morning after I got back from the grocery store.  I was looking to see what was on and say that the Monaco Grand Prix was on, and since I somewhat follow Formula 1 I figured I’d catch the end of it while getting ready and doing other things.  Except that when I tuned in it turned out that the race hadn’t even started yet, because they had a major rain shower pretty much right before the start of the race which forced them to delay it.  When they restarted, the track was still wet and so most cars were on full wet tires — from what the commentators said, they’re required to do that if they start behind a safety car, which they did — but then the track started to dry out and teams started changing to intermediate tires that have a bit less grip but are also faster.  Ferrari managed to kinda screw that up for Charles Leclerc, putting him a bit behind the eight ball in the race, but things could have been okay except that soon after they started going to slicks and Ferrari screwed it up again, bringing Leclerc in at the same time — and slightly behind — his teammate Sainz while Red Bull also brought their two drivers in at the same time but it seems were ready for it, and so Perez got out ahead of Sainz and Verstappen got out ahead of Leclerc, meaning that if things stayed that way Red Bull would get more points than Ferrari and Verstappen would increase his lead over Leclerc in the driver’s standings.  But then there was a major accident on the track which caused them to have to stop it again.  Knowing that this meant that the race would time out before the total number of laps, Red Bull went with medium tires which wear faster but at least start a bit quicker, and yet didn’t get much advantage from that and so things stayed the same until closer to the end, where Ferrari having less worn tires seemed to give Sainz an advantage over Perez for a while, but after Sainz almost ran into Perez a couple of times that advantage seemed to slip away and it ended as related above, which was a historic win for Perez.  But, yeah, lots of odd things happened and the commentators noted that if you could think of something that hadn’t happened you should watch to see if it would happen.

After that, I watched the Canada-Finland final of the World Hockey Championships.  For the first two periods, things seemed pretty normal, but then in the third Canada took a bunch of penalties including one 5 – 3, but Finland hadn’t scored on them … but then got another 5 – 3 from a high sticking penalty where the Finnish player actually hit himself with his own stick and soon after scored to tie the game at 1.  And then it turns out that the Canadian goaltender — who was already their second string goaltender — was injured trying to make the save, and had to pull himself out of the game, meaning that they had to put their third string goaltender in.  Finland then scored on the remaining power play to take the lead.  They then later scored again to take a 3 – 1 lead and looked in control.  But Canada pulled the goaltender with a couple of minutes left and scored, although it went to a review that it was announced was a challenge by Finland — which would mean that they’d take a penalty if it failed — but it turns out that they hadn’t requested it and so didn’t get a penalty when it failed.  So the goal counted and Canada didn’t get a power play, but still pulled the goaltender.  And wouldn’t you know it, they scored again to tie the game, which they had also done against Sweden in the quarterfinals.  So it went to overtime, and it was a pretty cautious initial 3 – 3 session but then Canada again took a penalty and Finland (the home team, BTW) scored to win the game in overtime.  Another game where pretty much everything that could happen happened.

And then I watched the Blue Jays take on the Angels in baseball, which was a game that encouraged me to skip watching “Party of Five” and watch the end of the game instead.  The Angels opened up the scoring in the first, while the Blue Jays came back with 2 in the second before the Angels scored 1 in the second to tie it.  The Blue Jays then scored 4 in the third and the Angels came back with 4 in their half of the third to keep it tied, chasing both starting pitchers.  The Angels kept scoring and took a 9 – 6 lead, but then the Blue Jays came back with 3 in the seventh to tie it, before the Angels took 1 in the bottom of the seventh to take the lead again.  The Blue Jays scored two in the eighth to take the lead, and managed to hold the Angels off the scoreboard for an 11 – 10 victory.  This, of course, was pretty wild in and of itself, but the way the runs were scored was also wild.  The Angels walked in at least three runs and kept walking the bases loaded, while the Blue Jays gave up a lot of home runs to the Angels, more than they have given up in any game so far this season and in one case one relief pitcher gave up a home run after only having given up one other home run the entire season … and that one was in the first game he pitched in of the season, or thereabouts.  So a wild and uncharacteristic game.

So, yeah, that was a wild day in sports, that I managed to watch most of.