John Chidley A blog about reading, writing, pop culture and sports.


Canada/USA has made me into a fan of women’s hockey

I am embarrassed to admit that last night was the first time I have ever watched a women’s hockey game from start to finish. A terrible sin, I know.

I had seen periods from games or seen bits and pieces, but for a host of reasons I’ve never been able to sit and watch a women’s game to completion. But I’m glad I finally did.

It was the perfect game to watch as Canada held on to an early 2-0 lead to down their arch-rivals from the United States and win their third consecutive Olympic gold medal.

There was a lot to like about the match-up. As the prohibitive favourites in any international tournament, the North American teams had often locked up at the highest levels of competition, whether at the Olympics or World Championships. As a result, the two teams are very familiar with each other’s tactics and strategies.

It quickly became apparent that women’s hockey has a style all its own thanks largely to the prohibition of body checking.

Personally, I’ve always thought this was a sexist rule that implied that women were too fragile to withstand physical play. It just made no sense – why could a woman not safely hit another woman? They would be physical equals, with no particular danger of injury.

However, the lack of big hits means that the scourge of entertaining hockey – the Trap – is impossible. The resulting game is fast and free-flowing with few stops in play. It’s refreshing compared to the National Hockey League where clogging the neutral zone has often been the fastest way to the playoffs.

The players on both teams were exceptional passers and play makers. Throughout the game there were creative tape-to-tape passes generating scoring chances. The Canadians in particular had a knack for finding each other on the ice.

When they had those openings, the Canadians were patient, waiting for defenders to over-commit themselves to a blocked shot. Canada often exploited their opponents’ mistake with a sharp pass for another quality chance. It was inspiring hockey.

Team Canada was also impressively dedicated to defence, dropping to their knees to block shots and passes, fending off a 5-on-3 power play for nearly a minute and a half at the start of the second period.

It was a lot of fun to watch, with both teams evenly matched.

That said, I don’t regret missing any of their other games. They were all lopsided blowouts that made me feel bad for the have-nots in women’s hockey. This is the sport’s greatest weakness – only a Canada-USA match-up showcases the very best of the game. Every other pairing is horribly one-sided.

When the next world championship rolls around, I’ll make sure to watch – as long as the game has Canada and the USA in it.

A side note: The fact that Team Canada had to apologize for their celebratory drinks and cigars on the ice is utter nonsense. The arena had emptied out and they were revelling in their success in what should have been a private moment. They should be allowed to let their hair down, guilt free.

I won’t go on any further, as too much ink has already been spilled over this story.


In Defence of Own the Podium

Wednesday was Canada’s best day for Olympic medals, with the teams of Kaillie Humphries/Heather Moyes and Helen Upperton/Shelley-Ann Brown winning gold and silver in a 1-2 punch in women’s two-person bobsleigh. The women's 5,000 metre speed skating relay team earned a silver medal. Adding to the medal haul was Clara Hughes, who earned  her sixth career Olympic medal, a bronze in 5000m long track speed skating.

Although Team Canada’s 7-3 thrashing of the Russian Federation grabbed all the headlines, it was a banner day for Canada’s less glamorous Olympic sports that may have helped justify the Canadian Olympic Committee’s controversial Own the Podium program, just as it appears to be on its last legs.

Designed to give Canada the highest medal count at the 2010 Vancouver games, the Own the Podium program increased spending on winter Olympic sports by $21-million annually over the course of five years, with money coming from provincial and federal governments as well as private sponsors like Bell Canada. The goal was for Canada to earn a total of 35 podium finishes.

This plan has drawn criticism from all corners. Other countries (particularly the British media) have described it as an “un-Canadian” initiative. Apparently, it’s against the national character to be competitive in anything other than men’s hockey. A proposterous claim given that the Olympics, by definition, is about pushing the envelope and achieving new heights.

At the same time, some domestic media were unhappy that so much public funding - $118 million in total – was being spent on athletics when it could be applied to pressing issues like education, health care or the flagging economy.

As of this writing, Canada has stepped on to the podium 15 times, and might finish in the top three in men and women’s hockey, men and women’s curling and speed skating. Realistically, Canada will finish with around 20 medals, just shy of their 2006 Turin total of 24, and well short of Own the Podium’s stated goal of 35. On Monday, the COC announced that it was no longer aiming to top the medal tables at Vancouver.

In other words, CEO Roger Jackson and his staff have disappointed just about everybody, except the athletes.

Although the program has not met expectations, I think that in the long run it will make Canada into a more formidable sporting nation. At long last, Canadian athletes are getting the support they so richly deserve, allowing them to finally put their best foot forward in international competition.

Their performance at the Vancouver games will serve as an inspiration to Canada’s youth, spawning a new generation of world-class athletes. Yes, the money could have been spent on other projects, but giving Canadian children role models to look up to is certainly a worthy pursuit.

Further, this initiative is just catching Canada up to the rest of the world. In many cases, the athletes from other nations in the winter Olympics are members of the military.

For example, Tuffy LaTour, the coach of Canadian men’s bobsleigh team, is a retired army sergeant from the United States who competed with the American military’s sledding team.

Dan Humphries, the husband of Canadian gold medalist Kaillie Humphries, and a member of Canada’s four-man bobsleigh team, was originally a member of the British Army’s slidding team.

Heck, Finland won the Winter War against the Soviet Union by their superior biathlon skills.

Canada, with its significantly smaller population and military complex, needs a boost to its athletics programs, and Own the Podium is it.

Just as the Calgary Olympics created a home base for Canadian sports, the combination of the Vancouver games and Own the Podium will start a new golden age in the Canadian Olympic movement. It appears as though most of Own the Podium's sponsors, both public and private, will stop funding after the closing ceremonies this weekend, which would be a shame.


Da! Da! Canada! Nyet! Nyet! Soviet!

Mike Babcock made the right decision when he benched Martin Brodeur in favour of Roberto Luongo.

We all knew it was coming – at some point, Russia and Canada had to play each other in this Olympic hockey tournament. The rock and the immovable object, the two hockey superpowers were destined to face each other, even if it’s not in the ideal gold medal game.

After struggling against Switzerland and losing to Team USA, Canada’s coaches and management seem to be back on track and have made some strong decisions. Even after a decisive 8-2 win over Germany, Wednesday night’s game against Russia is still going to be the closest, most fraught match-up of Canada’s entire Olympic tournament.

Head coach Mike Babcock and his assistants are definitely doing some things right. For example, they’re smart to keep Chris Pronger off the ice and therefore out of the penalty box.Yes, Pronger’s a big bruising defenceman who is a great leader in the locker room, but under the stricter rules of international hockey he takes too many penalties. So far he hasn’t spent a single moment in the sin bin, and Team Canada is all the better for it.

Keeping Pronger benched isn’t just addition by subtraction; it’s giving more ice time to younger, more disciplined defencemen.

The blue-liners that have benefited most from this are Drew Doughty and Dan Boyle. Both have made smart choices on offence, jumping into the rush at opportune time and creating plays with smart passes. Their defence hasn’t suffered either – their teammates can depend on them to separate the man from the puck.

Similarly, Babcock made the right call replacing Martin Brodeur with Roberto Luongo, even if it came too late for most fans liking.

Although he holds just about every National Hockey League goaltending record, ever, Brodeur has looked shaky in net. Most people will focus on his poor performance against the United States, but he looked uncomfortable against Switzerland as well. Brodeur had a hard time tracking the puck, gave up big rebounds and lacked confidence against the Swiss.

With Luongo between the pipes and Pronger on the bench, there’s a good chance that Canada’s superior defence will be able to shut down the formidable Russian offence lead by Alexander Ovechkin, although there are still some nagging questions.

Most significantly, Sidney Crosby doesn’t seem comfortable in his own skin, even if he did click with Jarome Iginla and Eric Staal Tuesday night.

This is compounded by the fact that the coaching staff seems intent on making Crosby the focal point of their attack, having him take a penalty shot that Rick Nash earned against the Germans. I understand that they want to get him scoring again, but Nash is more than capable of taking a penalty shot. They don’t want to cut off their nose to spite their face.

Honestly, it’s anyone’s game. Sure, Team Canada was embarrassed by the Americans, but the Russians were also upset by the Slovakians. Canada’s defence is stronger than Russia’s, but the Russian attack is more powerful than Team Canada’s. It’s a trade off.

For Canada to win they need to come out strong and fire on all cylinders - not just the players but the coaches too. They simply can't make any missteps.

Filed under: Sports No Comments

Three ice dancing performances I’d like to see

Like many Canadians, I was thrilled by Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir’s gold medal ice dance performance on Monday night.

I would never call myself a figure skating or ice dancing fan – I find that too often the judge’s decisions are political – but I was impressed with the athleticism and technique of all the dancers in the competition.

What did not impress me was their lack of creativity or originality. Most of the performances bled together. Virtue and Moir stood above the rest of the competition because they didn’t rely on clichéd music like the themes from the Phantom of the Opera or Requiem for a Dream. They weren’t covered with sequins and feathers. Their performance truly distinguished them from the rest of the pack.

As I was watching all the performances roll off the assembly line, I couldn’t help but come up with ideas of my own. Not necessarily for me to perform since I’m a terrible skater, but ideas that talented ice dancers could use to blow away the judges and competition. Here are my top three:

Super Mario Brothers -Mario and Princess Peach.
The pinnacle of video game romance, Super Mario’s quest to save his true love, Princess Peach, is timeless and crosses all cultures. Their tale of love denied has ties to Japan, Italy and North America and would undoubtedly hold appeal to judges from many nations.

The music is all there too. Obviously, the symphonic version of the Mario theme is a good starting place, but if the performers want to make things a little more contemporary theys can break it down and use a medley that incorporates DJ Clue’s remix of the classic 8-bit song.

The costumes are easy too – the male dancer would wear red overalls, a red newsie cap, white gloves and a giant fake moustache. Princess Peach’s costume is even easier, since most figure skaters already wear giant pink dresses and crowns. The one adjustment is that for safety reasons the ice dancer’s costume would need a shorter skirt then the Princess’ traditional ball gown.

After all that preparation the performance will write itself. Trust me.

Back to the Future – Marty McFly and Doc Brown.
Not a love story necessarily, but Marty McFly and Doc Brown have one of the best bromances in movie history. 

The strength of the Back to the Future pairing is that the music would blow the competition away. Nothing could top Huey Lewis’ "Power of Love" for the short program (complete with air guitar) followed by Alan Silvestri’s Back to the Future theme for the long performance.

The biggest problem with this program, of course, is that both characters are male. However, a petite brunette with short cropped hair could easily play Marty McFly. Tight jeans, a denim shirt and McFly’s trademark red vest would complete the ensemble. A big white wig and flowing lab coat would transform the male dancer into Doc Brown, and your theme is complete.

Liberal use of a fog machine, and perhaps a Delorian door for the ice pad’s entrance would complete the performance and a much needed sense of adventure to the proceedings. I have it on good authority that you don’t need money, you don’t need fame, you don’t need no credit card to ride the Olympics train.

Star Wars – C3PO and R2D2
Yes, there are more traditional romantic pairings like Han Solo and Leia Organa, while Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia could appeal to those icky brother-sister ice pairs like Russians Roman and Alexandra Zaretsky or Brits Sinead and John Kerr.  However, for my money, the best couple in the Star Wars movies are C3PO and R2D2. They stick together no matter what and have exceptional teamwork. Aren’t those ideal traits for an Olympic-calibre performance?

Also, the music is a slam dunk. John Williams’ score from the Star Wars movies is one of the most recognizable pieces of classical work and is suitably epic for an ice dancing performance.

I would make my performance an interpretation of the Droid’s journey, beginning with their escape from the Blockade Runner in A New Hope. A bold coach might even incorporate Leia’s desperate holographic message to the Rebel Alliance. As the dancers flee from corner to corner of the ice, extras in Stormtrooper outfits could emerge from the audience to wildly fire blasters at them. It’d be exciting and allow the dancers to display all their most graceful tricks.

The one drawback of this piece would be the construction of R2D2’s outfit. However, I’m sure a talented costume designer could tackle the project and the result would be more dignified then dressing as a tree or performing to Linkin Park’s "Crawling".


My weekend in junior hockey, Feb. 19-21st

Gabriel Dumont of the Drummondville Voltigeurs socred in each period Friday night.

This week junior hockey fans were treated to some great match-ups that might be previews of playoff matchups.

Friday night two of the highest seeds in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League locked up as the Drummondville Voltigeurs beat down the Quebec Remparts 8-2.

Even after absorbing the loss, the Remparts are in first in the Eastern Division. The win was more significant for the Voltigeurs who continued to put distance between themselves and the Victoriaville Tigres in the Central Division.

The game was headlined by Gabriel Dumont, who scored a hat trick for Drummondville and continues to be one of their strongest players.

On Saturday night the Barrie Colts dumped the Windsor Spitfires 8-5 in another high scoring game.

I’m not big on publicizing my predictions, but I wholly expect that this game could be a preview of the Ontario Hockey League’s playoff finals. The Colts have dominated the league’s Eastern Conference, not just clinching a playoff berth but also a title.

Meanwhile, the Spitfires have been strong in the Western Conference, putting a virtual all star team on the ice every night. They’ve also got the psychological advantage of being last year’s Canadian Hockey League champions.

Alex Hutchings and Darren Archibald both scored twice for Barrie, indicating that Windsor might not repeat as Memorical Cup Champions.

This weekend was a good indication of what the postseason has in store.

Friday, Feb. 19th2010
QMJHL – Drummondville drills Quebec in top matchup
When two top-ranked teams meet, it's supposed to be a close game.

That wasn't the case Friday night as Gabriel Dumont scored in each period and the Drummondville Voltigeurs blasted the Quebec Remparts 8-2 in Quebec Major Junior Hockey League action. (See more...)

OHL – Luciani’s hat trick leads Erie to victory
It was a home coming of sorts for goaltender Adam Courchaine of the Erie Otters.

Anthony Luciani earned the hat trick as Erie defeated the Ottawa 67's 5-2 in Ontario Hockey League play Friday night. (See more...)

WHL – Blazers celebrate Mucha’s night with win over Seattle
Forward C.J. Stretch made sure a milestone night for goaltender Kurtis Mucha was extra special.

Stretch went end-to-end and scored the winning goal in overtime to give the Kamloops Blazers a 5-4 Western Hockey League victory over the Seattle Thunderbirds Friday night. (See more...)

Saturday, Feb. 20th 2010
QMJHL – Shawinigan upsets Saint John
Antoine Houde-Caron and the Shawinigan Cataractes had one of the biggest wins of their season Saturday night.

Houde-Caron scored the eventual winner as Shawinigan tamed the Saint John Sea Dogs 3-1 in Quebec Major Junior Hockey League action. (See more...)

OHL – Colts take down Spitfires
In a likely preview of the John Ross Robertson Cup, the Barrie Colts downed the Windsor Spitfires.

Alex Hutchings and Darren Archibald both had a pair of goals as Barrie raced to an 8-5 win over Windsor in Ontario Hockey League action Saturday night. (See more...)

WHL – Weal leads Regina over Chilliwack
The Regina Pats kept their playoff hopes alive with a much needed win Saturday night.

Jordan Weal had two goals and two assists to lift Regina to a 5-3 victory over the Chilliwack Bruins in Western Hockey League action. (See more...)

Sunday, Feb. 21st 2010
QMJHL – Rouyn-Noranda edges Chicoutimi
Richard Martel will have to wait a week for his next chance to make history.

Sergey Ostapchuk had the eventual winner as the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies held on to beat the Chicoutimi Sagueneens 2-1 in Quebec Major Junior Hockey League play Sunday afternoon. (See more...)

OHL – Plymouth cruises to 11-3 win over Sarnia; clinches berth
The Plymouth Whalers earned a playoff spot in style Sunday afternoon.

Tyler Seguin and Ryan Hayes both scored twice and added an assist as Plymouth crushed the Sarnia Sting 11-3 in Ontario Hockey League action. (See more...)


Midterm report on CTV’s Olympics coverage

TSN's Jay Onrait (left) and Dan O'Toole have been just two of the highlights of the Consortium's Olympic coverage.

Whether it’s bitter Australians or sniping Brits, the 2010 Olympics media coverage has become a story unto itself, becoming a sideshow to the actual competition.

In Canada, the media controversy du jour is that the Olympics are being covered by the Consortium - a group of companies that includes CTV, the Globe and Mail, Rogers and my employers, the Canadian Press amongst many others – and not the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. Many people have criticized CTV’s coverage, saying that the CBC is the broadcaster of choice. Personally, I’m not so sure.

Student of Canadian television that I am, I think it’s time to see just how CTV’s posse has been doing.

More channels, more sports. The CTV/CHUM/City/Rogers hydra has six channels available for Olympics broadcasting, meaning that there is no need for anyone to miss their favourite event. They’ve also done a good job of rolling a banner out informing the viewers when other events are starting on other channels.

This isn’t just good for the viewers, it’s good for the sports. Events like women’s hockey are getting more exposure than ever before, and it’s actually possible to watch an entire day’s worth of competition without the feed switching to biathlon or something.

Hopefully this means that in the long run we’ll see growth in sports that have suffered on the fringes of cable television.

APTN. One of the channels in the Consortium is the Aboriginal People’s Television Network, a channel up in the high stratosphere of cable TV.  They haven’t been given the biggest events to cover, but the fact that they’re providing coverage specifically for Canada’s First Nations is admirable.

Many Canadian athletes are of native descent, and having a dedicated Olympic channel that caters to them is long overdue. Hopefully, they’ll maintain their license for the foreseeable future.

James Duthie. Okay, not just Duthie, but many members of the TSN crew.  Anchors like Dan O’Toole, Bryan Mudryk and Jay Onrait have been given a bigger stage to perform on, and they’ve done a fantastic job of keeping even mundane recaps entertaining.

Too often the Olympics are sincere to the point of being maudlin and these four TSN veterans have injected a much-needed sense of fun to the proceedings.

Duthie in particular, has used his dry wit to great effect. The lead-up to the opening ceremonies stands out. When everyone else seemed dazzled by the spotlight, Duthie was quipping about Brian Williams and Lloyd Robertson doing body shots together. It’s rare that a television personality can crack up their co-host on screen.

CONs –
More channels, more problems. As I said above, having more sports available on more channels is a good thing. Unfortunately, it hasn’t always been well executed.

On the CTV Olympics website and on TV the Consortium has posted times for events without specifying which time zone. I know several people who’ve been thrown off by the start times of big matches or performances that have been wrong simply because CTV neglected to mention whether it was Eastern or Pacific time.

Canada is a big country with six time zones. CTV should make it easy on their viewers by at least throwing them a point of reference on which zone they’re talking about.

Green commentators. As strong as the TSN staff have been, there have also been some cringe-worthy commentators. A new conglomerate providing coverage for six channels, 24 hours a day means that many of the play-by-play people and colour analysts are pretty raw. They’re either new to the sport or new to broadcasting. This has created all kinds of bumps and hiccups that are distracting and sometimes confusing.

Also, with content spread significantly thinner, some commentary teams have clearly struggled to fill air time. Normally I think Jamie Campbell is a fine sportscaster, but during the men’s snowboard cross time trials he was clearly at loose ends, resorting to quoting Led Zeppelin lyrics. You can do better than that Mr. Campbell.

The preamble to the opening ceremonies was particularly rough, with everyone at loose ends trying to fill airspace. Only Duthie shone at this point, thanks to his years of experience on TSN.

MuchMusic. The weakest of the Consortium channels, my first glimpse of MuchMusic’s Olympic coverage was when CTV briefly switched to their feed in the lead up to the opening ceremonies.

VJ Tim Deegan was sitting in a hot tub with three young ladies who could have been 12 years old. In Much’s indoor set, two girls took body shots off of some guy’s chest. Then the viewer was back out with Tim-in-the-Tub, where two young men stripped off their clothes in a rousing round of “Drop your Gear for Beer”.

I don’t know who won the contest because just as one of the young men put his hand on the waistband of his boxers CTV cut back to their shell-shocked anchors at the International Broadcast Centre. I haven’t ventured back to Much since.

Not to sound like a cranky old man, but that is awful. I like the idea of dedicating a channel to the cultural events surrounding the Olympics, but, you know, how about some culture that didn’t involve getting drunk and/or naked.

All in all, I’d say that the Consortium’s television coverage got off to a rocky start but has improved each day. Many of the broadcasting hiccups, like warm weather, broken Zambonis and delayed events, are beyond their control. Their commentators are becoming more comfortable on air and the production crew is clearly finding their rhythm. Also, MuchMusic is staying on its own channel.

CTV has chosen an incredibly ambitious project to sink their teeth into, and at times it looks like they’ve bitten off more than they can chew. However, the second week promises to be a smoother ride.

What's your take? Anything you've liked about the coverage? Disliked? Please leave a comment!


McGuinty continues to miss out on mixed martial arts

Canadian Georges St. Pierre delivers a kick to the side of Matt Hughes' head.

One of the leading sports issues in Ontario came to the fore Wednesday when Premier Dalton McGuinty said that the legalisation of mixed martial arts in the province is not a priority for his government.

This is the latest development in what has been a seemingly interminable struggle. Ultimate Fighting Championship’s president Dana White has lobbying for the introduction of MMA prize fights into the province, while Ontario Athletic Commissioner Ken Hayashi has stymied him.

"We have higher priorities when it comes to developing [potential] jobs and strengthening the economy," said McGuinty on Wednesday, effectively tabling the debate in Ontario for the foreseeable future.

Although it’s a setback for the pro-MMA camp, they have time, logic and money on their side. Even a cursory examination of the facts makes it clear that hosting a UFC event in Toronto would be easy to arrange, safe for fans and athletes as well as a financial boon to the city’s tourism industry.

Although Premier McGuinty makes it sound like it would be a Herculean task to overturn the Criminal Code’s law against prize fighting, it’s really not an insurmountable problem.

Nova Scotia, Quebec and Manitoba have all approved the staging of these cards, as have municipal athletic commissions in Calgary, Edmonton, Prince George, B.C., and several other B.C. communities also sanction MMA events.

In theory, the Ontario Athletic Commission could override the law simply by approving an MMA event. However, Hayashi firmly believes that he would be charged with assault if he did that, and so UFC fans shouldn’t hold their breath.

Instead the Ontario government could conduct a thorough examination of the issue, much like the one undertaken by Vancouver’s City Council in December. In that case it only took city staff took a few months to put together a comprehensive report that came out in favour of MMA events.

Chris Parry of the Vancouver Sun highlighted most of the pertinent details, but the passage that sticks out is the section on safety:

“Injury rates in MMA competitions have been examined in several studies. The most extensive of these is a 2008 study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine that examined injuries to fighters in sanctioned bouts in Nevada State between 2002 and 2007. That study concluded that injury rates in regulated professional MMA competitions are similar to rates in other combat sports and that the overall risk of critical sports-related injury appears low. The report notes that a majority of MMA sanctioned bouts end via decision or submission (surrender of one fighter). This is thought to help explain the lower incidence of knockouts in MMA compared to boxing [Bledsoe et al, 2005]. A comparison of injury rates in MMA and boxing is shown in Table 1.”

Table 1 then contrasts boxing and MMA injuries:

“Overall injuries per 100 fight exposures: MMA 23.6, boxing 17.1 to 25
Concussion rate per 100 fight exposures: MMA 1.65, boxing 5.6
% fight ends in knockouts: MMA 3.3%, boxing 11.3%”

Clearly, if boxing is safe enough for Ontario, then MMA should be as well.

Then there’s the money: It’s expected that a major MMA event in Toronto (likely organized by the UFC) would generate millions of dollars in revenue for the cash-strapped province. Tax money and the usual influx of currency for hotels, restaurants and other trappings that stem from tourism would all stimulate the economy.

Granted, there’s always the possibility that a major sporting event will flop and not draw as well as it’s supposed to. However, Ontario as a whole is one of the biggest markets for MMA pay-per-view buys and the city of Toronto, with one of the larger populations in North America, could easily play host to a successful card.

So what’s the hold up? Political will.

McGuinty first said he’d consider the sanctioning of mixed martial arts months ago. Although he did see a swell of support for the move, it probably wasn’t enough to push the project forward.

Like most sporting events, including the Olympics and World Cup, no one can exactly predict what kind of an impact an event like a major pay-per-view will do for a city or province, and that kind of uncertainty is not attractive to an embattled premier.

It’s his loss. The debut of mixed martial arts in Ontario is inevitable. It’s too safe, popular and financially viable to be denied for long. It will happen eventually and McGuinty might as well be on board when it happens.


Cross my heart – I’ve got a new Olympic love

I have fallen in love with not one, but two sports at the 2010 Olympic Games in Vancouver. Snowboard cross and ski cross are the events for me.

Actually, I fell in love with them months ago. I was doing my internship with the CBC’s online unit and I was assigned a feature story on women’s ski cross world champion Ashleigh McIvor.

In preparation for my interviews with McIvor, her coach Eric Archer and her mother Marilyn, I read as much as I could about ski cross and watched as much video as I could find online.

I was hooked by the speed and surprisingly physical style of racing. I liked the skill and strategy needed to succeed. I loved everything about the sport after just watching a few races.

Ski cross is the newest Olympic sport. After time trials determine seeding, heats of four skiers race down a course filled with moguls, turns and jumps. It was introduced to the Games without any trial period based on the popularity of snowboard cross at Torino in 2006. That’s the beauty of these sports: they’re so simple.

Ski-cross and snowboard cross are very similar. The only real difference is what the athletes use to ride down the hill. Everything else is the same, including the course.

Unlike most Olympic sports, ski cross and snowboard cross are very objective. Sports like figure skating, ice dancing or freestyle skiing are judged by officials and, unfortunately, can be marred by corrupt decisions. Too often politics have influenced the outcome of these events.

However, with ski cross or boarder cross, anyone can understand that whoever gets to the bottom of the hill first, wins. There is much less opportunity for corruption or other subjective factors in such a straight-forward sport. They are a race, pure and simple.

Although steroids can help athletes in any sport, ski and snowboard cross rely so heavily on technique that the possibility of a win tainted by performance enhancing drugs is much smaller.

Another benefit is that Canadians are really, really good in these events. Mike Robertson won silver in men’s snowboard cross on Monday, while Maelle Ricker won gold in women’s snowboard cross on Tuesday.

Canada’s ski cross team is even stronger. As I mentioned above, McIvor is the reigning women’s champion but the rest of the women’s team is also dangerous. Kelsey SerwaAleisha Cline and Danielle Poleschuk are all capable of winning an Olympic medal.

Chris Del Bosco headlines the men’s team, but Stanley Hayer and Davey Barr are equally strong. Again, any one of them could leave Vancouver with a medal around their neck.

In fact, there’s a good chance that Canada will pull down multiple medals in men’s and women’s ski cross, and I know that I’ll be watching every race with anticipation, and you should too.


Australians raining on Bilodeau’s parade

As Canadians across the country celebrated Alexandre Bilodeau’s freestyle moguls victory – the first Olympic gold won by a Canadian on home soil – the Australian delegation started to pour themselves a glass of fine whine.

According to Dan Silkstone of the Sydney Morning Herald, the judges had put Bilodeau over Australian athlete Dale Begg-Smith who had to settle for silver to satisfy the Canadian hosts.

“It was the scores allocated to Bilodeau's turns - not traditionally his strong suit but Begg-Smith's undeniable strength - that had some in the Australian camp asking questions,” wrote Silkstone.

He then cited the Australian team’s high performance director, Geoff Lipshut: “My own opinion is probably that Alex is not capable of a 4.8 or 4.9 for turns. Just not capable.”

Lipshut did allow that Bilodeau out-paced Begg-Smith, an important criteria that judges always consider during competition.

“Dale could have been quicker,'' Lipshut said. “That's the bottom line: if Dale is three-tenths of a second quicker, Dale wins … You can say all the little things that you want, they are all small things. But you are probably not going to win by that. He had to be faster.”

So by the Australian delegation’s own admission, Bilodeau deserved to win, they’re just very disappointed. Silkstone, like many foreign journalists in Vancouver for the Olympics, are trying to make hay with Own the Podium and the Canadian Olympic Committee’s attempts to win as many medals as possible.

The British are also ragging on Canada’s Own the Podium program, but it comes across as just more bitterness. After all, what should Canada do? Not try to win? Not do their best? Nonsense.

Yes, Bilodeau’s win over Begg-Smith could be viewed by some as an upset, but thems the breaks. Sometimes underdogs come out on top.

Aside from some frustrated Aussies, no one has suggested that Bilodeau’s victory was anything less than legitimate.

Silkstone and his contacts on the Australian team are just chewing on sour grapes. At its core, the Olympics are about competition. Canada is finally stepping up its game and applying itself to winning as many medals as possible. Canadians can, and will, combine sportsmanship, class and athletic success at the Vancouver games.


My weekend in junior hockey, Feb. 12-14

Brandon Kozun is the most dangerous scorer on the Calgary Hitmen.

The Western Hockey League is the very picture of dichotomy. Its Eastern Conference is locked in a struggle for dominance, while the West’s playoff picture is quickly coming into focus.

In the Prairies the Saskatoon Blades and Brandon Wheat Kings both have 84 points, with Saskatoon given the advantage with two games in hand.

The Blades edge might be short lived as Brandon is rolling, earning points in the last 11 games.

The Calgary Hitmen are in charge of the Central Division with 82 points and are white hot with eight straight wins.

The Hitmen and Wheat Kings are hitting their stride at the right time of year, climbing the standings and taking momentum into hockey’s second season. They will decide who is the hottest team in the league Monday night as Brandon will visit Calgary.

The Wheat Kings will have to keep a close eye on Brandon Kozun, whose 29 goals and 54 assists has the most points in the WHL. Brandon will also have to watch out for Tyler Fiddler who had two goals Friday night against the Prince Albert Raiders.

Despite the success of the Blades, Hitmen and Wheat Kings, no team in the East has booked tickets to hockey’s second season just yet.

Compare that knot to the WHL’s Western Conference where the playoff picture is almost completely sorted out.

The Tri-City Americans, Vancouver Giants, Portland Winterhawks, Everett Silvertips and Spokane Chiefs have all clinched postseason spots.

Further, on Saturday night Portland beat Prince George 3-1, eliminating the Cougars from contention. This means that of the 12 teams in the West, half already know how they’ll be spending the playoffs.

The Seattle Thunderbirds will probably join Prince George soon, as they haven’t won a game since Jan. 9 when they, of course, earned a 3-1win over the Cougars. Since then it’s been 10 regulation losses and three in overtime.

That leaves it up to the Kelowna Rockets, Kamloops Blazers and Chilliwack Bruins to claim the final three postseason berths.

Friday, Feb. 12 2010
QMJHL – Quesnel leads Val-d’Or to win over Montreal
Alexandre Quesnel put the Val-d'Or Foreurs on his shoulders Friday night.

He scored back-to-back goals to lift the Foreurs to a 3-2 win over the Montreal Junior in Quebec Major Junior Hockey League action. (See more...)

OHL – Generals get pounded by Majors as Brace scores twice
Riley Brace and the Mississauga St. Michael's Majors were happy to take advantage of the slumping Oshawa Generals.

Brace scored a pair of goals and added an assist to lift Mississauga to a 6-0 win over Oshawa in the Ontario Hockey League Friday night. (See more...)

WHL – Hitmen run streak to seven straight with win over Raiders
Tyler Fiddler and the Calgary Hitmen continue to roll.

Fiddler scored twice, including the winner, to lead Calgary to a 3-1 win over the Prince Albert Raiders in Western Hockey League action on Friday night. (See more...)

Saturday, Feb. 13 2010
QMJHL – Lefrancois, Oceanic skate to 9-6 win over Mooseheads
It was a career night for Felix Lefrancois and Petr Straka.

Lefrancois scored four times and had two assists to lead the Rimouski Oceanic to a 9-6 win over the Halifax Mooseheads in Quebec Major Junior Hockey League action Saturday night. (See more...)

OHL – Whalers’ Seguin scores OT winner to beat Sting
When the Plymouth Whalers are in a tight game they know they can rely on Tyler Seguin.

Seguin scored twice, including the overtime winner, as the Plymouth Whalers topped the Sarnia Sting 5-4 in Ontario Hockey League action Saturday night. (See more...

WHL – Cougars eliminated from playoffs with loss to Winterhawks
It's no surprise to Western Hockey League fans: the Prince George Cougars won't be making the playoffs.

With a 3-1 effort the Portland Winterhawks officially knocked Prince George out of the WHL post-season Saturday night. (See more...)

QMJHL – Tigres drop Chicoutimi as Pulin earns 75th careers win
Kevin Poulin made history as the Victoriaville Tigres rolled to a win Sunday afternoon.

Poulin made 17 saves as Victoriaville dumped the Chicoutimi Sagueneens 7-1 in Quebec Major Junior Hockey League action. (See more...)

OHL – Hodgson scores first two if season as Battalion down Petes
Cody Hodgson is getting back into the swing of things.

The Vancouver Canucks draft pick scored his first two goals of the season as the Brampton Battalion shut down the Peterborough Petes 4-0 on Sunday afternoon in Ontario Hockey League play. (See more...)