The road to any Olympics is complicated by logistical problems, but Beijing is turning into the most rutted in recent memory.
Last week: Should we all be going to a party hosted by a country that has maybe disappeared one of its own athletes?
This week: Should we going to a party if someone could arrive at it with a mutated virus in tow?
The people forced to answer most of these questions will be people least in control of the outcomes – the athletes. They don’t make the rules. They don’t call the shots. But they are the ones who act as town crier for the people who do.
On Monday, it was curling’s turn to duck and weave through the PR thicket.
Canada’s next men’s and women’s Olympic teams were determined over the weekend. Jennifer Jones (gold medalist at Sochi 2014) leads the women’s side; Brad Gushue (gold medalist at Turin 2006) leads the men.
You don’t need me to tell you how they feel about this opportunity. This is their Woodstock, and both have the rare opportunity to headline it a second time. They were both over the moon.
Though no one’s going to say it out loud, this is a more tempting opportunity because of recent history.
Canada’s curlers imploded at the last Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang. Neither the women’s nor men’s team won a medal.
It wasn’t just the results that disappointed. Canadian curling was tight as a drum in Korea.
Every other national team on either side of the gender divide came off as light and fun – which is the essence of curling, even at the most elite level. Whenever you saw Canada in action, either on the sheet or in the scrums afterward, the word that leapt to mind was “robotic.”
You could feel the national hammerlock on this sport – competitively and spiritually – being loosened in real time.
Since then, things haven’t bounced back to normal. Canada no longer wins at the world championships as a matter of course. It is just in the mix.
Beijing represents a pristine opportunity to replant our flag on the biggest stage. Gushue and Jones would seem to be two optimal candidates to do the job.
Neither of them are going to start banging their chests about the quality of Canadian curling – why provide opponents with bulletin-board material? But it doesn’t take much forensic reading to spot the inherent sense of superiority.
“We want to stay at the forefront of being a curling powerhouse,” Gushue said. “If we’re not careful, that could be taken from us in the next 10 or 15 years.”
That long, eh?
As you’d imagine, Monday’s back-to-back quickie pressers featured nothing but good vibes. Gushue felt relaxed enough to mention he felt “a little bit hung over.” Jones was aglow as she talked about how wonderful it is to represent a country as great as Canada.
The only wrinkle came when both were (separately) asked about the Omicron variant of coronavirus.
Both gave the same answer, using the same inflections.
Gushue: “I’m sure the [Canadian Olympic Committee] is going to make sure we as athletes are safe. I have full trust in them.”
Jones: “The COC’s doing a phenomenal job ensuring that our health and safety is top of their minds. We have a lot of confidence in the COC and the medical staff.”
You can’t blame either of them for coming well prepped for a question they knew was coming. Expect a lot more of this going forward.
Every Olympics has its themes. Beijing 2022 will be the Scripted Olympics. No one from any country is going to show up there without their talking points well in order.
As more teams are set in the coming months, these introductory exercises will become more fraught.
You’ll have lugers talking about infection risks at a time when infection may be spiralling and figure skaters getting philosophical about freedom of speech. I’d offer rent money to hear from the NHLer who is willing to wade into the Uyghur question, because that’s money I fear no risk of losing.
Mostly this will be an effort at avoidance. You can’t blame the athletes for that – if they have degrees, they tend to be more by way of kinesiology than international relations. They aren’t equipped to have a public argument about what going to China means. They only know that in order to do their jobs, that’s where they’ve been told to go.
We’ve seen versions of this before. People shouted about terrorism at London 2012; politics and terrorism at Sochi; and politics (different sorts) at Rio 2016 and Pyeongchang. But in all those instances, you could turn aside most questions with a “I don’t know a whole lot about that.”
In 2021, that answer no longer flies. If you don’t know a whole lot about that (whatever “that” is), then you are presumed to be part of the problem.
Also, there’s the issue of timing. Usually, these difficult questions don’t pop up until a few days before the start of the Games, because that’s when the general public’s attention becomes focused.
This time it’s already focused. That leaves a lot of column inches to fill between now and February 4.
Avoiding saying the wrong thing will be the competition Beijing’s athletes engage in long before the sort they’re used to begins. And like the real thing, someone has to lose that competition, too.
Bandwagon or 'mental anguish': Calgarians say they'll root for Edmonton in NHL playoffs – CBC.ca
The Battle of Alberta ended with the Calgary Flames getting knocked out of the series on Thursday — making Edmonton the sole Canadian team left in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
The Edmonton Oilers emerged victorious in the NHL’s first playoff Battle of Alberta in 31 years. It was a tough loss for Calgarians who were rooting for their home team, but some say they’ll get over the rivalry and root for the Oilers in the fight for the Stanley Cup.
For Flames fan Austin Hill, it comes down to Canadians cheering for their own teams.
“Definitely have to get behind the Oilers,” he said. “When your local team gets eliminated, you have to put your support behind the next Canadian team. It’s the right thing to do.”
It’s bittersweet, though, as the Red Mile on 17th Avenue — the centre for a lot of cheering from bars and restaurants — was quiet Friday morning.
“I really wanted to feel the energy of Calgary, be down here, 17th, feel the Red Mile,” Hill said.
“I would love to see the Oilers and [Connor] McDavid do a playoff run. That would be amazing. That would be a great time for the Oilers and Alberta as well.”
Diehard fans like Brian Baker, who watched the game at the Saddledome, had to take the day off to recover from the loss.
“It was a great game until overtime, and then I didn’t like the ending at all. I had to take today off to recover from the mental anguish of seeing the Oilers go on,” he said.
“They [the Flames] had a good season. Nothing to complain about there. It would have been nice to see them go further.… I would like to see a Canadian team continue on.”
Some might call it jumping on the bandwagon, but others call it being a part of a community.
Australian Thomas Stefoulis, who previously lived in Calgary for a few years, says he thinks Albertans can get past their rivalry, albeit begrudgingly.
“It just leads to feeling that sort of a sense of community, which I think is very valuable. So even if people want to be bandwagon fans, that’s totally fine. Get involved for the day, get involved in the game. It’s just important for keeping community alive,” he said.
Other Calgarians won’t be rooting for the Oilers, or anyone else, for that matter.
“I feel like because it’s kind of done in the city with the Flames being out, I will probably stop watching,” said Kate James-Loth, who is new to the city but got swept up in the playoff excitement and tuned in to the games.
“I have to be loyal now that I live in Calgary.”
With an early end to the series, in Game 5, it’s still unclear who the Oilers will face next, the Colorado Avalanche or St. Louis Blues.
Jays Win a Close One – Bluebird Banter
Blue Jays 4 Angels 3
My first Apple TV+ game and there was good and bad. I liked the cleanness of the video. I liked the field noise.
I hated the commentary. They didn’t seem to know anything about the Blue Jays. Talked about Kirk’s speed (speed doesn’t slump), talking about Star Wars way, way too much. The sideline woman talked too much, for my liking.
And they missed action on the field. The Jays’ first run scored while they were showing some set-piece. And they talked to people dressed in Star Wars gear while the game was going on, instead of showing the play.
A heck of a good game.
Alek Manoah was good, maybe as great as he’s been all season, but good. He gave up a couple of solo homers (Jared Walsh and Tyler Wade taking him deep). And he was hurt by some poor defense. Raimel Tapai had a single get through him, giving the runner an extra base and setting up the Angels’ first run.
Manoah went 6, allowed 7 hits, 3 runs, 2 earned, 0 walks and 9 strikeouts.
He was also helped out by a nice play by Bo Bichette. In the fifth inning, with Mike Trout on third, Walsh ground one at Bo. Bo threw home and Trout was just barely out. Called safe on the field, the replay showed that he was out by the slimmest possible margin. I was surprised that they overturned the call on such a close play.
Offensively? Well, we did enough. Barely enough, but enough.
We had 11 hits, 3 extra-base hits (all doubles). We scored:
- 1 in the second: Bo started off the inning with a ground-rule double in the right-field corner. Teoscar Hernandez beat out an infield single. And Bo scored on Alejandro Kirks’ double-play ball. Not that we got to see it or anything.
- 1 in the fifth: This time Kirk started it off with a double. Tapia singled him to third. And Lourdes doubled home Kirk (doubling home Kirk from third is about as good a description of Kirk’s speed as you will ever get). Something of a miracle happened that inning. We had two hits with RISP. That’s where the fun ended. With runners on second and third. Cavan (not Kevin as the announcer called him) lined out (bad luck for Cavan, he hit it good), George Springer popped out and Santiago Espinal struck out.
- 1 in the seventh: Danny Jansen (pinch-hitting), had a one-out single. Bradley Zimmer pinch-ran (a good move as it turned out). Gurriel lined a single to left, Zimmer to second. Matt Chapman (also pinch-hitting) got an infield single to the second baseman and Zimmer came all the way home from second. He has amazing speed. Unfortunately, Springer struck out and Espinal hit a soft fly out.
- 1 in the ninth: Kirk had an infield single (prompting the commentator to tell us that speed never slumps). Zimmer put down a nice sac bunt (but with all that speed at first, it didn’t have to be that good). And Gurriel singled to right, a ball that bounced past right-fielder Juan Lagares and Kirk scored. Again that would be all we’d get. Chapman struck out and Springer ground out.
Lourdes had 3 hits (can we hope he is out of his slump?). Kirk had 2 hits. Everyone else had 1 hit except for the 3 guys at the top of the order. Springer, Espinal (he did make a very nice play at third base), and Guerrero went 0 for 11, with 3 strikeouts, and 2 walks.
Our bullpen did a great job.
- Yimi Garcia had a clean inning.
- Trevor Richards’ clean inning featured 2 strikeouts. He gets his second win.
- Jordan Romano picked up his 15th save. He struck out the side in the ninth, getting pinch hitter Shohei Ohtani for the last out of the game. I thought it was nice that Angels fans chanted MVP for Romano during the at-bat.
Jays of the Day: Gurriel (.573 WPA), Chapman (.172), Romano (.187), Chapman (.172), and Richards (.102). Tapia came close (.090) but that error cost him a JoD.
Suckage: The top of the order, Springer (-.259), Espinal (-.251) and Vlad (-.159). Manoah had the number too (-.119) but I don’t think that’s fair.
Tomorrow night the Jays go for their fourth win in a row. Yusei Kikuchi (2-1, 3.47) vs. Michael Lorenzen (5-2, 3.05). It is a 10:00 Eastern start.
Of note, Lourdes was miked up, but about all we got was him huffing his way into a double. I was hoping for more.
Never mind the disallowed goal, Flames couldn’t keep up with the Oilers’ track meet – Sportsnet.ca
The Calgary Flames built their reputation on Darryl Sutter Hockey – that heavy-forechecking, quality-defending style that smothers opponents and wins back pucks, which makes the burden of creating offence a struggle for their opposition. On the backs of that plan, the Flames allowed the third-fewest goals during the regular season. They were a force.
The Edmonton Oilers can be given no greater compliment than the way the Flames were reduced to playing in the Battle of Alberta, chasing more and more offence to try to keep up with an Oilers top-six that simply could not be stopped. There was a desperation there that we hadn’t seen from the Flames, and by Game 5 I kept thinking, “Just catch the pass and shoot it” rather than trying to rush a one-timer on a hot pass or on one that was in a bad spot. Their usual poise disappeared.
A look at a few of those fanned one-timers in Game 5:
By the end, little of the Flames’ identity was left, not the physical play, not the elite goaltending, or the line of Gaudreau-Lindholm-Tkachuk, which was arguably the best in the league in 2021-22.
The Flames played with offensive impatience, which left room for the Oilers to fly back the other way. Too often it became a track meet, and with that style imposed on the series, the Flames, ironically, were cooked. Rush chances were 11-3 for the Oilers in Game 5.
Apparently, there was also a goal disallowed, but the things below are about how the Oilers got the Flames in a position where one play not going their way could mean the end of the series, and their season.
How did the Oilers do it?
I was tempted to skip over this obvious point because you, the reader, are well aware of what Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl do. But I just couldn’t. How could I? Everything about the Oilers hinged on this, with two players combining for **checks stats** – no, that can’t be right – **checks again** 29 points in five games. They set all kinds of records.
The Flames got much better at slowing down McDavid in Games 4 and 5, but it took all their focus and attention, which opened them up everywhere else.
Depth contributions from Kane, Hyman, RNH
In Game 5, Zach Hyman had one goal and two assists for three points, he was plus-4, he had seven shots, he played nearly 24 minutes, he led the team in hits, he had a big blocked shot, there’s just not much more I can say about this guy.
In the summer, I use a plastic oar to stir my kids’ kiddie pool and get the water going in a “whirlpool,” and that’s what happens when Hyman is on the ice. He’s an oar, and he gets the play going in the direction he’s skating whenever he’s out there.
With McDavid and Draisaitl sucking up all the attention – as they have in years past – the question was asked of the Oilers depth: when those guys see all the best defending, can you capitalize on your extra space or weaker opposition?
Hyman said yes. Evander Kane said yes; he’s on pace to threaten the all-time playoff goals record of 19 (he has 12, so if they Oilers play two more rounds … ?). Ryan Nugent-Hopkins had six points in five games; the Nuge said yes too.
McDavid and Draisaitl were like a collective boxer doing so much damage to the body in the early rounds that their opposition starts to drop their hands, while these guys were suddenly free to take shots at the head.
I thought Oilers coach Jay Woodcroft showed a willingness to be flexible and go away from what’s worked if it wasn’t working on a given night. Case in point: Kane had been on an unbelievable run alongside McDavid, as mentioned above. It would’ve been easy to leave him in that role, no matter what. This is speculation on my part, but I don’t think the Oil loved how Kane defended a Flames set breakout early in the game, followed by his positioning on the Andrew Mangiapane goal. Whether it was that or something else, Woodcroft bumped Kane off that line for Hyman, who did … all the things I mentioned in the section above. It was the perfect change in a game McDavid didn’t have an inch of room and couldn’t create much or drive play. Hyman did it for that line at times.
I also given Woodcroft credit for sticking with what would give the team the best chance in the big picture: Mike Smith over Mikko Koskinen. After Game 1, he could’ve bailed on Smith and been justified. Then Game 2 starts with two softies, where you’d think he’d have a hair trigger, but he stuck with Smith yet again. The roller coaster Mike Smith Experience includes the type of highs you need to get by great opponents, and Woodcroft gave their team the chance to see that through.
An exposed weakness, and a surprise goaltending slump
Flames coach Darryl Sutter gave a telling response in a post-game when he talked about their “inexperienced defence.” They don’t have guys who’ve seen deep runs playing D for them, and, in the end, the little defensive gaffes made just enough room for the Oilers (a miscommunication with Noah Hanifin and Elias Lindholm on the OT winner cost them) to expose them. In Game 5, the Oilers had 18 slot shots to the Flames’ nine.
The Flames needed goaltending to bail them out, but Edmonton has had Jacob Markstrom’s number all year. He ended up posting just an .852 save percentage in the series, and the crease was supposed to be where the Flames had a clear advantage. I haven’t heard it said much lately, but McDavid is in an awkward body position on that OT winner and doesn’t get a ton on it. They needed a few more saves from Markstrom.
When all is said and done, the Battle of Alberta was decided because the Oilers’ best players had their ‘A’ games, and that dictated everything that came next from the Flames. Calgary was reduced to counterpunching, when it had been used to coming out swinging.
In the NHL, the sport’s all-time greats almost always find their way to a championship, as at some level they become all their opponents can think about and the team around them is free to rise up. That’s what’s been happening for the Oilers, and no matter who their next opponent is, that game plan has every chance of being effective in yet another round.
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