I’m beginning to think that 2012 had one overwhelming singularity throughout, that being the year of the “passing deadline.” Not only did the U.S. economy sail over the ‘fiscal cliff’ but, as of press time, the NHL has also failed to reach a consensus.
With the NHL off the air and The Walking Dead not scheduled to appear until mid-February, it was almost time to call the cable guy and cancel my all-inclusive package deal. At least the Canadian juniors are living up to expectations; something we shouldn’t take for granted in my books, having experienced the years when the Red Army ruled international hockey and only amateurs played in the Olympics. The USSR usually had the upper hand, but there was the one time though in 1980 when the Americans had their “Miracle on Ice”. A 2004 movie memorialising the accomplishment had former Whistler A League player Casey Burnette playing the role of U.S. defenceman Ken Morrow.
I only mention this as I’ve found myself searching YouTube for hockey moments of yesteryear, trying to satisfy my craving for hockey, any hockey!
But there has been some good, actual hockey here at home over the holiday season. Whistler Men’s Hockey commissioner Ian Pike delved into his phonebook to contact the captains of a few teams in order to kick-start an inter-league exhibition series. Once again, the impetus was to either encourage more ‘A’ League vs ‘Rec’ League interaction or help expand the current leagues (this is beginning to sound familiar…).
The first round of two games took place just before Christmas and saw the Mongolie Grillers of the ‘A’ league take on the ‘Rec’ Pemberton Chainsaws, and the later the ‘Rec’ Blacks Pub Marmots challenge the pub next door, the Longhorn Outlaws of the ‘A’ league. The results were somewhat predictable, but also, surprising. Both ‘A’ league teams managed to save face and win, but it was evident that there is some clout to the concept Pike has created.
Despite being short a few players for the holidays, the Grillers managed to outplay the Chainsaws in a close game, winning 5-2 with an empty-net tally, but anyone who watched the game would be hard-pressed to decide which team came from which league. In the second game of the series, the Outlaws scraped by with a 4-3 win over the Marmots. Again, both teams had “holiday” line-ups and pulled rosters together for the game in true last-minute recreational style.
The Marmots were a good match for the Outlaws, playing catch-up and pulling to within one in the third period of a game that could have gone either way. In the new year, it will be interesting for the teams to have more inter-league match-ups with their regular line-ups to see the full potential of the format. When pressed for comment, commissioner Pike was ice-cold on the subject other than to say: “It was a work in progress.” Most players, however, were satisfied with the games played and hope to see the inter-league schedule expand.
One ultimate scenario of course would see a merger of leagues into a tiered system and a formula for all teams playing each other at least once. But, having spoken to Pike on several occasions on the issue, it is evident that his main focus is one of expansion within each league and competitive hockey.
With the first half of the season past, it’s now time to have some fun and predict a few winners for the season. In the A League, the 16-1 Ice Wizards Hockey Club – formerly the Amsterdam Ice Men – are the 700-pound gorilla in the room that no one wants to go near. The Mongolie Grillers will be their toughest challenger for the championship. The Wizards have four of the league’s top-five scorers — Sandy Tyler, Reid Johnson, Kevin Goodman, and Derek Lewis. Dave Daling of the Grillers is the lone player to break up the monopoly on points.
In the Rec League the outlook is somewhat less clear, but currently sitting on top are the Marmots, one point ahead of the Summit Sport and two ahead of the Blackcomb Blackhawks. Also in fourth place are the Chainsaws and Longhorn Mighty Moose at four points back, so the logjam continues in the Rec League. However, my gut tells me the Marmots have the skill, determination, and discipline required to win the championship. Their biggest challenge will come from the Blackhawks.