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PyeongChang 2018: Seven Canadians To Watch

Canada Olympic

Two days ago, I did a blog focusing on the foreign athletes to watch for at the PyeongChang Winter Olympics. Now it’s time for me to focus on the Canadians to watch out for. We may not have the superteam we had back at the Vancouver 2010 Games, but we’re still a winter sports superpower and feature some top contenders throughout the sports. Sports Illustrated predicts Canadian athletes to win a total of 30 medals including nine gold. That’s third only to Norway and Germany. Without further ado, here are some Canadians to look out for:

Mark McMorris – Snowboarding: Now Saskatchewan doesn’t come to mind to most in terms of producing top-notch skiers. However the hills and mountains are high enough to breed some good snowboarders. Mark McMorris is one of the best ever. He already has 16 X-Games medals, including seven gold, won in both the Slopestyle and Big Air events. He’s also famous for being the first ever to perform a ‘cork 1440’ in slopestyle. His feats and charming personality have made him a huge celebrity for fans of snowboarding and extreme sports.

Major titles have eluded him in the past. His best result at a World Championships is a silver in 2013. As for the Sochi Olympics, McMorris had broken a rib two weeks before. His bronze in Slopestyle is actually seen by him as a miracle. Here in PyeongChang, he wants to win gold. He has two chances: in Big Air and Slopestyle. In both events, he will face rivalry from Norway’s Marcus Kleveland, who is the first ever to do a ‘cork 1800.’ In Slopestyle, he will be challenged most by the US’ Red Gerard and Japan’s Hiroaki Kunitake. In Big Air, he will face rivalry from American Chris Corning and his Canadian teammate Maxence Parrot. The hills in Korea will determine his fate.

Kaillie Humphries – Bobsledding: Women’s bobsledding has only been contested four times in the past, but Canadians Kaillie Humphries and Heather Moyse are already the only female double-gold medalists. However Kaillie appears poised to achieve a feat none of the male bobsledders have ever achieved: winning the same event three times.

It’s not to say it hasn’t been without its difficulties. After Sochi, she traded partners with Melissa Lothholz. She has won two World Championship silvers since. Here in PyeongChang, she will have former hurdler Phylicia George as her partner. As her former partners of Heather Moyse and Melissa Lothholz, they will both compete in PyeongChang with different drivers. Humphries’ attempt to return to the top will be challenged by the German sled driven by Stephanie Schneider and the American sled driven by Elana Meyers, which actually won at last year’s Worlds. PyeongChang could be the final chapter for Kaillie’s legacy in the sport.

Pyeongchang medalsAlex Harvey – Cross Country Skiing: Cross country skiing is in Alex Harvey’s blood. His father Pierre competed in cross country skiing in 1984 and 1988 and gave Canada its best ever results at the time, and they weren’t even Top 10 finishes! That just shows how much progress Canadians have made in nordic skiing. In fact Alex himself delivered two Top 10 finishes at the Vancouver Games, including a fourth in the Sprint.

Harvey has won a medal at every World Nordic Championships ever since the Vancouver Olympics including two golds: the most recent being in the 50km last year. He’s hoping to win the Olympic medals that have eluded him throughout his career. However he has only made the podium in three World Cup events this season. His biggest challenges come from Switzerland’s Dario Cologna and two Norwegians: Martin Johnsrud Sundby and rising 21 year-old Johannes Høsflot Klæbo. PyeongChang could finally give him the break he’s always been pursuing.

Mikaël Kingsbury – Freestyle Skiing: Canada has won three of the seven golds in men’s moguls skiing. There’s Jean-Luc Brassard in 1994 and Alexandre Bilodeau in 2010 and 2014. Mikaël Kingsbury is seeing to make it four for eight. Kingsbury has developed a top reputation in the event. He first finished third in the 2010-2011 World Cup season but has come out on top every World Cup season since including this year.

Major events have been his weakness. He’s been on the podium for moguls at every World Championship since 2011 but has only won gold once: in 2013. Also it was in Sochi in which he, not Bilodeau, was the Canadian most expected to win gold, but won silver instead. He will be challenged here in PyeongChang by Japan’s Ikuma Horishima, who handed him is only World Cup defeat this year, and Kazakhstan’s Dmitriy Reikherd. This could be Kingsbury’s year.

Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir – Figure Skating: Ah yes. Figure skating. Ever since 1984, Canada has bagged at least one figure skating medal in every Olympic Games since. Many expect 2018 to be Canada’s strongest team ever. Leading the pack is star ice dancing pair Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir. The pair have been inseparable on the ice since 1997 when Tessa was eight and Scott was ten. Their skating magic has resulted in Olympic gold and silver as well as seven World Championship medals, including three gold.

After they won silver at the Sochi Games of 2014 behind their American training partners Meryl Davis and Charlie White, it appeared they won everything they needed to and retired after Sochi. However they returned to amateur competition starting in 2016 and acquired former Canadian ice dance pair Marie-France Dubreuil and Patrice Lauzon as their coaches. The plan worked to success as they returned to the top of their sport. Of course they want to end their careers with a final gold medal, but they will face challenges from all three American pairs, most notably Maia and Alex Shibutani, and the French pair of Gabrielle Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron. This is their chance to end their Olympic careers as they started.

The Canadian Hockey Teams: The news broke months ago. The NHL won’t allow any of their players to play at the Olympics. This is not permanent for the Olympic Games, but it is a drag for many who enjoyed. Heck, opening the Olympics to NHL pros allowed Canada to win gold in three of the five occasions. It does not however mean Canada doesn’t have a chance for the gold. Canada’s men’s team consists of pros, but mostly from the American Hockey League, the predominantly Russian Kontinental Hockey League, the Swedish Hockey League and Switzerland’s National League. Canada’s team is predicted by Sports Illustrated to win bronze with Sweden to win and Russia to take silver. Chances are the Canadians could surprise.

As for the women, Team Canada has always made it to the gold-medal final of every Olympic tournament since women’s hockey made its Olympic debut back at the Nagano Games of 1998. The inaugural competition is their only loss of the gold. The team in PyeongChang is coached by Lauren Schuler from that team in Nagano consists of thirteen from Sochi 2014 and ten newcomers. All but one play for Canadian teams. However Team Canada has finished second to the US at ever Worlds since the Sochi Games and the Americans promise to be the Canadians’ toughest rival. They’re coached by Cammi Granato who was part of the US’ gold-medal winning team in 1998: the US’ only victory in women’s hockey. Can Team Canada make it five in a row? Only time will tell.

Canada’s Curling Teams: If hockey is our national past-time, curling would rank second. Many people wonder how? It’s a gift from Scottish immigrants to us. Canada has a habit of blending things from the ‘old country’ into our national fabric. Our love for curling has paid off on the Olympic level. Ever since curling was officially added to the Olympic program at the Nagano Games in 1998, all ten Canadian teams have won medals and have even won gold five of the ten times. Sochi was especially a treat as it was the first Olympics where both the men’s and women’s team won gold.

As for the lineup in PyeongChang, the men’s team is headed by Kevin Koe who headed the Canadian team that won at the 2016 Worlds and the women’s team is headed by Rachel Homan whose team won the World Championships last year. New for Pyeongchang is mixed doubles curling. Canada’s team is headed by Winnipeggers Kaitlyn Lawes and John Morris. Both have gold medals from past teams: Kaitlyn in 2014 and John in 2010. However they’re not the favorites as Swiss pair of Jenny Perret and Martin Rios beat the Canadian pair 6-5 to win. As of yet, Canada has never won gold at the Mixed Doubles Worlds. Could this be their year to finally shine?

And there you have it. Seven Canadians to watch out for in PyeongChang. There’s many more to talk about but I’ll let the action at the Olympics do more telling. It all starts Friday the 9th at 3am PST. Can I wake up that early to see the opening ceremonies live? We’ll see.

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Documentary Review: Red Army

The most famous winter Olympic legacy of Soviet athletes probably came from its hockey players with Vladislav Tretiak (bottom, third from right) considered the best goalie in history.

Red Army spotlights the Soviet hockey dynasty both on the ice and off the ice and reveals things we never knew.

If you like hockey, you may be interested in watching Red Army. It takes you back to a dynasty in sports history hockey fans will remember well.

The film focuses on the glory days of Soviet hockey. It doesn’t focus so much on its first exposure of Soviet hockey prowess back during its early days starting with the 1956 Winter Olympics and continuing in the 1960’s. Its prime focus however was during the 70’s and 80’s when Soviet hockey was at its best and most dominating. This was the era of Vladislav Tretiak who is widely considered to be the best goalie in the history of ice hockey. This was also the era of Vyacheslav ‘Slava’ Fetisov and the magic five that included him, Igor Larionov, Alex Kazatanov, Sergei Makarov and Vladimir Krutov. As Canadians, we saw them as invincible machines who we all thought we’d lose to big time or have to put in a hell of a fight to win, as we did at the 1972 Summit Series and the 1984 Canada Cup.

The film also focuses on the team being instrumental during the Cold War. As many may remember, there was the ‘free world’ led by the United States and the Communist world led by the U. S. S. R. or Soviet Union as we commonly called it. Both countries were bitter enemies and both sought to defeat the other. The people were left paralyzed with fear feeling a war between the two might strike any day especially as each country increased its nuclear warheads. As far as sport went, it was in that arena where the Cold War was a common scene of rivalry. The Soviet Union as well as the other Soviet-allied nations of the Eastern Bloc wanted to use sport as a showcase of Communism’s superiority. The USA/USSR rivalry was always the biggest rivalry at any Olympics. The US had their winning sprinters, decathletes, boxers, wrestlers, swimmers and figure skaters. The Soviets had their gymnasts, throwers, weightlifters, cross country skiers, pairs figure skaters and especially its hockey team. The USSR saw their athletes as soldiers in the sports arena.

However the film does more than remind us of the times and the USSR’s dominance. It also showed life in the USSR. Life under the rationing system may have been fine before World War II but it was hard after the war especially with the country being devastated at a massive level. It didn’t rebuild well but rationing among its citizen’s still existed. It made for a hard life for most as people lived in crowded houses which might not have included running water. Even Slava Fetisov remembers receiving fish on Thursday. It also showed how the athletes were the privileged ones in the Soviet system while regular citizens had to stand in line-ups for their daily rations. It even showed the weakening of this system to the citizens in the 1980’s which paved the way to the reforms known as Glasnost and Perestroika and the eventual collapse of the USSR in 1991.

Of all the hockey players, the film focuses mostly on Slava Fetisov. Fetisov was discovered by sporting scouts of the government who were hired to search out talent at a young age to train up to Olympic level. That was sport in the Soviet Union: children were scouted out, analyzed physically for future athletic potential, and taken to central training facilities to train eleven months a year up to Olympic level. As cruel and inhumane it was for the USSR to do that, it worked and the USSR often had the biggest Olympic medal haul during that time. However the USSR cherished winning in ice hockey the most. In fact there was one propaganda song sung by boys about hockey where they sang lyrics like: “Real men play hockey. Substandard men don’t play hockey.” It was in the hockey stage where they could best show the world Communism’s prowess. It succeeded with winning a massive number of World Championships and eight Olympic golds out of the team’s ten Olympic appearances.

The documentary shows another side of the Soviet hockey team. We all saw the Soviets to play hockey like machines. What we would learn in that documentary is that the Soviets were not only prepared to have the brawn for the game but they were also prepared to have the smarts for the game as they were taught strategies by chess players. They were even taught ballet by some of the top ballet instructors. It wasn’t just tough training they went through but smart training too. What came of it was a play that was not only powerful and effective for winning but a play of style and finesse. Hard to believe none of us Canadians noticed that. Maybe if we weren’t so charmed by all this hockey fighting in the NHL, we would’ve noticed.

The documentary showed another aspect of the Soviet players that we missed all along. Sure, we saw the team as machines but the team was like a family. Slava Fetisov, Tretiak, Larionov, Makarov, Krutov, Kazatonov, they all saw each other as brothers. Of course when your taken from your own home and trained at a location thousands of miles away eleven months of the year, it should be natural to do so. It not only helped in making them better players but it helped with the players knowing their playing style inside out and make them a winning combination on the ice. A reminder that team chemistry was as essential to the success to the Soviet team as it is in practically any team sport. That was one of the qualities coach Anatoliy Tarasov— USSR hockey coach from the 1964 to 1972 Olympics– invested into the Soviet hockey team.

However the film also shows some darker sides of the Soviet team. It begins however on a positive note with Fetisov’s first experiences being coached by Tarasov in the 70’s. Tarasov wasn’t just simply a strict coach but he also played the role as a father figure to the team. Tarasov also helped develop key qualities in the team–speed, grace, teamwork, and patriotism– that became the blueprint of Soviet hockey and helped create their dynasty. However after Tarasov was fired, Viktor Tikhonov was brought in as coach. The Miracle On Ice game of 1980 really hit the Soviets hard not only as a loss of a gold medal but also what appears to be a turning point for Tikhonov. Tikhonov became a lot more ruthless to the players and trained them harder. You can understand why the Soviet players have a disgusted look on their face whenever you mention the Miracle On Ice game and don’t want to talk about it. It was not only a defeat for them but that also marked the time when Tikhonov became more ruthless. He dominated control over the players’ lives. He even cut players from the Soviet team if he sensed they might defect. One example of Tikhonov’s control was when one player’s father was dying. Tikhonov wouldn’t allow him to see his dying father. Things even got so frustrating for Slava at one point, he ran away from the national team to spend time with Tarasov. Here in the documentary none of the players have a positive thing to say about Tikhonov.

The documentary showed that even though the Soviet team was highly acclaimed by the government for their prowess, they were also under heavy scrutiny by the government. Tikhonov wasn’t the only one nervous about possible defections because of the temptation of the NHL. We should remember it was commonly expected that athletes from communist countries were expected to be proud to compete for national glory and reject temptations of money. The team as well as other elite Soviet athletes were allowed to hold Soviet passports: something most Soviet citizens were denied. They were however only allowed to hold them for when they were to attend a competition. Once they arrived back in the USSR, they had to hand them back. Members of the KGB traveled with them in case one member planned to defect. There was a fear that one defection could set off a wave.  It reminds us for all their glory and special treatment from the government, they were puppets under a system with a huge eagle eye over them. In fact Tretiak may have been the greatest goalie ever but he was never once allowed to play for the NHL in his whole career.

The sudden arrival of Soviet players into the NHL was greeted with excitement but adjusting to NHL play didn't come without difficulties.

The sudden arrival of Soviet players into the NHL was greeted with excitement but players like Fetisov (right) found adjusting to NHL play came with difficulties.

The documentary also shows when the bubble eventually did burst and Soviets eventually did find their way into the NHL. It all started when a junior player by the name of Alexander Mogilny decided to defect in May of 1989. Eight players including Fetisov soon followed. The arrival of such players was met with excitement for some NHL fans while others were more forbidding like Don Cherry who didn’t want any at all. However things weren’t easy. Even though Glasnost and Perestroika were starting to happen, Soviet athletes were still under scrutiny. Fetisov’s professional career in the NHL was monitored. As for play, Fetisov did not adjust too well to new life in the NHL. He learned right in his first game how the NHL was a different kind of play, especially when it came to fighting. His wife Ladlena had some challenges fitting in with the other wives of her husband’s NHL teammates. The struggle was common for a lot of Soviet players trying to adjust to NHL play. Nevertheless things eventually did pay off for Fetisov as he was with the Red Wings in 1997 the same time as Larionov and three other younger Russians. The team was able to get a chemistry of their own and they won the Stanley Cup. The team was able to bring the Stanley Cup to Moscow’s Red Square that year but not without challenges such as clearing things up after a post-victory limousine incident and negotiating with the Russian government.

The documentary ends with what has happened since. Fetisov has become a member of the Russian political party, a Minister of Sport in Russia and even part of Russia’s bidding team in 2007 for the Sochi Olympics in 2014. Tretiak is simultaneously the current President of the Russian Ice Hockey Federation and runs his own goalie school in Toronto which is considered physically punishing by most and very restrictive to whom is admitted. Tikhonov was given countless honors like the Orders of Honor and Merit in Russia and was even a nominee for the Olympic Order. The lives of all the hockey players living and deceased are also focused on at the end.

However the most notable end is the focus on the end of Soviet hockey. As you know the USSR collapsed in 1991. Surprisingly Tikhonov mellowed down in his coaching style afterward but it was still successful enough to bring the team of former Soviets under the name The Unified Team their last gold medal in 1992. The Soviet dynasty ended with as much of a bangs as it began with at the 1956 Olympics. Team Russia has been a different story. Russia continues to churn out top talents and top players. However Russia has never won Olympic gold. Silver in 1998 and bronze in 2002 but that’s it. They didn’t even have it together during Sochi when they lost their quarterfinal to Finland. Leaves you wondering when you remember that talk of the Soviet’s team chemistry if that’s what’s missing with the Russian team. The film ends showing Alexander Ovechkin, the current Russian phenomenon, playing a shootout game for a Washington TV station. A bit of trivia: Ovie was just two weeks short of his sixth birthday when the USSR collapsed. As he plays his game for the TV crew, we hear Slava saying something’s missing in Russian hockey. You’re left feeling that same way too.

One of the funny things of the documentary is that it will remind a lot of Canadians of the inferiority complex Canadians had to endure with in the 1980’s and maybe even the late 1970’s. Already Canadians were going through an inferiority complex of being made to feel second-fiddle to the Americans ever since the inclusion of cable TV bringing American entertainment into our living rooms. Adding to the feelings of inferiority to Canadians was seeing the Soviets excel in hockey. It was often a case of Olympic rules as the best Canadian players were professionals who were ineligible to compete in the Olympics. The best Soviet players however fit within the Olympic rules and were thus eligible to compete at the Olympics Games while the Canadian team at every Olympics during that era always fielded a diluted version of our very best. The Soviets almost always came on top while the Canadian team always fell short. Even when Canada got out its best pros for the Canada Cup, Canada would still face tough challenges from the Soviets as they were total machines and would almost always dominate over the Canadians. You can understand why Canadians cherish the memory of the victory at the 1972 Summit. You can also understand why the Americans hold the 1980 Miracle On Ice close to their hearts. Being second to the Soviets in what is ‘our game’ bit hard and left us down for a long time.

The film also brought back a lot of memories not just of the Soviet team but also how many of us remember the changes of Glasnost and Perestroika that were happening of the late-80’s and early 90’s. It even reminded us of the sports personalities at the time such as Brian Williams, Ron MacLean, Don Cherry, Don Wittman and Al Michaels. It also reminds us of many memorable moments in hockey. In fact it brought back the memories when I remember first hearing of Mogilny’s defection. Who would have thought that would be the beginning of the end?

Another unique thing is that it does something that was never done with the North American television stations before. It humanized the Soviet team. It reminded us behind the strong stoic Soviet team, they were human beings that went through a lot of difficulties. They had human heartbreak of their own. One example when Slava was in a car crash in 1985 that killed his 18 year-old brother. He went through a period of his live when e just didn’t want to live. Even Slava’s talk about his frustration with Tikhonov to the point he runs away to Tarasov showed that even these tough, stoic players had a breaking point of their own. To think all us North Americans saw in the Soviets were machines.

If there was one glitch in this documentary, it’s that Gabe Polsky sometimes does a bit of playing around with the interviews. In fact I remember seeing at the beginning him trying to ask Slava some questions while he’s on a phone call. It’s no wonder Slava flipped him the tweeter after the second question. We see Polsky do a few other stunts too. It’s a question if it was really worth it.

Another glitch is that the film was first released in the middle of 2014 and there was some information either missing or failed to update since. One missing piece of information is Tikhonov’s death in November of 2014. Another piece is of the Sochi Olympics where Fetisov was one of the Olympic flagbearers during the opening ceremony and Tretiak was the final torchbearer along with pairs figure skater Irina Rodnina whom herself is also a three-time Olympic champion and considered the best ever in an event known for Soviet dominance.

Red Army is an intriguing documentary that hockey fans will find worth watching. It takes you back to a stellar dynasty and a unique time. It will also show you a side of them you may have missed during their heyday.

Sochi 2014: Seven Canadians To Watch

Canada Olympic

You all remember Vancouver 2010. Canada won the most ever Winter Olympic golds in a single games with 14. Canada is not the host nation for the Winter Olympics anymore. That pressure now belongs to Russia. Nevertheless Team Canada will face pressures of its own over in Sochi both as individuals and as a team. One thing we should take into account is how some countries perform in the Olympics after they were host nation. Below is a chart of host countries and their various medal hauls. The #/# guide is golds/total medals:

Olympic Chart 1

As noted in that chart, some get better like Canada in 1992. Some still stay the same and some do noticeably worse like Japan in 2002 and Italy in 2010. Sports Illustrated predicts Canada to win a total of 31 medals including eleven gold. That’s an awful lot but not impossible.

In the meantime, here’s a look at some Canadians favored to do well in Sochi, if not win:

Patrick Chan – Figure Skating: Canada has a proud legacy in figure skating. So proud you could say figure skating is rightfully third behind hockey and curling as our national sport. Our legacy is there. Canada has also left every Winter Olympics since 1984 with at least one medal in Figure Skating. Canada is one of only five countries to win twenty or more Olympic medals in figure skating. We have Olympic champions in three of the four returning figure skating categories. The only one we don’t have is in the Men’s Singles event. Four bronze medalists, two double-silver medalists but never a gold medalist. This could finally be the year.

Patrick Chan has Canada’s best chances. He’s been national champion since 2008 at the tender age of 17, a world Championships medalist every year since 2009 and a World Champion three times starting in 2011. He has looked good this season, winning two of his three international competitions this year losing only the Grand Prix of Figure Skating.

He has looked good in practice here in Sochi and appears confident he will win. However he will have rivalries from Kazakhstan’s Denis Ten who finished behind him at last year’s Worlds and Russia’s Evgeni Plushenko who’s making a comeback. Also expected to challenge is Spain’s Javier Fernandez and Japan’s Yuzuru Hanyu: the latter two of which are coached by Canadian double-silver medalist Brian Orser. In fact it was Hanyu who gave Chan his only defeat this year at the Grand Prix back in December. So will he be the first Canadian men’s champion or the seventh medalist? It will all be decided on the 13th and 14th.

Erik Guay – Alpine Skiing: Remember the Crazy Canucks? Yeah, Canada had an impressive legacy in Alpine Skiing on both the World Cup circuit and the Olympic Games in decades past. Nancy Greene, Kathy Kreiner, Ken Read, Steve Podborski, Kerrin Lee-Gartner, we all remember them. Problem is it seems like it’s all in the past. The last Olympic medal was a 1994 bronze in Men’s Downhill by Ed Podivinsky.

Canada’s top bet to get back on the Olympic podium is Erik Guay. Guay is 2010 World Cup winner in the Super-G and 2011 World Champion in the Downhill. This year he has ranked in the Top 3 in the men’s downhill on the World Cup circuit. However he was sidelined temporarily in January due to a minor knee injury. But he’s confident he will be ready to perform on February 9th. Actually Erik is not the only Canadian alpine skier with good chances to win a medal. Healthy medal chances also come with Marie-Michele Gagnon who is currently ranked fourth in World Cup standings in the slalom and just won her first ever World Cup race–a super-combined event–just last month in Austria. Will a new generation of Crazy Canucks arrive in Sochi? The Rosa Khutor Alpine Resort will set the stage.

Alexandre Bilodeau – Freestyle Skiing: Alexandre isn’t just simply the first Canadian to win gold during Vancouver 2010. He’s the first ever to win gold on Canadian soil as the 1976 Summer Games in Montreal and the 1988 Winter Games in Calgary failed to produce a Canadian Olympic champion.

Since Vancouver he has made many public appearances and has graduated from college. His competitive drive has not deterred. He has won moguls silver at the past two World Championships and has already won three of the six moguls events on the World Cup circuit. He is a big favorite to win at what he says will be his last Olympics but his top challenge will come from fellow Canadian Mikael Kingsbury who is 2012 and 2013 World Cup winner in moguls, World moguls champion in 2013 and has won the other three World Cup events from this year. In fact Sports Illustrated predicts Kingsbury to win gold and Bilodeau to win silver. The stage for Canadian vs. Canadian will take place February 10th.

Charles Hamelin – Short-Track Speed Skating: There’s a lot of talk for the possibility of the first ever Canadian four-time Olympic champion. One possibility, actually three, is in women’s hockey which I will talk about later. Another possibility is in men’s short track speed skating with Charles Hamelin.

You could say that short track is in his blood. His younger brother Francois was part of Canada’s gold medal-winning relay and his father Yves is the current national director of the national short track team. Hamelin has had an illustrious career which includes two Olympic golds from Vancouver and a silver from Turin in 2006 as well as 26 World Championship medals, eight of them gold. In fact at last year’s World Championships, Hamelin was part of the gold medal-winning relay and won three individual bronzes.

Charles comes to Sochi as the reigning leader in the overall World Cup standings as well as leading the 1000m and 1500m. His path to more gold will not go unchallenged. His top threats come from Russia’s Viktor Ahn and South Korea’s Sin Da-Woon. Plus there’s the sport itself which is known for its slipperiness and frequent falls. It will all be decided at the Iceberg Skating Palace.

Alex Harvey – Nordic Skiing: Skiing sure runs in the family. It was natural that Alex Harvey take up cross-country skiing. His father Pierre was Canada’s best ever cross country skier when he was competing during the 80’s. In fact I myself remember back during the Calgary Olympics Pierre was giving Canada its best-ever finishes in the cross country events. Sure they were between 14th and 20th but they were still new achievements for Canadian skiers.

Alex, who was actually born in September of that year, has taken achievement to new levels. He now has Canada’s best ever men’s finish at an Olympic Games: fourth in team sprint with teammate Devon Kershaw. He and Kershaw would become World Champions in that event in 2011. Harvey won bronze in the sprint at last year’s Worlds. This season he has won two World Cup races. Sports Illustrated predicts him to win bronze in the sprint. However he’s pressed to win Canada’s first even men’s cross country medal by teammate Devon Kershaw who finished second to Harvey in a World Cup sprint event. He will also be challenged in winning the sprint event by World Champion Nikita Kryukov of Russia, World Cup sprint leader Josef Wenzl of Germany and Italy’s Federico Pellegrino who’s ranked second in the sprints. The Laura Biathlon and Ski Complex is the stage.

The Dufour-LaPointe sisters (Justine, Maxime and Chloe) – Freestyle Skiing: It’s not uncommon that you have siblings competing together at the same Olympics. Sometimes in the same event. But three? And all three of them in the same event? That’s the case of the Dufour-Lapointe sisters in moguls: Maxime who turns 25 on the 9th, 22 year-old Chloe and 19 year-old Justine.

The first excitement came when Chloe qualified for the Vancouver Games. Bigger excitement came  when Justine won bronze at last year’s World Championships. However the excitement has been happening this year on the World Cup circuit. All six World Cup meets this year has seen at least one of the three on the podium with Justine winning two events and Chloe winning one. Currently on the World Cup circuit Justine ranks second, Maxime third and Chloe fourth. It’s possible the sisters could even sweep in Sochi. However blocking their path is defending Olympic champion, 2013 World Champion and World Cup leader Hannah Kearney of the U.S. American Heidi Kloser of the U.S. who is ranked fifth in the World Cup also poses a challenge as well as Japan’s Miki Ito who finished second at last year’s Worlds. It will all be decided February 8th.

Canada’s Hockey Team (men and women): Every Winter Olympics you can’t avoid the talk of Canada’s chances in hockey. Especially in men’s hockey. Hey, our national pride is at stake and winning it makes our OlympicsEver since NHL players were allowed to compete for the first time back in 1998, it’s always the challenge to prove themselves first among at least six equals. But we’ve succeeded with wins in 2002 and back in Vancouver. However we’ve found ourselves off the podium in 1998 and ousted in the quarterfinals in 2006.

Team Canada’s 24 members are all NHL players and eleven were part of Canada’s gold medal-winning team from 2010. Sidney Crosby who scored the ‘golden goal’ back in Vancouver is the captain this time. Team Canada has failed to win a World Championship medal ever since Vancouver but is predicted by Sports Illustrated to win bronze. They face challenges from 2013 World Champions Sweden whom SI predict to win and from the home country of Russia. It will all be decided at the Bolshoi Ice Dome by the 23rd.

As for the women, Canada has very good chances to win gold again. If they do, three women–Haylee Wickenheiser, Caroline Ouellette and Jayna Hefford–could become the first Canadians to win four Olympic golds. However their top rival as always is the United States. In fact the U.S. beat Canada for the 2011 and 2013 World Championships. It’s just a question of which of the two will take it on the 20th. Or a question of if a European team will upset. It’s possible.

So there you go. Those are some Canadians to look for at the Sochi Games. I know they’re more than seven but I couldn’t resist adding more. Besides people who like my Olympic writing probably don’t mind anyways. Besides since I wrote about the athletes from around the world yesterday, I figure you were due some Canadians.

They should provide for a lot of great moments and more national heroes. Interesting how ever since the 90’s Canada has become a superpower in winter sports like Austria and Norway. Before them we either had a lousy winter and a good summer or a good winter but a lousy summer. There have been one or two years where we had both a lousy winter and summer but that’s in the past. Anyways let the Games begin!

NHL Playoff Madness: Here We Go Again

Okay, many of you may remember my Canucks articles from last year. The reason for it was obvious: our third and possibly best chance to win the Stanley Cup. For those of you who want to read them again or have never read them, here are my articles: Confessions Of A Canucklehead, My Stanley Cup Experience, Stanley Cup Game Seven preview and aftermath.

Last year we won the Presidents Trophy. This year we do it again. It wasn’t entirely expected at first because October, the first month of regular season started on a down note with five wins, five losses and one overtime. Many Vancouverites were uncertain if we’d do it again but I reassured many that if the Lions can lose their first five games and then go on to win the Grey Cup, the Canucks still have a chance. The months became better over time as the Canucks would bag more wins and move up higher in the ranks to the point they appeared poised to repeat as Presidents Trophy winners.

However it would be a tight April 7th as the Canucks were one of four possible teams to win the Trophy and it took a final game that night. Their toughest rival for the Trophy, the New York Rangers, lost their final game. A win from the St. Louis Blues wasn’t enough to supersede the Canucks in the League standings. A win from the Pittsburgh Penguins meant that an overtime at the least would be what the Canucks would need at the least. It wasn’t like last year where the Canucks had a comfortable lead over the second-place team in the NHL by six wins. Nevertheless the Canucks won against Edmonton 3-0 and they repeated as Trophy winners. I remember the game well as I saw it at my cousin’s place. It was a fun time. It wasn’t just hockey action but the dogfights too. My cousin has two dogs–one that looks like Lassie and a puppy that looks like Toto–and they fought alot duing the games. The fights were even more entertaining than the actual hockey fights!

The funny thing is that even after the Canucks won, it wasn’t all over. There was still one last NHL game being played at the time: Los Angeles Kings vs. San Jose Sharks. It was an important one too as the Kings and Sharks were both #7 and #8 in the Western Conference and a loss from either team would make them #8 and thus the Canucks’ first Stanley Cup Playoff rival. The game went into overtime and ended with an overtime goal from the Sharks. The Kings are the Canucks’ first rival en route to the Stanley Cup.

Now it’s Playoffs time. It all starts April 11th and Vancouver will face Los Angeles. Vancouver has won two of the four regular season games against LA with one of their losses being an overtime. Vancouver has consistently played better against the Kings at home which is an advantage for this contest.

Anyways the sixteen Playoff berths have been decided and the match-ups are set. The whole playoff action begins on April 11th. Lots of fanfare and celebrations to be held. One thing’s for sure that I will not buy a ticket for a Finals game again if the Canucks do happen to make it. The amount I payed for a fourth-class seat at the game was ridiculous and I won’t do that again.

So enjoy the playoff action. There may be sixteen cities celebrating now but by June, there will only be one city still smiling. Let’s hope it’s Vancouver this time.