Month: May 2010

Three Lions Fail To Roar In Pre-WC Warm-up…

With England in scintillating form leading up to the World Cup and dominating their group, a group that included rivals Croatia, then surely playing Mexico and Japan as their World Cup Warm up matches would be purely a chance for the likes of Joe Hart, Leighton Baines and a few others to try to bully their way into the squad.

180 minutes of football later and two depressing matches by the Three Lions and Fabio Capello will have his hands full convincing the English public that we won’t be pulling a France and dropping out in the group stage. The homeland of football has always piled the pressure on their national team, a team that has consistently underperformed since they crushed the Germans in the 1966 World Cup.

The new millennium has been a lesson in humility for the proud nation, and after being knocked out in back-to-back tournaments by Portugal and then failing to even make the 2008 European Championship, it is safe to say that the pressure upon this year’s squad traveling to South Africa is immense.

Here’s a breakdown of the last few weeks of action:

England 3 – 1 Mexico – Leading up to the match the England team was feeling bullish, by the end of the match they were humbled. The scoreline was more than generous to England and if not for some fantastic saves by both Robert Green and Joe Hart, the Three Lions would have been leaving Wembley with egg on their face. The only thing that England learned from this encounter is that they are a long way away from the form they need to the finals in South Africa. We must keep in mind that the team was missing first choice keeper David James and the three Chelsea players in the squad; Frank Lampard, John Terry and Ashley Cole. That being said, Crouch showed why he should be included and Ledley King showed why he’s one of my favourite defenders in the game, returning after a 3 year absence from the National side.

Man Of The Match: Wayne Rooney, he may not have found the back of the net but he played hard and didn’t hurt himself, that in itself is worth MoM.

England 2 – 1 Japan – If we learned anything from the almost-upset by Mexico, well, it sure didn’t show in the game against Japan. The backline looked disorganized, the midfield was sloppy and the striking was beyond atrocious. Japan took the lead early, much like Mexico did, and showed flashes of brilliance with Brazilian born Marcus Tulio Tanaka causing chaos in the England end. The best players for England proved to be Japanese, as they scored two own goals to save England from embarrassment just a fortnight before the World Cup starts. Only positive in this one was the fact Emile Heskey played so badly that Fabio Capello may end his love affair with the Aston Villa striker and HOPEFULLY leave him on the tarmac as the plane takes off for Rustenburg.

Man Of The Match: Emile Heskey played himself out of the England squad with some woeful misses and terrible play, and for that I am thankful, I couldn’t handle watching him lose us the World Cup.

Other Thoughts…

  • Fabio Capello says he has settled on his final squad and if it were my choice; Heskey, Carrick, Warnock, Dawson, Upson, Parker and Wright-Phillips will be dropped from the squad…
  • A partnership of Rooney with Gerrard tucked in behind will work best for England, just wish the 4-5-1 had been deployed months ago…
  • Frank Lampard missed a penalty shot against Japan and lets hope that its the last one for another few years he misses…
  • Man City midfielder Adam Johnson looked great in both warm-up matches and should provide some much needed offensive creativity, something England squads are often criticised for lacking…
  • Speaking of offensive creativity, Joe Cole seemed to play himself into a spot in the final 23 with his strong outing against Japan…

Well, that’s it for now but starting June 5th, I will be previewing the rest of the teams in England’s group as well as breaking down the final England squad when Capello names it on Tuesday.

Henry Whitfield is an avid sports fan who covers everything and anything in the sports world, while focusing on hockey and football. Follow him on twitter @HenryWhitfield.


NHL Playoffs 2010 – Stanley Cup Final Predo

It’s wild to think that just a few weeks ago the season was winding down. The Toronto Maple Leafs were already golfing, Ottawa Senator and Montreal Canadiens Fans alike all thought they had a shot at going all the way and the Philadelphia Flyers squeaked into the playoffs by a nose.

Flash forward in true Lost fashion and we now sit with a matchup of what a month ago would have been called a ‘David verse Goliath” type battle. Goliath being the powerhouse Chicago Blackhawks who were looking for a solid goaltending all season and have finally found it in young Antti Niemi and the resurgent Broad Street Bullies who have huffed and puffed to get their way to the finals.

In a new twist, here are my 5 keys to the series and then you will find my prediction for this series:

  • Goaltending MatchupBig GIGANTIC surprise Finnish flash Antti Niemi goes head to head with even bigger surprise Canadian Michael Lieghton. Niemi sits with a 921 save %, while Lieghton holds a sterling 948. The Canuck also takes the GAA category with a 1.45 versus the Fins 2.33. Throw in the factor that the Philadelphia had three shutouts in the last round and were able to beat the shotblocking kings at their own game last round, I will throw advantage to the Flyers.
  • Bridesmaid syndrome – Always the bridesmaid and never the bride? Marian Hossa has been on the losing end of a Stanley Cup series for the last two years seasons and it may just be time for that to change. He has averaged just under 18-minutes of ice time a game but after three rounds has just 2 goals. Two goals?!  With 51 shots taken he now holds a 3.9% shooting average. He is also second on the Blackhawks in Penalty minutes with 21 already, and he has shown a lack of composure that is out of character. Another disappointing performance from him in the playoffs will to finish with Hossa wondering the eternal question: Who’s can I jump to next.
  • The Buff Factor – Raise your hand if you’re sick of hearing about Dustin Byfuglien. Perfect. Well, get ready to stop seeing his name on the score sheet. The truck of a man has been busy sitting in front of nets all playoffs; getting up close and personal with both Roberto Luongo and Evgeni Nabokov, easily getting the better of both. However, the Flyershave one asset that will help even the battle: Chris Pronger. The defensive talisman of the bullies will be tasked with clearing out the garbage in front of Leighton and make no mistake, he will manhandle the Big Buff

The Old workhorse – Speaking of Chris Pronger, the man is getting old and entering the twilight of his career. He has been to the finals of the Stanley Cup three times in recent years and there will only be a few more opportunities for him to win the Holy Grail of hockey. The 35-year-old, 6’6″, 220 pound Canadian defencemen has his eyes set on another ring, so look for him to play like a man possessed and be a key factor in this series.

  • Home Ice Advantage In a series that many think will go seven games, the issue of home ice advantage can be key to lifting the cup. The Flyers have scored 28 goals at home, with just 14 against. On the other hand they scored 26 on the road and allowed 22 against. The Blackhawks 21 at home and allowed 23 against, while scoring a big 32 on the road and allowed just 17 against. What does this mean? Maybe nothing, maybe everything. But if you’re looking at home-ice advantage, the Blackhawks have been outscored at home in these playoffs there and maybe it’s the edge the Flyers need?

So with all that out-of-the-way, it comes down to this: My prediction is…

The Philadelphia Flyer will stun the Chicago Blackhawks in seven games.

There we have it and that being said, I guess the Blackhawks will probably win in 5 just to prove me as wrong as possible.

Henry Whitfield is an avid sports fan who covers everything and anything in the sports world, while focusing on hockey and football. Follow him on twitter @HenryWhitfield.

NHL 2010 Playoffs – Round 3 Roundup

As a die-hard Toronto Maple Leaf fan, havent made the playoffs in 5 season, and season ticket holder for the Halifax Mooseheads, last in the QMJHL for the past two seasons, I am used to disappointments but this round of the playoffs took that to a whole new level.

I chose to jump on the bandwagons of both the Montreal Canadiens and the San Jose Sharks only to be rewarded with two lopsided series – going in favour of the other team.

The WestSan Jose Sharks (1) – Chicago Blackhawks (2)

The San Jose Sharks got swept in convincing fashion by the Chicago Blackhawks, a demise I predicted last round here against the Detroit Redwings, but obviously the hockey Gods just wanted to torture me some more. They never really competed and I’d be surprised if Evgeni Nabakov ever plays another game for the Sharks. The question remains if the Sharks will gut their top line and trade the ‘big name players’ who are constant no-shows in the playoffs.

My Pick: San Jose in 7

Actual Result: Chicago in 4

The EastPhiladelphia Flyers (7) – Montreal Canadiens (8)

The Cinderella story had to end sometime; too bad it shattered after I picked the Canadiens to win this series.

Jaroslav Halak had been the goaltending standout in the 2010 playoffs until Michael Leighton swiftly stole that title with three shutouts against the Canadiens. While he put up a brick wall on the backend, his scorers went to work booking a place in the Stanley Cup finals for a team that didn’t make the playoffs until the last day of the regular season.

I genuinely felt bad for the Habs as they looked physically exhausted out there against the Flyers, who threw their body around and made their presence felt. After beating two of the best teams in the league, Washington and Pittsburgh, it didn’t seem that the Canadiens had any gas left in the tank and they were never really in this series.

My Pick: Montreal In 6

Actual Result: Philadelphia in 5

MVP Of The Round – Michael Leighton stole this and ran away with it. He posted three shutouts against the Habs, and has quickly shown that the Flyers backup goalie can get it done. We’ll wait and see if he can get it done against the high-powered Chicago offence, but for now I’ll let him enjoy his MVP performance.

The No Show – I was going to say the Habs entire roster, but they won a game, so clearly for the second time this series it is a tie between Marleau, Thorton and Heatley. Where were you guys? Pavelski didn’t pick up the slack and the Sharks got swept. I feel a change is coming in San Jose and a real shake up needs to happen.

Most Goals – Even though his team is out, Michael Cammalleri still leads with 13 goals, that are four better than the next best total.

Most Assists – Jonathan Toews continued his offensive success this post season and leads with 19 assists in these playoffs.

Most Points – Jonathan Toews also leads the overall points with 26 points, which is five better than Flyers Captain Mike Richards who sits at 21 points.

Another Bandwagon, CROSBY BASHING!

With the Stanley Cup in full swing and the playoffs down to just four remaining teams, it would make sense that even with his team out of the playoffs that the “Lets Bash Crosby” bandwagon would still be in full effect.

Heck, let’s ignore the fact that the Blackhawks have a two game lead over the number one team in the league, or that the Habs just came back in a huge way against the Flyers with a 5-1 win tonight.

Instead, let’s do what hockey fans do best and bash on a young talent who has done nothing but give his heart and soul to the NHL, Canada and hockey fans across North America.

The kid is just 23 years old and this is what his resume looks like:

  • Silver World Junior Medal (2004)
  • Gold World Junior Medal (2005)
  • Art Ross Trophy (2007)
  • Hart Memorial Trophy (2007)
  • Lester B. Pearson Award (2007)
  • Stanley Cup Finals (2008/2009)
  • Stanley Cup Ring (2009)
  • Olympic Gold Medal (2010)
  • Rocket Richard Trophy (2010)

I won’t get into the countless records he’s also broken, but in his first five  years in the NHL he has played 371 games, scored 183 goals, made 323 assists and in total has 506 points.

But somehow fans still find the need to bash on the Canadian Hero who won  helped make the dream possible in Vancouver and win the country Olympic Gold.

When groups like the IIHF come out and bash Sidney Crosby for not going to their World Championship, it’s clearly not about the hockey. The IIHF World Championship has only ever drawn North American attention when it is hosted in North America, without big names coming to play when it is held overseas they lose out. I can only assume this is the reason for their recent media temper tantrum.

As sports fans we need to understand that athletes are human too and they need time to recover, relax and refocus. In the last 12 months he has won the Stanley Cup, Olympic Gold and the Rocket Richard trophy, not to mention six rounds in the NHL playoffs (losing just one matchup).

Sid will win Canada plenty more Gold at the international stage and hopefully add to his already overfull trophy case, so give the kid a break and let him enjoy  summer off.

While you’re at it, how about we focus on hockey that’s being played and enjoy a playoffs that has been full of excitement, upsets and big games.

**Editors Note: The IIHF has since come out and apologize for including Sidney Crosby in their press release bashing players for not coming to the IIHF championship.

Henry Whitfield is an avid sports fan who covers everything and anything in the sports world, while focusing on hockey and football. Follow him on twitter @HenryWhitfield.

Cam Russell.. Seriously?

This week the Halifax Mooseheads announced they had re-signed GM and Coach Cam Russell to a contract extension, keeping the former NHL player around until the end of next season and although this isn’t a big surprise, it will be upsetting to Moosehead fans in the manner it was announced.

Apparently Cam was resigned last month but the team chose not to announce it, similar to the resigning of Marcel Patenaude in the 2007/2008 season, where they announced him signing a new contact a mere eight months later.

It’s obvious that Bobby Smith and the management team decided to hold off on the announcement due to disgruntled fans and the many fans who are upset with the job that Cam has been doing behind the bench.

I’ll fully disclose that I’m a full-fledged, card-carrying “Cam Russell Must Go” fan club member, albeit as a GM he has been doing an okay job, as a coach he has failed to make an impact on the team and get positive results.

Here are his fantastic stats for the last four seasons as a Coach:

2006/07 – 32/31/3/4 (71pts, 14th)
2007/08 – 42/23/0/5 (89pts, 4th)
2008/09 – 19/41/3/5 (46pts, LAST)
2009/10 – 13/48/3/4 (33pts, LAST)

This gives him a total of 106/143/9/18 for a shiny winning percentage of just .384% and yet the Ownership is more than happy to keep him behind the bench.

Last season the Mooseheads went up and down, and then down some more. Able to pull off some surprise wins over the top teams, but failed to turn up in must win games against fellow cellar dwellers.

With the junior draft fast approaching and the Moose sitting with the overall 2nd pick and six others in the top 35, Cam is  under the microscope to put together a team that can compete for the Memorial Cup in the next two years.

For now I will put away the “Will trade Cam for Bag of Pucks” sign, and wait and see how next season pans out.

After two seasons in last place, Cam will need to pick it up or the fans will finally give up on him and chase him out-of-town.

Henry Whitfield is an avid sports fan who covers everything and anything in the sports world, while focusing on hockey and football. Follow him on twitter @HenryWhitfield.

NHL Playoffs 2010 – Round 3 Predos

Well, it’s time to get back on track and get some predictions right. I know most of you out there are wondering why I even bother, with a great record of just 6/12 so far, you’d think I would give up? Stick with the 50% and go home. However, this round I’m going to give ‘er and take a chance on teams that I have yet to believe in.

So without further adieu, here are my Round 3 Semi-Final Predictions:

The EastIts late but it’s time to join the bandwagon

Philadelphia (7) – Montreal (8) – Yes. That’s right. We’ve got a matchup of the last two seeds in the east to crown an East Champ. Montreal has beaten two of the NHL’s best teams so far in these playoffs and have jumped on the back of excellent goaltending by Jaroslav Halak to prove all pundits wrong. On the other hand, the Flyers struggled into the post-season and had to complete one of the toughest comebacks in recent memory to beat the Boston Bruins after going down three games to none. Both teams went to seven games in the last series and will be pulling on everything they have left to get an edge.

In net it’s a showdown of Michael Leighton (Until Boucher comes back) and the suddenly infallible Jaroslav Halak. If the Flyers can get into the head of Halak and push him around they might have a shot, but it won’t be easy.

It’s time to jump on the bandwagon and support Canada’s teams, not just because it feels right but because they are the best team in this series: Montreal In 6.

The WestChicago ripped apart Vancouver in their series and the San Jose Sharks made short work of Detroit to reach this point.

San Jose (1) – Chicago (2) – Unlike the East, over in the West the top two teams have made it through the gauntlet and now face each other.

A high-powered regular season offence has finally shown life in the post-season for the Sharks and the young talent of the Blackhawks have been getting it done on the back of a young finish goalie.

Where the playoffs have been full of unexpected surprises, these two teams are the best in the West and deserve to be here. Joe Thornton finally showed up and will be the catalyst for the Sharks to get to the finals, however Duncan Keith will be draped over him like a bad wig and will try to shut down the big forward.

This series is tough with so much talent, but I feel that the Sharks will get under the skin of the young Blackhawks, taking this series.

My Prediction? The San Jose Sharks win in Seven.

That means the Stanley Cup will look like this:

San Jose Sharks (1st in West) – Montreal Canadiens (8th in East)

It will be a matchup of David verse Goliath proportions, well, if I am right for once.

Henry Whitfield is an avid sports fan who covers everything and anything in the sports world, while focusing on hockey and football. Follow him on twitter @HenryWhitfield.

NHL Playoffs 2010 – Round 2 Roundup

Prediction Results: Wow. Let’s just say I was a tad off with my predictions and correctly chose just one winner. That’s right, the only series I predicted correctly was Flyers winning

Here are the rest of my thoughts from Round Two:

Sharks Are For Real – After ripping apart the San Jose Sharks, I can admit when I am wrong. Their big guns showed up and they beat the Detroit Redwings handedly, these guys have finally shown that they can play in the playoffs and the Chicago Blackhawks should be worried.

Habs No Longer An Underdog – In knocking off both Washington and Pittsburgh, the Canadiens have beaten two of the toughest teams and can no longer be seen as an underdog. The bandwagon is overfull and Canada’s hopes of a Stanley Cup coming north of the border rests solely on the backs of these unlikely heroes. I for one am joining the bandwagon and see this team as a legit contender.

Stanley Cup Not For Russians – Alexander Ovechkin and Alexander Semin were barely visible in round one, and then Evgeni Malkin and Sergei Gonchar followed suit for the Penguins against the Habs. However, Both Alex’s are lighting it up for their country at the World Championships and both Gino and Gonchar flew out to join the team moments after they were knocked out. Maybe its the way that the Stanley Cup is built into our childhoods here in Canada, but it just seems to me that the Russians just don’t care about the Stanley Cup as much and it shows in their playoff play.

Underdog Goalies on Top – Jaroslav Halak is still showing that he has what it takes to bring the Habs their first Stanley Cup in the new millenium, but it was the play of Michael Leighton who came in for an injured Brian Boucher that really showed how the unproven goalies are stealing the spotlight this post-season.

MVP – Simon Gagne. Now, this is a tricky pick as he didn’t completely dominate the series but he was the catalyst for one of the greatest comebacks in modern sports and was the scorer of the game winning goal in Game Seven. Definitely MVP material for the Flyers and showed the heart that Vancouver and Pittsburgh lacked in their matchups.

The No Show – Sidney Crosby. Seriously though, Penguins are wondering where their Captain is after going colder than an iceberg. The star lit up round one, but just couldn’t get his game in gear against Hal Gill and the Habs.

Most Goals – Michael Cammalleri (MON) now leads the playoffs with 12 goals.

Most Assists – Jonathan Toews (CHI) lit up the Canucks and has the lead with 14 helpers.

Most Points – Jonathan Toews (CHI) leads the playoffs with 20 points.

Henry Whitfield is an avid sports fan who covers everything and anything in the sports world, while focusing on hockey and football. Follow him on twitter @HenryWhitfield.