Sunday, May 25, 2008

Chief among Champions

We are old school when it comes to our hockey, we have a deep almost spiritual belief that no matter what there are just some rules one must never break.

Sure the Spokane Chiefs did rightfully earn their 4-1 win over the Kitchener Rangers to claim the 2008 Memorial Cup and a place in hockey history. It was a well earned win that also sends a message to the hockey world that it is not how talented your team is but rather how much they believe in their coaching staff, their system and each other that leads to championships.

It was the kind of win that makes those who root for the underdog happy as everyone could make arguments as to why the other 3 teams in the Memorial Cup should win the event; very few could find reasons why Spokane could win it. It is ironic that the only mistake that the Chiefs made during this Cup run was at the very end when they dropped the trophy breaking it in pieces.

At the same time we saw the irony in even that message as the players simply raised all the pieces to the sky in celebration. Nothing was going to ruin that moment for them but it was all about believing in each other, in their coaches and checking their egos at the door.

This is about a team that was fated to win this cup because of their willingness to give of themselves to win whether it was going from being a star on another team to a role player on the checking line as was the case with Justin McCrae or the Cup MVP Dustin Tokarski who's mother was sending out emails to get her son a spot on a team.

We sat back and watched as the Chiefs stayed loyal to the system that earned them the WHL championship and now the 2008 Memorial Cup. There are no real stars on this team (although Jared Cowen is about to become one) and one knows that a team is going to win when nothing ever gets them to abandon their system even when on the surface it appears that it was not working.

However we also believe in karma and fate and knew that Spokane was going to win this Cup on Friday. See in our eyes the Kitchener Rangers sealed their own fate when they scored that last goal on their power play goal at 19:43 of the 3rd period to make the score 9-0 against Belleville.

Our own beliefs in hockey tradition preaches to us that in the last minutes of a game when you have already badly whipped someone as the K-Rangers did that you pull back and try not to further embarrass the other team. For us scoring with 17 seconds remaining in the Cup semi-final told us that the K-Rangers were so focused emotionally on finally defeating the Belleville Bulls that every other team was an after thought.

In the finals the K-Rangers simply lacked the same emotion and intensity that they brought when playing the Belleville Bulls. That first supposed meaningless game on Wednesday may have doomed the Bulls but Friday's win by the K-Rangers did the same to them.

It was not that the K-Rangers played badly against Spokane but rather the fates decided to cast their lot with the little team that could. When the K-Rangers could not build on their 1-0 lead despite firing 19 shots on Tokarski then they were finished.

The K-Rangers threw everything at the Chiefs and while they bent, the Chiefs refused to break and weathered the storm of the K-Rangers and even their fans. Once Drayson Bowman scored what proved to be the winning goal at 4:11 of the second period it was over except for the shouting.

When you can get 3 players to score their first goals of the tournament in the finals then you know you are going to have a great chance at winning. When your team captain blocks a shot off one shoulder on one play then one off the other in the same shift then someone is really looking out for you.

Here is what really is scary is that this Spokane team was supposed to be a year away from becoming serious contenders for just the WHL championships. Now it is going to fun to watch them as they make their way towards a second Memorial Cup championship next year in Rimouski.

As for our standpoint if we are the Rangers getting ready to pick in the second round and Dustin Tokarski is sitting there for the taking then the Rangers have to take him as we saw an NHL goalie playing today. From what we witnessed from this Memorial Cup then a lot of draft boards (including our own) have to be reworked as we saw several players we would like to see wearing Ranger uniforms.

We hope that Justin Azevedo likes wearing Broadway Blue as we sure would not cry if the Rangers offered him a free agent contract. We saw that anyone who has doubts about whether or not Azevedo can play at the next level can erase them.

We also want to salute the folks of Kitchener as they more than showed us that they are more than worthy of the name Rangers. The class those folks showed in defeat was true sportsmanship and perhaps one of the reasons why this version of the Memorial Cup was truly an excellent performance by all parties.

Then a salute must also be sent the way of CHL President David Branch and all of his staff for running an event that was free of controversy, there were not disputed calls or goals that determined the outcome of any of the games. Special mention also has to go to Aaron Bell who as he always does keeps the hockey media well informed of everything and anything that is happening.

If this was your first view of the Memorial Cup on TV then really make plans to attend one live in the future. We know that next year they are hosting the Memorial Cup in Rimouski and our experience working with the Oceanic folks tells us that it will be worth attending.

Thanks to the play of those in the Memorial Cup we have tossed away our draft boards and will be starting over. The NHL is holding their annual draft combine starting Tuesday and we will be watching to see how it shakes out.

(picture credit: Chris Bruton and the Memorial Cup: CHL)


steve said...

Hi Jess,
Its good to hear you are doing better, except for the numbness, but I imagine it's better than having the back pain, because back surgery can be hit or miss, one of the most unpredictable surgeries around.
I was wondering do the Rangers have enough room on their roster to offer a contract to Azevedo and then be able to sign their own players? I think the Rangers where near the max (50?) when they signed Justin Soryal. Also they still need room to resign Jessiman, Tomas Zaborsky, etc. or did a spot open up when Baranka opted to go to Russia.

Jess Rubenstein said...


There will be spots opening up as contracts expire as Baranka will open up one spot, Hutchinson another etc.