Friday, April 23, 2010

Kevin Lowe's Final Thoughts on the 2010 Olympics

This article first appeared in the April 23rd edition of Main Street Week and is published here with the permission of the editors.

The 2010 Olympics in Vancouver gave us all many wonderful memories and a record number of Gold medal performances for Canada. I had the pleasure of speaking with Kevin Lowe for the April edition of Main Street, regarding his experience at the Games, the men's hockey tournament and Sidney Crosby's overtime goal that brought the Olympics to a dramatic finish. To wrap up the conversation, here are some final thoughts from Lowe on a few individual performances and the process of selecting the hockey team.

As I wrote in Main Street and at The Voice of Sport.com, team chemistry was a crucial factor in the selection process for the Olympic team. Canada has an abundance of hockey talent and the management group of Lowe, Steve Yzerman, Doug Armstrong and Ken Holland kept in mind the importance of team chemistry in such a short tournament and selected a group that could come together as a “team” quickly, with defined roles for each of their players.

“Yeah, no question, that was a big part of the plan,” explained Lowe. “Although, it wasn’t difficult to do because a lot of these players had played together before and a lot of them were around the same age. It’s really the first team in the Hockey Canada Program of Excellence, where a lot these players had played together in the under 17 or under 18 tournaments, the World Juniors and the World Championships and then finally came together at the Olympics. The dividends of that program really paid off.”

“We had quite a number of players we could have selected,” continued Lowe. “We factored in team chemistry on and off the ice, personalities and guys that would put the team ahead of themselves.”

Hockey is certainly Canada’s unofficial national sport and every analyst had an opinion on who should have made the team. Personally, my writing was based on the fact, that with so much experience and hockey knowledge, Lowe and the other managers knew what they were doing and the second-guessing of their selections was unnecessary. With so many backseat-drivers complimenting and criticizing their selections, I was surprised to learn that the managers did take in to consideration the speculations of the media when selecting their roster.

“It makes it interesting and there is value to it,” said Lowe regarding the speculations. “I can’t say that we disregard it totally; a lot of the media guys watch the players quite often too and they have opinions about the players. The good thing about our position (as managers), is that we didn’t have any barriers for selections, there were no salary cap issues; we could just take the best players or the players we thought would make the best possible team.”

During the Games, the play of Dallas Stars forward Brenden Morrow, as well as Chicago’s Jonathan Toews and Mike Richards of the Philadelphia Flyers caught my eye. On a team with so many All-Stars from the NHL, I asked Lowe if any players surprised him during the tournament.

“All the players were expected to perform at a certain level, so the fact that they played well was not a surprise,” confided Lowe. “Brenden Morrow, we expected to play the way that he did, although, you can never assume anything. He really opened the eyes of a lot of people as to what he brings to a hockey team. For me personally, the guy that I think surpassed, for what we could have hoped for was Jonathan Toews; his overall poise and play, offensively, defensively and physically - he’d be my number one guy.”

One final thought from my perspective as a writer, which I shared with Kevin... This was the first time during an International hockey competition that I had the opportunity and the pleasure of speaking with one of the managers before and after the tournament. While I was hoping for a Team Canada victory like everyone else in the nation, I was also secretly wishing, “Please win this for Kevin!”

After a good laugh, Lowe responded with, “Thanks Andrew - I appreciate that!”

In my writing career, it was my first “golden” moment, sharing a laugh with a six-time Stanley Cup Champion. Have a great sports day everyone.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Kevin Lowe Shares his Olympic Experience with Main Street


This article is in the April 2010 edition of Main Street and is reprinted here with the permission of the editors. Drop by www.mainstreetweeknews.com to have a look at a great community newspaper. The photograph is from a Canada.com article.

Main Street readers may be surprised to learn that our newspaper had a special correspondent at the 2010 Olympic Games, none other then Lachute's own Kevin Lowe. Due to Main Street's deadlines and a very busy schedule as President of the Edmonton Oilers, it took a few weeks to organize a conversation and share his thoughts with Main Street.

As part of the management team that selected the NHL players taking part in the Olympic hockey tournament, Lowe had a bird’s eye view for Sidney Crosby’s overtime goal that brought home the Gold medal for the men’s hockey team. A six-time Stanley Cup Champion as a player, my first question for Lowe was this; is it easier to be a player in the Finals or a Manager watching from stands?

“It is always easier to be involved in the games, in terms of the stress and the pressures of watching,” said Lowe. “When you are playing, you go out and you play your shift, you're tired and you are catching your breath on the bench. You are not as stressed - you can't be or else you can't perform. When you are watching, it is certainly more difficult.”

Although the managers for Team Canada were confident in their squad, there was certainly a sigh of relief when Crosby's goal slipped past American goaltender Ryan Miller for the 3-2 victory.

“There are no guarantees when going into overtime, but I knew that we were the better team,” Lowe observed. “Although, I wouldn't say it was by as wide a margin as I thought we had in the first game. Even though we lost that one, I think we were the better team; we out-chanced them by a fair amount. I still thought that in a 2-2 game, I didn't find the American team particularly dangerous but once you get into to overtime anything can happen.”

As the commentators on CTV pointed out after the final game, perhaps Sidney Crosby did not have the “greatest” tournament but he certainly had the “greatest” moment when Canada needed him, in the most important overtime of his young career.

“People can react in different ways when you get into overtime, you kind of bank on a guy like Crosby. The reason why great players are great is that they can prey on a moment. I don’t think there were any players on the ice that can shoot the puck the way that he did, that firmly, in that situation. Not being afraid of the moment but embracing it,” continued Lowe. “It was good for him because he is a great person and very deserving.”

As for his overall Olympic experience, Lowe was extremely pleased with the job that the organizers of the Vancouver Games did. Despite the tragic death of the Luger from Georgia, protests in the first few days of the Games and long lines as spectators waited to enter the Olympic venues, the city of Vancouver and our athletes represented our nation to the best of their abilities.

“It was a great event and the whole Olympics were just wonderful,” said Lowe. “It was by far the most enjoyable of the three that I have attended. It’s tough to tell when you are in a foreign country, like Italy (2006 Games), as to how the locals are perceiving it, but just based on the fan reaction and the people in the streets, people just couldn’t get enough of it. All the athletes, regardless of the sport, all wanted to do Canada proud, which was pretty special to see.”

The Vancouver Games were also a special time for the entire Lowe family; Kevin’s wife, Karen Percy-Lowe, won two Bronze medals at the Calgary Games in 1988 and having their three children get a glimpse of what her career was like, helped create memories that will last a lifetime.

“I think this year really solidified it for them, to have a real understanding and appreciation of what their Mom did,” Lowe said proudly. “It was really satisfying for Karen, for the kids to actually think that their Mom was the one that everyone was cheering for, not unlike Joannie Rochette and Alex Bilodeau. In '88 Canada won five medals and Karen had two of them.”
Much like the 1972 goal by Paul Henderson, the overtime winner by Crosby will have people talking for years to come; reminiscing about where they were when Canada brought home the Gold. Have a great sports day everyone.

The April 23rd edition of Main Street Week will have more of Kevin Lowe's thoughts on the Olympic hockey tournament. Still haven't signed up? Drop by www.mainstreetweeknews.com and have Main Street Week delivered right to your inbox every Friday.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Is the NHL Planning to Change their Trophy Names?

This article was first published in the April 9th edition of Main Street Week and is reprinted here with permission from the editors. Drop by www.mainstreetweeknews.com to have a look at a great community newspaper or sign up and have Main Street Week delivered right to your inbox every Friday.

At the beginning of the current NHL season, an idea began to spread through the writings of several hockey analysts; the NHL should consider changing the names of their end of season awards for individual accomplishments. The analysts argued that in doing so, it would modernize the game and attract new fans. While there is no doubt that in a league that generates a majority of its revenue from ticket sales and not high paying television contracts similar to the NFL and NBA, new fans are always a priority. However, the risk of alienating its current fan base is very real and the league should think twice before making changes.

NHL greats like Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux and Patrick Roy brought the league to prominence in the US during the 80’s and 90’s, but are they worthy of replacing Georges Vezina, Art Ross and the immortal Conn Smythe, to name just a few of hockey’s pioneers whose names adorn the current trophies? In this ever increasing disposable society in which we live, why do some analysts believe that the game of hockey would be better served by ignoring its roots? If today’s new fans are unaware of the rich history of hockey, is it more important to educate them or cater to their ignorance?

Personally, I am still disappointed in the league for changing their conference and division names when they expanded and realigned the divisions during the 1990’s. Gone are the days of the Prince of Wales and Campbell Conferences, replaced by the bland and boring Eastern and Western Conferences. The glorious battles for the Adams, Patrick, Smythe and Norris Divisions have given way to the unimaginative Northeast, South, and Central and so on.

In 1893, Canada’s sixth Governor-General, Lord Stanley of Preston, donated a small trophy which cost $50 to be awarded to the champion amateur hockey club in Canada. Originally a challenge cup, meaning that any team could challenge the Champions for the title, the National Hockey Association took control of the Cup in 1910. In 1926, with the formation of the National Hockey League, the Stanley Cup became the symbol of hockey supremacy in professional hockey.

When you consider the fact that Lord Stanley of Preston donated the trophy upon his retirement and subsequent return to England, and the fact that the first championship playoff did not occur until ten months after his departure from Canada, should we not consider changing the name of this trophy to “modernize” the game? Of course not – the suggestion is ludicrous and farcical. I use this example only to illustrate the need to maintain the status quo of the current individual award names. Using the same logic and arguments used in favour of changing the individual award titles, the Stanley Cup should become the “Jean Beliveau Cup” or the “Bowman Cup”, as these two men have their names on the Stanley Cup an astounding number of times.

For those looking to learn more about the history of the National Hockey League and the game of hockey, might I suggest One Hundred Years of Hockey by renowned hockey author, broadcaster and creator of Peter Puck, Brian McFarlane. Published in 1989 by Deneau Publishers, it chronicles the origins of the game, with chapters for each decade and summaries of each individual season from the very first game through to the end of the 1989 Stanley Cup Playoffs. It is a book I have read many times and is filled with legendary names such as Georges Vezina, Maurice Richard, Gordie Howe, “Hap” Day, “Cyclone” Taylor and countless other stars from the game we all love. Perhaps I should send my well-worn copy to NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman to assist him in his decision making. Have a great sports day everyone.