Tuesday, May 31, 2022

Hockey Highlights

These past few weeks have been crazy.  Eliot and I have so much going on... we're busy with orders, trying to get our house situated and preparing for summer.  It's been a lot and my brain has been completely in overdrive.  I've been hanging onto my to do list like it's the Holy Grail... otherwise, things won't get completed.  I have tried to take breaks as often as possible, either in the form of watching Quantico on Netflix during the day, or by submerging myself in NHL playoff hockey games at night.

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Eliot and I have been enjoying watching the playoffs.  Although, I've found that the hockey games are all starting to blur together.  Unfortunately, at this point the teams we were actually rooting for have been eliminated, and that's made it a little bit less exciting.  However, I did find another alternative.

The International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) hosts the Men's World Championship each year and Eliot and I usually pay it no attention.  We watch the USA men and women during the Olympics, but other than that, we don't pay too much attention to international play.  This year, since the Sharks didn't make the playoffs, there were quite a few guys who were selected to play for their home countries.  The Sharks posted about all of them playing overseas and I decided that I was going to follow it.

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Timo Meier and Tomas Hertl are two of my favorite Sharks players, so naturally I was automatically invested in how Switzerland and Czechia were going to do.  The Sharks also had the most players from an NHL Team on Team USA, so that was kind of cool.

I'll try not to get into too much detail, but each day I went to the IIHF website and checked out how our guys were doing.  It became apparent pretty early on that Team Switzerland was going to be one of the teams to beat... so I became a fan of the Swiss men.  I followed their games more in depth than the other ones.  I couldn't watch the live feed due to being out of the area, but I found alternatives.

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As the tournament went on, I became more invested.  I wanted to actually watch the games since they were more exciting to me than the NHL playoffs.  The tournament took place in Finland this year, so there was a 7 hour time difference.  Games played at 8:20 pm took place at 1:20 our time, so I took mid-afternoon breaks most days.

After a bit of research, I discovered that ESPN+ was showing a few of the IIHF games over on their app.  Unfortunately, the more popular ones were being broadcast on NHL Network which Eliot and I don't have.  Eliot called Spectrum to try to get the upgrade for it, but it was going to cost way too much and force us to update our cable plan.

Screenshot from Fubo on a Random Website I Found

I didn't quit though.  After more research, I watched Switzerland vs Canada on 28 second loops of "free" previews of Fubo on a website online.  Every 28 seconds, I'd refresh the page and the "free" footage would start over.  It was annoying to have the game be chopped up, but it was better than refreshing the website that simply said who was penalized or who scored when.  At least I could see the plays developing and I even caught Timo Meier score his third goal of the tournament.

That prompted another whole discussion.  Fubo was an app that neither Eliot or I had looked into much.  We've been talking about cutting our cable for a few years, but we've never found something that had all of the channels we wanted.  Fubo suddenly had NHL Network, along with all of the other channels we regularly watch.  The only thing I didn't have was TNT and TBS.  (We don't watch those channels normally, but some of the NHL playoff games have been on them the past few weeks.) 

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Eliot and I decided to do the free week trial of Fubo, and that would get us through the IIHF tournament.  I was elated.  Suddenly, I could watch the full games in high quality on our television instead of 28 second increments on my laptop or refreshing the IIHF website.  I wish we'd known about it sooner, but I was grateful to have that option.  And it was perfect timing because the game I really wanted to watch was the following day!

Tuesday, May 24th was a day that I looked forward to as Switzerland was playing Germany to decide who was going to be top seed in Group A.  There were six games that day, (a triple double) so it was scheduled at 12:20 pm Helsinki Time or 5:20 am Eastern.  Psycho over here decided she was getting up at 5:30 to watch it... and I did.

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I'm glad I did too.  There was some uncertainty as to whether or not Timo Meier would be playing after a hit against one of the Canadian players in the previous game.  (I still have yet to see the hit, but Timo doesn't go after people so I'm sure it wasn't intended to be malicious on his part.  He even tried to apologize in the handshake line after the game but the Canadian guy wasn't having it.)  Thankfully, Timo was playing... and I was happy to have a Sharks player to root for, on television, in real time!

Switzerland took an early lead with a goal less than two minutes into the game.  (It might have been early in the morning, but I was still cheering like crazy.)  Germany scored on a power play with just over 8 minutes left in the first period.  Then, Germany scored again with about 4:30 left.  Before the period ended, Timo had a great shot on net with about 1:30 left, but the German goalie caught the puck in his glove.

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The Swiss men tied the game less than 2 minutes into the 2nd period after pushing hard in their offensive zone for the first 90 seconds of the period.  Switzerland scored again at the end of the second.  Unfortunately, Germany came back yet again and scored in the third period to tie the game 3-3.  Switzerland had a last minute chance to take the lead but missed the goal and that sent the game into overtime.

At this point, I was on pins and needles.  Overtime might have been stressful, but it was uneventful.  The game was not decided in the five minute overtime of three-on-three, so it went into a shoot out.  Thankfully, Switzerland made their first two shots and their goalie stopped all four of the German shooters. 

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Switzerland won the game 4-3 in the shoot out and thus secured the top spot in Group A.  They were undefeated in the round robin portion of the tournament!  They also finished with with the most points of all teams in both Group A and Group B!

Timo had a heck of a game too.  He didn't score a goal, but he hit two posts and was actually chosen as the player of the game for Team Switzerland!  In the post game ceremony, he was presented with a Tissot watch.  (They were presenting the selected player of the game for both teams with a watch after each round robin game.)  

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After that, Timo, Team Switzerland and the countless fans in the stands watched as the Swiss flag was raised during their National Anthem.  Then, the game was over.

I was really glad that I got up to watch it live.  But naturally, I was completely exhausted from going to bed for only a few hours before getting back up.  I took a nap in the afternoon and while I was sleeping all hell was breaking loose in Texas.  When I woke from my nap, I saw on social media that there had been another school shooting.

It was like a switch had flipped.  A day that I had been looking forward to was suddenly dragging on forever.  I went from being elated that Timo had such a great game to completely devastated that children died at the hand of a gunman in their school.  

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I've had a heavy heart since then.  And I have to admit that I'm glad to have a bit of a distraction through watching hockey this past week.  Suddenly the games that were my mental break were also a welcome distraction by everything awful in our world.

Unfortunately, all good things must eventually come to an end... and I wasn't at all prepared for the results of the Switzerland game on Thursday, May 26th.  

Once the Swiss men came in 1st for Group A, they were matched up against Team USA (4th for Group B) in the quarter finals.  The way the tournament is structured, the top 8 teams play each other depending on their seed.  The four winners move on to play in the semi finals, and the losers go home.  Then, the winners of the quarter final games play for the gold and silver medals, and the losers play each other for bronze.

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Basically, all you have to do is win in the quarter final round and you're guaranteed the opportunity to play for a medal.  But when you're playing against some of the top men's hockey players in the world, it's not exactly easy as pie.

I was looking forward to the game.  I hadn't actually seen any of the USA games, so this was a great chance to do that.  At this point, I was 100% committed to cheering for the Swiss men, but I obviously wanted my home country to do well too.  I just... let's just say that didn't want them to win this particular game.  So of course they did.

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In a surprising upset, Switzerland lost 3-0 against the USA.  I wish I could say that it was because the US played a hell of a game, but it wasn't pretty.  Team USA got their two first goals on bad bounces.  Basically, if the Swiss men made the smallest mistake, the puck ended up in their net.  Honestly, the game was pretty ugly all around.

Unfortunately, it was Timo who was in the penalty box on a tripping call when the US scored their first goal.  I was praying that he'd go out and score a goal to make up for it.  He had been swarming all over the ice during the Germany game.  But as much as he shot the puck at the net, nothing would go in.  He only got credited for 3 or 4 shots on goal, but Timo must have fired at least 10 shots at the net.  

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I think that the Swiss men outplayed the US men.  They were all over the ice and had a lot of opportunities.  USA's goaltender, Jeremy Swayman, was a brick wall in net and nothing was getting past him no matter what Switzerland threw at him.  And part of me couldn't even be mad about it.  Swayman plays for the Bruins and I had been cheering him on in the NHL playoffs.  (Once the Bruins got knocked out of the playoffs, he and David Pastrnak "Pasta" went over to play for their home countries.)  Swayman also played at the University of Maine... so I can't be mad at the guy for being a beast.

I was disappointed for the Swiss men though.  I thought that they'd come back; I really did.  They'd done it before, and they'd scored a lot of goals in very little time.  But the cards were not in their favor that day.  I could tell that they were getting more annoyed as the minutes ticked off the clock and the pucks weren't falling.  Timo also hit another post, and I could tell he was getting frustrated as the game went on.  

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In the end, their hard work just wasn't enough that day.  I was proud of them for how hard they battled though.  I was also really proud of Timo for representing Switzerland and the Sharks organization.  He took so many shots for chances to try and score... they definitely didn't lose for his lack of trying.

After the game, the Swiss men looked completely stunned.  I just wanted to teleport through the television to give them all hugs.  They battled so hard in the tournament and got 20 out of 21 points available in the round robin style prelims.  It was clear that they had their sights set on trying to get a medal.  And then they got knocked out of the running during the quarter final game.  If only they had won just one more game... 

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I admit that I was pretty upset too.  They had been undefeated and they were expected to win.  Honestly, it probably sounds pathetic, but I was almost in tears.  I think that the weight of the past week and the school shooting finally caught up to me.  Watching the Swiss men's hockey team was a highlight... especially since I no longer had a team I was really rooting for in the NHL playoffs.  Keeping track of their games and how they were doing was a welcome distraction from the reality of everyday life.

And the irony isn't lost on me.  Switzerland lost to the USA.  It was kind of an awkward moment when you're actively cheering against your own country.  Don't get me wrong, I wanted the USA men to do well at the tournament and I was proud of them.  I was especially proud of Jeremy Swayman and how well he played.  But I wanted the Swiss men to advance to the semi finals and I really wanted them to medal.

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Even though the Swiss men got knocked out of the tournament, I've really enjoyed watching the Men's World Champsionships.  European games are always a different atmosphere than the NHL games and I love watching them.  The fans are so dedicated and fun.  There were guys wearing Swiss flag suits at all of the games I saw.  The fans also sing and chant in unison during the game.  And they all know what to sing and when... it's amazing.  It's not like anything I've ever experienced in the US.

In the end, the host country Finland came away with the gold medal.  Team Canada won the silver and Czechia won the bronze.  (The US men finished in 4th without a medal.)  It wasn't the finish that I had been hoping for, but I was really proud of San Jose Sharks Tomas Hertl and Radim Simek on Team Czechia!  (I was kind of hoping it would be Czechia against Switzerland in the finals, but that was just me being 100% selfish hoping that Sharks would end up with gold and silver medals.)

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I'm glad that Finland won gold.  They also won the gold medal at the Olympics earlier this year, so that's quite an accomplishment for them to win both gold medals!  It hasn't been done in a long time either.  Plus, their fans deserved to see their team win!

I still haven't watched the games yet, but Eliot and I recorded them on our Fubo app (which we decided to keep) so we can watch them when we have time to.  I've also kept the Germany vs Switzerland game on my recordings so we can watch Timo if we need something to tide us over until the NHL season starts again this fall.  I'll probably also keep the Czechia vs USA bronze medal game for that reason to!

I think the best part of the tournament was that our San Jose Sharks guys did a great job in the international spotlight.  They represented the Sharks organization and did their home countries proud.  And I'm so proud of all of them too!

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Looking forward, there's still quite a bit of hockey in our future.  Eliot and I will finish watching the 2022 NHL Playoffs over the next few weeks.  The Eastern and Western Conference Finals are starting up in the next few days.  Then, we'll also watch the finals to see who will be raising the Stanley Cup this year.

Eliot and I will spend our summer preparing for next season.  I've got my eye on a few new things of Sharks merchandise.  There have been a lot of good sales for Memorial Day weekend, so I'll probably pick up a few things!  I've decided to make a little San Jose Sharks display in our upstairs hallway outside of Eliot's office.  I'm hoping that I'll be able to get started on hanging some of our posters and artwork this summer!

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Then, we start the long wait until September when the new season begins.  Thankfully, it's gone by pretty quickly the past few summers.  Eliot and I are usually pretty busy trying to enjoy our summer, so hopefully hockey season will be here before we know it!

In the meantime, we have plenty of things to look forward to!  The Sharks schedule will be released sometime mid-summer and Eliot and I will spend that afternoon pouring over the details.  Road trips and adventures to San Jose will be planned.  Days will be marked off with specific games we're looking forward to or planning to attend.  And before we know it, it will be time to don our teal jerseys and cheer on our boys!  °o°

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