Photo: Joshua Rey

*This was originally posted March 6, 2022*

Hope you enjoyed the mailbag last week. I decided to make it a monthly segment for the last week of every month. I like the interactive part of it. 

So it’s been a busy week in the world of sports so let’s get into it

The Russian Invasion of Ukraine and the sports world

As we all know, Russia has launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine over a week ago.

People have fled their homes, (some have been destroyed already) hiding in Subway stations, people have been separated from their loved ones and men between the ages of 18-60 are required to go back and fight. People have also been told to make Molotov cocktails.

One of these men going back to Ukraine to fight is recently retired tennis player Sergiy Stakhovsky. Throughout his 19-year-career Stakhovsky won four career singles titles and four doubles titles. Now he is going to represent his country on the battlefield.

Stakhovsky was on vacation with his wife and kids but he decided to go back to his homeland to fight.

“I just had this strong feeling that I have to do it,” said Stakhovsky in an interview with ABC on Thursday. “I didn’t really say goodbye to the kids. I just kissed them goodbye, and I said that I’ll be right back. They were watching cartoons and reading books, not really paying attention.”

It must have been tough to leave your wife and kids to head to fight uncertain danger but Stakhovsky made a brave choice. 

The invasion of Ukraine has affected the sports world too and certain sports personalities have spoken about it.

One of these is Alex Ovechkin, who is a known supporter of Russian President Vladimir Putin. His Instagram profile picture is a picture of him and Putin.

Ovechkin spoke about Putin and Ukraine in a press conference last week.

“Well, he is my president,” said Ovechkin. “But how I said, I am not in politics. I am an athlete and you know, how I said, I hope everything is going to be done soon. It’s a hard situation right now for both sides and everything. Everything, I hope, is going to end. I’m not in control of the situation. Please, no more war.”

I get why people are disappointed in Ovechkin’s comments and I kind of expected more too. He is one of the most popular Russian athletes and he had the power to use his voice and condemn the war. While he pleaded for no war, he didn’t condemn Putin. 

EA Sports video games have removed Russian players and companies have stopped sponsoring Russian players. Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich has also has put up Chelsea for sale due to the sanctions in the UK and the proceeds of the sale will go to the victims in Ukraine. I already spoke about this on the latest episode of the Terminal City FC Podcast. 

The CHL has also banned Russian and Belarusian players from the Import Draft. That just is wrong. These kids dream of playing hockey in North America and that is being taken away from them due to Putin wanting more land for his big country. While it is the right move to ban the Russian national teams from competitions, these kids are not going to represent Russia and it feels wrong to ban them from their dreams over something they have no control over.

It is also great to see Ukrainian tributes all over the world. The Vancouver Whitecaps fans had Ukrainian flags flying over BC Place and the players as well as Vanni Sartini wore shirts with the Ukrainian flag on them saying “We stand with Ukraine.” The Club also donated money to the Canadian Red Cross Ukrainian fund on behalf of all the fans in attendance.

No one wants war and my heart breaks for the entire Ukrainian community. I just hope and pray this war comes to an end quickly.

Canucks beat the Leafs twice this season!

If you are going to ask me if I think the Toronto Maple Leafs are legit Stanley Cup Contenders, my answer is no. 

They do have a great forward core led by the likes of Auston Matthews, John Tavares and William Nylander but goaltending has been an issue for them all season. Jack Campbell’s form has dipped since he was named an All-Star and Petr Mrazek just isn’t getting it done. Their defence isn’t the best either especially that right side. 

The Vancouver Canucks won in Toronto for the first time since 2011 and that was a big win. I didn’t get to see the game but from what I saw in the highlights they battled well with the Leafs despite some poor defending and costly turnovers.

JT Miller continues to be red hot and his trade value is higher than Vancouver’s gas prices. We got goals from Travis Hamonic and Alex Chiasson who are two players who are often criticized by Canucks fans, including myself.

So where do the Canucks sit in the playoff race? As I write this, Sunday’s NHL games have concluded and I watched bits and pieces of some of them. (I do watch other NHL teams but not as much as I want.) The Vegas Golden Knights, (Jack Eichel scored the winner with five seconds left against the Ottawa Senators.), Anaheim Ducks, Dallas Stars (Jason Robertson has hat tricks in back-to-back games in a contract year. He’s gonna get paid this summer. Plus, it feels like he is carrying a middle-of-the-pack team to the playoffs. Also, he’s half Filipino!) and Los Angeles Kings all won their games. 

The Canucks have 62 points and sit four back of the Nashville Predators for the final wild-card spot. They are on pace for 89 points. It looks like the magic number for making the playoffs this year would be at least 95 points so the Canucks really have to get some wins together with 25 games to go. They would have to win at least 16 games to reach 95 points. Thatcher Demko has to continue to be out of this world and the likes of Miller and Elias Pettersson have to lead the offence even more.

It is a daunting task especially since the Golden Knights despite the injuries are a good team and the Stars and Kings have been doing pretty well as of late. 

I don’t think the Canucks will make the playoffs and should sell at the deadline but I can’t fault them for at least trying to make the playoffs. I said at the beginning of the year that the Canucks will miss the playoffs by a point and I still stand by that.

Can the Calgary Flames go all the way this year?

Other than a 7-1 loss to the Canucks, the Flames are scorching. They are first in the Pacific Division and 8-1-1 in their last ten games.

Johnny Gaudreau is fourth in the NHL in points with 71 and he, Elias Lindholm and Andrew Mangiapane are leading the offence. Mangiapane and Lindholm are two very underrated players. Tyler Toffoli boosts the forward core that has Blake Coleman, Matthew Tkachuk and Sean Monahan on it. 

Rasmus Andersson, Chris Tanev, Oliver Kylington, and Noah Hanifin make up a good defensive core. Heck, even Erik Gudbranson hasn’t been that bad. Jacob Markstrom has been the Flames’ best goaltender since Miikka Kiprusoff and should get some Vezina votes.

Darryl Sutter has the Flames playing aggressive two-way hockey with strong goaltending and that is how the Kings won two Stanley Cups in three years with him behind the bench. Sutter could show some more personality in press conferences, especially after wins. He says “W’s, that’s when I’m impressed” in the most monotone voice ever.

I think the Flames could make some noise in the playoffs this year if they keep their strong play up. However, I’m not sure if they can get past the Colorado Avalanche or the Golden Knights if they are all healthy.

Reece James is an important player for Chelsea

Reece James was one of the players that came from Chelsea’s youth academy in Cobham and went out on loan. He was one of the young players put in the lineup by Frank Lampard in 2019-20. Since then, he has become an important player and leader for Chelsea and is one of the best right-backs in the world.

James played his second game after suffering a hamstring injury in December and he was instrumental in the 4-0 win over Burnley with a goal and an assist to one of Kai Havertz’s two goals. He showed great dribbling and patience on his goal.

Chelsea manager Thomas Tuchel said that losing James and left-back Ben Chilwell changed their season. 

James is very good at crossing the ball, displays great vision and makes smart passes to his teammates and is an excellent dribbler. When defending, he likes to put pressure on the attacking dribbler by using his body to get throw the dribbler off and in hopes of getting him to lose the ball.

 He also is the only defender in Europe’s top five leagues (Premier League, La Liga, Bundesliga, Serie A and Ligue 1) to score five-plus goals and provide five-plus assists this season. Remember he was out two months with the hamstring injury so that makes that stat more impressive. 

James is only 22 and still has a ton of potential and could one day be a future vice-captain or future captain for Chelsea. When he is in the lineup, expect a lot of crossing and creativity from the right wing.

Covered my first pro sports game

As you all know, Nathan Durec and I are Area 51’s credentialed Whitecaps writers and yesterday, I covered the Whitecaps home opener against New York City FC from the press box at BC Place.

Nathan has already written the post-game so I’ll give my thoughts here. 

Thomas Hasal was brilliant and he made some great saves, especially near the end on Santiago Rodriguez. Hasal called the defenders in front of him fantastic and that is a good description. Tristan Blackmon made some good tackles, Ranko Vesilinovic made sure to clear the ball quickly and Florian Jungwirth looked dialled in with five aerial duels won. 

Defensively, they were much better than the game against the Columbus Crew but the attack lacked the spark. Cristian Dajome did make some good runs but he wasn’t creating enough. Ryan Gauld put his creativity on display when he had the ball and Lucas Cavallini showed some great work ethic and aggressiveness and had Vancouver’s best chance of the match with a header from a cross from Gauld. However, Sean Johnstone made the save. 

Brian White came on for a good chunk of the second half after dealing with foot contusion but it looked like he wanted to play it safe and not risk anything. 

The midfield was much better defensively, especially with the formation change to 3-4-1-2 but they weren’t doing enough to start the build-up. Sartini said the build-up needs to be better.

So what was my day like? First of all, I missed the media entrance. It is underneath Terry Fox Plaza and it looks like a place where you could get stabbed. I walked past it and a few steps later I was like “Wait a minute, I think I missed it.” 

After I got my press pass, I was in the elevator with Spike, the Whitecaps mascot. He was in good spirits. 

When I got to the media room, I met Joshua Griffith and Alexandre Gangué-Ruzic for the first time. I learned next time I should come hungry so I could eat all the good press box food. I did, however, eat a big chunk of the press box popcorn. 

It was cold up there but I managed. It was nice to see the players up close and go into the conference room for in-person media availability. At least, I didn’t get a death stare with my questions. 

I also have to get used to watching the games without commentary and need to memorize the Whitecaps jersey numbers as I mistook White for Sebastian Berhalter and Vesilinovic for Blackmon. Throughout the season, those will be my goals and hopefully be the end of the campaign, I’ve gotten better. 

I was constantly looking up and down from my laptop as I was taking notes, Tweeting and multitasking. Being in the press box requires a lot of multitasking. Since I wasn’t writing the post-game I got quotes for Nathan and edited his article from the press box. 

I wish I got to see some goals but I had to watch the dreaded 0-0 draw and the game wasn’t boring by any means. I still wouldn’t call it entertaining though. 

So I hope to attend at least one training session a week and at the next home game on April 2 against Sporting Kansas City, Nathan will be in the press box with me and he will find out how cold it is up there and hopefully we can munch on the popcorn. 

Once again, be on the lookout for this week’s Avid Thoughts!