The World Junior Hockey Championships are your afternoon holiday sports escape
Me? Not a hockey guy, at least since the mid-'90s when I stopped following the NHL like waves of other Americans around the time of the lockout. I have memories of following the Rangers fervently, especially during the magical New York sports year of 1994 when they made the Stanley Cup finals (and won in seven) at the same time that the Knicks played for the NBA championship (and lost in seven). Then my hockey love died out and has never really been rekindled aside from a few Olympic dalliances here and there. But I happen to run with a crew of degenerates who design pools for basically every sporting event you can imagine—the Little League World Series was our spiritual low point, and I'd rather not say who designed and conceived that one—and at the last minute I jumped in on a World Junior Hockey Championship pool, which of course has forced me to watch a few of the games over the past three days from Edmonton.
And it's been great! Even with the Russians slaughtering the Americans, I've had a blast. I can now come to you, the average American sports fan with lukewarm feelings toward hockey and assure you that especially during the holidays, this is excellent background-to-occasional-foreground viewing, particularly because a lot of it happens in the afternoon.
What you have to know about the junior championships is that while it barely registers in America, this thing is massive in Canada. As my above-border friend Jim put it to me, "it's huge; a family tradition in many households. For a little background you could check out the Tall Can Audio podcast from a few days ago (ep 769) and there are a lot of others. If Canada doesn't win gold there's about a week of 'what's wrong with Canadian hockey' navel-gazing."
Well, look, I'm probably not going to check out that podcast, but that's good info to have. In fact, this is probably the most important junior tournament in the world, and now would be a good time to note that "juniors" in this case means under 20, so the tournament features a ton of very recent draft picks who will likely be NHL stars in a matter of months or years. So this isn't Little League—these are the world's best almost-pro hockey players, and the quality is high.
Also, one of the greatest hockey fights in world history took place in this tournament. It's called the "punch-up in Piestany," and it even has its own Wikipedia page. Watch Canada and the Soviet Union engage in a true knock-down drag-out brawl:
The aftermath of that was both teams getting ejected and the Canadians being literally escorted out of Czechoslovakia by armed soldiers. So, yeah, pretty serious stuff. People are still mad at Pierre Turgeon for being the one Canadian player who never left the bench to fight.
There will likely not be anything so dramatic this time around—more like Canada destroying Germany 14-1, followed by some very fun games between the traditional powerhouses—but it's fast, fun hockey with lots of goals, and a perfect way to spend the lazy holiday afternoons.
The Massacre of the Week: Mavs over Clippers
I probably don't need to tell you that the Clippers are a very good NBA team and one of the few who can legitimately hope to win the 2021 championship. And yet, the Dallas Mavericks just did something to them that nobody has done to any team in the history of the league: run up a 50-point halftime advantage. If you're interested in watching the massacre, do so here, but I recommend the simple pleasures of your average Luka Doncic highlight clip (he nearly had a triple-double here, and only came up short because at some point things got gratuitous):
The Hilarious/Depressing NFL News of the Week: Futility in the East
It's official: for the fifth time in NFL history, a team with a record below .500 will make the playoffs. The Washington Football Team secured that ugly bit of fate with a 20-13 loss to the Panthers, dropping them to 6-9....where they still lead the NFC East. The Cowboys have the same record, the Giants are a game behind at 5-10, and in theory all of them could still win the division and make the playoffs. Worse, by NFL rules, whoever wins will get to host a game in the wildcard round. Somehow, it's made even worse that two of the most loathsome teams in the game, Washington and the Cowboys, are the most likely candidates. Can we just sort of lop off the NFC East next year and pretend it doesn't exist? I'm a Giants fan, and I'm still okay with this. I'll start rooting for the Bills and get in on the ground floor of what is sure to be great times in America's grimmest city.
Rant of the Week: J.J. Watts
Following his team's latest pitiful performance, Texans defensive end J.J. Watts went off on his team's lack of effort, and while I don't agree with basically anything he says—especially about the sad sacks still rooting for the 4-11 team, who should only be despised as suckers—it was a mostly convincing performance, and I'm a firm believer that there should be far more sports rants in our world. Enjoy:
Cheer up, J.J. If you were in the NFC East, you'd be right in the thick of the playoff hunt.