The right mix

Tuesday, 30.04.2013 / 1:30 PM / Features
By Jeff Angus
As we saw back in 2011 with the Vancouver Canucks, a lot of factors need to be present for a team to advance deep into the NHL postseason.

There must be the right mix of skill and grit on the roster. Goaltending must be very good, and the powerplay must be firing on all cylinders. Health and luck are both important factors, as well.

And if any chili connoisseurs are reading this, then you know that there must be several factors present for a chili to really stand out from the pack, as well. The right choice of meat and spices are keys. The chili needs to be cooked to perfection, and left to sit so all the ingredients can mix together. And you may not want to hear this, but fresh vegetables are an important part of any chili, too.

Where am I going with this comparison? Well, as someone who loves making chili and writes about hockey, I’m going to do my best to combine the two. Let’s look at Vancouver’s chances against San Jose through the medium of making a perfect pot of chili.

Tomato juice/paste/tomatoes – goaltending (the foundation of any good chili/hockey team)

Any good chili needs to have a base of tomatoes/tomato juice. It adds the liquid for all of the spices and meats to mix into and soak up. It adds colour and texture as well. And any hockey team with Stanley Cup aspirations needs great goaltending. Vancouver has two great goaltenders, but they will be leaning heavily on Cory Schneider this spring.

Schneider was fantastic last season in relief of Roberto Luongo against the Los Angeles Kings, but the team in front of him couldn’t provide any sort of goal support. Without a tomato base, chili isn’t chili. It is just a mix of meat and vegetables. And without great goaltending, a playoff team won’t be a playoff team for very long. Both are requirements.

The right choice of meat – scoring (essential to the success of any good chili/hockey team)

Meat isn’t essential for a chili (if you are a vegetarian – talking to you Jory), but the proper meat choices/additions can make all of the difference. I recommend blending together pork and beef – lots of healthy fats to absorb all of the flavors, and each meat offers a different flavour profile and texture. Chicken is also an option, but it lacks the flavour of the other two choices.

Scoring goals is an important part of winning hockey games (duh). Vancouver beat Chicago and San Jose back in 2011 largely with a potent offense. They struggled to score against the Bruins in the Final, and against the Kings last season as well. The team has more scoring depth and balance than it did a few months ago, and they will need production from at least two or three lines. You can’t rely on just one line (or just one type of meat) to carry a chili all the way to glory.

Fresh vegetables – the roster mix (important to have an array of different types of vegetables/players)

Again, having different kinds of vegetables in a chili isn’t essential, but it sure makes the difference. You need tomatoes of course, but onions, carrots, peppers (bell and spicier ones, too) and garlic are all great for different reasons. Some add flavour, others add colour and texture.

And any good hockey team needs the right mix of players. You can’t have 12 skilled forwards. You need some grit, some size, and some toughness. And on the back end, you need to have the right mix of size, strength, mobility, and offense.

The spices – depth players (not always visible, but without them the final product falls flat)

Everyone has their own blend of spices they use for their favourite chili. Most of these blends contain cumin, oregano, chili powder, and paprika. A few others I like to use – cinnamon, curry, and cocoa powder. When you are eating a great bowl of chili, you can’t see the spices. But you can taste them in every bite.

The same goes for great depth forwards. You don’t always notice them blocking shots, killing penalties, or winning key faceoffs, but if the team is successful, you know they are there doing those things. This applies to playoff performers like Max Lapierre, Jannik Hansen, and Chris Higgins. Without them, the Canucks top players aren’t able to shine. And without the right mix of spices, your chili ingredients aren’t able to shine, either.

Black beans/kidney beans – the minute-eating defensemen (they provide substance, structure, and soak up the flavours/tough minutes)

Black beans and kidney beans are healthy, nutritionally dense, and not overly flavourful.

They soak up the flavours of the meats and spices in the chili, and they absorb a lot of the juices, too. Without them, your chili would be very runny and probably look more like soup.

And without minute-eating defensemen like Dan Hamhuis and Jason Garrison, the rest of the team would be caught running (pun intended) around the defensive zone all too often. The pace of play is ratcheted up a few levels in the postseason. Players don’t have much time to make decisions or plays with the puck. Having defensemen who are cool under pressure and are able to make smart outlet plays is an essential ingredient in winning games.

Bits of bacon – the deadline pickup (added at the end for that extra kick)

Bacon is amazing. For people that don’t eat bacon for lifestyle/other reasons, I am sorry you are missing out. It adds flavour (oh, so much flavour), and more importantly, it is actually somewhat healthy, too (in moderation). Cooking up a few strips of bacon to get them crispy, and then adding them to your chili after it has cooked is a recipe for success. Your chili doesn’t need it, but after you have tried bacon-infused chili, you will wonder how you were living life before.

Derek Roy is the bacon to the Vancouver chili. The Canucks didn’t know what we were missing until they saw him play. From his first shift, Roy has been a difference-maker. What he lacks in size he makes up for in smarts, skill, and poise. He is always in great position, and more importantly, he is the best playmaker on the team not named Sedin. He puts the puck in great spots for his linemates to score.

The secret ingredient – luck (not a requirement, but it sure helps)

Everyone has their secret chili ingredient. Some people will never admit what it is. Some like to put chocolate in their chili. Others prefer coffee or beer. The secret ingredient is tough to pick out, but it does add a distinct and unique flavour to a good chili recipe. You won’t get NHL teams to admit that they need luck to win in the postseason, but it is true. Health and luck are often intertwined, and one commonality among all Stanley Cup winning teams is health. All else (relatively) equal, the healthier team will emerge victorious. And luck extends beyond health. Kevin Bieksa’s Game 5 winner against the Sharks in 2011 was made possible thanks to an amazing pass from the stanchion.

There you have it. You are now armed with the knowledge necessary to make an awesome chili. Following chili recipes is great for the beginner, but after a while, let your intuition and experience guide you. The Canucks are the same. The current core of players has won together. They have lost together. And most importantly, they have grown stronger from the ups and downs. The Sharks are a very good team and anyone telling you that there is a favourite in this series is out to lunch (preferably having chili for it).

Oh, and my secret ingredient is balsamic vinegar. Add a few teaspoons of it to your chili near the end of cooking. And thank me after you have eaten all of it in one sitting. Here is a great how-to guide for making your own chili from Esquire magazine.

The Canucks have built a good team on paper. The ingredients for success are there. Now it’s time to get cooking.