Sunday, February 28, 2010

Canada-United States 2010


Well, we're just a few minutes away from the start of the game.

This is probably the biggest sporting event for this country since, well, ever maybe. The 1972 Canada-Soviet Union Summit Series was big, as were some of the Canada Cup series, notably 1987, but this is the Olympics, at home, and hockey is much more competitive internationally now. I cannot even describe how much this game means to this country, how important it is, and how, from coast to coast, Canadians are stopping everything this afternoon to watch.

And I'm worried. Canada is the better team on paper, but the U.S. has been the surprise team in Vancouver. I expected them to have trouble making the semis, but they swept through the round-robin, beating us 5-3, then edging Switzerland in the quarters before destroying Finland in the first period of the semis, winning that game 6-1. And they have Ryan Miller in net, the best goaltender in the tournament. He stole the last game against. Will he do the same now?

Here we go...

I'll be back with some comments, and I'll also be on Twitter.


Oh, a couple of advantages for the U.S.:

-- It's a day game. It's Canada's first day game at the Olympics, whereas the U.S. has played several, including the semifinal game against Finland on Friday.

-- The U.S. gets last change as the higher-ranked team (based on earlier performance in the tournament). This means Canada will have to change on the fly to match lines.


All I can say is, Canada needs to play with the relentless pressure and aggression it brought to the first two periods against Russia. If we play like we did in the third period against Slovakia, running around, chasing, lazy and disorganized, we're in big, big trouble.

And we need Sidney Crosby to step up. He's had solid moments in Vancouver, but he hasn't played like one of the supposedly best players in the world.


This U.S. team continues to impress me. A lot of youth, but they're fast, scrappy, and opportunistic. You can't let down against them. Canada dominated the first game against them, but they scored early, defended well, got amazing goaltending, and took advantage of mistakes.


Almost five minutes done in the first...


Well, that was a fairly even period. 1-0 Canada, but it could just as easily have been the other way.

Still nothing from Crosby, who really needs to pick up his game and make something happen. I said it before and I'll say it again. The Americans are young, tough, and fast. They may not be a team of NHL all-stars -- a few of them are, but not all that many -- but they seem to click together. Watch out for Kane and Parise, with the speed and stick-handling, but it's Kesler who really impresses me. And I wonder if Kessel, who plays for the Toronto Maple Leafs, will break out. Anyway, there's a lot of talent there. I figured before the tournament started that they had a chance, and I thought they were grossly underrated, but they're still much better than I thought.

As for Canada... Niedermayer's been a rock on D. After a rough start to the tournament, especially against the U.S., he's taken over as our top defenceman again, though the Keith-Doughty combo is also excellent.

Where's the San Jose line? I like that we're getting production from Getzlaf-Perry-Morrow and from Toews-Richards-Nash, but our top two lines need to lead.


Well, 2-1 Canada after two. Another fairly even period, though the U.S. really picked it up after Perry made it 2-0. Another thing to worry about: Canada's awful on face-offs, especially in the defensive zone, where a couple of U.S. wins led to scoring chances.

It's the energy the U.S. brings that concerns me most, though. When the U.S. has the puck in our zone, we do a lot of running around and chasing. When we have the puck in their zone, they're all over us. I haven't seen the hits stat, but the Americans just seem a bit more physical, a bit more aggressive, faster.

But it's fairly even overall, and it's been a game of momentum shifts. Canada can't play cute, can't try to make the perfect, pretty play. To beat Miller, it has to be about shots, rebounds, and crashing the net. Because the Americans are playing really, really well defensively and don't give up many openings.

And where the hell's Crosby?! Ultimately, if we're going to win this, we need our supposedly top players, the veterans, to pick their game up: Iginla, Nash, Thornton, Heatley, Marleau, Staal.


Well, what to say? 2-2. Canada had the game, but the relentless U.S. pressure won out, and we looked a bit disorganized there at the end. All it would have taken was a last clear of the zone.

Now? Who knows? It's sudden-death OT. It could go either way. It just concerns me that Canada didn't have many scoring chances in the the third. The U.S. clearly has the momentum.


It never should have come to that. Ultimately, the first two periods against Russia aside, this has been a fairly disappointing effort by Canada. Not just today, I mean though the entire tournament. We're just not getting anything from the guys who need to score, who need to take over the game.

Bob Mackenzie's right: Canada was playing not to lose, not to win. And, I add, when you play not to lose, you often end up losing, especially against such pressure.

And now... 4 on 4. So whatever. All I know is, Miller has the advantage over Luongo, and that could make all the difference here.

Canada has to come out strong and take the play right into the U.S. zone. Otherwise, the Americans will use their speed and forechecking to win.

I'm slowly resigning myself to defeat. This sucks.


Oh, there's Crosby.



We did it. 3-2 in OT. Wow.

What an amazing game. I suppose we were the better team, by a bit, though we sat back again near the end and let the U.S. tie it up. In the end, an OT victory was only fitting.

And it was Crosby, after doing so little else of note during the tournament, who scored, assisted by Iginla. After Henderson's goal in '72 and Lemieux's goal in '87, is that now the third most famous goal in Canadian hockey history?


Full credit to the U.S., though. They proved themselves to be one of the world's best, ahead even of Sweden and Finland, far surpassing expectations. They have a bright future. (I would have liked to have seen a U.S.-Russia game along the way.)


A friend of mine e-mailed me a while ago calling this the defining sports moment/event of our generation. In terms of international competition, and from a hockey perspective -- and, more significantly, in terms of what it means for this country -- it probably is. It's our '72 Summit Series win, our Canada Cup '87 win. It seems so much more meaningful than our win over the U.S. in Salt Lake City eight years ago. That was fantastic, of course, but this is transcendent.


And what an Olympics for us! Aside from the fact that Vancouver put on a great Games, a few glitches aside, we ended up with 26 medals, two more than in Turin four years ago. And 14 of them were gold, a record for the Winter Olympics. (For more on this, and on our "Own the Podium" program, see my post from last night.) And we almost had a 27th in the men's 50K mass start race today, the marathon of the Winter Games. Sure, we could have had more, and there were a number of disappointments, with some expected medalists falling short, but that's the Olympics. It's agony, and it's agonizing, and it doesn't usually go as planned.

But, in the end, we did astoundingly well. We deserve to be proud, Canada, we really do. We put on a great event for the world, and we performed at the highest level.

It's been awesome.

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