Monday, February 22, 2010

USA 5, Canada 3 - Medal Round is Next

Back after a short lay-off, let's get back to this blogging.

On Sunday Night, we were all treated to the reason that the NHL goes through the trouble to shut down the league and participate in the Olympics. Yes, it annoys us that they hide it on MSNBC. Yes, it is further maddening that for most of us, it wasn't even in High Definition. But, in the end, we were treated to that night that we all imagine when the premise of Canada vs USA is suggested. Or, the USSR vs the Czech Republic. Or, Finland vs Sweden. If the NHL is going to participate, and the players are going to do their part - which means they are going to play all out as if that is all they care about.

And it is happening. The caliber of hockey on Sunday is the type of day that finally makes all of the frustrating nonsense about the way the game is marketed seem like details that do not fully matter. The hockey is so intense, and so wonderful to behold, that I almost do not mind looking for the game on MSNBC and watching it in standard definition. This is playoff hockey - but more talented. There is never a chance to breathe because every time a Canadian player hops over the wall to join the game, he is another world class scoring threat. In the NHL, you target 5 or 6 guys - but in the Olympics, you better just go ahead and target them all.

Anyway, on Sunday night, I settled in to watch the USA play Canada for what seems like countless occasions in my life. It seems, regardless of setting, that when the USA plays Canada in hockey that the gap is just too much to overcome, and yet, I tune in everytime bracing for the worst and hoping for the best.

And yes, it is particularly weird knowing that Brenden Morrow plays for Canada, where as the closest thing we have to Dallas affiliation with Team USA would have to be Jamie Langenbrunner, our long-time buddy on those special teams back in the day. But, we have learned to deal with it. Our enemies are our friends, and our friends are our enemies. It is odd to cheer for a bunch of division rivals to beat Brenden and his mates, but put them in USA and Canada sweaters, and suddenly, it is easy for me to take sides.

Last night took me back to the World Cup of 1996, when a classic USA team of Modano, Hull, Roenick, LeClair, Richter, and friends took down Canada in a best of 3 final that made my heart swell - and yet nobody I talked to seemed to even know the tournament was going on. But, that was the only other time that our best beat their best. Until last night.

Now, before I get into the details that impressed me about the USA's victory, I do want to concede a few small points to our Canadian friends. 1) Canada lost in 2002 to Belarus at this stage of the tournament, but then when it came down to single elimination in the next stage, Canada went right through the field and won the gold. And 2) If these two teams play in a few days, the smart money should still be on Canada. This win is nice, but if you could choose when it would happen, you clearly want it to happen next Sunday - not yesterday.

Having said that, I will tell you what I told friends all weekend; After that performance against the Swiss on Thursday night, I fully expected the Canadians to light up the US like a Christmas tree on Sunday and run them out of the arena. I figured hearing them being doubted for 48 hours would have been enough to bring Canada to its finest level - now I am wondering if we are seeing their finest level. And what is worse? So are they. They are now seriously wondering how good they can be with this group of players at this time. Fascinating stuff.

And now, a few additional quick hits:

* And so we solve the amazing riddle of hockey yet again; Goaltending solves everything. Ryan Miller, Buffalo Sabres, was so wonderful in his play that the USA always looked like they were in a fine position in the game. He is so composed, and so in control, and so big, that you always feel good with him back there. Based on the email, it appears he is still a very well kept secret in Dallas Stars' fandom, but Miller is exceptional. This is no fluke. His quality is such that he can steal the gold mostly by himself if he keeps this up.

* If you follow hockey even a little, you know that San Jose is one of the picks to get out of the West in the playoffs this year. Much of this relies on the fact that they have some of the most absurd elite-level talent as anyone in the league. In fact, they have the "HTMLine" featuring the superstars Heatley, Thornton, and Marleau on Team Canada. They can even put Dan Boyle in the back and have 4 Sharks on at the same time. It is a ton of talent and they have the added bonus of chemistry and continuity when the rest of the squad is not familiar with eachother. But, there is also the problem of the Joe Thornton reputation that has followed him for much of his career about doing big things at big moments. Rising to the occasion is not his forte, and although I find him an amazing player, I will also concede that last night when Crosby is battling tooth and nail and making plays, Thornton's line was a lot less effective.

* Brian Burke and Ron Wilson did what we needed them to do. The USA Hockey program has been served well by those names we all love so much, but at some point they needed to make a clean break. They needed to say goodbye to the legendary names and move on. There is a metaphor in here for the Dallas Stars or any sports organization when you weigh those who have fought so hard for you over the years versus those who can serve you well down the road. If you let the fans decide, we will always want to keep the old guys around because we think that A) they have earned it and B) we are comfortable with them. But, give Burke credit for doing it. He picked a largely anonymous, new team, and when the team was picked, we freaked out a bit because our names of comfort were not on there. But that team of new Americans is built for speed and for collisions. They are talented and young and an entire different style from what were used to. Most of all, they seem relentless and ready to scratch and claw to the death. I do like this team. Very scrappy, and very difficult to play against.

* Realizing that it has nothing to do with this game, You owe it to yourself to see Ovechkin's huge hit on Jagr . OV is so wonderful for hockey.

* From what I understand, the last 3 games that the USA is to play will be on NBC 5 in HD. The Quarterfinal will have the Top Seeded US against the winner of Belarus - Switzerland on Wednesday. The hockey is going to be awesome this week. I still am not sure I think the USA can get to the finals, but I am also starting to ask, Why Not?


Talon Carde said...

Actually, Canada beat Belarus the one time they played in 2002. Belarus went to the Medal round and defeated Sweden to eliminate them.

Now, Canada did ALMOST tie Germany in the prelim round, but they still won that game

ben8gan said...

Love the hockey talk...but was hoping for more analaysis! Of course Rafalski was sensational, but I couldn't help but notice how well the US team as a whole skates. For the younger guys, Patrick Kane stood out for me. Amazing game.

And while they may not win the gold - you have to like the way the draw sets up. They can get to the finals without having to play Canada, Russia, or Sweden!

Stephen said...

"...I tune in every time bracing for the worst and hoping for the best."

Very well said.

David said...

Ovechkin is amazing. And his clear from his knees at the end of the game that was actually a perfect pass for the empty-netter was epic.

Does Ron Wilson look a little bit like an older Herb Brooks?

Panic in the Great White North!!

Thunderpuck said...

Fascinating stuff, indeed. Just as Bob said, I too told everyone to look for Canada to attack the U.S. like bloodthirsty wild dogs after needing OT to dispense of the Swiss. I couldn't have been more wrong, it was the U.S. that came ready to play (Miller standing on his head didn't hurt either).

As for the next U.S. games to be broadcast on channel 5, rather than some obscure stations that NBC owns, expect to miss key plays and rely on replays after the ridiculously lengthy commercials. It will probably suck.

It used to upset me that hockey was treated like a second class citizen, it killed me when the NHL left ESPN. I wanted to share the greatest sport in the world with everyone that was kept in the dark. However, I no longer concern myself with that, I frankly no longer care that people are missing out. I know about the greatest game, so do you guys, I'm watching the games if I have to go to a sports bar to do it. Those that don't get it, let em' stick with baseball or whatever other else they like to nap to on a Sunday afternoon.

Can you believe that either Canada or Russia will be eliminated from medal contention on Wednesday? I still can't wrap my mind around that one.

Anonymous said...

Being a resident of Dallas I went into the game feeling split between pulling for Canada & the Morrow connection or pulling for the US. That went away after Rafalski scored in the first minute. Love it...go USA!! I'm hoping for a repeat of Canada-USA in the finals