Monday, March 01, 2010

Canada 3, USA 2 - Gold Medal Game

To suggest I have a number of varying opinions about the hockey genius we witnessed yesterday and for the last 2 weeks would be an understatement. I feel that I should blog today from a number of varying perspectives, so please find the one that matters most to you and read on:

From the perspective of the USA hockey fan who felt a punch to the stomach a few moments before 5:00 pm yesterday when Sidney Crosby stole the show:

This one really hurts. I must tell you though, this team also exceeded my expectations and renewed so much hope in the state of American hockey in the post- Modano, Hull, Guerin, Richter, Roenick, Tkachuk, Leetch, Chelios-era. Many fans, like me, did not want to cut the ties with the old legends of American hockey, and were a bit uncomfortable with not bringing along a few gray-beards for the sake of nostaligia and leadership. But kudos to Brian Burke and company for having a vision and darn near riding that vision all the way to a gold medal. They believed in the next wave of young and talented studs - who grew up inspired by the old guard - and those young players demonstrated a fight and grit and spirit that gave us plenty of hope moving forward.

I really am proud that our country can produce players like Patrick Kane, Ryan Miller, and Zach Parise to carry on the torch. The gap still exists, as our American team may not have had more than those 3 make Team Canada, but we obviously can skate with them, and on our best day we can beat them.

I was also quite excited about the job that Jamie Langenbrunner did as captain. It is hard to consider him an old man, but in a young man's game, he did very well in making sure that if the USA was going to drop a hockey game in these Olympics, it would only be at the climax of one of the greatest games ever played.

From a US perspective, I will never forget jumping around my living room with sheer joy when Parise scored to tie the game, nor will I forget standing there motionless when Canada celebrated. It is certainly different living and dying with a team you didn't really know or understand 2 weeks ago, but it doesn't take long to embrace a team who wears your flag.

In my lifetime, I look forward to my countrymen winning Olympic Gold when all of the best are playing. I doubt we will ever see the day when we are favored, but surely we know now that we can compete 20 on 20 with Canada's finest. For a while yesterday, I started thinking it was destiny, and that it would happen in 2010. But, I must say, they played so well and courageously that I don't leave these games feeling like an American player let us down. I think they squeezed everything they had out, and fell one puck short.

Proud of USA Hockey. Thanks for the ride, boys.

From the Perspective of a fan of Hockey who bangs the drum for this sport even when it annoys and frustrates me:

I think we now fully understand why this show is worthwhile. The NHL players who must work this into their sometimes-100 games + season to promote the sport are certainly pressed for time, but this is worth it. Hockey may be the only sport of the big 4 that can have a tournament where the teams are this close and as many as 6 teams have a chance at the Gold Medal according to experts (Canada, Russia, Sweden were the 3 favorites - with the USA, Finland, and Czech Republic also in the mix). Basketball isn't far off, but the advantage the US has in hoops is far greater than the advantage Canada has on the ice. Of the first team NHL last year, 0 members of Team Canada made the list.

But, this is what happens when when the best show up and play with the passion to be the best. There is a clear difference between skating hard and skating hard with a gold medal on the line. The level of play was awesome. It was Stanley Cup Finals intensity, with 300% more talent on the ice than in any Stanley Cup Finals. The teams are loaded - uneffected with over-expansion - and playing like they mean it.

And obviously, this is key, because the world was watching. Or, at least North America was watching. I have never seen so many people talking hockey as I saw yesterday. On Twitter, people from every walk of life were trying to figure out what they were looking at as they gave hockey a chance for the first time in years.

I have no delusions that those same people are now signing up for NHL Center Ice and gathering around for the stretch drive of the NHL Season or reading up on who might be moved by the Wednesday trade deadline, but it is nice for them to see what it is that obsesses us.

This sport, at its best, takes second place to nobody. The intensity generated by a game of that magnitude and the nerves that accompany it cannot be duplicated. I love hockey for moments like yesterday. I sit through 1,000 games waiting for yesterday. And it is a pleasure.

As I said yesterday on twitter, "This. Is. Hockey. - Welcome"

From the Perspective of Dallas Stars and Brenden Morrow fan:

There he is, our captain, looking like he hasn't looked since the 2008 NHL Playoffs. Playing like an enraged William Wallace.

Featured in Sunday's Vancouver Sun by Iain MacIntyre: Here

Salt of the earth person, salt of the earth player, Morrow embodies nearly all the characteristics Canadians so admire in hockey players: bravery, unselfishness, resilience, toughness, honesty. That skill set made him important to Team Canada. Then he started scoring goals.

Morrow deflected in Chris Pronger's wrist shot for one goal Friday and screened goalie Jaroslav Halak on another as Canada hung on to beat Slovakia 3-2 to advance to the gold-medal game Sunday against the United States on the final day of the Vancouver Olympics.

"I was pleased with four or five minutes -just being part of the team, grinding it out, blocking shots, battling low," Morrow said. "This is icing on top to be able to contribute like this and score an Olympic goal. It's a pretty big thrill and I want to just keep riding it out."

At age 31, Morrow wasn't any-one's favourite to even make Team Canada, but is having the tournament of his life at his first Olympics.

From tiny Carlyle, a hamlet in the grain belt of southeastern Saskatchewan, Morrow had played internationally for Canada in five previous tournaments. And in 27 games over four world championships and one World Cup, the Dallas Stars' winger had scored zero goals, which says as much about the traits he possesses and the one he does not.

But on the grandest Canadian hockey stage since the 1972 Summit Series, Morrow is on a scoring binge. He jammed a puck in against Russia during Canada's 7-3 win in Wednesday's quarter-finals.

"They've both been pretty ugly, but that's how mine seem to go in, so I'll take them anyway I can get them," Morrow said. "It's more of a sprint than a marathon [at the Olympics]. Guys you battle against throughout the season -probably some guys you don't really care much for -but you come here and put that all aside and you have one common goal. We're a tight group now. We're willing to pay a price for each other and do everything we can for that gold."

Morrow said he has been thinking about that since Team Canada held its orientation camp in August.

Yet, there was no guarantee Morrow would actually be named in December to the Olympic roster.

He is a size-medium grinder on a team full of XL offensive gazelles.

And if there were a leaderboard for second-guessed selections, Morrow would have been the clubhouse leader coming to Vancouver.

After a mid-career outburst that saw Morrow score nearly a point per game for more than a year, his 2008-09 season ended with a torn ACL ligament 15 months ago. The injury must have extended internally to his hands, because when Morrow came back this season his scoring touch had hardened.

He had 33 points in 56 games before the Olympics. Even as a role player, someone who would provide some sandpaper and menace on the fourth line, Morrow could have been bypassed in favour of Shane Doan or Ryan Smyth or Alex Burrows.

It seemed even Team Canada's staff may have been wondering about their choice when the tournament opened as Morrow was one of four players "pooled" on the fourth line. But he played his way up almost immediately.

He is on a line with NHL rivals Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry, nasty players who are probably among that group Morrow ordinarily doesn't care much for, and the unit's presence has been felt most shifts.

"In years past, it's kind of been the same thing: get on the team, grind it out and earn everything I get," Morrow said. "That's been the case here, too. The work comes first. I think anyone who comes here, you wouldn't be here if you didn't want a bigger [role]. Our line has battled hard. We've been strong on pucks down low. That's been the key to our line's success: our strength on pucks. I think we've gained a little bit of trust from the coach and we're getting rewarded for it."

It feels extremely wierd pulling for a team where Brenden was on the other side. I have loved watching him grow up and reaching many of his dreams. I have also loved that he has been honest as a man when it comes to saying what matters most to him. And at or near the very top of the list is winning a gold medal while representing his country.

So, to see him skating around hitting everyone in his way, digging the puck out, and going to the net let me know that he is still that guy. His knee is better, and he is back and ready to wreck what is in his way.

This should make the Stars very excited about the stretch drive. He is newly determined and finally back to 100%. Now, with a gold medal, I wonder if he is ready to get back to the work at hand - getting the Stars to the next level, too.

I was stunned and disappointed to see Sidney Crosby score with a goal that personified "sudden death". I wasn't even close to happy about how my country came up an inch or two short. But, I must admit that seeing Brenden Morrow so happy gave me a small level of consolation.

Someday, if he is skating a Cup in Dallas, I imagine I will feel even better about seeing him celebrate.

What a tournament. What a sport.

And now, we return you to your regularly scheduled NHL season....


Mike said...


We knew Ryan Miller was darn good goalie before the Olympics. But after seeing him play his heart out, and his quiet, unassuming demeanor during interviews, I'm proud to say I'm a big Ryan Miller fan now. That guy deserves to win something in the worst way.

TCobbs said...

Thanks, Bob. I'm right on board with you. Yesterday was quite a gut punch, but what a game, and what a tournament. Surely this convinced at least some people to give the NHL a shot... at least I hope it did.

Stephen said...

"This sport, at its best, takes second place to nobody. The intensity generated by a game of that magnitude and the nerves that accompany it cannot be duplicated. I love hockey for moments like yesterday."

My thoughts exactly. When hockey is good, it is very good.

Great tourney. Wish we didn't have to wait 4 years for the next edition. But I'm more motivated to follow the U.S. players a little more closely as it relates to their NHL careers.

Thunderpuck said...

Thanks for the link to the Morrow story, very nice read. Thanks also for the wonderful blog post Bob, as always.

Wow, what a game! What a tourney! Just think, we get to do this all over again in only 4 years (that is, if NHL players will be able to participate). Ya' think the Russians will be favored in 2014, when Russia hosts the Winter games for the 1st time ever? I can't wait. I know it's unreasonable to wish that Olympic hockey could go on all year, but a boy can dream.

I've been hooked since watching a videotape of the Miracle on Ice and watching Calgary 88' live. 2010 has been the best Olympic hockey yet, although I say that every 4 years. Every Olympic tourney I've seen has been incredible (even with the disappointment of a shootout to determine the Gold in 94').

Doctorjorts said...

I make no apologies for being a Stars fair-weather fan, and putting hockey way, way down on my list of sports that I follow, but watching the USA-Canada game certainly got me at least a little more interested in the game. I promise to at least skim your hockey blog-posts for the rest of the NHL season, or at least until the Stars are eliminated from the playoffs/from playoff contention. Maybe that'll make you feel a little better.

yelledbett said...

Why can't Morrow take a effin penalty in the last 5min of a game when we need him to!!!