Jim Adams: Team Canada right where it wants to be?
Goaltender Martin Brodeur had produced a lackluster Canadian performance. On this night, he was no match for American intensity, desire, and skill.
The upstart U.S. squad, expected to go nowhere in this Olympics, had struck for four goals. Brodeur had been pulled in favor of a sixth attacker. He sat impatiently on the Canadian bench. It was desperation time for a Team Canada squad that certainly did not expect to be in this position.
Corey Perry retreated for one last rush toward the American goal. Canada had scored with a little more than three minutes to play to reduce the United States lead to 4-3. The previous 90 seconds had been spent entirely in the United States zone. Canada seemed poised, in front of a wild and partisan Canada Hockey Place crowd, to surge for the tying goal.
United States forward Ryan Kesler was hot on Perry’s trail. With one miraculous, seemingly impossible dive, it was Kesler who victimized an unsuspecting Perry. He swept the puck off the Canadian’s stick and in one motion sent it cleaning into the gaping Canadian net. The deal was sealed. The Americans had shocked the Canadian Hockey team 5-3.
Their nifty three-game Group A win streak produced what most would have considered a dream. Team USA went undefeated. They captured the pool over the highly talented Canadian dream team. When the dust settled the upstart squad was the first seed of the Olympic Hockey Tournament.
So it has gone for Olympic hockey in the 2010 Winter Games from Vancouver. The predictions have been thrown out the window. The 2006 gold medal winning Russians have been dispatched from the tournament. Team Canada has fought to find an identity in front of their highly-critical fans. The last four standing are Slovakia as well as the Fins, Canadians, and Americans. Everyone else is gone.
The road to this duo of Friday games has been amazing. It is the fodder of which great stories are made. Olympic hockey has been turned on its ear. Few even fantasized that it would develop as it has.
The American squad was expected to go nowhere. It was a team that few placed on their radar. As with 1980, the Americans were expected to go home early. The talent pool was too young. The veterans were too old. There were too many question marks. The defense seemed suspect. The scoring was not only in doubt, the offensive lines looked dangerously weak.
Someone forgot to tell East Lansing, Michigan native Ryan Miller of the pending disaster. With Uncle Sam flexing his muscles on the right side of his mask and the American Eagle on the left, the Buffalo Sabers goaltender has played the tournament of his life.
Whenever the team needed support, he was there to frustrate the opponents. Canada was left shaking their collective heads while the upstart Swiss squad watched him eliminate them with a 2-0 shutout.
The four game win streak for the Americans has blindsided all competitors. It has been a hero each night…two critical goals in the conquest of Canada by Brian Rafalski complemented by a pair by Zach Parisi in Wednesday’s victory over Switzerland.
While it has been victory by committee for the Americans, Canada has faltered at the starting line only to come on very strong in the last two games. After a mere overtime win against the Swiss and the upset loss to the Americans, Canada has simply plastered Germany and Russia. As Brodeur exited the goalie scene, in came a fresh Roberto Luongo. He has rallied the troops.
This is a dazzling squad, a collection of All-Stars. Canada could have sent two highly competitive teams to these Olympics. Their talent pool is the best of these games. Their dismantling of a Russia team many picked to win these games was an epic. Physical, driven, and skilled might be three ways to describe the victory that left the Russians stunned and embarrassed. Canada is the team to beat. They have cast themselves, once again, onto the scene as the Olympic Gold favorites.
Tonight will be a tough match-up for the U.S. The Fins are highly talented. They are fast, deceptive, and capable of eliminating the Americans. Team USA will need to force their game on the Fins. They will need to play physical, get the puck out of their zone, and create opportunities. They will need to execute as adeptly as they did last Sunday evening. However, this is the team that no one expected to be riding a four game win streak. Strikingly, they are in the medal round. They have nothing to lose and everything to gain.
Canada only needs to replicate the performance against the Russians two more times. As Team Canada reaches their stride, it will take a masterful, near perfect effort from Slovakia to advance. As odd as it sounds, Canada is exactly where they want to be…peaking at the right time.
Perhaps a Canada/USA gold medal replay of the 2002 Salt Lake games? The days ahead will tell the tale. As for now, Team USA needs to keep living the dream of a squad that came from nowhere to secure a birth in tonight’s contest.
Jim Adams lives in Nevada City, is a regular contributor to The Union and a broadcaster for TouchDown Productions. He may be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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