Monday, March 01, 2010

Canada Defeats USA In Ice Hockey...They're Our Rivals

As a collective sigh of relief rang out over an entire nation it was then replaced by a whole new sound. That sound was booming screams and ecstatic yelling. In the hockey game that was anticipated by many to be a showdown between Canada and their old rivals Team Russia became yet another chapter of the new number one rivals of Canada on the ice Team USA. This has been a rivalry that has blossomed from 1996 when the US beat Canada in the World Cup and has continued to grow on the international stage after the 2002 Olympics that was won by Canada in Salt Lake City. From then the reigns were handed over to the under 20 team during the World Junior tournament. After 3 years of epic games the rivalry has grown strong. 3 epic wins by Canada in the last 2 on last second heroics and then this year on an overtime goal by Team USA just solidified them as our new number 1 rivals.

Going into the game there was a lot of optimism that winning was just an inevitability for Canada, I was nearly convinced that it was going to go the other way. There seemed to be way too much hype by not only the TV media but of the fans as well. It felt like they were putting all their Olympic eggs in one basket and if the unthinkable happened then the entire Olympics would have been a failure even with a record tying amount of gold medals that Canada brought home. This isn’t Vegas and putting everything on Red is a ballsy move at best.

As the game went on Team Canada looked good, fast and strong. The most important thing in my mind was they needed to score first. It sounds like an obvious thing to say (in the same ilk as ‘I think the team that scores more will win the game" or "he can see better when his glasses are on") but it felt just like watching an Ottawa Senators game back in the day, you knew once they scored one the floodgates could open but until that first one went in there was a good chance that they would either get shut out or score meaningless goals after the game was all but decided. This felt even more apparent after seeing what USA goaltender Ryan Miller had done during the duration of the tournament and why he was the one reason why they were in the position they were in. Jonathan Toews opened the scoring with a nice goal from the "dirty area" on a rebound, just what was needed to get the ball rolling. Corry Perry made the game 2-0 on a nice play deep in USA territory that Miller had very little chance on. At that point there was a little breathing room. Then came the inevitable, a strike back by the US on a beautiful tip by Ryan Kessler that managed to squeak by his Vancouver teammate Roberto Luongo. That is when things were about to get interesting.

During the third period both the team and the crowd seemed to get a bit tight and a little bit nervous. As much as Canada had fed off the crowd earlier in the game as well as others in the tournament it also took on the same characteristic that were less then positive. When you see 2 posts and a breakaway by Canada go the wrong way you had to feel like this was ramping up to be a monumental finish and maybe not a positive one. It seemed like in the last 12-15 minutes they went into a kind of prevent defence like in football. I don’t like it there and I don’t like it here. As far as I am concerned, all a prevent defence does is prevent you from winning. That is why a team can not be able to move the ball in an NFL game until the 2-minute drill and then they manage to be the best quick strike offence and manage to look unstoppable as the other team backs off the pressure. Right on cue that happened and Zach Parise netted the tying goal with 25 seconds and that was when the collective gasp was taken by and entire arena and with that a nation of passionate hockey fans.

I think that the saving grace was that there was no real intermission but just enough of a break that they were able to regain their composure and focus on the overtime going forward. Had that goal been scored with 5 minutes left the momentum would have flipped and I believe to outcome would have been different.

In the overtime there was truly a sense of the unknown, you wanted Canada to push for the goal but at the same time you were weary about the counter punch if you missed. That is how the World Juniors ended when Alex Pietrangelo pinched and almost won the game only to give up an odd man rush back the other way and it ended up behind goaltender Jake Allen and in the back of the Canadian net. The steady smooth Scott Niedermayer who was one of the best players on Team Canada nearly made a costly miscue in his own end and relied on Roberto Luongo to bail him out. If i am not mistaken I am pretty sure that the youngest player on the team playing one of the toughest positions on the ice was 20 year old Drew Doughty. Right after that Sidney Crosby and Jerome Iginla gained the US zone and just like that a quick strike move on a relatively harmless looking play became one of the biggest and most important or defining moments in the history of hockey in Canada.

It was well called by Chris Cuthbert "Crosby scores! The golden goal! And Canada has won a once-in-a-lifetime Olympic gold!" and later added "These golden games have their crowning moment!". 16.6 Million people took in at least a bit of the game - nearly 80% of all Canadians.

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