Friday, February 26, 2010

Hockey Gold

It seems the experts are saying the reason they’re picking Canada to win the hockey gold medal Sunday is that the U.S. was terribly outplayed in the preliminary round game last Sunday night....even though they won 5-3. And if you just look at the shots-on-goal and the territorial edge in play of that game it would be hard to argue against that.

But what I think might be being overlooked is that the Americans took an early lead in the game…perhaps undeserved because of the shoddy netminding of someone thought to be the best, Martin Brodeur…but a lead nonetheless. If you watch enough hockey, surely you’ve seen teams play to protect a lead. I would say Ron Wilson and the American coaches were likely drumming “no stupid passes” and “no stupid penalties” into the heads of the U.S. players as soon as they went up 1-0 knowing that Ryan Miller, and keeping the Canadians off the scoresheet, offered the best chance to win. They likely had “keep it out of our own net” at the top of their minds. And the Canadians were in situations in which they needed to pour on the gas to attempt to pull even. A defense-first style by the Americans, no doubt, contributed to their ability to pour.

They did pull even at 1-1.

Then the Americans score again to make it 2-1…and go back into protect-the-lead mode.

Canadians make it 2-2. The U.S. makes it 3-2. Then 4-2. Canada scores to make it 4-3. Then the empty-netter seals it.

So, I think there was an awful lot of potential in that game for playing protect-the-lead hockey. Sure, the shots-on-goal at the end were terribly lopsided. And sure, Miller had to make many magnificent saves. But nobody said going in that the Americans had the most talent. Probably no-one will even if they win the gold medal on Sunday. And I would agree with that. But what they might have is the best team of the two countries. They may have attempted to construct…and I’ll bet GM Brian Burke would verify this…the better roster to win hockey games. And I tend to think they may have done so.

Who looks at the Canadian group of all-stars and says…”Now there’s a team”? No, you would say…”Now that’s a collection of terrific players.” As to a team, a group of guys who understand their roles and carry them out to professional perfection, that’s what you have in Team USA.

So, if you believe that the most talent ultimately wins…oh, like in the U.S.-Soviet Union game in 1980 or 1960... he said sarcastically…then Canada surely will skate all over the U.S. team on Sunday. But if you believe that the U.S. win over the Canadians last weekend was not a fluke, or figment of the imagination. And, if you believe Ryan Miller could be just as tough for the Canadians to beat this Sunday as he was last. And, if you believe both teams are loaded with professional players, and that the U.S. may just have constructed the better outfit to win one big game, then you can forget what the experts are saying and believe, as I do, that the U.S. will win one for the ages as they did 30 years ago at Lake Placid and 50 years ago at Squaw Valley. I’ll say 4-3.

And, I don't think I've read anywhere that one has to state the obvious to qualify as an expert.

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