Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Shane Doan's Finn-ishing Touch

After 52 seconds of Tuesday night’s Championship game at the World Cup of Hockey it looked like any Finn who had stayed up late to watch the game could go back to bed. The same could be said for those early rising Finns, who pulled themselves out of bed at 1 am Helsinki time, hoping to start their day with a World Championship performance from their side.

For at the Fifty two second mark, it appeared that Canada had come to the rink determined to run their Finnish guests right out through the end boards. Mario Lemieux put an eye of the needle type of pass onto the stick of Joe Sakic, who quickly deposited the puck behind Miika Kiprusoff, the goal counting as Sakic’s fourth goal of the series, this one on the first shot of the Championship game.

However, loyalty should be rewarded and for all those Finnish hockey fans who put on the coffee on and stayed up, their heroes came right back and put some pressure on the Canadians. Echoing shades of the game against the Czech Republic, the Finns kept the play hopping in the Canadian end. Martin Brodeur, back in the Canadian nets, held the fort for Canada, while Canada got their attack back into motion. In the first part of this game the Lemieux, Sakic and Iginla line were on fire, wheeling down the ice setting up chances and keeping the Finns occupied in their end. At the five minute mark Kiprusoff saved his team with a point blank save on Mario Lemieux, if that had gone in, perhaps a rout would be on; instead the second chance sent the Finns back down the ice more determined than ever.

With Canada in trouble in their own end, a collision at the blue line left the Finns with a man uncovered in front of Brodeur, a double tip at seven minutes gave Riku Hahl the first Finnish goal and tied the game up, silencing the robust Canadian crowd temporarily.

Using an effective fore-check and a frustrating dump and trap the Finns kept the pressure up as the period wound down, both teams heading for the dressing rooms tied at one. They may have been rattled after the first minute, but they were a rather confident looking lot by the final one of the first period.

Three and half minutes into the second period Kiprusoff let in a rather questionable goal on a long shot by Scott Niedermayer, with the lead the crowd was back in the game and the Canadian bench was a bit more animated. But once again, the Finns battled back as Tuomo Ruutu scored on a beauty of a chance with less than a minute left in the period, once again sending the teams back to the dressing room, this time tied a two and giving the Finns a bit of momentum to face period three.

But momentum was broken with a shot by Shane Doan at thirty four seconds of the third, Doan knocked in a pass from Joe Thornton for what would eventually become the winning goal. From then on, with a 3-2 lead, the Canadians shut down the Finn attack, the Doan, Thornton and Draper line checking the Finns into the boards, knocking them back into their own end time and time again. The Lemieux line as well did its part in a defensive scheme, fore checking the Finns heavily not giving them a chance to really challenge the defence at the Canadian blue line, let alone get near Martin Brodeur. When they did manage to get into the Canadian end, Brodeur was there to close the door. As the game wound down the crowd began the countdown at around two minutes rising to their feet and cheering the victory on home, the added enthusiasm seemed to spur on the Canadians who bottled up the Finns in their own end for the final two minutes of the game.

With the win Canada continues it’s domination in International hockey, a 2002 gold medal from the Olympics, two world championships and now a World Cup to put on the national mantle, a sign that all is well in Canadian hockey.

However, we should take note of the upcoming charge, the Czechs and Finns have shown us that they’re right up there with us now, the Americans will retool, the Russians are young and starting to come on as well, Sweden while a disappointment in this tourney will once again find its way to the top of world hockey. For now we enjoy our victory, celebrating a team that didn’t lose a game in this tournament and won when it had to.

And while we keep an eye on the folks coming up the list, we can take some comfort in the young talent in our talent pool, which it seems is more than up to the challenge ahead. This is nothing but good news for our continuing success at our game.

And for our friends in Finland who stayed up late, we think they’ll agree the game if not the result, was worth all the bleary eyes at the office today. Finland had a terrific tournament, earning the respect of hockey fans everywhere for their never say die commitment. It was an entertaining show, one which shows that hockey when played at a high intensity and with a passionate effort, can truly be one of the world’s great team sports.

No comments: