Wednesday, February 22, 2006

And now, we bring you the post mortem

As the commercials for the Royal Bank's Olympic sponsorship put it, Go Big, or Go Home. For Canada’s Olympic Hockey Club, it’s time to head for the airport. Team Canada, the defending Gold Medal Champions of the XIX Olympiad of Salt Lake, shall not repeat at the XXth of Torino.

It won’t be a fond farewell to the Torino Esposizione, the small bandbox of arena that was the scene of three consecutive Canadian losses. In that small convention hall turned hockey rink for two weeks, many bad memories were formed. Canada not only failed to win games, they failed to score. In the end it was the intimate setting of a do or die affair, and after sixty minutes an Olympic dream died.

In an entertaining, yet ultimately unrewarding game the Canadians took one bad penalty too many, giving up a key goal on a dangerous Russian power play. Canada once again found trouble putting the puck on the net, let alone in the net, and when they did get through Evgeni Nabokov was there to stop them.

Martin Brodeur continued to build upon his legend, as he turned aside 31 of the 33 shots the Russians made on the Canadian net. And many of those shots came on a Russian power play that Canada seemed to enjoy defending upon, Canada took far too many penalties once again, and each successive Russian power play got closer and closer to success. The breaking point for Canada was an unnecessary interference call on Todd Bertuzzi to start off the third period, Bertuzzi ran a pick play in the Russian end of the rink, and the resulting goal by Alexander Ovechkin was all the Russians would need to advance to the semi finals.

Canada battled back as is the tradition, coming close a number of times to picking up the equalizing marker, Iginla tried on the short side on a two on one, Lecavalier swung and missed in the slot, Sakic took his shots and came up just short, Blake blasted from the point, all ultimately to no avail. By then end of the game they had close the gap on the shots clock with 26, but not with anything that would count on the scoreboard

Speed and control went the way of the Russians for the most part, they had less difficulty getting out of their own end than Canada did, sharp passes, fast breaks and many shots kept a fair amount of the play in the Canadian end. It’s hard to score if you’re in your own end of the rink too much.

The first two periods were close on the scoreboard, but not quite so on the ice. When in control of the puck you got the sense that it may only be a matter of time before the Russians finally solved the riddle of Brodeur. They managed the ice better than Canada; the Canadian attack was at times solid, others haphazard. Far too often we seemed tentative trying to get into the Russian end of the rink, far too often our passes would bounce the wrong way, or be picked off in the neutral zone.

When they sit down and take the elements of this game apart, they will find that the goaltending did not lose them this tournament, the defence did not lose them this tournament, it was the front end where the problems began. Besides the obvious lack of scoring touch during the tournament, there was the problem of back checking, time and time again the Canadians did not get back in time to pick up a check, pinch the zone or clear the puck when it arrived on their sticks.

So Canada heads for home and the traditional gnashing of teeth shall begin over the state of Canadian hockey. Save your molars, there’s not really much wrong with the way we play our game, it’s just in this tournament we didn’t get around to playing it!

There are questions as to the personnel selected for this squad, perhaps the speed of a Crosby or the crushing hit of a Phaneuf would have made a difference, but that’s a debate that shall go on for the next four years.

We sent what we believe were our best, they no doubt tried their best as they always do. The only problem was at this time and in this tournament, they simply weren’t the best!

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