Thursday, January 04, 2007

Shootout Survival

A little too close for comfort for the Hockey mad nation thank you very much. In a game that took a bit of time to get untracked, yet provided some fine hockey for most of its duration, the ending was the thing.

Canada and the USA once again renewed their rivalry, this time in front of a rather empty looking rink in Sweden. You have to wonder what the hockey fans of Sweden are looking for in a game, if they decide to take a pass on the always combustible mix of Canadians and Americans on a sheet of ice. Only 2376, the vast number of those apparently Canadian, found seats in the arena, leaving wide swaths of empties to spread out around and watch the game from.

However, their loss was a television audience’s gain, as the two North American teams hit their strides in the second period and provided some of that don’t leave your seat kind of excitement we look for in our hockey.

The Americans were full value for their efforts on Wednesday; a well executed game plan that seemed to have Canada playing too tentative for a good portion of the game. It had the usual amount of hits you expect whenever these two countries get together for a game of shinny, some stellar scoring chances and some of the best goal tending we’ll see in a while in junior hockey.

Both Canada’s Carey Price and the USA’s Jeff Frazee put on a wonderful display of how to keep their team in a game. Price showed his mettle in over time when Canada faced a short handed situation and Price turned aside twelve consecutive shots to keep Canada alive for the shootout to come.

Eventually as fate would deal the final cards, Zamfee would come up short on a shot by Canada’s Jonathon Toews in the seventh round of overtime shots, a goal that sent the Canadian bench to celebrating their official 2-1 victory and a spot in Friday’s Gold medal game their fourth trip in a row to that benchmark of the World Junior Championships.

It must have been a heart wrenching moment for the USA to come so close to knocking off their long time rivals, a scenario that hadn’t received much play when this tournament began. The USA which stumbled in the early going earned their way into the semi final with good old fashioned hard work and grit.

Their play showcased those qualities once again on Wednesday and served them well through the semi final game. It’s an old time cliché at these times to say it’s too bad somebody had to lose.

And while we’re glad to have seen Canada persevere through a close call, you have to tip your hat to the dedication that the Americans brought to the game; they gave Canada all they could handle and more.

It will prove to have been a very instructive moment for the Canadians, first in their short comings on the ice on Wednesday and secondly in the ability to come back from desperate situations to claim their goal.

One more step on the way to what they hope will be Gold medals on Friday.

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