Monday, January 02, 2012

Mostly about pride on Saturday night

Saturday night's showdown between the USA and Canada at the World Juniors wasn't the marquee New Year's Eve bash that perhaps organizers had hoped for.

Rather, the year end game was pretty well an extended practice session for the Canadians who had already clinched a semi final berth, mainly through the American's lack of success against the Finns and the Czechs.

Yet, despite the lack of importance for the game, the Canadians were still referencing past games with the Americans to try and build on the 3-2 victory for the upcoming battles to come in Calgary in the medal round.

Canada jumped out to a 3-0 lead and then basically went into a cruise control mode, allowing the Americans to battle hard through the third period to make a much closer game of it than really should have been.

The USA, suddenly found the missing gear that eluded them for a few of their mis-steps in the tournament, rushing the Canadian end frequently in the third, clawing back two of the three goal deficit and coming close on any number of occasions to pulling even with the Canadians.

By games end, the Canadians had taken the two points, salvaging the victory and holding on to the boasting rights that seemed theirs for the bragging in the first two periods. Canada more or less staggereinh to the finish line, securing the victory to remain undefeated since the opening puck drop, but clearly with a few bad habits to clear up before they meet the winner of the Russia/Czech Republic game of Monday, either of which could provide Canada's largest challenge thus far.

Canada has had the run of the first round collecting 26 goals for and but 5 against in their first four games, mostly against teams that seemed in awe of their host.

However, both the Czechs and the Finns managed to shake out the doldrums and find success against the Americans, a team that many thought would be a contender through to the medal round and now must fight just to avoid the perils of relegation, an unlikely prospect we would imagine though the Americans will clearly have the target on them as they face Latvia and Switzerland on January 3 and 4.

They showed some of that resolve and pride that has made them a most dangerous opponent in tournaments past, they will have to call upon it again in the next few games to try and salvage some kind of forward momentum for their program heading into next year.

As for Canada, they will watch with interest as the Russians and Czechs renew a hockey rivalry that at times is as heated as the Canadian/Russian or Canadian/American version, whichever team comes out of that quarterfinal game on Monday will face Canada with a renewed sense of confidence and maybe a bit of swagger, a dangerous combination that could provide trouble for Canaada who will have been idle since Saturday and really for the most part not tested thus far in the tournament.

It's that focus that Don Hay and his coaching staff will have to try and secure for Canada, putting the opening round routs behind them and knuckling down to the hard work that is yet to come if Gold is to be in Canada's future.

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