Tuesday, February 25, 2014
For any Canadian that has ever attended a summer hockey camp, Sunday's Gold Medal victory looked very familiar. With clinical precision, Team Canada provided for a text book case of hockey fundamentals, executed to perfection with speed, determination and focus.
When Canada's men's hockey team accepted their Gold Medals on Sunday in Sochi, they provided the exclamation point on the concept that hockey while finding some current in many reaches of the winter world, still is Canada's game, a sport we have developed, improved upon and understand with a passion not found for many other games.
Through the Olympic tournament, Team Canada did all the little things right, sacrifice was the key word from Game one through to the Gold Medal game. Star offensive players, understood that the game plan from Mike Babcock and his coaching staff would ask for patience, positional play and the need to back check.
Players who in the NHL relish the flow of an end to end rush, also bought in to the complete game, they picked up their checks, the came back to position, they offered disciplined play that provided for a team that never trailed in one game. A squad that for the most part never seemed to be in peril and handled every shift with a calm, rational approach to whatever obstacle came in their way.
The acceptance of the team approach was most apparent in the Semi-Final showdown with the USA, the most thrilling of Canada's tournament games. Despite the one goal victory, the Canadian team controlled much of the play on Friday, refining the lesson plan of previous games, ratcheting up their game to match the intensity of their long time rival and besting the Americans at the shared game that they have grown up with.
The momentum continued on into Sunday's Gold Medal game, which for the most part was again a game of control by Canada, which never looked in peril once Jonathan Toews secured the opening goal, his marker serving to deflate an already weary Swedish squad.
Sweden which had a few opportunities early on in the first period, was featured in yet another Sochi goal post of fate for the Canadians. With Gustav Nyqvist's shot clanging off the right post behind Carey Price, yet so in his zone was the Canadian goaltender that he was quick to capture the puck before any further danger arrive.
For the most part, it was the only real threat to the Canadians in the final sixty minutes of their Sochi adventure. While Sweden would fire off more shots at him, none were from particularly dangerous locations, rebounds when they occurred and they were rare, were quickly gobbled up by the best defensive six that Canada has sent to a hockey tournament in many years.
Price saluted his defenders post game and they returned the admiration right back and statistically you can understand how important both defence and goal tending was to the Canadian victory. Canada never trailed in the tournament, never gave up more than two goals in a game and in the final two and a half games of the most importance of the tournament, never gave up a goal in over 160 minutes of hockey.
On Sunday, by the time that Sidney Crosby had secured the insurance marker for Canada, the Canadians were in full control of the day's agenda. The goal a reward of sorts for Crosby, who had chances through the tournament to build on his scoring resume, but was denied sometimes by luck, sometimes by steady goal tending from opposing squads.
Frustration, seemingly never part of the current of team Canada, Crosby points or not, like his team mates stuck to the game plan, a focus on the ultimate goal that served all well as they went past one opponent after another.
To complete the tournament and providing a punctuation mark for those that had concerns over the line up selected for Sochi, Chris Kunitz, a controversial choice for some, found the scoring range with Canada's third and final goal on the day. His marker, one that offered up the final point of capitulation for the Swedes.
The game started with mystery, with one of Sweden's key players Nicklas Backstrom announced as a scratch, originally explained as suffering from a migraine, later for a positive test based on a dose of an allergy medicine of all things.
As bizarre a situation as the IOC could deliver with but minutes to go before the start of a Gold Medal game and one that leaves many questions to consider regarding IOC procedures.
And while obviously providing an obstacle for the Swedish squad, it's doubtful that the result of the game would have been much different had Backstrom, or many of the other Swedes who were missing owing to injury been in the line up or not.
Canada's approach to Sunday, was for the most part the same as it was when the took to the ice against Norway, Austria, Latvia, Finland or the USA. The ebb and flow of the game, regardless of the opponent was under the control of the Canadians.
And while the Latvians and the Finns provided for interesting mornings for Canadians back home, the latter taking Canada to Overtime, the prospect of a Canadian defeat never seemed to be an issue of concern.
There was no panic in Sochi, no abandonment of the approach to the game. Just a patient resolve, shift after shift after short shift, to stay with the plan, cover off the job at hand and claim the reward when the opportunity was provided.
Fundamentals, discipline, sacrifice and passion, they served Canada well in Sochi through February.
There were no passengers on this journey, all played a role over the two weeks of Sochi. Both those on the ice and those, who by the end were relegated to the stand by positions. All shared in the preparation work, all shared in the pressure and when O Canada was played to bring the curtain down on the Olympic tournament, all shared in the success of their Olympic journey.
Sometime this summer, at one of the many, many hockey camps that take place somewhere in Canada, a young hockey player will hear much from the coaches about learning the fundamentals, understanding his or her position and role on the ice and how each player fits into a team concept.
They'll no doubt soak those words in and think back to an early Sunday morning in February, when Canada played to those very themes, claiming a Gold medal in a place called Sochi.
February 24-- Team Canada has the right team, right strategy for today's hockey
February 24-- From ball hockey to a gold medal: Team Canada built an unbeatable machine
February 24-- Canada's Sidney Crosby delivers dagger with breakaway goal
February 24-- Martin St. Louis gold medal winner: "There's been lots of ups and downs'
February 24-- Repeat gold medal a deserved result for powerhouse club
February 24-- Canada's men hockey team had 100 more scoring chances than its Sochi opponents
February 24-- Crosby, Toews and Getzlaf the difference for Canada at Sochi
February 24-- Golden generation leads Canadian men to Olympic gold, again, in Sochi
February 24-- Olympic dominance gives Carey Price a boost as goalie returns to Canadiens
February 24-- Canada's Carey Price savours his golden Olympic moment
February 24-- It wasn't golden, but Sidney Crosby scored a beaut for Canada
February 24-- National dance of life branches out from its hockey roots
February 24-- Gold medal decision: How Team Canada learned to win on the 'big ice'
February 24-- Canada's Golden Generation not going anywhere
February 23-- Captain Crosby saves his best for last
February 23-- Carey Price shines in his first Olympics
February 23-- Sochi Games show why NHLers should be at the 2018 Olympics
February 23-- Team Canada ruthlessly efficient en route to repeat hockey gold
February 23-- Canada shuts out Sweden to win Olympic gold again
February 23-- Sochi hockey squad one of the greatest Canada has ever iced
February 23-- Olympic hockey analysis from Bruce Garrioch
February 23-- 'Captain Serious' Toews comes through in the clutch