It was the big ice

kunitz_noseSo with the Olympic hockey tournament over, a ponder:

  • Would people please quit making excuses for the Russian team? They sucked. They suck. They will suck. They have a handful of players with great skills who are wildly overrated by the US hockey media, who will frankly cheer for anything that’s not Canadian because they are deep down boosters and can’t stand watching their boys (and girls) lose to Canada.

Case in point: A.O. Alex Overrated. Look, he’s got a great shot and when he’s motivated he works really hard. He’s a great straight-line skater with above-average stickhandling and slick power moves. Hey, I just described Ricky Vaive! OK, that’s low. He’s better than Vaive … although strangely no more effective.

  • Would the American team (and media) stop making excuses for the American team? Anonymous “players” blamed the ice at the Bolshoi arena for their play down the stretch. A couple of their players said Team USA somehow “didn’t show up” in the game vs. Canada. Maybe you showed up but aren’t good enough?
  • Half of the leads on the gold medal game talked about a banged-up Swedish team because they’re missing Zetterberg, one of the Sedin twins and now Niklas Backstrom. Good thing Canada wasn’t missing any top players. Oh yeah, besides Steve Stamkos and John Tavares. Yes, it’s less critical for Canada because of the depth (Matt Duchesne played well in the gold medal game, filling in for Tavares on a line with Martin St. Louis, the replacement for Stamkos). But it’s an excuse. Anybody really think Backstrom would have made a difference when, on Sweden’s second power play, the scoring chances were 2-0 for Canada?
  • One more excuse to shoot down note … Russians blaming their coaching staff because putting Ovechkin on the point on the power play took away his scoring chances. Drew Doughty scored twice in one game (four overall) coming off the point, Eric Karlsson had eight points. With teams sagging into the slot, the point was the best place to score from.
  • Nice touch by Mike Babcock, btw … Dan Hamhuis, Canada’s 7th or 8th defenseman, was on the ice for the final seconds of the gold medal game … one of the first to get to Carey Price after the game.

The biggest raspberry goes to the media and the IIHF for their all-tournament selections. The IIHF chose Carey Price, Karlsson and Phil Kessel as the best players at their respective positions and the media chose Teemu Selanne, Kessel, Mikael Granlund, Karlsson, Drew Doughty and Henrik Lundqvist to their all-tournament team.  So two Swedes, two Finns an American and a Canadian on the all-tournament team, and no skaters for Canada get recognized as the best at their positions.

Here’s the actual facts: The best skaters were Sidney Crosby and Jonathan Toews. Which one was better is up to you. What, they didn’t score enough? They were the on-ice leaders for a team that went 6-0 and never trailed in the tournament, crushing the souls of all the rest of the medal-round teams; they scored the two biggest goals in the gold-medal game and never once let ego get ahead of team. Does anybody honestly think that Kessel or Granlund running up the tallies against the Middle European Sisters of Mercy was more impressive than completely overwhelming the US, Finland and Sweden when it counted?

So throw in Selanne as the third forward as a lifetime achievement award and that’s the forwards.

Doughty and Shea Weber were the two best defensemen in a tournament where all six of Canada’s first-choice defenders were in the top 10. 

Lundqvist, the best goalie? Actually, this is the closest to being accurate, although it’s hard not to give it to the Price as the guy with the microscopic goals-against average.

Look at the gold-medal game. Lundqvist could have read the play better on the first goal: There was nobody but Toews to worry about, nobody on the back post. So if he gets down early and closes the five-hole, the deflection is an easy stop. Beaten by the best player on the planet for the second goal, so no shame there, but clearly at fault for the third, where he didn’t come out to challenge Kunitz at all. So just a so-so game when it counted … advantage Price. But god knows after constantly harping on the weakness in the Canadian net, it wouldn’t do for the media to eat crow and give the best goalie award to the guy who did what the media said he couldn’t.

What it really shows is that the media didn’t see Canada clearly early in the tournament and were busily patting themselves on the back for “analyzing” what was wrong when the Canadian team and anybody who understood what they were looking at weren’t ruffled. Norway and Latvia parked the bus, to use a soccer expression, choosing to play defense first, last and only, even when they trailed, in the hope they could stay close and maybe get lucky. It almost worked for Latvia … while being outshot by 40 shots. The scorelines flattered both the Americans and the Latvians.

Finland, in the opening-round game, was much the same. They amassed six shots on Price in the last 40 minutes of a game where they trailed, then they lost fairly meekly to Sweden. How many Finns were in the best of the best again? Sweden never played a good team until the Finns and were completely outclassed by the Canadians.

But the thing that totally pissed me off, that set off this whole diatribe (“rant” for those of you who can’t manage a three-syllable word) was Patrick Berglund’s hit from behind on Chris Kunitz, driving him face-first into the boards. You know, we’ve seen this hit by Canadians in other tournaments and it always leads the media (especially the Canadian media) moaning and oh-my-god-how-could-he-do-that-ing about how we are vicious brutes and the hockey team embarrassed the nation. Berglund’s hit should have been a five-minute major; it likely would have been except the refs didn’t want to kill the gold medal game. It was a suspendable offense in the words of Brendan Shanahan. And not a word about it? Cam Cole. Jeff Z. Klein. Damien Cox. Heck, even Mark Spector. How ’bout it boys? Doesn’t fit the script so we’ll pretend it didn’t happen?

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