Wednesday, December 27, 2006

The Good, The Bad, The Ugly

Two games into this tournament and Canada is 2-0, and while there is still a long ways to go, a lot of questions have been answered.

Game one was a clinic by the Swedes on how to play on the big ice surface, using their forecheck and positioning to really difuse the Canadian attack most of the time. I thought that if the Swedes didn't actually outchance the Canadians, it was damn close. The difference was that Canada buried its chances, while the Swedes managed to find a way not to score on every occasion. This game was proof that the Canadians are not going to run over the competition ala the Dream Team in 2005, and that the Swedes are true Medal contenders.

The number one question answered by game 1 was that of goaltending. Carey Price was outstanding all game long, stifling the skilled Swedish attackers, including what Pierre Maguire has dubbed 'the killer b line,' consisting one of the most skilled players in the tournament, Niklas Backstrom. While I did say earlier that the game was close, I never felt (one the Canadians were up 2-0 especially) that it was particularily in doubt. Carey Price was simply playing too well.

Game 2 verse the Americans today was a much more exciting, North American style game, and it was also notable for several bizarre events.

The Good? Canada wins 6-3 on the strength of 2 goals in the last 2 minutes, and Jonathan Toews (pronounced 'Tayvs') emerged as one of the tournament's best. He had several impressive shifts including a dominating cycle shift in the first, a great rebound goal (also in the first) and a breakaway in the third which led to a converted penalty shot goal, killing whatever momentum the Americans were playing.

In addition, Canada faced some adversity with the Americans scoring two quick goals in the second, and coming within one in the third, but played smart hockey and never altered from the gameplan. In addition, the coaching staff has to be commended for keeping cool under the pressure from both the Americans and the poor reffereeing.

Although Skille got the player of the game award for the Americans, I thought Bill Sweat deserved it as he had a goal and rushed the puck into the Canadian zone for an assist on another goal. One of the better American players on the night.

The Bad? The officiating. From the start of the puck there were several bizarre calls and non calls. A slashing call from a poke check, a cross-checking from a push, several phantom slashes, culminating into a Claude Lemieux on Mike Vernon Stanley Cup finals type play, in which and American player blatantly ran Carey Price, which directly led to a goal for the Americans. The officials could have called the play on either the goalie interferece, OR man in the crease without the puck, but blew both calls, cutting Canada's lead in half.

The American's duo of Jack and Eric Johnson were impressive at times, but also got caught several times for goals against. On Toews' third period breakaway Jack Johnson actually threw his stick at Toews to try and stop him. Eric Johnson took a badly timed penalty (can't remember what the actual call was, but the penalty was an elbow) to give the Canadians an extended 5-3 when the Americans only trailed by one in the score.

To be fair though, the duo played fairly well all night, with Eric scoring a goal, and both at times controlling the play in the Canadian end especially.

The Ugly? The poor state of Team USA Hockey's program. The team is year after year living on the edge of mediocrity but they refuse to change their outdated development system or their strange player selection process. Bobby Ryan not on the team?

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