Sunday, May 13, 2007

2007 Team Canada IIHF World Championships - Good as Gold

Watching Canada go 9-0 in this tournament, I couldn't help but identify two types of offensive guys for Team Canada.

The first type was typified by Mike Cammalleri. Cammalleri managed 80pts and 34 goals this season, quite a feat considering the ineptitude of the team he plays for. When you look at Cammalleri, you realize he's basically a hobbit sized guy, he's not particularly fast. His first two/three games for Canada, I couldn't help but wonder how in the hell Cammalleri accomplished his 80pt season. He looked pretty much invisible most of the time, he never beat guys 1-1, he had me perplexed.

I had faith in Andy Murray however, and I knew that Murray knew Cammalleri well. Murray's faith paid off, as Cammalleri eventually emerged as a key member of Canada's championship team. I think his first real impact play came as Canada was trying to tie the Czechs. Dion Phaneuf passed it to Cammalleri, and Cammalleri sent it to Staal on a breakaway. In the semifinal versus Sweden, Murray named Cammalleri an alternate captain, and it was undoubtedly Cammalleri's best game. He brought his best when when the chips were down. As the tournament went on, Cammalleri proved himself to be a very slick playmaker, albeit one who is completely invisible 90% of time. He's just one of those guys who you never notice until he scores of makes an unbelievable play.

The second type of guy was typified by Rick Nash. If you ever decide to wade into the shitstorm that is HF, you'll realize Rick Nash tends to polarize people. There are those that think he's absolutely terrible, overrated, defensively liable, etc. And there are those that can't find enough positive adjectives to describe Nash. I have to say, I fall into the second category. Watching Nash in action in the NHL is one thing, but I watched all of that 2005 World Championship run, and while Joe Thornton was the Tournament MVP in that silver medal effort, it was Nash that blew me away. This sounds like an exaggeration, but the player I compared him to was Mario Lemieux. He's big, he's fast, he's got hands. He did things that I've really only seen Mario do. Undoubtedly, there is a lack of consistency factor with Rick Nash, but I saw him work magic one time, and it's hard to put that out of your mind.

To me, Rick Nash was Canada's absolute most consistent player this whole tournament. From game 1 on, no one created more offensive chances, no one drove to the net harder (or more often), no one beat guys one on one as much (or at all), and no one had individual efforts like Nash. He maybe wasn't the team's best playmaker, or finisher, but for my money, no one was better.

While the question I had about Cammalleri was 'how does this guy manage to get so many points,' my question regarding Nash was 'how does this guys only get this many points?' He plays such a visible style, he's always got the puck, he's always shooting. He was 'snakebitten' early in the tournament, but only by the highest of standards. Most players wish they could be snakebitten Rick Nash style, because he just gets so many chances that its a numbers game - eventually he'll beat you.

Nash saved his best for last today. He scored a real beauty in the first period on the PP, when, as usual, he took the puck from the half boards and drove hard to the net, pulling the puck backhand and then forehand to change the shooting angle to beat Kari Lehtonen. When the game was reduced to a 1 goal lead with about a minute remaining, Shane Doan did his thing by firing the puck up to Nash in the neutral zone for a 1-1 with a Finnish defender. As Nash exploded by the defenceman, the defenceman went for the only play he had left. Draping himself around Nash, he twisted Nash almost completely backwards. It was no use though, as Nash managed to keep his composure and literally deke out tournament goaltending MVP Kari Lehtonen, scoring his second goal of the game, and sealing the win for his team. I said earlier that I comp'ed Nash to Lemieux. I challenge you to watch this goal and not do the same. After the game, Nash was awarded Tournament MVP.

"I don't have to tell you that Rick Nash probably took over this tournament for us," said Canada's Mike Cammalleri. "He stepped up and he was huge.

"That was some of the best hockey I've ever seen played."

Added GM Steve Yzerman: "He was spectacular. He was head and shoulders above everyone."(Source)

This tournament was really a lesson in World Championship success. Canada may not have had the most talent, but they became more than the sum of their parts. Every player on every line and every pairing had a role in this victory. There was never a time when I witnessed a line or player out on the ice and wished they could be replaced by someone on the bench. I would be remiss if I avoided mentioning the absolutely stellar play of Eric Brewer and Dion Phaneuf. Some Oilogosphere participants have mentioned Brewer's 'blonde moments' (witness his giveaway in the Slovakia game), but 95% of the time Brewer is simply a superb defensive defencman. He's just so strong on his skates, makes great decisions, is extremely calm. I've watched him internationally 5 times, and all he does is win. We missed him in the 2005 WCs -silver. Missed him in the 2006 WCs -4th and the 2006 Olympics -loss in quarterfinal. He has gold in 2003, 2004 and 2007 WCs, 2002 Olympics and a World Cup victory.

Dion Phaneuf was a late edition but it is hard to see this team winning without him. He became better each game, and his instructions were to avoid the big hits and play a containment game. He had 8 points in his shortened time in Russia (Thornton had 10 when he won tournament MVP) and just looked about as good as he ever has.

Colby "Cheese" Armstrong was exemplary of the team mentality with his contributions today. He's been pretty quiet all tournament, but his line of (mostly) Toews and Staal has been very good at both ends of the rink with their limited ice time. Today, with the game 2-0 Canada got a 5-3 PP and blew it, then received a penalty themselves. It was a classic setup for a 'TSN Turning Point.' Canada killed off the penalty though, and about a shift later Jordan Staal lugged the puck into the finish zone, dropped it off to the Cheese who blasted the eventual winner past Lehtonen. I was personally more excited for Armstrong himself than for the team, and judging by the expressions on the faces of those on the bench, the feeling was mutual. Here was a guy who has received absolutely no kudos, your archetypal unsung hero, and he just scored in the biggest game of his life. Especially when you hear about what a good guy Cheese is (coming from Lloyd and being the same age, there aren't a lot of degrees of separation between us), it makes me even happier.

Here's a thought; how many guys on team do you think were telling Armstrong, 'it ain't easy...being CHEESY!'

Going into the game, Andy Murray was the only coach to have two gold medals in the World Championships. Coming out of the game, he's the only coach to have three gold medals.

If you stopped watching the broadcast after the game ended, you probably missed one of the more touching moments. The cameras always follow the team into the locker room, and once inside, it panned along the players cheering celebrating etc, until it came to Chris Mason (he who phoned Steve Yzerman and said 'I know I won't play, but I want to be there to help the team), who shouted 'check out this guy!' The camera turns around, and the smallest, skinniest team Canada off-ice personelle guy starts dancing to Usher's "Yeah." The whole team congregated around and started cheering. The camera zoomed to Andy Murray, who tried to suppress his amusement but couldn't help break out a smile.

After the tournament, the top three players on each team were named by their own coaches, and the Flames and Oilers were well represented. From Calgary's side, Lombardi was selected as a top 3 player for Canada, while Toby (Tobias) Peterson and Patrick Thoresen were selected by their respective coaches.

A final thought about Team Canada's performance, from a Flames/Oilers perspective. Hockey Girl mentioned that she enjoyed the team as long as she ignored Roloson. Most Oilogosphere bloggers have mentioned numerous times how much they hate Dion. But watching the post game interviews, it was ironic that the only mention of Dwayne Roloson's contribution to the team (a very solid contribution I might add) came from his provincial rival. When asked by Ryan Rishaug about Cam Ward's excellent performance, Dion made a special effort to mention Roloson.

TSN's story

Hockey Canada recap and Game Summary

IIHF story

Post game quotes from both Finland and Canada players

Every 2007 IIHF World Hockey Championship blog entry in therealdeal Hockey

To Be Perfect

Heed the Warnings...

Eric Staal is Alive and Kicking

Just Good Enough

Dion Phaneuf Joins Team Canada

Making a Mark

Shane Doan Named Team Captain

Disappointments Abound

Captain Canada

Roster Announcements

Shitsburgh's Loss

Roster Announcements

Roster Announcements - Carolina Contributions

Coach/Roster Announcements


McKenzie Weighs in on Team Canada coaching staff




hockeygirl said...

I could say a bunch of things but they'd probably stir shit up between me and the Oilogjasdblahblah so I won't except for this - YAY DION! *cough*yayroli*cough*

walkinvisible said...

so many things to say, so little time:

1. i think cammilleri is painfully underrated.

2. how many guys on team do you think were telling Armstrong, 'it ain't easy...being CHEESY!' about as many probably call SJ's marc-edouard vlasic "pickles" (how could you NOT ??!!)

3. i thought of rollie when they asked doan about cam ward, and was very pleased to see young dion step up and remember that there were two goalies who got them to the gold...

4. i think that, aside from skill and coaching, chemistry was the biggest reason canada won this tourney. these guys looked like they had a lot of fun together. jordan staal probably spent half the trip pulling practical jokes and mike commodore out-dry-witted every other guy in the room, to be sure. everybody always talks about how they just need to relax and follow the system, and that's exactly what they did...

does it hurt anyone else to realize that andy murray was available when sutter hired playfair ???

MetroGnome said...

does it hurt anyone else to realize that andy murray was available when sutter hired playfair ???

Sigh. Yes.

Thanks for all the in-depth coverage of the tourny, Kyle. Do you have any in-depth thoughts on how Phaneuf and Lombardi played in particular? For example, was Lombo's apparent effectiveness an effect of coaching (systems), linemates, or just a spurt over a small sampple of games?

Kyle said...

As you know I've been a supporter of Lombardi for a long time. Partially his success was due to his linemates. Any person you put between Shane Doan and Rick Nash will put up numbers (and his early tourny play on the 4th line backs up my theory). However, Lombo played an important role on the line; he was great at carrying the puck in, he set up and scored some nice goals, and I would argue he was the most effective back-checker on the team. He would often be the first man into the offensive zone and then the first forward back into the defensive zone. I'd love to see what he could do with Iginla on his line, but the fact is Lombo is a pretty good two way guy.

I'd still like to see him improve his playmaking vision though. All that speed should leave him more options.

Dion's play improved each game. He proved he can play with a partner other than Hamrlik, and he was definately the better of his pairing (with Schultz). Murray and co told Dion to forget about the big hits and just play defence, (he was still top 2 on the team in minutes played) and I thought he looked terrific. He always looked really calm out there.

Maybe the best Dion I've seen yet.

walkinvisible said...

i think that the international ice size is also perfectly suited to a guy like lombardi. with the extra space, his speed was more effective.... not to say that his skilled and speedy linemates weren't also a huge factor...

Anonymous said...

Way to go guys!!!! It was fun to see Lombardi's speed and skill really shine, Toew's impressive showing with the big boys, the Staal boys playing together. Always liked Lombardi. Phanuef was Phanuef, I'm glad he got over there. He got extra class points from me for remembering Roli.

Oiler fan