Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Team Canada vs. Team Czech Republic Postgame

Watching today's tournament opener, I felt there were a few different story lines at play.

In the first period, (as Pierre Maguire was oft to point out), it was all about Canadian goaltender Jonathan Bernier. Team Canada was outplayed for many portions of the first but every time Bernier was more than up to the task. Several first period Czech Republic powerplay chances were turned aside due to Bernier's excellent positioning and rebound control, and he was just an all around steady presence in the net all night, ending up with 44(!) saves and a big goose egg. He was named Canada's player of the game.

Secondly, it was all about Canada's underage players. Steven Stamkos was absolutely tremendous with the puck, making several very nice 1-1 plays; not to mention the fact he assisted on every Team Canada goal. John Tavares, Canada's 13th man, also made a couple key contributions with two power play goals. The first goal was a gift, set up by pointman Josh Godfrey, the second was an absolute snipe from a bad angle. After his first goal, Tavares launched himself onto the shorter european glass and held on ala a UFC celebration.

One has to mention the outstanding play of native Calgary Thomas Hickey. While the pre-tournament talk/hype has followed Doughty and Alzner around, it was Hickey who dominated the Czechs with his smart puck movement and positioning. Alzner looked fine and his efficient but unflashy playing style was effective - Doughty however looked extremely nervous throughout the game and made several bad plays, including a cross ice breakaway pass to the Czechs, and several fumbles of the puck.

Finally, you can't talk about this win without mentioning special teams play. Canada was tested early and often on the PK, (the Czechs spent 16:48 on the PP, nearly a period of 5-4 action) but held strong. Meanwhile the Canadians converted 2 on the PP thanks to some smart plays (Godfrey to Tavares) and some skill plays (Tavares). The officiating, for what's its worth, was terrific.

It has to be said that this was not a dominating performance by Team Canada. They looked uneasy throughout the first and without Bernier it was a potential loss. It is not the type of performance that one would expect to be good enough to win the big cheese. The bad news for Team Canada (in my opinion) is that they are not going to be adequately tested in the preliminary/round robin round. In my opinion the gold medal favorites, (Russia, USA,) are in the other division; the Czechs were beat in a lackluster effort, the Slovaks have one won medal in history, and the Swedes haven't been particularly competitive since about 1994. Of course, anything can (and has) happened, so I don't want to get too far ahead of myself.

Canada plays Slovakia tommorow at 8am MST.

Notes: It was not a good day for the natives of Pardubice CZ, as they watched Team Czech Republic lose to the Canadians in the World Junior Tournament, then they watched their local Paradubice team fall to Team Canada in the Spengler Cup. Curtis Joseph(!) got the win for Canada.

1 comment:

MetroGnome said...

and Mark Giordano got an assist (!)