Wednesday, February 22, 2006

2006 Turin Winter Olympics
Men's hockey: Russia 2, Canada 0

(Hmmm. What to say? Do you start with the obvious or jump whole-heartedly into hyperbole?)

Let's just say the disappointment that has been hanging around Team Canada in the tournament has just been multiplied 100 fold. For, as upset as Canadians have been so far with this team, everyone here truly believed they'd still pull at least this game out.

A loss in the quarter-finals? Unthinkable. (And especially so at the start of the tournament.)

To be honest, I really can't come up with an example of a best-on-best hockey tournament in which Canada played worse than this one in Turin. Even from the start, when a heavily overmatched Italian team played the Canadians to a 1-1 draw through 22 minutes, it was ugly.

Throwing out the round-robin games against Italy and Germany, Team Canada managed only three goals in four tournament games. In the comments section below, Robert Cleave sums it up by saying they looked 'big, slow and clueless.' No argument here.

The things that could go wrong for Canada did. Todd Bertuzzi took an embarassing penalty, the likes of which he's been taking for the past two years in Vancouver, that led to the winning goal by Russia. The team's defence looked out of place and sluggish without Scott Niedermayer and Ed Jovanovski manning the breakout. And, perhaps the most predictable aspect of the team's play, those on Team Canada not having banner years in the NHL didn't play all that well.

The hand-wringing in tomorrow's papers is going to be legendary. I imagine every paper will have at least one columnist opinining that the team's 'mix' was wrong, that Canada's brass assembled a spare-part team that failed to add up to a whole.

In part, they may be right, but, boy, is it easy to criticize in hindsight. The quibbles with the team's roster when it was selected in December were minor, so any holier than thou musings should be derided as such.

The most important thing that I think Canadians should take out of this tournament? The round robin matters. Too often we heard how Canada's poor play against Switzerland and Finland wouldn't matter, so long as they won their quarter-final game.

That's rather brash to think drawing Russia in a winner-take-all game 'doesn't matter.' For, as we saw today, they certainly could be — and were — the better team.

I've also got some advice for Janet Gretzky: Don't ever bet against Alex Ovechkin.

UPDATE The Globe and Mail's Eric Duhatschek hosted a live chat following the game.



At 4:51 p.m., February 22, 2006, Blogger Docciavelli said...

Me too. Just saw the score on What the hell happened? I see that there was a penalty called at the beginning of the 2nd period for abuse of officials. Did Pat Quinn tell Larue to kiss off?

Malkin and Lecavalier getting into it late in the 3rd? Guess it was testy (sad I missed it).

Regardless, the Americans were bounced today as well, but only by a goal to the best team of the tournament so far. I can't complain after the way the US played so far. At least they put a few in the twine.

So, have the floods of armageddon commenced up there? Down here we're experiencing some drizzle and light rain reported at the airport. =]

At 4:51 p.m., February 22, 2006, Blogger J. Michael Neal said...

Wow. I just felt a huge wave of angst flowing south.

At 5:08 p.m., February 22, 2006, Anonymous Chad said...

All I can say is $#!* performance!!! no simitry, no going to the net, nothing...the first period of course ur tight and cautious..

Second period it was a game of defence goalies were superb!

Third period, it was lazy, tired passes, bad plays, and crap all around...worst perform!!!

The canadian men should be embarrased

cudos to the Rusians, ther were awesome they desired the win...great speed, great intensity...

sad day for canadian hockey...

In four years I hope the roster is chosen by the best players at the time of training camp and not to play favours to past heros.

Past players who have play for us and have done their country proud desirve our admiration but not a free ticket...

my two frustrated and disappointed two cents!

At 5:16 p.m., February 22, 2006, Anonymous Robert Cleave said...

James, you would have been better off getting stuck on the train than witnessing the atrocities. Other than maybe Shane Doan, there wasn't one skater who looked interested. There's been a lot of stuff about Staal or Spezza or Crosby or Phaneuf being better picks, but Canada would have needed about 15 different guys in this Olympics. Thornton's line was awful, the 3 Lightning guys hardly looked like Cup winners, and as for Pronger, I think his injury is worse than he's let on, because he was dreadful. In summation, they looked big, slow and clueless.

At 5:27 p.m., February 22, 2006, Anonymous pete said...

I think the national hand-wringing is about to commence, but the fact of the matter is that the Canadian team simply didn't execute.

It's a short tournament, and there area a lot of good teams. And at the end of the day, the team didn't jel, and didn't play as a unit when it mattered most.

Based on our play in this tourney, we didn't deserve a medal — let alone gold. But that shouldn't be taken as some misguided sign that our development program sucks, or we aren't producing enough talented players. We are — these particular ones just didn't demonstrate that in the last two weeks.

I bet a month ago you could have made a lot of money betting that the Canadians would get shutout three times in four games, and lose to Switzerland.

Oh, and imagine my surprise that the tournament-ending goal came on a powerplay caused by a boneheaded minor penalty by Todd Bertuzzi.

At 5:31 p.m., February 22, 2006, Blogger Jameso said...

Okay, I am stuck in the UK, where I didn't even get to see the game (already made plans to see the semis, though). Were they as bad as the Star play-by-play made them sound? Is it fair to jump right into criticizing team selection? I mean, losing to Russia, sure, but how did we get to the point where we had to play them this early?

At 5:38 p.m., February 22, 2006, Blogger deano said...

Am I the only one that saw the puck in the back of the Ruskie net with about 5 left on the clock? I was watching at a bar here in Boston and needless to say there weren't many Canadian fans around, but a top view clearly showed it trickle through under Nabokov. I couldn't wait to get back online to read the buzz, but have been shocked to find not a single comment. Did noone else see this? This could have been a very different outcome: Tied game, no Pronger penalty, Brodeur remains in goal...

At 5:44 p.m., February 22, 2006, Blogger J. Michael Neal said...

Am I the only one that saw the puck in the back of the Ruskie net with about 5 left on the clock?

No, you weren't, but the whistle blew before it went into the net. It was a very quick whistle, but that was consistent with the whole game. Once the puck was under the goalie, the whistle went, pretty much every time, both ways.

At 5:49 p.m., February 22, 2006, Anonymous Ken said...

deano: the goal is question was a non-goal as the whistle had blown prior to it going in. The ref lost sight of the puck and pulled the trigger on his whistle....ho-hum.

regardless, this team simply did not play as a team and as a result they are going home.

I still think the Czechs are the team to beat.

At 6:06 p.m., February 22, 2006, Blogger J. Michael Neal said...

The criticism of the Canadian selection system (which I think that the US system shares) is not about age vs. youth, at least not directly. It's that both countries didn't seem to recognize how important speed is at the Olympics. With the big ice, and the rules differences, you just can't have enough of it. It's more important than size.

For the US, I'd have gone with Paul Martin over one of the elder defensemen. Not only do I think he's as good as many of them, he spent three years playing on the international sheet at the University of Minnesota.

At 6:15 p.m., February 22, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

All I can think right now is that our guys were stuck in the twilight zone this tournament.

It was wierd watching our first period against Finland. The big names on the roster didn't seem to match the play on the ice.

I think back to Lemieux in Salt Lake closing in on goal, freezing Hasek with his mind and just scoring.

That kind of thing just wasn't happening for us this time. Hopefully we can shake this off by 2010 so that team Canada's big, slow and clueless twin doesn't show up again...

At 8:31 p.m., February 22, 2006, Anonymous Arcanas said...

I missed most of the game, but saw Gretzky's interview afterwards. I feel sorry for the guy. He's going full on into a media s**t storm, and he's not backing away from it. What I hate? We're going to be hearing about this game for months to come, about how we took the wrong players, or we should have done this or done that. The only difference between this team and the one that won the World Cup in 2004 (by won I mean steam rolled through) is Lemieux and Yzerman, and the size of the ice. I guess you can throw the jet lag in there as well. They just didn't look hungry out there. I'm not sure what else I can say :/

At 9:24 p.m., February 22, 2006, Blogger Chris said...

The comments about the selection are misplaced. Not to say that there isn't stuff to talk about here but to focus on selection is mere quibbling when the bottom line is that the team played like crap.

At 10:54 p.m., February 22, 2006, Blogger CasonBlog said...

Just about every player in today's USA and Canada contests plays in the NHL-be they Ruskie or Finn. They are all the best in the world. I look at those rosters, and I think with very few exceptions, I'd take any of these guys to a tourney. I think what we saw from our boys, north and south, was both a failure to jell given the limited prep-time and the inability to fall back on experience gained as a youth spent playing on Euro dimensioned ice.

At 12:34 a.m., February 23, 2006, Blogger James Mirtle said...

Awesome comments from everybody. I'm disappointed I had to toil away on the desk and miss joining in here.

Based on our play in this tourney, we didn't deserve a medal — let alone gold. But that shouldn't be taken as some misguided sign that our development program sucks, or we aren't producing enough talented players. We are — these particular ones just didn't demonstrate that in the last two weeks.

What Canadians will be talking about afterwards will have little to do with a hockey development program — that's plain absurd to correlate how Chris Pronger played to how Little Jimmy is being taught power-skating drills down at the local rink.

No, what I think Canada, as a hockey power, should be concerned about is how these 'talented' players came together and collectively gave one of the tournament's most disappointing performances. The fact that Canada's collective talents are more substantial than most of the other teams makes that failure all the more galling.

So, to ask the question Duhatschek was asked in the chat today, what is it? In part, he points to the coaching brass's failure to make any adjustments once it was clear the team wasn't generating any offence.

That's what we should be talking about — not the state of Hockey Canada.

At 12:39 a.m., February 23, 2006, Blogger Chris said...

James, I said the very same thing after the Swiss loss...Quinn is out of ideas. As a Leaf fan we have seen that clearly this year and in 03-04 as well. Hitchcock ironically, standing right next to him on the bench, would have been the better coach.

After 1998, we wrung our hands collectively about the state of development in Canada. Since then we have developed an excellent hockey program on both the women's and men's sides. The world dominating women's side is a testimony of that policy as is the Canadian junior side. I strongly agree that development is not the issue, nor was selection.

There is no reason this team couldn't score goals. Quinn has to suck up the blame as much as the players. I wonder if we'll see that actually happen.

At 12:56 a.m., February 23, 2006, Blogger Hossim said...

Not looking for excuses, but wondering about something that I can't find too many people talking about. The IIHF age rule regarding visors. It ensured a few Canadian players wearing visors for this tournament that they might not have gotten the time to get used to. I know it's a minor thing, but it could make a slight psychological difference. I dunno.

Sundin wore one with the Leafs because he had to, and he took it off after a while and as far as I can tell he hasn't worn one at all during this tournament.

It doesn't account (the visor impairment) for the game against the Russians but it might help explain the lack of scoring throughout. I emphasize the fact that it could help explain and not be the be all explaination.

At 2:06 a.m., February 23, 2006, Blogger deepfriedgold said...

I didn't want to say anything because this is what I'll have to read about for the next four motherf***ing years from all of you ice hacks, but here goes: Pat Quinn took a team of superstars and make them play like the Leafs.

I am now retiring from ice hackery and return to talking about important things, like how Eazy-E's "Gimme Dat Nut" is a brilliant and modern re-interpretation of Andrew Marvell's "To His Coy Mistress." LA hip-hop bridges the gap to the Cavalier poets for young minds? Break up into groups of four and discuss.

At 8:19 a.m., February 23, 2006, Blogger alyosha mcbain said...

Joe Sakic looked like the best forward for Canada in this tourney, which should embarrass guys like Joe Thornton and Rick Nash. Chris Pronger was horrendous, just horrendous. All those complaints about Todd Bertuzzi seem to be justified; he looked lost throughout Canada's run.

I thought Martin Brodeur played very well against Russia--well enough to win--but Nabokov kinda stole this one for Russia. He was magnificent in the 3rd period. The GM deserves the most blame for this loss. The defense (without Niedermayer) couldn't handle the big sheet of ice.

Canada was at least better than the dreadful, old, and slow USA team....Chelios getting knocked on his ass by Ovechkin in the last first-round game was a symbolic moment for me.

At 8:43 a.m., February 23, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Not sure you can really say Canada was "better" than the USA. I'd suggest both teams were equally bad. Heck, at least the USA scored a goal in every game. How were those 3 shutouts for Canada?

At 9:20 a.m., February 23, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bottom line - this team did not come together to play as a UNIT.

For all the pundits out there to begin their dissection with comments about who should have been on the roster and who should have been left off is just window dressing. There was MORE than enough fire-power on this team to put the puck in the net. I saw a lot of individual attempts out there but never once did I see cohesion and that's what it comes down to in a tourney of this magnitude. You want to see what I'm talking about? Did you watch any of the CZE or FIN games? Nicely done...

As for comments about the defense, I would partially agree, somewhat slow and I think Pronger's foot is affecting him more than he is letting on.

People want to crap on the coaches, Pat in particular, but this group of them did win a gold in Salt Lake and also the ugly looking World Cup. It isn't the coaches' jobs to be trying to motivate these elite players at a tourney like this one. If you aren't motivated or your head isn't into it at this level then I'm sorry, but you should go home. So going by that rationale, the entire roster (save a few) should have packed their bags long ago...

At 1:15 p.m., February 23, 2006, Blogger Chris said...

It may not be the coaches jobs to motivate these guys, but it is their job to come up with some creative responses to the fact that other teams, having studied the Quinn/Hitchcock playbook in 2002 and 2004, beat us strategically.

To go into a third straight tournament expecting the same results from these guys with the same strategy is insane. And inability to devise something new, especially in the flow of the game is what kills Quinn with the Leafs and it bit his ass here too.

At 1:42 p.m., February 23, 2006, Anonymous GDUB said...

I don’t want to put all the blame on any one individual since the whole team really played bad when the game was on the line, the finisher's were not finishing when needed.

But the penalties taken by Bertuzzi in all the games I watched not just the final Russia one just made me go WTF?!?!. What is this guy’s major malfunction!! He was probably the biggest stand out for my frustrations with the team.

The whole team lacked the speed in my opinion to compete with the teams they played. Maybe Gretzky should look into the women’s program for the next team selection in Vancouver?? I don’t know what we feed our woman but they certainly are on another level when it came to hockey in this tournament.

Overall I think the team needed more youth, you didn’t see Russia opting out Malkin and Ovechkin for older players with experience. Most of the top young Canadian players playing today have represented in various world tournaments already and the Olympics would not be any different for most of them especially Crosby. That guy is basically carrying an NHL team on his back this season and to snub him for lack of experience was a bad move in my opinion.

As much as I like Joe Thornton I think he was a bad mix for Nash and I believe Crosby would have suited that line better with his creativity and speed.

Anyway as it turns out in the final Game it was youth not experience that got the job done for Russia. And we are left twiddling our thumbs for another 4 years waiting to see our team in the greatest hockey tournament every put together.

At 1:49 p.m., February 23, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for that rebuttal Chris, to my comments on the coaching. I do agree with you, I was just so clouded on the motivation/intensity factor...

Funny thing is, many articles are dumping on Quinn as being a dinosaur in the strategy department but with Hitch on the staff, wouldn't a couple words put into Pat's ear at an intermission (or how about in the middle of a period) be a requisite course of action? I would like to think that after 2 periods of less than stellar play, Hitch & Martin might have had a pow-wow with Pat to discuss a change in strategy. And if that didn't happen, then why not? And if it did happen, well we all know the result - Pat chose not to listen as that 3rd period looked the same as the other 2 to me...

At 3:22 p.m., February 23, 2006, Blogger Brushback said...

Eazy-E's "Gimme Dat Nut" is a brilliant and modern re-interpretation of Andrew Marvell's "To His Coy Mistress." LA hip-hop bridges the gap to the Cavalier poets for young minds

I'm still stuck trying to figure this one out.


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