DAY 10: MOVE OVER MEN
By Derek Jory, Canucks.com
There’s hockey being played at Canada Hockey Place, even though the men have a day off.
The gold and bronze medal games are playing out today on the women’s side of things.
The early game of the day had Finland beating Sweden 3-2 in overtime thanks to a goal from Karoliina Rantamaki.
”I just can’t believe it happened, we made it,” said Rantamaki.
Winning bronze is the equivalent of gold for Finland as it was clear gold was either going to Canada or the United States before the Olympcis began.
Their showdown begins at 3:30 p.m. (PST) in what is expected to be one of the greatest showdowns between these adversaries in history.
Remember when Canada beat the US for gold in Salt Lake City? This is going to be better than that.
Hard to believe.
BEHIND THE SCENES OLYMPIC PHOTO GALLERY
CANADA 2 USA 0
It’s loud in here. Real loud. Not quite at the level of the Canada/Russia game Wednesday, but amazing nonetheless.
Canadian fans dominate the crowd filling 90 per cent of the seats.
There’s one American who really stands out. He’s wearing a bright orange Philadelphia Flyers jersey.
If he went to his closet this morning and chose that to wear, I’m wondering what it beat…
This game began with some wide open, end-to-end hockey, but few shots on goal.
Once the teams settled into things, the shots started to fly. So did the mitt of Canadian keeper Shannon Szabados.
Szabados made two demented glove saves to spoil a pair of prime scoring chances for the United States; both Monique Lamoureux and Caitlin Cahow had goals taken away by the quickness of Szabados.
Canada took consecutive penalties midway through the period putting the home side down two players for 40 seconds. The penalty kill was successful on both counts and the momentum from the kills helped open the scoring.
On the next Canadian rush, Marie-Philip Poulin finished a one-timer from Jennifer Botterill set her up following a great play to keep the puck in the American zone.
The Canadian lead doubled to 2-0 2:45 later when, after winning a draw in the American end, Poulin collected a loose puck and snapped it under the glove of US goaltender Jessie Vetter.
She should have known Vetter.
It’s 2-0 Canada after 20 minutes of play; shots are 8-7 for the red and white.
Nobody wants to score on the power play. If someone ever does, this game could be decided.
It’s still 2-0 Canada but the home team left a few goals on the ice on two botched power plays; the Canadians are now 0-for-5 on the man advantage.
Believe it or not, that’s better than the American power play.
The red, white and blue, are 0-for-6 while up a skater, including two 5-on-3 opportunities.
Both Jayne Hefford and Becky Kellar were penalized for delay of game with 23 seconds of each other giving the US a golden opportunity to finally make a push for gold.
Canada eliminated the power plays with ease to remain ahead by a pair of goals.
Shots are 21-18 for the US.
The best teams in women’s hockey saved the best hockey of the women’s tournament for a frantic final 20 minutes.
With the refs putting away their whistles and letting the teams play, Canada and the US seesawed back and forth with quality scoring chances every minute, or so it seemed. Szabados and Vetter kept the door shut to keep the score in Canada’s favour.
The Americans pressed late, controlling play in the final 10 minutes. The Canadians were cautious not to turn the puck over and when they did all five were back to defend.
With 53 seconds left the US attempted to pull Vetter, but Canada put up a wall at centre ice forcing the keeper back to her post.
From there it was only a matter of time before the fans erupted and the Canadians piled on Szabados as GOLD MEDAL CHAMPIONS!
It looked like an equipment yard sale as sticks, gloves and helmets were sprawled all over the ice with the Canadian celebration beginning.
When it ends, no one knows.
LUONGO PREPARES FOR SLOVAK ATTACK
It isn’t quite as serious as being under house arrest, but Roberto Luongo is finding it awfully tough to stray too far from the athlete’s village.
He wouldn’t have it any other way.
Luongo is nearing Elvis-like popularity with each passing day; he’s become the face of Team Canada and of the Canadian surge for a golden finish on home soil.
Since supplanting Martin Brodeur in the Canadian net following a 5-3 loss to the United States, Luongo has won two consecutive games, both must-win contests ending in handshakes.
The Canucks keeper is now 2-0-1-0 with a 1.67 goals against average and .924 save percentage. Luongo has only been beaten five times on 66 shots.
No wonder everyone wants a piece of Bobby Lu.
”I’m trying to stay in doors as much as I can because a couple of times I’ve been outdoors I haven’t been able to walk too far,” laughed Luongo, one of a handful of players taking in the women’s gold medal game.
“Honestly, I’m in my own bubble right now. I’m just pretty much in the village and when I’m not I’m with my family, so I’m not really watching anything on TV or anything like that, I’m just trying to stay focused on what’s at hand here.”
What’s at hand is another mammoth game, one with a trip to Sunday’s gold medal finale, a game that Canadians have had their team penciled into for years, on the line.
To get there Luongo and Canada will have to best Slovakia. Led by a goal and two assists from Canucks sniper Pavol Demtira, Slovakia stunned Sweden Wednesday night.
Canadian fans in attendance cheered thinking their team’s gravel road to gold was suddenly paved.
Luongo isn’t underestimating the Slovak attack.
”They’re a good team, they’ve got some skilled players obviously, a lot of them, especially their forwards, play in the NHL,” said Luongo. “They’re got some skilled forwards and play a good team game right now and they’re dangerous with the puck, so we’ve got to make sure we’re on those guys. When their key players get the puck, much like the Russians yesterday, we can’t give those guys time and space to make plays.”
”I got home for the third period,” commented Luongo on catching a bit Wednesday night’s win by the underdogs, “I didn’t see what happened in the second, but they’re skilled players, you can’t take that away from them.
“Even though they didn’t have a lot of shots, they’ve got guys that can put pucks in the net and we’ve got to keep an eye out for Demo."
Coming into the tournament, no one was looking out for Demitra or the Slovaks. With all the top-tier talent competing for the major hockey powers, Slovakia flew under the radar through the preliminary round losing a tough game to the Czechs in the opener before beating Russia, Latvia, Norway and then Sweden.
Demitra has played a huge role in that as he’s tied for the tournament scoring lead with two goals and five assists in five games. Teammate Marian Hossa has been equally as dangerous with the same output.
”I didn’t know that, but I’m not surprised,” said Luongo in hearing Demitra is tied atop the points leaderboard with Hossa, Dany Heatley and Jonathan Toews.
“I’ve seen him play a little bit, he’s skating pretty well. Hopefully he’ll carry that over once we’re done here.”
The prospect of a rematch of the 2002 gold medal game between Canada and the United States is an intriguing one to say the least, especially with the Yankees having just creamed the Canucks in group play.
No host team has won gold since the Americans pulled off the feat in 1980 during the Miracle on Ice. You might have heard of it.
Let’s not get ahead of ourselves, though, Slovaks and Finns are waiting in the wings to play spoiler and both have proven that’s a role they’re good at.
”I don’t think I’m going to talk about that,” Luongo said, stick handling around his thoughts on a North American final for gold.
”It’s still a long ways away and like yesterday a lot of people were talking about us playing Sweden but you never know what can happen.
”There’s no point in jumping ahead of ourselves. We’re just taking it one day at a time here and if ever we do meet, we’ll have a day to talk about it.
BIEKSA CONTINUES SKATING
Good news, bad news came out of Thursday’s practice at 8 Rinks in Burnaby.
Kevin Bieksa took to the ice at least half an hour before the team and worked with the Canucks skills coach, then continued to participate in the full hour practice.
“I saw him before practice and he skated quite a long time,” said coach Alain Vigneault following practice. “I talked real briefly with him and he says he’s starting to feel better and hopefully we’ll have him back soon.”
Click here to read today's report from practice.
CANUCKS WILL WIN, NO MATTER WHAT
With a Canucks player remaining on all four teams left, we’re guaranteed to have one medal in each position.
Friday will feature a pair of semi-final games. Ryan Kesler leads the American charge against Sami Salo and the Finnish at 12:00 p.m. (PST). Roberto Luongo and Team Canada wil then face Pavol Demitra and Team Slovakia at 6:30 p.m. (PST).
What’s on the line? A trip to the gold medal game Sunday afternoon. The losers will faceoff Saturday for bronze.
While things look primed for a rematch of the 2002 Salt Lake City final of Canada and the United States, Finland and Slovakia are both capable of upsets.
Salo’s squad lost to Sweden finishing second at the 2006 Games, while Demitra and company knocked out those same Swedes with a quarter-final win Wednesday.
Any way you slice it, there will be medals in the Canucks dressing room following the Olympics.
With the exception of Salo, any player coming away with gold, silver or bronze will be on the podium for the first time in their career.
That’ll undoubtedly become the highlight of their career in a heartbeat.