DAY 11: SHADES OF '02
By Derek Jory, Canucks.com
One gold medal down, one to go.
Canada’s men’s team can come a step closer to following in the women’s footsteps with win in the semi-final versus Slovakia today.
A victory and it’s off to the gold medal game, just like in 2002.
Speaking of the Salt Lake City Games, the 2010 edition is starting to draw some stark comparisons to that memorable championship run for Canada.
In ’02, Canada limped out of the gates losing 5-2 to Sweden and a goalie controversy ensued. After Curtis Joseph allowed give goals to the Swedes, Martin Brodeur was given the net with a chance to shine.
Although the Canadians thumped Norway 8-0 in a shutout performance by Roberto Luongo to open the tournament this year, a goalie debate formed after Brodeur narrowly survived a shootout win against Switzerland before being eaten up for five goals against the Americans.
Luongo has been given the net with a chance to shine.
So far he has.
Czech Republic was defending champions in ’02, but they succumbed to a tough Russian squad in a quarter-final loss. That resulted in Canada having to face Belarus after they shocked everyone with a supreme upset over Sweden.
An upset over Sweden was in the cards this year as well with Slovakia taking down the defending champions. That gives Canada a seemingly easier road to the gold medal game, in theory.
In ’02 the Americans steamrolled everyone on their way to the title bout. Reminds me of this year. Finland will have something to say about that, though.
If history is indeed mimicking itself, Canada will face the United Stats for gold again. Whether the result is consistent to eight years ago remains to be seen.
It was on the women’s side, a good omen if nothing else.
BEHIND THE SCENES OLYMPIC PHOTO GALLERY
(Click here for a replay of Canada vs. Slovakia)
Liquor stores may have closed at 7 p.m. Friday, but drug stores remained open.
It’s a good thing because with all the anxiety Team Canada put the nation through in a 3-2 win over Slovakia in the semi-final, fans were in search of relief.
It likely come in forgetting about the slight win and focusing on the fact that gold is within reach.
After Canada built up a 3-0 lead through two periods off goals from Patrick Marleau, Brendan Morrow and Ryan Getzlaf, Slovakia awoke from its slumber to make a game of it.
Shots were 12-7 for the Slovaks in the third period as they ripped pucks on net from every angle hoping to get a bounce.
Roberto Luongo, with nine saves through 40 minutes, looked en route to his second shutout in four starts before Lubormir Visnovsky got that lucky bounce the Slovakians needed.
Three-minutes and 32 seconds later, Canada’s lead was down to one goal after Michal Handzus chipped in a shot in the crease.
For the final 4:53 of the period, the clock couldn’t tick fast enough.
Every time the once dormant Slovaks touched the puck, fans squirmed to the edge of their seats. It was car crash intense and was blind date awkward.
With less than 10 seconds left in the third, with Jaroslav Halak on the bench and Slovakia pressing, who else but Canucks teammate Pavol Demitra had a chance to beat Luongo to tie the game.
Luongo got a glove on it and Canada held on for the win.
”They were going to have one last push, they’re a good team, they didn’t get there for nothing,” said Luongo. “They threw everything at the net and fortunately they weren’t able to get the tying goal.”
Shots finished 28-21 for Canada, but after the second period they were 21-9 as fans began calling on the Americans, who the Canadians will face for gold Sunday.
An inch higher on Demitra’s shot and Canada might be faced with bronze versus Finland.
”When they made it 3-2, there was not a sense of panic that settled in for myself or my teammates,” Luongo said, adding that he has never had such a thrill between the pipes.
”That was the most fun I’ve ever had, if we would have lost I don’t know if I’d be saying that, but that’s what it’s all about right there.”
Canada’s reward for outlasting Slovakia is a game against the undefeated juggernaut United States.
Maybe swing by the drug store again before the monumental match. A cold sweat is guaranteed.
”It’s exciting, we can’t wait for Sunday, it’s going to be a great day, a great game and we’re looking forward to it. I’m going to rest up here the next day and a half and get ready to go.
“They’re obviously a good team, they haven’t lost yet and they’ve been playing some good hockey. Miller’s been playing great so we’ve got to execute our game plan like we did the first time around, just hope for a better result.”
In a rematch of the gold medal finale from the 2002 Olympics, Luongo will be called upon again to deliver. He has so far and in the net he occupies 42 games a year for 84 periods, in his home barn, in his home town, in front of his home fans, against Canada’s most intense rival, there’s no chance he won’t do it again.
Let the worrying begin.
(Click here for a replay of USA vs. Finland)
Even after that, a 6-1 thrashing of Finland, American Ryan Kesler still believes his team is an underdog heading into Sunday’s gold medal game.
In Friday’s semi-final win over the Finns, the Americans were at their absolute best scoring six goals in the opening 12:46 of the first period.
They chased Miikka Kiprusoff, who came into the game with the best save percentage and second lowest goals against average in tournament play, after only seven shots, and beat backup Niklas Backstrom twice on his first four shots against, 15 seconds apart.
Ryan Malone, Zach Parise, Erik Johnson, Paul Stastny and Patrick Kane had the USA goals (two for Kane), while Ryan Miller stopped all 18 shots faced for the second consecutive game in 48:29 of ice time. Miller made way for Tim Thomas late in the third to give the keeper some Olympic play.
The quick start by the Americans had this game sealed early, said Kesler.
”The first 14 minutes we were all over them, I think if you asked anybody in our locker room if we’d be up 6-0 at the end of the first, we’d all look at you crazy.
”It was one of those games where we were thinking a 1-0, 2-0 game and we just jumped on them early and kept coming.”
It was a horrible game in goal for Finland’s Kiprusoff, as his three saves indicates.
The first goal of the game was scored on a gaff by the Calgary Flames goaltender.
Two minutes into the period, an American defender spotted Phil Kessel surging down the middle of the ice and he sent a pass his way. The puck was just out of reach for Kessel but the prospect of a breakaway was still present, so Kipprusoff made a move to play the puck.
Too bad he played it to Ryan Malone, who had followed up on the play and immediately snapped it into the empty net.
That was the beginning of the end for Kipper and the Finns.
”He shot out of a canon,” said Kesler about Kessel. “He came out with a lot of speed to get down the ice that quick to make Kipper make a mistake there and Ryan Malone jumped right on the puck and put it in the empty net.
“It was definitely a gritty goal and that’s the kind of goals we need.”
The domino effect was swift with back-to-back power play goals for the Americans putting the game out of reach a mere 8:36 in. Insult to injury were the three goals in 2:38 that followed.
Underdogs don’t chase the defending silver medalists from the building while the ice is still wet. Top dogs do.
The fact that no one had the Americans winning gold in Vancouver is still fueling Kesler, and surely a few more on the team, so even though they’re undefeated, they’re underdogs.
Doesn’t make sense to me either.
”I still think we are an underdog, would you take us in the gold medal game?” Kesler asked the throng of reporters gathered to hear him speak afterwards.
“I don’t think so.
“No one is betting on us to win and we’re going into this game with nothing to lose and no pressure and we’re going to keep playing the same way we’ve been playing the entire tournament.”
That pack mentality has the Americans on the cusp of a golden finish to an Olympics they’re dominating on the medal podium.
The USA beating Finland is only half of the magic equation, however, as the matchup everyone and their dogs want to see is still up in the air.
If it is Canada vs. United States…actually, let’s not go there. Once Canada wins we’ll start previewing the most anticipated game in the history of hockey.
Kesler had no problem shedding some light on the team he expects to face.
”If we do play Canada, it’s going to be a big game.
“We’ve got to use our speed and try to outhit them and try to outwork them, be hard on their skill and throw as many pucks at the net as possible.”
There to stop them: Roberto Luongo.