Defence was the name of the game Thursday night at the Team Canada 2010 Olympic orientation camp scrimmage game, as the backend managed to consistently stifle the excessive offensive firepower from both teams. With physical play at a minimum, Team Canada's offensive prowess was expected to be on full display; however it was the backend for both Team Red and White that controlled the game throughout.
This was no disappointment to the 'Dome faithful, who were as enthusiastic as ever despite the time of year. Symptoms of the rabid fanaticism were everywhere; a warm August evening could not cool the spirits of the packed Saddledome. The sell-out crowd were already well into midseason form, as those in attendance gave the summer scrimmage a playoff atmosphere. A similar C of Red as the one found at the 'Dome during the season surrounded the rink, with one notable difference. While there was a solid contingent of red jerseys with the Flaming C on the front, there was an equally strong presence of fans sporting Team Canada jerseys.
The netminders stole the show early, specifically Roberto Luongo, who made a number of difficult stops on an antagonistic Red squad. Luongo's performance coaxed a 'Loooouuuuuu' cheer from a Calgary crowd whose response to the Canuck netminder sounds similar, but usually involved a switch of first consonants.
"All five of us at some point made a remarkable save, it's good, good for the game, the fans loved it, and it was nice that we could put on a show like that," said Luongo.
"Phenomenal" was the only word Ryan Smyth could find to describe the goaltenders performances. Smyth was one of the most active players for either side on offense, but had nothing but reverence for all the 'keepers.
"Obviously right from the get-go Lou (Luongo) made some unbelievable saves and set the standard early, same at the other end. They're top goalies for sure, and that's what this is all about, competing at a high level and competing against the best."
Luongo's opposite, Martin Brodeur, also looked solid, stopping a couple of surges from the Roy-Toews-St. Louis line. The best chance of the 1st came late in the frame, when Jordan Stall beat Luongo but rang his shot off the post.
The second period opened up quickly, as Ryan Smyth snuck a wrist shot past Brodeur 35 seconds in to give Team White a 1-0 lead. Jeff Carter answered for Team Red at 6:17, fighting through the congestion in front of the net to bury a rebound past Cam Ward. Patrick Marleau benefitted when Brent Seabrook fell in front of his own net, Marelau picked up the puck and neatly deposited it into the White goal, as Team Red took a 2-1 lead late.
"I don't know if we made any decisions or if they just got harder," said head coach Mike Babcock, who admitted he had an inkling that the game would not be as lackadaisical as the average scrimmage. "The players decide on the intensity, we provide the opportunity and they decide," said Babcock.
It wasn't just the goalkeepers who made life difficult for Team Canada's offense, each team skated so hard on defence, and played with such sound positioning, that they simply would not let their opponents build any positive momentum.
"We're stressing five guys down the ice, and five guys back," said Dan Boyle. "When you surround yourself with good players, it's an easier game out there. Guys are skating hard, I get to do what I do best, and everybody around me makes me better"
It took until half-way through the 3rd for Team Whites to even things up, when Corey Perry stuffed a wrap-around past Marc-Andre Fleury to tie the game 2-2.
The shootout finally provided the crowd with the offensive fix they showed up expecting, with Team Red winning 6-2. Though the game was not as smooth as expected as some players had trouble adjusting to their new linemates in a game setting, but with a defence as sound as the one on display Thursday, Team Canada's offense will likely have the opportunity to find its own way at its own pace.