Rafalski led U.S. to hockey upset

By STEVE SIMMONS, QMI Agency



VANCOUVER - The oldest and smallest — and maybe the smartest — player on Team USA has relegated Team Canada to longshot in the Olympic hockey tournament.

OK, so Brian Rafalski didn’t to it alone Sunday at GM Place. But at times, it looked as though he could, almost appearing like he was having a private party and his old New Jersey teammate, Martin Brodeur, was one of the invited guests.

On a team of high-energy kids looking for someone to show them the Olympic way, the underrated Rafalski did what no Canadian player could manage in the most anticipated game yet of this Olympic tournament. He led. He scored twice from the back-end, and had his shot tipped in by another Devil, Jamie Langebrunner, for the huge fourth goal — and showed the kind of veteran composure that has made him one of the least-appreciated great players in hockey.

This win was huge for American hockey. The defeat is devastating for Canada.

This win changes almost everything about the Olympic hockey draw and puts even more heat on already pressured Canadian team.

And now, Team Canada is left to struggle and wonder why after losing its first game of the Olympics, 5-3 to Team USA, and finding itself in a place no one thought possible: Instead of being part of the Top Four, they are left fighting among the bottom eight, with an extra game added to their schedule.

And the way this tournament has started for Mike Babcock’s Canadian roster, the extra game is probably not the worst thing that could happen right now.

On Sunday, while dominating only small portions of the game and paying no attention to the shots on goal, this Canadian team still doesn’t seem right. They don’t produce enough offence. They weren’t able to get any kind of second shots at the impressive Ryan Miller in the Team USA net.

They lacked the kind of desperation and urgency that’s needed to win at the highest levels.

If this Canadian team is going to find itself playing for gold, let alone any medal, they’re going to have to improve their game. This is too much like the rest of Canada’s Olympic roster of athletes. This isn’t good enough.

Brodeur in goal was sloppy with the puck and in his carelessness, two goals ended up in the Canada net. The calls that were out for Roberto Luongo to start this game have been heard already throughout Vancouver and the rest of Canada.

And while some Canadian players are playing hard enough individually, this team lacks cohesion, offensive togetherness and a sense of any offensive rhythm. Four years ago in Turin the Canadian team ended up in seventh place because it couldn’t score, but more than that because it wasn’t able to generate offence and had trouble passing the puck.

The players have changed. The coaches have changed. The direction has changed. But the song remains the same.

This was a huge win for the Americans, for Rafalski, for Miller, for coach Ron Wilson and the heartbroken Brian Burke. This puts them in first or second place for the tournament, depending how the Finland-Sweden game ended late Sunday night. This gives them the best possible draw in the cross-over playoffs.

Team Canada should be so lucky.

An unexpected extra playoff game is now part of their schedule. And if they get through that game, their first match against the final eight is guaranteed to be difficult.

This wasn’t the plan. The extra game is needed now for this team to find itself — and for this team to advance.

steve.simmons@sunmedia.ca

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