SOCHI, RUSSIA - They are all first-liners on their club teams, forwards who got noticed, got drafted and got paid because of their ability to score.
But Team Canada’s forwards played like a bunch of fourth-liners Friday in their 1-0 win over the United States and that is not in any way a criticism; it is praise.
This was a game where a group of 12 forwards did the grunt work — the leg-burning, head-down grind back to their zone, the tracking of opposition forwards, the stripping of pucks.
Team Canada’s dirty dozen got their uniforms grimy against the Americans and now coach Mike Babcock’s team will try to win its second straight Olympic gold Sunday against Sweden.
“A lot of guys,” said Team Canada forward Corey Perry, “did a lot of good things.”
Perry fell in front of a shot in the seventh minute of the game and was left wincing on the bench.
Canadian Ryan Getzlaf chased American forward T.J. Oshie through the neutral zone like Getzlaf was one of Sochi’s stray dogs and Oshie was wearing a filet mignon sweater. Oshie never got to the Canadian blueline.
Team Canada captain Sidney Crosby was stealing pucks with the stealth of a pick-pocket.
Taking away the speed of American forward Patrick Kane in the middle of the ice was a big part of the Canadian plan. Halfway through the third period, with Canada protecting a 1-0 lead, Kane was moving up the left side. Team Canada defenceman Alex Pietrangelo stepped up to cut him off and Kane chipped the puck by him. Canadian forward Patrick Marleau, in full flight, streaked by them both and back into his own zone to get the puck.
Pietrangelo can only neutralize Kane like that if he knows Marleau is roaring back to puck collect.
“Keep moving your feet, that’s all we kept saying is, keep moving your feet, especially on the backcheck,” said Perry of the mantra on the Canadian bench. “If they get time to make plays, they’re going to burn you.”
It’s the way Babcock had his forwards play in the Detroit Red Wings’ glory runs.
“It’s huge. You see the way the Wings play, it’s just like that in the playoffs,” said Team Canada defenceman Duncan Keith. “It can be frustrating. It allows us defenceman more time to go back to the puck and make a quick play. You can definitely tell it’s a lot harder when the forward isn’t there. I think our forwards have done a great job all tournament.”
They are players used to playing in big situations and they can do that because they take care of the small details.
“There’s a lot of winners in that dressing room,” said Team Canada goaltender Carey Price. “They all know how to play in tough situations and feel comfortable being uncomfortable.”
HEAR AND THERE
The gold-medal champion women’s hockey team sat in the end behind Price for two periods after Hayley Wickenheiser, Brianne Jenner and Shannon Szabados crafted a note that was put up in the men’s dressing room. “Tonight is yours. Own the moment. We are proof that every minute matters. The Podium is reserved for the brave. Earn every inch, dictate the pace + go get em. From the Girls!” it said. Canadians must hope they are working on another message for Sunday ... The Swedes got this far without captain Henrik Zetterberg, who had to pull out of the Games with a bad back. “He had a floating piece of a disc lodged in a nerve in his back,” Red Wings general manager Ken Holland told Helene St. James of The Detroit Free Press. That sounds awful. Don’t want to even think about how it feels ... For those who think defenceman Dan Hamhuis did nothing because he didn’t have a shift, you would be wrong. When Team Canada defenceman Shea Weber broke his stick five minutes into the third period, Hamhuis showed great hustle getting a stick ready for him ... Forward Martin St. Louis didn’t see the ice either and alternated between “The Grocery Stick” — that spot on the bench between the defencemen and forwards where a player doesn’t have to move — and the end of the bench, where he sat with backup goaltender Roberto Luongo.
There’s no such thing as a perfect hockey game (what is that? Score on every shot, don’t allow any?), but Price was asked how close Team Canada came to playing it Friday. “If we were to get that result and think about that result and visualize it at the start of the day, we’d say mission accomplished,” he said. ... The Finns won’t be sending Teemu Selanne out of his last Olympics with a gold medal after losing to Sweden Friday. “It looked to me like we were one step behind. We didn’t play our best game of the tournament and that was even more disappointing than the result,” said the Finnish Flash. “They played well, but still I know we can play better than that, so that’s why it hurts.”
One of the reasons to like a guy like Swedish goaltender Henrik Lundqvist is he doesn’t duck and cover. The only goal he gave up to Finland Friday wasn’t a good one, a shot along the goal line that got underneath him. “I was late to kind of get ready for the shot. Obviously that goal is mine, I need to stop that,” he said. “But the important thing is how you respond. I did the right things, I played my game and the team didn’t panic, we still played our game. We believed we could turn this around and we did.” That’s called accountability.
Buffalo Sabre Zenon Konopka tweeted during the game: “I love that most Buffalo Bars aren’t serving Canadian beer today ... What a game ... Great Day for hockey.” But not for beer drinking without Canadian suds, right? (though I will allow that a Sam Adams Boston Lager is a worthy alternative.) ... Is it really a good idea to have cheerleaders doing their pompom thing on the stairs at the Bolshoy Ice Dome? I saw a guy get hit right in the face as he was coming down the stairs. There are worse things than getting hit in the face by a cheerleader, but it can still put a damper on the evening.
THE LAST WORD
Finland’s Sami Lepisto got a pointed question about the team coming up short in big games. He gave a pointed answer. “I don’t know. That’s a good question,” he said. “In Vancouver we s**t the bed against the U.S. Today, I felt like we didn’t have our best game. I don’t know. It’s very disappointing. ”