January 03, 2009

WJHC - Quarter Finals: Who'da thunk it?

The early game had Team USA playing Team Slovakia. Before each game, the four of us pick a winner and the spread. We all assumed USA would take the game - it was just a matter of by how much. I picked 5, Rose Ann said 7, Wade 4 (I think), and I can't remember what the spousal unit (Ken) picked .

Don't take our investment advice either.

Jaroslav Janus served notice early that he was on top of his game. Again, I won't try to cover the game as anyone with access to TSN or a major newspaper will provide all the gory details.

To me it looked like Team USA underestimated the Slovaks and were unable to adapt or change gears when the world did not unfold as they had predicted. Sure, Janus had the hot hand AND the incredible puck-luck but it didn't look like the Americans made any adjustments. They looked pretty flat for the most part. A goalie change might have charged them up. Every great, unbelievable save by Janus just seemed to deflate them a bit more. Schroeder's anemic penalty shot was less than inspiring. He was so slow, I could have stopped the darn thing.

Rolston pulled McCollum with over 2 minutes to go in the third. They had a face-off down in the Slovaks' end but the Slovaks were winning their share of face offs so waiting for possession might have been more prudent. But perhaps Rolston was thinking, "no guts, no glory". It lead to an EN that pretty much sealed the deal even though they got it back with a very late goal from vanRiemsdyk.

From what I could tell, Team USA gave the media a pass at the end of the game. I have not seen one word in the print media or on TV. They looked like they were hoping the ice would just swallow them up.

The Slovakian celebration was great to watch. Arms draped over each others shoulders (including team management on the bench) you could hear the young men singing their national anthem as their flag was raised in honour of their win. Then the huddle at centre ice to celebrate their astonishing upset.

Team USA now plays Team Czech Republic for 5th spot. 5th spot. Who'da thunk it? There will be the usual navel gazing after this performance. The Americans have 8 players from the CHL (including 3 from Memorial Cup winning Spokane Chiefs). The rest of the roster (14) comes from NCAA teams. Maybe the jump from NCAA-level hockey to World Junior hockey is too much.

The second game of this double header was the Russia - Czech Republic. I said it would be a 1-goal game, Ken said 3, Rose Ann - 5 and Wade said it would go to a shoot-out but he didn't say who would win.

It seemed that the puck-luck gods were on Russia's side for this game as their goalie stopped some sure goals and dodged a few bullets as well. The Russians started strong and were outshooting the Czechs by a good margin for a while but the Czechs never gave up and it was a close game until the third period when Russia started pumping in the goals. The back-breaker was the 5-on-3 short-handed goal scored by Grachev. That guy can cover a lot of ice with those long legs.

It was interesting to see two European teams play a European game (although we had seen the Russia - Sweden game, Russia was not really into that game). I can't quite put my finger on the difference. It was fast, open, some hits (not many), and entertaining. Also, with the penalties for fighting so punitive:
a) A player who intentionally takes off his glove/s in a fight or altercation shall be assessed a:
➤Misconduct penalty (10’)
b) A player who starts fisticuffs shall be assessed a:
➤Match penalty (MP)

you don't see any fights. You will see the usual scrums but the linesmen are quick to step in and I didn't see a glove hit the ice in any of these scrums all tournament so far. Can't say that I miss the fighting nor that the absence of fighting made the game any less entertaining when played by well-matched opponents. When viewed through the lens of the tragic death of Don Sanderson, it may be time to revisit my blood lust. I hate boxing (where the whole intent of the sport is to pound the opponent into oblivion) so why should fighting in hockey be considered part of the game. Food for thought.

I chatted briefly about the Canada - USA game with a scout. According to the rules, the goal by Boychuk should have been disallowed and everyone should have been returned to the penalty boxes.
➤1. If a player illegally enters the game from his own player’s bench or from the penalty bench by his own error or the error of the Penalty Bench Attendant, any goal scored by his own team shall be disallowed, while he is illegally on the ice, but all penalties imposed to both teams shall be served.
➤2. If the player leaves the penalty bench because of an error of the Penalty Bench Attendant, he shall not be penalized but shall serve the remaining amount of time of his penalty when he re-entered the game.
➤3. The Penalty Bench Attendant shall note the time and advise the Referee at the first stoppage of play.
When the American coach protested, the referee should have stopped everything, gone to the scorekeeper's desk and sorted the whole thing out. When I mentioned this to the scout, he suggested that the international officials were too intimidated by the Canadian crowd. They are not used to this level of fan enthusiasm. I find it hard to believe but on the other hand, the officiating was pretty erratic. Maybe they were nervous in front of this crowd.

If this had happened to Canada, you can bet it would have been treated like an international incident and our heads of mission would have been temporarily recalled "for meetings" in protest.

Today's double header: the semi finals with Team Sweden taking on Team Slovakia and Team Canada meeting Team Russia. Not making any predictions this time.

Welcome to hockey country!! Now it gets interesting.

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