It wasnt pretty. In fact, it was uglier than The Incredible Hulk, but Canada will play for the World Cup Tuesday night against the upstart Team Finland.
For the first time in the tournament, the Canadians were the second-best team on the ice all night. Despite holding leads of 1-0, 2-0, 2-1, and 3-2, it was clear that if not for Roberto Luongos heroics, the Canadians would have to explain to an entire nation exactly what went wrong.
The Czech Republic, led by superstar Jaromir Jagr, who was lethal despite being held pointless, beat Canada at their own game for much of the night. They got the puck deep, cycled like it was the Tour de France, and bullied the Canadian defense. Guys like Jagr and Milan Hejduk were aggressive, often initiating contact themselves, while the smaller guys like Martin Havlat and Patrik Elias provided offense with slippery dangles and quick feet.
It was a relatively uneventful first period, as the most curious thing to occur was Roberto Luongo taking to the Canadian net. He started for Martin Brodeur, who was hampered by a wrist injury to the point that he could not compete. It wasnt entertaining early, though it was obvious the Czechs had come to play, as they repeatedly beat Canada to the puck, outworking them to an edge in play after twenty minutes, but nothing to show on the scoreboard.
The second started much the same, with the Czechs hemming Canada in and working them for full shifts at a time. Then the muck line of Thornton, Draper, and Doan, poked it loose and carried it into Czech territory, getting it out front. Big defenseman Eric Brewer was coming hard, and he shoved the Draper pass in to make it 1-0. About three minutes later, Canada was swarming Czech goalie Tomas Vokoun on a powerplay, and Mario Lemieux potted his long-awaited first goal of the tournament, assists being credited to Vinny Lecavlier and Brad Richards.
At 2-0, memories of the Slovak romp were creeping into heads across Canada. However forty-two seconds after Lemieux scored, Petr Cajanek told Canada to hold their collective phones, banking a puck in off Adam Foote to make it 2-1.
The third began the same as the first two periods, with a WHOLE lot of Czech buzzing, and a crumbling Canada holding on like grim death. Havlat broke through after Lecavlier was sent to the box on a questionable holding call, as a Tomas Kaberle point shot (yes I said he shot from the point, apparently he DOES know where to ACC nets are located) hopped off Luongo and landed like a saucer pass on Havlats tape. He buried the PP marker to make it two-all.
For the rest of the third, the Czechs peppered Luongo and owned Canada, imposing their will all over the ice. That was until Kris Draper, who shadowed Jagr perfectly all game, broke away on a partial 2-on-1. He kept, and it was a good decision as he wired the biscuit top cheese to make it 3-2. Draper and Joe Thornton had two points each for the muck line.
However if you blinked, you missed it. In what I can honestly say was the fastest turnaround Ive ever seen outside of a game produced by EA Sports, the Czechs knotted it at three when Patrik Elias fired a loose puck by Luongo only six seconds after the Draper goal. It was somewhat of a soft one to allow, though Scott Niedermayer posed a slight screen to the Canadian keeper.
Overtime saw Canada collapsing like a poorly-made cake in their own end, spreading their coverage thin and taxing their defense that much more as a result. However just when you thought the Canadian meal ticket was nearing its expiry, they cleared the zone and Vinny Lecavlier brought the puck in over the Czech line. Despite losing it, he stayed in the play and weaselled away from Marek Malik in front. Ryan Smyth put the puck on goal, and it bounded off Malik, giving Lecavlier two whacks at it. In spite of a swinging strike, Lecavlier regained control of the puck on the icing line with Vokoun sprawled and badly out of position. He deposited his second chance in the proper receptacle to give Canada a thrilling but disgusting 4-3 OT win. It can safely be said that tonight the Czech Republic deserved to be moving on, as they outplayed Canada tenfold. Sometimes the lesser squad wins it, and tonight that was very much the case.
Luongo put up 37 saves in replacing Brodeur tonight for his first win. He says hell be ready to go in the championship if they need him, but its suspected Brodeur could be good to go by then. Tomas Vokoun looked shaky, and probably could have been exposed if Canada didnt lay such an egg. He made 20 saves in taking the loss.
The championship game will see Canada and Finland lock horns in Finlands first ever final in a best-on-best tournament. That game will go 7et on Tuesday at the ACC in Toronto.
Canadians thought he might
never score again. Then he did. But it was waved off. And Canadians
believed once more that he may never score again. But then he
did again, and it wasnt waved off. Thus Wednesday night
crafted a story in which goal-scorers were scoring, playmakers
were making plays, and Canada moved on in the 2004 World Cup
In a one-sided affair, Team Canada trounced Slovakia by a final of 5-1. The Canadians had been seen all along as the tournament favorites by all who comment on the game, and the performance at the Bell Centre in Montreal this evening truly cemented that.
The Canucks exploited the
questionable Slovak defense time and time again, dominating them
throughout the night with ease. All five Canadian goals were
a result of suspect defensive lapses or generally poor errors
that cannot be made in a tournament of this magnitude.
From there, the second periods lone goal was another defensive lapse, as the little man that can, Marty St. Louis picked a pocket, stepped in over the line, and saucered a feed over to an awaiting Simon Gagne. Gagne finished off the 2-on-1 with a nifty redirection despite the puck nearly being deflected away by Zdeno Chara, who was somewhat of a goat tonight.
The third saw Lightning striking
all over the place, as Tampa Bay gunner Brad Richards fed his
teammate Marty St. Louis a tasty dish, making it 4-0. Within
minutes however, another member of the Stanley Cup champs, Martin
Cibak, got one back for the Slovaks. Notwithstanding, Ryan Smyth
finished the scoring the only way he knows how, mucking in a
rebound, and the final was on the board at 5-1 red and white.
At the same time, a night of positives for Canada still had a huge negative. Ottawa Senators defender Wade Redden went down with an upper body injury late in the first, making him the second casualty on the defense core in as many nights. Hell be re-evaluated at a later date.
Slovakia moves across the border to play the USA in St. Paul, Minnesota Friday (7pm/et). Canada is off until Saturday, moving to Toronto to finish out the preliminary round against Russia Saturday night (7pm/et).
If you walked in on a conversation about tonights game in mid stride, youd almost think the Bell Centre was on fire early in the evening, but authorities got it under control. You would certainly hear a remark to the effect of ...it was explosive early, but it kind of died down later on.... There was no fire, however. Only a hockey game that saw Team Canada (1-0-0) defeat the USA (0-1-0) 2-1 in what had all the makings of a donnybrook that only these two teams could have.
Canada came out like a team possessed early on, at no point taking no for an answer. They beat the States to every puck, or simply hammered them into submitting the biscuit willingly. Shane Doan and Brenden Morrow looked to be serving a purely physical purpose up front early on, while Robyn Regehr and Eric Brewer punished American forwards on Canadas back end. The vicious Canadians took the US to school in every aspect in the first 25 minutes of the game, at one point having out-chanced them 18-0 (yes, thats a zero, not a typo). As a result, they held a 2-0 lead , as Marty St. Louis had his first two points as a representative of his country and the star-studded powerplay was 2-for-4 at the midway point when Joe Sakic added a goal.
However the USA weathered the storm and saw Bill Guerin reply to pull his team within one. The score stood at 2-1 after forty minutes, and there it would stand after sixty minutes as well, due to an uneventful third period that saw Canada slog it and the US fail to break the defensive wall quickly being laid in the Canucks zone as time ticked away.
Robert Esche (0-1-0) was the busier netminder, and looked very sharp, only being beaten from the top of the crease and also on a deflection on his way to a 30-save night. Martin Brodeur (1-0-0) had a relatively easy time, only scrambling to make a save once during the night and he can thank his defense for their impeccable work on this, a 23-save night for him.
Both teams had key losses,
as the US lost Mike Modano in the first due to an undisclosed
injury that was believed to be lower body and Canadian defender
Ed Jovanovski also left in the first after landing awkwardly
with his leg tangled in Eric Weinrich. Neither Modano nor Jovanovski
returned, and both will be re-evaluated at a later date.
World Cup Preview: The Overall Scheme of Things
For the first time since 1996 and the second time in hockey history, 8 prime hockey nations will gather and battle for hockey supremacy in the World Cup of Hockey 2004. Canada, Czech. Republic, Russia, Germany, Slovakia, Sweden, Finland, and the defending champion USA will attempt to prove that they are the greatest hockey nation in the world, and this best-on-best tournament will go a long way in proving such a claim. To complete my pre-tournament columns, today Ill be finishing up with how I see the grand scheme of the tournament shaping up.
For those of you who may not have read my prior columns, I have predicted the team records for both pools, and obviously the divisional seeding at the end of round robin play. They shaped up as seen below:
North American Pool
The setup for the playoff
bracket see the (1) seed play the (4) seed of their own pool.
Hence my predictions see the matchups as:
(4) Germany @ (1) Czech.
(3) Finland @ (2) Sweden
North American Pool
(3) USA @ (2) Canada
European Pool Championship
North American Pool Championship
World Cup Game
So the overall scheme of
things as I see it would be as follows:
Thus my World Cup preview is completed. Hopefully Ill come out of this looking like a genius, but if I dont Ill willingly accept any hate-mail or other comments at MatthewRyder@oa515.com (Subject: Column). Ill be posting reports on Canadas efforts on days after games beginning with the USA to be posted September 1. Thanks for reading, for spectorshockey.net, Im Matthew Ryder.
World Cup Preview: North
For the first time since 1996 and the second time in hockey history, 8 prime hockey nations will gather and battle for hockey supremacy in the World Cup of Hockey 2004. Canada, Czech. Republic, Russia, Germany, Slovakia, Sweden, Finland, and the defending champion USA will attempt to prove that they are the greatest hockey nation in the world, and this best-on-best tournament will go a long way in proving such a claim. To complete my World Cup pool previews, Ill be breaking down the North American pool and looking at how I see each team stacking up in the grand scheme of the tournament.
The tournaments biggest
surprise is likely to come in the form of an abysmal showing
from the Mighty Red Russians. With the losses of Nikolai Khabibulin
and Evgeni Nabokov, Russias goaltending is suspect at the
absolute best, with the unproven Ilya Bryzgalov likely to be
the #1 man and two nobodies in Alexander Fomichev and Maxim Sokolov
joining from Russian club teams, the goaltending is likely to
be pathetic on a good day. The defense is okay, though no one
man stands out as a leader despite the addition of a steady former
NHLer in Oleg Tverdovsky. The forwards see an aging Alexander
Mogilny dress for Russia for the first time since his defection,
as well as the best young player in hockey Ilya Kovalchuk and
the supposed next big thing Alexander Ovechkin all
trying to pull Russia in the right direction. Unfortunately a
lack of either Bure brother, coupled with the loss of the savvy
Alex Zhamnov and the forever-dangerous Sergei Fedorov is going
to see Russia on the outside looking in when the round robin
Team Canada has to be seen as the favorite going into this years World Cup. Even with the losses of top tier NHLers Steve Yzerman, Chris Pronger, Ed Belfour, and Rob Blake, they fill the holes with guys like Vinny Lecavlier, Jay Bouwmeester, Jose Theodore, and Scott Hannan as though they were coming off of an assembly line. The fast-paced skill of guys like Sakic and St. Louis mingles perfectly with the fluent playmaking of a Brad Richards or a Mario Lemieux, while the hard-nosed gruntwork will be handled by the muck line of Doan-Draper-Maltby. Throw in Jarome Iginla whos the best power forward in hockey today and steps it up when it counts, and no one should derail the Canadians. And that paragraph doesnt even contain the word Brodeur.
Team USA has kind of become the 21-year-old guy whos still the first one at the high school parties. It was a good run, but their time has passed. Despite being one of the most respectable players in the modern era, Brian Leetch is not capable of putting this defense on his shoulders without the help Derian Hatcher wouldve been. Ken Klee, Chris Chelios, and Jordan Leopold are all good NHL defensemen, but not great, and therein lies a problem. The forwards have stellar areas but very little grit, which is the North American game. Guys like Gomez and Modano will provide some spark, but the collection is a modest group of guys who have been prone to a good year occasionally, and that makes it hard to think of them with the World Cup hoisted proudly in the air. The goaltending is strong in theory, but unproven in reality. Ty Conklin has half a year as a platoon starter to his name, ditto for Rick DiPietro. Robert Esche has been revealed by Toronto and Tampa Bay as being easily rattled and shaky on shots from outside forty feet. All in all it doesnt look good between the pipes, and even if good goaltending sprouts up from this average trio, the age and lack of grit is something that should ground the States.
Below I list how I see this division shaping up after the round robin is completed:
Ill have one more column before the tournament outlining the medal round and my predictions for a winner and the 2 through 8 placings.Also Ill be reporting on Canadas efforts throughout the tournament in their quest for the World Cup. Any questions or comments Ill happily respond to, so please e-mail me at MatthewRyder@oa515.com (Subject: Column). Thanks for reading, for spectorshockey.net, Im Matthew Ryder.
World Cup Preview: European Pool
For the first time since 1996 and the second time in hockey history, 8 prime hockey nations will gather and battle for hockey supremacy in the World Cup of Hockey 2004. Canada, Czech. Republic, Russia, Germany, Slovakia, Sweden, Finland, and the defending champion USA will attempt to prove that they are the greatest hockey nation in the world, and this best-on-best tournament will go a long way in proving such a claim. In this my inaugural column, Ill preview the European Pool and briefly look at each teams strengths and weaknesses.
Aside from the Germans, every team has a legitimate shot at taking it all. And even Germany with an intelligent, thinking-mans style of play and stellar netminding may surprise hockey prognosticators such as myself. I predict theyll be the eighth place squad at this years tournament, but Im fully willing to eat my words if they prove me wrong.
The Czech Republic is reeling after not medaling in the Olympics, so look for a sound showing from Jaromirs team. Perennial NHL bum turned international sniper and probable captain Robert Reichel will boost his homeland incredibly as his inspired play on the big ice is something Leaf fans had begged for during his entire tenure in blue and white. The always- enigmatic Roman Cechmanek standing in the blue ice wont hurt the teams chances if his awkward style keeps teams guessing, but even if he comes up lame Tomas Vokoun is primed to step in and become the next big Czech-born thing to make a living stopping rubber. Nothing this team does will be surprising unless its lose a lot and get blown out of the European division. Always a threat, and now with Robert Lang as a real-deal scoring threat behind Jagr, the Czechs shouldnt be taken lightly.
Sweden is always a team on the cusp of greatness, and I think this year is no different. The potential loss of Peter Forsberg is something that no team anywhere could recover from, so for their sake and the sake of entertaining hockey, I hope hes good to go. A team built on stellar forwards such as Sundin, Naslund and the Sedins, and a sound defense core that is led by multi-Norris man Nicklas Lidstrom and the rugged but underrated Mattias Norstrom, the Swedes could come out of this division easily. The goaltending is a massive question mark however with the Belarus-shell shock still gripping Tommy Salo, and without a capable netminder the Swedes are a hard team to judge.
Across the border, Team Finland prepares for another run into the upper echelon of hockey greatness, and they may finally be poised to do so. They play a controlled chaos style of game that sees the scrappy, physical play of the Swedes mingle with the smart (though far less defensive-minded) style Germany takes to the ice. They have a pool of talented forwards that can score and wont back down in the Koivus (Saku and younger brother Mikko), Tuomo Ruutu, Teemu Selanne among others. The goaltending for maybe the first time in my lifetime is not a question mark in Finland, as Mikka Kiprusoff has proven quite capable of holding the fort and giving the Finns a shot to win every night. If theres a weakness the Finns have its the defense, as Teppo Numminen cant play sixty minutes a game and once you get past him, Joni Pitkannen is #2 on the depth chart. However Kiprusoff is good enough to cover up such problems, and if hes on the Finns could be the sleeper of this tournament.
Below I list how I see this division shaping up after the round robin is completed:
Won Loss Tied
Ill be back with my preview of the North American Pool before the tournament starts on August 30th, and Ill also be reporting on Canadas efforts throughout the tournament in their quest for the World Cup. Any questions or comments Ill happily respond to, so please e-mail me at MatthewRyder@oa515.com (Subject column). Thanks for reading, for spectorshockey.net, Im Matthew Ryder.
|The opinions expressed on this page are of the author, and in no way reflect the views of the NHL, it teams or players. All material in World Cup fo Hockey Journal copyright (C) 2004 Spector's Hockey. Reproduction of this material in whole, or in part, without consent by the author or Spector's Hockey is prohibited.|