Team Canada found yet another way to vanquish its opposition at the WCOH, simply confirming what we've all known for some time . . . these guys own the game.
In a result that shocked nobody, Team Canada won the 2016 World Cup of Hockey last night, edging Team Europe 2 - 1. They did it in a particularly gruesome way, allowing Team Europe to think that a Zdeno Chara goal just six minutes into the contest was all they needed, and conveying the impression that the Europeans were actually stymying the red & white squad for just over 57 minutes. That was mere illusion, of course, as a Canadian team that had trailed for less than three minutes -- in total -- entering this contest, was simply calculating the most diabolical method of inflicting defeat.
Ultimately, they decided that turning a 1 - 0 deficit into a 2 - 1 victory in the final 2:53 of the game — without benefit of an even strength goal — was the solution. Thus, at 17:07, Patrice Bergeron executed a nasty deflection of a Brent Burns point shot to tie the score, with some guy named Crosby earning the second assist. Next, in the interests of making things challenging, Drew Doughty took a high-sticking penalty with 1:50 left to play, again providing Team Europe with hope of at least extending the game to overtime, and possibly eking out a regulation victory with a power play goal. Fools.
Instead, Canada elected to ignore the numerical disadvantage, and resort to its inherent speed and skill. Pietrangelo started the rush with a pass to Jonathan Toews, who took the puck to the middle, and deftly dropped the puck to Brad Marchand. Marchand blistered the puck past Jaroslav Halak for the short-handed game winner. Halak, who had been brilliant to that point, was left shaking his head , draped along the boards, wondering what had happened. All that was left was for Canada to accept the ugliest trophy in sport, and disperse the squad to NHL training camps.
Halak is part of a very non-exclusive club. Canada has not lost a game in “best-on-best” competitions (a particularly irritating phrase that has recently been in vogue) since they dropped a 5 - 3 decision to the United States in the preliminary round at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver. To put in perspective, that's almost as long as Sidney Crosby has been trying to grow a moustache.
Speaking of Crosby, he earned the MVP for the tournament, and extended the streak of national team victories when he is in the lineup to 26. Roll that number around your brain for a while. 26. That’s absurd. For his part, Carey Price is 16 - 0 when donning the sweater with the maple leaf. Heady stuff.
Canadian dominance at the international level has reached the point where national focus is now on the fact that Canadian representation in the NHL dropped below 50% for the first time last year, and that Canada has only one World Juniors gold medal since 2009, while the United States and Finland have two each. If that’s the worst you have to worry about, the quality of your problems is not bad. Dilution of numbers in the NHL is an inevitable result of expansion — primarily to U.S. cities, an increased popularity of hockey in America, the vast population discrepancy between Canada and the U.S. and increased hockey development in Europe and Scandanavia.
Despite all of those factors, there is nobody better when Canada decides to get the band back together for international competition. They force opponents to change their games, and get into the heads of opposing coaches, general managers and players. Exhibit A is the USA World Cup squad, specifically engineered to beat Canada. The idea was to disrupt their speed and skill with physical play and tenacious defense. Unfortunately, that leaves zero margin for error, and when your team can’t hit the ocean from the beach with the puck (borrowing from Ken Hitchcock), you’re toast. With only three games to prove itself, and the Canada contest in the middle, the USA forgot completely about Team Europe, who shut them out. Now in desperation mode, the US left the prime Crosby antagonist -- Brandon Dubinsky - on the bench for the Big Game. They quickly became just another victim in Canada’s march, and were collectively experiencing what Halak felt last night.
That’s what teams like Canada do to their opponents. They show incomparable skill and depth, forcing the other club to make bad decisions even before the puck drops. It’s an amazing thing to watch. Well done, Canada.
Come to think about it, maybe we’re thinking of building a wall on the wrong border, eh? Stay tuned.