Who wins Round 2 between the U.S and Canada?
Vail, CO Colorado
Here we are again -the United States and Canada, gold medal game, finals together again on the world’s biggest stage.
Incredibly, this is the fourth time these two countries have met in the finals of the world’s biggest tournaments this year. The U.S. won the world under-18 championship, then followed it up by winning the world junior championship (U-20), both times over Canada.
The women exacted some revenge on Thursday by beating the Americans, 2-0, taking home the gold medal.
Every time these two teams meet, the stakes are high, the intensity level through the roof, and the hockey as good as it gets. Although I did not predict the U.S. to be here last week, here they are, the only undefeated team in this tournament.
The fact that the Russians and Swedes flamed out this week can be attributed to one thing – goaltending. The Russians looked great in the early going, as did their all-world goalie Evgeni Nabakov.
But in the quarterfinals Wednesday, up against a determined Canadian squad, he stumbled badly, the Russian skaters did not look like they wanted to pay the price to win, and they got shelled by the Canadians, 7-3.
That always needed intangible – chemistry – could not be found once again by the Russians, and they paid the price for it. The reports out of the Russian dressing room were one of a divided room, with the NHLers and the Kontinental Hockey Leaguers from Russia not getting along.
This is a team that has as much talent as any in the world, but is heading home without a medal, and only with lots of questions to answer as they prepare for the next Olympics in 2014 on their home ice in Sochi. Clearly they need new direction, as it was obvious they were badly outcoached by the Canadians. Look for them to call on “The Professor,” Igor Larionov, to take the coaching reins in the near future.
Next came Sweden, which looked dominant in the preliminary round, going undefeated and looking like they were ready to defend their gold medal from Torino in 2006. Again however, it was goaltending that was their undoing, as Hendrik Lundquist went from hardly allowing anything by him to getting torched by the Slovaks for four goals on only 14 shots in the quarterfinals, and Sweden will also leave here without a medal.
Sweden has lots of players who have most likely played in their last Olympics, including Peter Forsberg and Nicklas Lidstrom.
Finland worked its way into the semifinals for a matchup with the Americans on the back of, you guessed it, great goaltending from Mikka Kiprusoff. Anybody that watched that game Friday can tell you what happened. Kiprusoff misplayed a lose puck just two minutes into the game, Ryan Malone took the gift and gave the Americans a 1-0 lead, and Kiprusoff never seemed to recover.
By the time the game was 12 minutes old, Kiprusoff had been replaced, the Americans were up 6-0, and all that was left was for the U.S. coach Ron Wilson to get backup goaltender Tim Thomas into the game to get some action in what will be his last Olympics. That was a classy move by Wilson.
The Canadians on the other hand played two great games in dispatching Germany and the Russians, then started out great against Slovakia in the other semifinal Friday, building a 3-0 lead.
Then I’m not quite sure what happened. The Slovaks almost pulled off a remarkable comeback, getting at least 12 good chances to score on the Canadians in the third period, but falling just short, losing 3-2. The Canadians looked like an unstoppable force until the last half of the Slovakia game, and have now been brought back down to earth in a hurry.
The Canadian goaltending, which looked like a major strength heading into the tournament, has been iffy at best. Martin Broduer got the starts at the beginning of the tournament, until the Americans put five by him in the preliminary game which the Americans won 5-3. Then the Canadians turned to Roberto Luongo, who has really not been tested much, giving up three to the Russians and two to Slovakia.
This brings me to American goaltender Ryan Miller. Miller has been the best goaltender in the NHL for most of the season, and has looked calm, cool and collected throughout this Olympic tournament. Miller has not given up a goal in the last two games, and looks to be in top form heading into the gold medal game on Sunday. If defense and goaltending win championships, the U.S. looks to be in fine hands with Miller.
Although I predicted the Canadians to win the gold at the beginning of the tournament, I have to change my mind and go with the Americans on Sunday, in what will surely be an intense, physical game, showcasing some of the best talent in the world.
Be sure and watch, hockey fans.
Gary Defina is the head coach of Battle Mountain hockey as well as a longtime local player. Also a diehard Colorado Avalanche, Defina writes a hockey column regularly for the Vail Daily.
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