Monday

2-22-10: Running Game Commentary IX: Team USA vs. Canada

Hello again everybody...

Hope you had a good weekend. I've got no complaints.

Before I get going today, a quick movie review. I saw “Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief” over the weekend. In spite of having one of the more unwieldy names in recent movie history, it managed to exceed my rather low expectations.

I told you last week that I'd heard some poor reviews, and my trepidation was worsened when my Mom saw it on Thursday and told me they'd changed a lot from the book. But it turned out that most of the things they changed were for time purposes more than anything, and only a couple got close to being “odious”.

Overall, it was pretty good. Not “Harry Potter” good, but neither were the books, so you can't expect that of the films. If you're looking for a fun movie to catch this week, you could do far worse.

Okay, on to the main event of the column.

Last night. Team USA vs. Canada in men's hockey. They're still in the preliminary round of the hockey competition, so it's not a do-or-die game. But any time you mix Americans, Canadians and vulcanized rubber, something interesting is likely to happen.

Ergo, I decided to do a Running Game Commentary on the game. I'd have to go back and look, but this might be the first time I've done a RGC on a game I didn't attend. But like I said, this one had enough sizzle to it, that I thought it would be worthwhile.

So let's knock of the preambling and get to the RGC-ing already, eh?

(Crap, there's that French-Canadian blood leaking out again...)

”Do I contradict myself? Very well then I contradict myself. (I am large, I contain multitudes).”
- Walt Whitman (1819 - 1892), American poet, essayist, journalist and humanist.


Take that, my French-Canadian heritage!

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These tend to be a little on the long-side. So let's get right to...

Running Game Commentary IX: Team USA vs. Canada

Pregame

Okay, let's get the big controversy out of the way right off the bat. Tonight's contest is on MSNBC instead of NBC. And as much as hockey fans rail against that decision, I guess I can understand why NBC went that direction. There's no question that USA/Canada would bring in boffo ratings. But so will the Ice Dancing competition. And since USA/Canada isn't for a medal, I can understand why they chose to bump it to MSNBC.

The problem for me is that I don't get MSNBC in HD. So while most of the fans I've talked to are pissed at NBC, I'm pissed at Comcast. It's the Olympics for chrissakes! You knew this was coming. If you can't be sensible enough to carry MSNBC in HD as part of the standard HD package, couldn't you have created an “Olympic Pay Package” or something? Give those of us who'd like it, the opportunity to buy an HD tier with MSNBC and CNBC just for the two weeks of the Olympics!

Or am I just crazy like that?

I really don't know what to expect for tonight's game. Both of these teams are going to move on to the medal round, so tonight's just a matter of seeding. So will the teams lay back and just try to get through without anybody getting hurt? Or will national pride bubble to the surface and inspire both teams to a passionate performance?

Let's find out!

First Period

19:19... Holy crap. 41-seconds into the game and Team USA is on the board. Brian Rafalski (former Badger) gets the lid-lifter for the Americans. He gets a D-to-D pass from Suter, fires a slap-shot on net, and Canada's Sidney Crosby is kind enough to tip it past Martin Brodeur. Thanks Sid! Rafalski from Suter and Langenbrunner makes it 1-0 Team USA!

I just got a text from my Mom that says, “Just so you know... I'm watching hockey and rooting for the USA team!” Yes, even my mother, who's pride in her French-Canadian heritage knows no bounds, is rooting for the good ol' U-S-of-A. Though to be fair, I near-enough badgered her into it.

16:19... And we've got our first penalty of the game. Canada's Ryan Getzlaf goes for Goaltender Interference. Translation? He crashed the net and essentially cross-checked Ryan Miller. What a doosh!

Canada does a whale of a job killing the penalty. Very few chances for Team USA there. During a break in the action, the folks running the music in the arena dial up “Disco Inferno”. Really. Because nothing screams passionate hockey like disco music!


13:53... The refs even things up on the penalty sheet by sending Joe Pavelski (another former Badger) to the bin for high sticking. Replay shows he tried to lift his stick over Getzlaf's head, but ended up smacking him in the beak. I say Getzlaf had that coming!

11:07... Canada ties it. Not on the power-play, but shortly thereafter. A pretty play as Brent Seabrook flips a wrister at the net which is tipped out front by Eric Staal past Miller. Dammit. I wanted to end the first with a Team USA lead! Staal from Seabrook and Toews makes it 1-1.

10:45... Wow! 22 seconds later, Team USA takes the lead right back. And it's Rafalski again! On Wisconsin! This time Brodeur tries to “fungo-bat” one out of the zone, but it's knocked down at the blue line. After a scramble in front of the net, Rafalski gets a gift on the weak side and makes the most of it. Rafalski, unassisted, makes it 2-1 Team USA!

Ooh-wee is this a fast game. Not in terms of playing time, but in terms of play. Both teams are skating hard and making crisp passes. It's physical, but not dirty. Well other than Getzlaf. Doosh.

6:35... Wow, thought Team USA was going to take a penalty there. Looked like tripping in the corner. Even the defenseman turned around looking for the ref's arm in the air. But apparently he was napping (which can't be easy on skates).

5:52... Ryan Miller is having a whale of a game. Patrick Marleau got free in the slot, and had a great opportunity for a goal, but Miller closes the door!

3:25... Looks like USA has run out of gas a little bit here late in the period. Canada getting most of the best changes at this point. Fortunately, they're doing silly things like the attempted Spin-O-Rama that Corey Perry just tried.

1:50... MSNBC just showed clips of Canada defeating Team USA in the 2002 Gold Medal game. Eh tu, MSNBC? Eh tu?

End of 1... 2-1 USA... I'm out of breath just watching. Time for...

First Intermission

I didn't really watch much of the pregame coverage. Too many other things going on, and I didn't want to get anxious for the game. So this is my first time to see the “pregame/intermission/postgame” crew.

And wow! Jeremy Roenick is wearing a sensible sport coat and tie. So far, JR has been trying to set a record for “most awful outfits in a single Olympics by a non-figure skater”. One night he had a coat that looked like it was made from 1970's couch fabric. Another night he had a zip-neck fleece thing going, which was fine. But then he tried to do a shirt and tie under it, and that was a problem. It was almost like he forgot what he intended to wear halfway through dressing.

That's more fashion talk than anybody ought to be including in a hockey column? You're right. Moving on...

Canada out-shot Team USA 19-6 in the first period. The Americans will have to do better than that if they're going to maintain their lead.

That leads us to the...

Second Period

19:00... Big early chance by Getzlaf in front of the USA net. Miller was out of position, but managed to guide the puck wide of the goal-mouth. Early on, Canada still seems to have the momentum. Thank heavens the bounces have gone USA's way so far.

16:28... Dany Heatley bangs a loose puck home to tie the game up at 2. USA is allowing the Canadians way too much time in front of Miller. Ryan's playing well, but he can't do it alone. Four goals in the game, three by former Badgers. On Wisconsin! Heatley from Toews and Weber makes it 2-2.

Break in the action for some ice repair. And now I'm hearing Neil Diamond. What's the deal, Canadian arena-wizards? Are you stuck in a 1970's time warp? Who plays this music at a hockey game?!

11:40... Far fewer whistles here in the second period. Game's going really fast. Canada's still had much the better of the scoring chances. Shots are now 23-9 in favor of the Canadians.

10:50... Finally a nice offensive chance for Team USA. Bobby Ryan got the puck in deep and Patrick Kane (I still hate the Blackhawks) had a shot at point-blank range, but Brodeur made the save.

9:35... We just had something called a “crease violation”. Apparently in international hockey, if a player doesn't make an attempt to exit the opponent's crease quickly enough, the ref can blow a whistle and take a face-off outside the zone. Interesting.

8:05... Minnesota's-own (the State, not the University) Zack Parise has a couple of whacks at a loose puck in front of Marty Brodeur, who keeps it out of the net. Nice set-play by Team USA off the face-off creates another offensive opportunity. One of these has to go in, doesn't it?!

5:07… Joe Pavelski leads a 2-on-2 into the Canadian zone and decides to crank a slap-shot which ends up deflecting off of Brodeur's mask and out of play. Can you believe goalies used to play without masks?! That shot would've knocked Marty cold if he didn't have protection. The mask, I mean, not... moving on...

3:57… Canada just did a Stooges routine. Perry and Staal literally crash into each other and for good measure, Curly, er, I mean Pronger tripped over the top of them. And the music wizards fire up YMCA. Wow. Lamest... music... choices... EVAR!!!

3:14... There it is! A slap-shot from the point has Brodeur looking behind him, even though he'd made the save. Marty then tries to dive-poke-check the puck away from him and misses. That usually leads to a goal, and this time is no different. Bobby Ryan gets it to Chris Drury who bangs it home! Drury from Ryan and Backes makes it 3-2 Team USA!!!

1:47... Dustin Brown gets a break-away chance for the Americans and Brodeur comes up with two dandy saves. The initial one, and a second as Brown whacked at the rebound. Mere seconds later it's Bobby Ryan's turn on mini-break and Marty comes up huge for Canada again. Wow. What a game.

0:53.5... The third penalty of the game comes as Staal hauls down Rafalski in the USA zone. I'm not a fan of power-plays that carry over periods. Kills the momentum. But we'll take it!

End of the 2nd... 3-2 USA!

Second Intermission

I don't smoke, but I feel like I need a cigarette! Words can't accurately describe how good this game really is. Heart, passion, talent, physicality... it's all on display tonight. Seriously, if these two teams meet in the medal round, you HAVE to watch.

In fact, if you're reading this right now, and you didn't watch this game, shame on you! (Okay, "shame" is a little strong. I realize not everybody has cable.)

I'll admit to feeling a bit overwhelmed at this point. I'm taking notes for the blog, responding to Twitter messages, IM-ing with a few friends on Facebook, and answering texts. I'm either a multi-tasking genius, or a candidate for the insane asylum.

Perhaps a little bit of both?

Team USA finished the second much better than they finished the first. Shots are at 31-19 in favor of Canada as we start the...

Third Period

19:40... What the eff?! MSNBC just came back from a commercial and we're 20 seconds into the period already. How the hell does that happen?!

Memo to MSNBC: That big giant screen with the countdown on it? That's how much time is left in the intermission. You want to be back from break before it reaches 0:00. Thank you!

18:22... Canada kills off the rest of the Staal penalty, but goes right back to a man down as Crosby gets careless with his stick and smacks a USA defender in the mush with it. Thanks Sid, but we'd rather you just tip in another goal for us!

16:55... Doc Emerick (hockey announcer emeritus) just described Team USA's Phil Kessel as a “University of Minnesota product”. Um, okay. He did go there for a year, I guess. But let's just say, he won't be fondly remembered in Gopher hockey lore.

Jeff in Iowa just sent me, “This game makes the Stanley Cup look boring”. That might be a slight exaggeration, but there's certainly more talent in this game than any single NHL game you'll see.

13:55... A delayed penalty on Canada finally gets whistled. An obvious slash by Cory Perry sends the Americans back on the power play again. The best part is that Team USA was able to kill close to a full minute 6-on-5 while Canada fought to get possession just to get to the whistle. Now two more minutes of 5-on-4 and Team USA is that much closer to a big night!

12:51... And this time they cash in! Rafalski fires a one-time slapper from the point which deflects off of Jamie Langenbrunner's skate past Brodeur. No kicking motion means the goal stands! Langenbrunner from Rafalski and Suter makes it 4-2 Team USA!

12:25... Oh my word what a save by Miller. Crosby and Nash hook up in front of the crease, and Nash can't put it home. Miller sweeps it away from danger. But the Canadian's aren't beaten yet!

9:26... Team USA almost seals the deal. Patrick Kane with a huge burst of speed creates an odd man rush, but Dustin Brown sends Kane's pass off the side of the net. Damn, that would've been the fork.

9:11... Kane follows a great play with a not-so-great play as he gets caught for hooking and sent off for two. Ed Olczyk makes the point on the broadcast - this is the game. If Canada can't score on this power-play, Team USA will be in a commanding position to win the game.

7:11... Canada gets only one shot on the power-play and fails to score. An amazing job by the Americans clogging the passing lanes and keeping the puck to the outside.

5:40... The Canadians are starting to look desperate. Players are starting to try to do too much individually and end up sprawled on the ice more often than not. Team USA hasn't gone completely into “protect the lead” mode yet, but it's close.

5:04... And it's going to have to happen now. Erik Johnson gets his stick caught in Dany Heatley's skates and goes for tripping. The USA bench doesn't like the call, and neither does the Strib's Michael Russo who tweets, “Brutal call by Watson [the ref]”.

Just glanced at the shots and it's 35-21 Canada. Yeah, it's been a good third for Team USA.

3:47... Holy crap what a series of saves by Miller. He makes three straight sprawling saves. When guys like Nash, Crosby and Iginla aren't able to send it home in a situation like that, you know it's Team USA's night.

3:09... As usual, I speak too soon. Sidney Crosby gets the Canadian's within one. In the closing seconds of the power-play, Duncan Keith gets it down low to Rick Nash who sweetly sets up Crosby for the goal. Crosby from Nash and Keith makes it 4-3 Team USA.

We're about to see the most intense non-medal-round three minutes of hockey in these Olympic Games.

2:34... Olczyk just described the game as “tremendously tremendous”. Atta boy Edzo! Channeling your inner-Tim-Brewster, are you?

1:11... Finally Team USA manages to clear the puck. Holy crap. It looked like a 6-on-5 for Canada for the last minute and a half. Crazy. But Miller stood up strong. Brodeur's to the bench. It really is 6-on-5 now.

0:44.7... U-S-A! U-S-A! Ryan Kesler gets a turnover from the Canadians to Zack Parise who plays it out of the zone along the boards. Kesler doesn't give up on the play, chases the puck down and swipes at it while sprawling on the ice to score the empty netter for the win! What a hustle play. It kills me to praise a guy who plays for the Vancouver, but tonight, he's an American, not a Canuck. Kesler from Parise makes it 5-3 and that's gonna do it!

Final USA 5, Canada 3. Oh... My... God... what a hockey game!

Post-game

Doc Emerick just said it best, “a meaningful semi-silence”. There are some USA fans out there making noise, but the mostly-Canadian crowd is sitting stunned as Team Canada loses a game they were supposed to win.

Canada dominated the play in the second half of the third period, but Team USA played solid defense and Ryan Miller was nothing short of sensational in net.

Final shot totals are 45 for Canada and 23 for Team USA. Proving once again that it's not how many you get, it's how many you make count.

And just for good measure, the arena-wizards dial up “Don't Stop Thinkin About Tomorrow” by Fleetwood Mac. Can we get something more recent than 1979 for the medal round arena-wizards? Please? I'm begging you.

That's followed by a promo announcing that the game was brought to us with limited commercial interruption by “Super, Natural, British Columbia, Canada”. Lousy tag-lines aside, that tells you how good this game was. I was so mesmerized, I didn't realize that they weren't cutting to commercials during the periods. No wonder it felt so fast. I love it!

Wow. Just, wow.

If you managed to miss that game, do yourself a favor. Pay attention to the medal round, and if Team USA ends up pitted against Canada again, WATCH IT! You won't be sorry.


That's going to wrap it up for today. Thanks for re-living a fantastic game with me. I hope you enjoyed it!

I'll be back on Wednesday with... something. I have no idea how I'm going to top this. But that's the great part about sports, it always seems to come up with something new and interesting to write about!

Until then, thanks for reading!

2 comments:

  1. Tremendously tremendous.

    That's funny.

    However, I am Minnesotan, so I have to believe that although my team (USA) won this game, they will lose when it counts, like every other team that I have rooted for since moving here (obviously, the Cornhuskers don't fit that mold).

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