Monday

3-1-10: Running Game Commentary X: USA vs. Canada, the Gold Medal Game

Hello again everybody...

Happy March to you all! Back to the grind on a Monday. Two more work weeks for me before that blissful thing we like to call “vacation”. Not that I'm looking forward to it or anything...

I trust your weekend was restful and relaxing. Mine was for the most part. We had ourselves quite a contest on Sunday. Restful and relaxing it was not. But then, the good ones never are.

I promised you last week that should the US and Canada meet in the Gold Medal Game, that you'd get yourselves a good ol' RGC out of the deal. And today, I deliver.

So enough with the pre-ambling. Let's get to this...

”One of the few good things about modern times: If you die horribly on television, you will not have died in vain. You will have entertained us.”
- Kurt Vonnegut (1922 - 2007), American novelist


Okay, that's a little bleak I know. After all, nobody died during that hockey game (although I do think I describe is as a “slow motion heart attack” at some point). But anyone who watched, came away thoroughly entertained.

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With that, I give you...

Running Game Commentary X: USA vs. Canada, the Gold Medal Game

Pregame:

Well, this is it. The entire two-week build up of the Olympics has led us to this moment. The USA is the top seeded team in the tournament and undefeated. Team Canada ended up seeded 5th, but their only loss was to Team USA. In a way, it's a shame it's not double-elimination, since the teams could go 1-1 with Canada walking away with the ultimate prize. But the rules are the rules, so here we go.

I'll admit, I'm skeptical at best heading into this game. I don't think there's much of an argument over who the most talented team in the tournament is. Both clubs are stocked with NHL players. But when you look at the number of superstars on Team Canada versus those on Team USA it's not really close.

Plus, when you break down the preliminary game from last Sunday, it was a perfect storm for Team USA. They won 5-3, while being out-shot 45-23. Winning while surrendering a 2-to-1 shot advantage is obviously possible, but still rare. The Americans had an amazing amount of puck-luck last weekend - the bounces all went their way. That's not likely to repeat itself today.

So what has to happen for Team USA to win? I think it comes down to three things:

1. Score early - Score first. Last Sunday, Team USA scored the first goal of the game 41 seconds into the first period. That put the hugely pro-Canadian crowd on their heels early. And even when Canada tied the game later in the first, Team USA responded right away. So the crowd never really got a chance to get worked up. The Americans need to take the crowd out of it early today. If Canada scores first, and the crowd gets going, things could snowball.

2. Stay out of the box. Last Sunday Team USA took 3 penalties to Canada's 4, and only surrendered one power-play goal. They need to at least repeat that, if not improve upon it. Canada's greatest advantage comes on the power-play when they can overwhelm you with talent and numbers. So not taking dumb penalties is critical to the Americans' success.

3. Ryan Miller has to be awesome... again. Last Sunday, Ryan Miller saved 42 of the 45 shots he faced. There's no reason to think he won't face a barrage again today, so in order for Team USA to win, he's going to have to be outstanding again. He leads Olympic goaltenders with a 95.37 Save Percentage and a 1.04 Goals Against Average. He's going to need every bit of that quality today to fend off the fast-skating, talented Canadians.

It's not going to be easy. Whatever Canadian coach Mike Babcock says, Team USA is the underdog here. But if you want to win the Gold, then you've got to do it by beating the best when it counts.

So bring it on Canada!

1:50pm... I just got my first Gold Medal Game-related text message. Frank in Maple Grove sends, “Today, if hating Canada is wrong (minus Pam Anderson), I don't want to be right!” How can I argue with that?

I don't know if this game will live up to the hype. I'm not sure if you can have two games as incredible as the first match-up was in the same Games. But the potential is there. All that's left is to sit back, watch, and see what happens!

Al Michaels just said the magic words, “Faceoff next.” Let's do this...

First Period:

The puck is dropped and we're underway. Team USA is in their blue jerseys. Canada is in their whites. I'm a little surprised. I expected the Americans to show up in some sort of replica of the 1980 jersey. Not a big deal. I dig the blues.

19:20... Early on, there's a feeling-out process. Both teams trying to calm their obvious nerves. First shot on goal goes to Canada. Miller easily steers it aside.

17:40... Team USA's forecheck is working hard and has created a couple of chances. So far, the teams look evenly matched. Which is a good sign since my biggest fear was Canada coming out “house a'fire” and steamrolling the Americans.

15:30... Suddenly the pace starts to pick up. Canada gets a couple of odd-man rushes. Miller's up to the test. Then Team USA gets some sustained offense in the Canadian zone. The Canadian D blocks most of the attempted shots, but Luongo has to make a couple of saves.

13:22... It looks like we're going commercial-free in-period again. I like it. They're breaking to give the players a chance to rest, but we stay at the arena and listen to Doc Emerick and Ed Olczyk break it down. Solid.

11:43... Team USA D Brooks Orpik just deposited Dany Heatley in the Americans' bench. What a hit! The physicality is picking up, and that's going to make it even more fun.

10:21... A late whistle creates a scrum in front of Luongo. Dustin Brown makes a nice charge down the left wing and is stymied by the Canadian net-minder, but Luongo is unable to cover it up and in come the sharks poking and digging. The Canadians take exception. Everyone gets separated without incident.

9:30... We're past the half-way mark of the period with no score. Shots are 3-2 USA. Scoring chances are 4-1 USA. It hasn't felt that slanted. And of course all of it's meaningless if Canada lights the lamp first. Another break for no commercials (thank you NBC... you got one thing right anyway), and we're back at it.

7:20... Team USA ices the puck again. Michael Russo of the Strib tweets, “These icings are going to come back to haunt the US.”

7:10... And he's proved prophetic when off the faceoff, Mike Richards gets a shot on goal. Miller makes the initial save, but Jonathan Toews gets the rebound and goes top shelf to break the seal. Toews from Richards makes it 1-0 Canada.

Dammit.

6:42... Sidney Crosby just got upended at neutral ice. How many people outside of Pittsburgh didn't enjoy seeing that? Five? Ten? Can't be more than that.

5:58... Houston, we've got a problem. Already down 1-0, Team USA's Bobby Ryan gets tangled up with Dany Heatley and gets whistled for Tripping. Here comes the Canadian power-play. Yikes.

3:58... Team USA kills the penalty with only a few minor chances for the Canadians. Bullet, dodged.

1:45... I can't confirm this statistically, but I don't think Team USA has had an odd-man rush yet. The Canadians are playing very disciplined hockey. Every time the Americans carry it into Canada's zone, there are two or three Canadians waiting for them. Very few clean shots for Team USA late in the period.

0:07... Team USA chips one out in front of Canada's net, but the puck was rolling and Joe Pavelski wasn't able to get his blade on it.

Some pushy-shovy after the horn, and the teams head back to their rooms. End of the 1st: 1-0 Canada.

First Intermission:

Not a bad first period for Team USA, but my feelings of trepidation haven't lessened a bit. It certainly wasn't as entertaining as the first period from last Sunday, but that could have a lot to do with the lack of scoring early on.

As it always is in hockey, the next goal is critical. If Canada gets up 2-0, then it's going to be really tough for the Americans to get back in it. If Team USA makes it 1-1, it's a brand new hockey game and the momentum will be on their side.

Like I said, I love the lack of commercials during the periods. Unfortunately, NBC makes up for it during the intermissions. But what am I going to do? Turn over to NASCAR? Okay, I did. But only for a minute or two, I swear!

Shots are 10-8 in favor of Canada. Much closer than last weekend.

On we go to the...

Second Period:

Before things get underway, we're informed that the game is being brought to us with limited commercial interruptions by DirecTV. I may have to make a phone call after the game...

18:50... Huge turnover in front of the American net, and Jarome Iginla finds the puck on his backhand with no one between him and the net-minder. Miller makes the save.

17:27... Second penalty of the night on Team USA. Ryan Malone tries to stand up Corey Perry as he exits the zone, but gets his stick up in Perry's face. Off he goes. Two for High Sticking.

15:19... Team USA not only kills the power-play - and wow, what a job blocking shots in front of Miller and not allowing Canada to get tips out in front - but manages to earn a power-play of their own. Canada's Eric Staal gets sent off for Interference.

13:19... And the Americans get exactly one shot with their man-advantage. Nice possession early on, but the power-play fizzled... quickly.

12:47... Another 3-on-2 rush for the Canadians results in the second goal of the game. Ryan Getzlaf (doosh) skates down the left wing. His shot/pass gets deflected out front and Corey Perry who was trailing the play gets a free shot which beats Miller on the stick side. Perry from Getzlaf (doosh) and Keith makes it 2-0 Canada.

That whooshing sound you just heard was Team USA's Gold Medal hopes beginning to deflate...

Coach Cook just sent me a text that read, “This doesn't look good.” He's not a Conference Championship Basketball Coach for nothing folks.

11:35... Team USA gets another chance. Initial goal-scorer Jonathan Toews goes to the box for tripping. Critical power-play here for the Americans.

Canada's doing a masterful job preventing Team USA from getting their power-play set up. It's a hockey clinic from Canada so far. They're not doing anything “spectacular”. They're playing solid, disciplined hockey and taking advantage of Team USA's mistakes.

9:35... Canada successfully kills the man-advantage. Team USA might have gotten 3 shots on net there, but I think I'm being generous.

9:07... Team USA's Jack Johnson makes a brilliant move down the right wing, getting the puck to the net. Luongo can't get it covered, he's down, but Stasny can't lift the puck up over him. That's the best scoring chance the Americans have had all day, and the kind of chance they made good on last Sunday.

7:16... Finally, Team USA dents the twine. Ryan Kesler gets it into the zone, drops it to Patrick Kane on the right wing. Kane flicks a wrister on-net, and Kesler, who had driven the net gets the tip which feathers the puck under Luongo's arm. That's what I'm talkin' about!!! Kesler from Kane makes it 2-1 Canada.

I immediately get two texts. Coach Cook sends, “Huge.” I'm pretty sure he doesn't mean that like Tiger meant it. Pretty sure...

My mom sends, “That's what I'm talkin about.” And yes, I wrote that before I read her text. I told you folks, I'm my Mother's son. Suddenly, I feel an urgent need to use a Post-It Note (perhaps only relatives will get that joke, but it's worth it).

4:23... Oooh-wee. How did Ryan Miller see that shot? Canada's Shea Weber fired one from the blue line which bounced off of two players and somehow made it's way into Miller's glove. I rolled back the DVR (brilliant invention for RGC's by the way) and there were no less than 15 players screening Miller on that play. Okay, that's an exaggeration. But it was close to that.

3:38... The Americans nearly tie it up. A surge in Team USA offense results in three straight shots on goal. Dustin Brown sends a wrister at the net, Ryan Suter was in prime screen/tip position, but deflects it just wide. Soooo close.

2:25... Okay, it's the home country in the finals and all so I was going to let it slide, but do you really have to chant, “Loooouuuu” every time Luongo makes a simple save, Canada? Really?!

1:01... Team USA catches a nice break, that suddenly turns horrible, but then is okay in the end. Kind of like a Robert Zemeckis movie. Their clearing attempt wobbles deep into the Canadian zone, but not deep enough for an icing call. That's a break. Except Dan Boyle is able to play the puck out of the zone to a streaking Eric Staal who ends up with a break-away. That sucks. Staal, however, fires wide of the net as Ryan Suter gives him a poke under the arm that's hard enough to pull the blade of his stick out of the shaft. No penalty, no harm. Whew.

End of the Second Period: 2-1 Canada.

Second Intermission:

A much more entertaining period in the second. Not just because there were twice as many goals, but the pace of play was faster and there were far more scoring chances.

In some ways, we're right where we were at the end of the first. Obviously, the goal-differential remains at one. But more than that, the play has been damned near even, with Canada catching the one extra break for the lead.

Again, the next goal will be critical. Team USA still has to get two to win this thing. They just have 20 fewer minutes to get it done. But the momentum was more with the Americans than the Canadians late in the period. They'll need to carry that over into the third.

Trepidation, nervousness, uncertainty... I'm a jumble right now. If I drank, I'd be uncorking the scotch I tell you.

Instead I'll have to settle for Diet Mt. Dew. Same difference, right? Never mind.

Shots are 25-23 in favor of Canada. Yep, it's a close one all right. Team USA needs a goal early in the third, or Canada will pack it in defensively and simply stop the Americans in the neutral zone.

Oh good lord. Jim Souhan of the Strib just tweeted, “During interview after first period, Kesler says Luongo is fighting the puck and that the Canadians fade as the game goes on.” Thanks Ryan. That's not going fire the other side up!

Souhan follows with an astute observation, “Kesler is the A.J. Pierzynski of hockey. If he's on the other team, you hate him. If he's on your team...you hate him.” Spot on, Jim. Spot on.

After 15,000 more commercials, let's get on with the...

Third Period:

18:25... In the first minute and a half, the Canadians have clanked two shots off of pipes. Rick Nash had the first one, then Brendan Morrow deflects a Chris Pronger shot which also finds iron. Sometimes that sound is sweet, sometimes it's awful, and sometimes you're too nervous to care one way or the other. Guess which one I am... go.

14:28... First break of the third. The surge I wanted to see from Team USA to start the third is non-existent. Instead, it's coming from the Canadians. Not good.

10:30... Horrible turnover by Team USA leads to a couple of brilliant chances for the Canadians. Ryan Miller makes a pair of sprawling saves and picks up his mates. Those kinds of chances are the difference in the game right now. The Americans are making the mistakes, the Canadians aren't.

By the way, if it seems like my notes aren't as frequently timed as they were earlier, that's probably because I'm gnawing my fingers near to the bone at this point. And that makes it a wee bit difficult to type. The "entertainment" level may not be as high as last Sunday, but the nerves are just as frayed, if not worse.

7:45... And now we're getting to the point I feared at intermission. Canada's content to send only one forechecker and leave the other four players to deny Team USA entry into the offensive zone. It's going to be really tough for the Americans to score now. At some point they're going to have to start taking chances, and that's dangerous to do with Canadian snipers on the ice.

5:05... Another chance for the Americans. Once again Kesler gets it in deep. Kane tries a wrap-around, the puck deflects out into the slot where Brian Rafalski gets a wrister on net. Luongo makes the save and holds on. “Tense” doesn't even begin to describe the vibe coming from Vancouver right now.

3:15... Eric Johnson decides he wants to win the game all by himself and leads an end to end rush. Unfortunately, the Canadians are having none of it, and after a couple of deflections, Sidney Crosby ends up with a near break-away. He gets harried from behind by Patrick Kane and can't make the move he wants to, allowing Miller to make the save.

I'm so tense right now, the cracking of my knuckles sounds like somebody's making popcorn!

1:28... Miller's off the ice... 6-on-5 for Team USA. Hail Mary time...

1:17... Luongo holds a save for a face-off. Team USA uses their timeout to draw up a play.

0:54.8... The Canadians get a clear, but can't capitalize on the empty net. Team USA brings it back in and this time, Canada's clearing attempt deflects out of play. Canada calls time out to have their best players rested and on the ice for a critical face-off.

0:24.4... YES!!! YES!!! YES!!! The Americans crash the net again. Patrick Kane fires a shot at Luongo. Roberto makes the save, but Parise and Langenbrunner are the only players in position to get the rebound and Parise knocks it home! Parise from Langenbrunner and Kane makes it 2-2, and we're all even!

Everybody plays it safe for the final 24 seconds and we're tied at the end of 60 minutes of Gold Medal hockey.

End of the third: 2-2 tie.

Third Intermission:

Okay, technically it's not an full-length “intermission”. But I needed a spot to try and collect my thoughts, so here you go.

Unbelievable. How often do you see the “pull the goaltender” move actually work? 10-percent of the time, max? It can't be much higher than that. And to pull it off in the Gold Medal game?! Unreal.

As NBC cuts to their “pre-intermission-post” desk, all three commentators take a spontaneous/simultaneous deep breath. They shouldn't say another word. That just said it all.

We're headed to an extra session. 20-minutes of 4-on-4 hockey. If that doesn't end it, we'll have a shootout. But I'll be shocked if we make it the full 20.

Wow. Just... wow!

Overtime:

Good lord... I don't know if I can handle this. This whole game has been like a slow-motion heart attack. If I could type and pace at the same time, I'd be wearing a hole in my carpet.

18:49... Both teams are playing it carefully early on. When you're 4-on-4 it's much easier to get caught out of position and allow a break to the other team. Team USA just tried for one, but Langenbrunner couldn't handle the pass.

15:47... The Canadians with a brilliant chance as Iginla is left alone in front of Miller, but Ryan makes the save... yeesh.

12:35... Wow... this time it was the Canadians' turn for a brutal turnover. Joe Pavelski gets a gift but can't cash it in.

12:20... F@#$... Mother@#$%... Dammit, dammit, dammit... Sidney Crosby just won it. I'm waiting patiently for the replay, but NBC is letting us “soak up the moment”. It's the right move, but I'm dying right now.

While trying to decide if I should keep waiting for the replay or roll back the DVR, I get the following text from my Mom: “Oh Canada”.

She just did the Hulk Hogan heel turn. I thought she was on my side, but I turned my back, and whammo. Steel chair, leg drop, spray paint. Unbelievable.

Okay... there's the replay. Crosby gets it in deep. Iginla digs it out of the corner and makes a brilliant pass as he's falling to the ice back to Sid, who fires a wrister and beats Miller 5-hole. Ugh. Pretty play. But this sucks.

Postgame:

I really don't want to watch this Medal ceremony, but I'll force myself to.

If you'd told me before the tournament that Team USA would end up with the Silver, I probably would've taken it. But after tying it up like that late in the third, you'll forgive me if I felt like perhaps Lady Destiny was handing the Americans a gift.

What a game. I said or implied several times that this wasn't as “entertaining” as last Sunday's game. I'm not sure that was the best way to put it. It was just a different style of game. Last Sunday's game had more flashy play, with lots of scoring chances and supreme skill on display.

Today's game was tight and tense the whole way through. Nobody wanted to make the big gaffe to lose the game. It wasn't “conventionally” entertaining, but it was gripping, dramatic and compelling throughout. And when you go to Overtime in the Gold Medal Game, how can you not love that?

As they hand out the Silver Medals, Ryan Kesler gets a big pop from the crowd - he plays for Vancouver in the NHL. And in a show of class, the Canadian crowd gives Ryan Miller (named MVP of the tournament) a rousing round of applause.

Now it's time for the Gold Medals... let's see what kind of reaction Crosby gets. Yup, the place goes nuts. Dammit.

And now we've got to listen to the anthem. What I wouldn't give for spontaneous ear-drum numbness right now?!

Indoor fireworks? Really?! Think those go off if Team USA had won? Okay, okay... I shouldn't be bitter.

A Confederate soldier once told a Union officer to whom he was surrendering at Appomatox, “You may forgive us, but we won't be forgiven. There is a rancor in our hearts you can little know. We hate you, sir.”

I can't sum up my feelings much better right now.

But I'll suck it up, take the loss like a man, and offer my congratulations to Canada, her hockey players and all of her fans. Well played.


That's going to do it for today. Not the way I wanted to leave the Vancouver Games, trust me. But hopefully you enjoyed the ride.

I'll be back on Wednesday with... well, hopefully a little more than I had for you last Wednesday.

Until then, thanks for reading!

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