As if we all needed another reminder that hockey is — and until another country can produce as many quality and winning players – Canada’s sport. What Canada did in their semifinals and gold medal wins at the 2014 Men’s Olympic hockey tournament can only be described as the type of dominance that we haven’t seen at the Olympics or international level since the Russian Red Army teams owned the international hockey scene. That’s why it’s no surprise to have just read these stats from the NHL public relations department’s always-resourceful “Morning Skate” email:
“With the win, Canada became the first country to earn back-to-back gold medals since the Soviet Union in 1984 and 1988.”
“Canada never trailed in the tournament and allowed a total of three goals in six games, the fewest by any gold-medal winner in the modern era (since 1956, minimum: 5 GP). The Soviet Union previously held the record, allowing five goals in seven contests during the 1984 Olympic Winter Games.”
“Canada (6-0-0) became the first team to go undefeated in the men’s Olympic hockey tournament since the Soviet Union in 1984 (7-0-0).”
“Canada now has 15 medals in men’s Olympic hockey (9 G, 4 S, 2 B), three more than the next-closest nation (USSR/Russia: 8 G, 2 S, 2 B).”
While both the 2014 Canadian Men’s Olympic Hockey team and the Red Army dynasty teams were full of all-star talent and in theory could’ve sported three possible gold medal squads, it wasn’t star power that won it for them when at their best. What won Gold was a team buying in as one and playing as a suffocating defensive unit that wasn’t worried about making the highlight reels. They had the patience that the goals would come when they needed to come and while they didn’t play prevent defense, they played a team defense that prevented the opponent from even sensing they had a chance to score goals not only when they needed them most but at all. To earn two straight shutouts in arguably the most pressure-packed and biggest games of their careers and not allow a goal in their last eight periods of play is simply astonishing.
While goalie Carey Price didn’t see as many quality chances as his counterparts (Kristers Gudlevskis, Jonathan Quick and Henrik Lundqvist) over the last three games, he was still the elite goalie he has proved to be throughout this 2013-14 NHL season. Price was 5-0-0 with a 0.59 goals-against average, .972 save percentage and two shutouts. He did not allow a goal in his last 164:19 of action, which according to TSN stats is tied for the fourth-longest shutout streak by a goaltender in men’s Olympic hockey. The torch has officially been passed from Roberto Luongo to Price and while many have questioned the lack of goaltenders Canada has produced over the last ten years, they seem to fare just fine in Olympic competition.
What also ceases to amaze this hockey scribe is the passion for this sport from the people of Canada. Thanks to my job, dating a Canadian woman, having plenty of great Canadian friends and now living in Montreal part time, I’ve had the pleasure of seeing first hand just how hockey-crazed this country is. But while they love and know the game like no other, they also in general express the class of many of their Canadian hockey idols and most beloved players. Covering this great game is a joy not just because of the sport itself but also the people in and around it. That goes for the majority of hockey media and fans that I’ve encountered and that was on full display at McLean’s Pub at 1210 Peel St. in downtown Montreal on Friday for the USA-Canada semifinal match that Canada won 1-0 as well as on Sunday morning when Canada defended it’s Gold and sent this fine pub into national pride driven hysteria.
I didn’t have the pleasure of being at McLean’s for that on Sunday morning but despite this proud American being there dressed in red white and blue and waving “Old Glory” on Friday, I was welcomed with open arms (and plenty of Jameson!). Through the whole game and even after, it was a cornucopia of hockey banter, cheer and support for one another as fans and human beings. So a Murph’s Musings stick tap to Stuart and Serina Ashton, Tom Mathai, Wally McKenna and Darlene Stasiowski, Jay Farrar, Eleni Balinakos, Greg Arns, Judy Kennedy, Anna Sophia, Michele and the whole staff there at McLean’s for not rubbing in how much more work USA Hockey needs to do before they approach all that is hockey in Canada!
–What isn’t hockey in Canada — or should be anywhere — is the lack of class shown by some fans and media while critiquing Canada coach Mike Babcock, his coaching staff and Hockey Canada management’s decision to not dress Canadiens defenseman and reigning Norris Trophy P.K. Subban for the majority of this tournament. One writer whom until Sunday I respected as one of the better sports writers from Canada exemplified this sad minority in a Twitter argument with yours truly. Earlier in the tournament, Jack Todd of the Montreal Gazette blasted Mike Babcock for his decision to not use Subban and Marty St. Louis more. On Sunday when I asked him on Twitter if he still felt the same about Babcock he decided to follow the ignorance of others who claim that any criticism, coaching decision or call that goes against Subban is an expression of racism and based on Subban’s color.
When I claimed on Twitter that “P.K. lovers” wouldn’t admit that Babcock’s decisions were proven to be right Todd replied:
“Funny how you make that sound just like n***** lovers. We know where you’re coming from.”
What a despicable and classless response Jack. I’m betting that Subban himself didn’t want this and doesn’t want every debatable decision involving him to be a race issue. But not only did you stoop to that but you displayed yourself to be part of the dregs of modern journalism. I for one believe you’re better than that and it’s saddening to see such an accomplished journalist stoop so low.
–Speaking of stooping low, if you’re a member of USA Hockey or a USA Hockey fan, it had to be difficult to see the performance USA turned in for the Bronze medal game. Of course it’s a difficult task to get up for that game and play with the passion they or Finland did in the semifinals but there is no excuse for mailing it in, as it appeared USA did. Even opportunities like Bronze medals may only come once in a lifetime and there are plenty of other Olympians who will also go home without medals but also without millions in salary waiting for them that would’ve given anything for that opportunity. On the 34th anniversary of amateur American Olympians pulling off arguably the greatest upset is sports anniversary, that was not how USA Men’s Hockey should’ve ended despite their heartbreaking loss to Canada, what was a solid run of hockey.
–On that note, there’s been plenty of chatter around the NHL that NHLers should no longer participate in Olympic Men’s hockey. Injuries to star players like John Tavares – who is out for the remainder of the NHL season because of a ligament and meniscus tear in his left knee suffered in Canada’s 2-1 quarterfinals win over Latvia as well as perceived losses in revenue for NHL teams have the powers that be in the NHL pushing for the NHL to pass on the 2018 Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea. But as said here earlier in this just completed Winter Games, it was wrong of NHL owners and team management members to blast the league’s participation at these games. They made an agreement in the current CBA and should’ve honored it by keeping quiet until the end of the tournament. Now that the tournament is over, fire away but as Fluto Shinzawa of the Boston Globe pointed out Sunday, it likely will be the NHL’s TV partner NBC Sports that decides if they send players to the 2018 Winter Games.
–Before we go, one more congrats to Canada on “Staying Gold“! Enjoy! Until 2018 …