[Editor's note: Tom Wakefield moved from Ontario to BC a few years ago. He's a Toronto Maple Leafs and Edmonton Oilers fan, but more importantly, he's a hockey fan and a friend of mine. He knows his stuff, folks, and we welcome this guest post on tonight's game. - J.J.]
If you know anything about Leaf fans (some of you think you do, only a few of you might), you know that we invariably value players with less skill (insert mocking laughter here). We cheer Domi over Sundin; Roberts over Mogilny; the Burns era over the Quinn era.
I was 9-years old in 1987. Old enough to visit my brother Tim in Pickering and help babysit his children. Young enough to be sent to bed after the first period of each Canada Cup game.
The defining hockey tournament of my generation was enjoyed primarily through my trusty portable radio – a radio that incidentally lasted me 15 years.
And while I’ll never forget the magic of Gretzky to Lemieux, I’ll also never forget the appreciation I developed for Normand Rochefort and Doug Crossman – two journeyman defencemen who played the hockey of their lives during that tournament.
I wanted them to be Toronto Maple Leafs.
I raise this because, as a new generation enjoys perhaps the greatest hockey tournament of all-time, and a new chapter of Canada-Russia is written tonight, I don’t believe enough is being said about Canada’s 4th line.
While the “San Jose” line has been opportunistic and the Getzlaf line a failure, Canada’s most consistent unit has been Toews, Morrow, Richards. They’ve been physical, tenacious in their puck pursuit and reliable defensively.
Coach Mike Babcock isn’t a line-matcher, and Russia’s the home team. So we’re likely to see a lot of Crosby vs. Datsyuk tonight.
But I wouldn’t be surprised, in a close matchup like this one, if Toews and company play an important role.
As the Brodeur-Luongo debate rages (and it does rage outside Vancouver, and will rage even more if Canada loses tonight), much of the Roberto Luongo criticism centers on his inability to win big games.
Well, what has Russian goalie Evgeny Nabokov ever won?
Over the past five years San Jose has consistently been considered a Stanley Cup favourite and have consistently failed to measure up.
I had Canada and Russia’s goaltending rated equal heading into this tourney. We’ll see who outplays who tonight.
Personally, if I’m Russia, I have more confidence in Bryzgalov than Nabokov.
Niedermayer, Doughty, Keith and Boyle are all puck-moving d-men. More brains than brawn on the ice. Given the struggles Canada’s defence have had at times down low in the trenches behind the goal-line (how many goals against have started from won puck-battles behind the net?), is anybody else wondering if we needed four of the same type of defenceman?
Yes we haven’t beaten the Russians at an Olympics in 50 years. But this Russian team hasn’t played well so far either. In fact, the two teams tonight are remarkably similar in their struggles. It was only last game that the Russians found a scoring line (Ovechkin-Malkin-Semin), and their powerplay has been incredibly individualistic. They’ve also been prone to bad penalties (paging Alex Radulov). They are beatable.
Smart puck-movement from defence to offence (aka a clean transition game) can nullify a speedy forecheck. The keys are quick decision-making, accurate passes, good gap control and trust between forwards and defence. Canada hasn’t excelled in this area in the tournament so far, which is surprising, given the presence of so many puck-moving defencemen. If Canada wins tonight, they will have found a way to be better in this area.
Defence: Slight edge Canada
Has anything changed my mind? Not really.
Canada wins a thriller tonight. Gotta stick with the pre-tourney pick.
Enjoy the game everyone!