Wednesday, February 22, 2006

The Long Knives Come Out

The US men's hockey team is done, losing to Finland 4-3.

From the article, it looks as if the second-guessing has already begun. The lack of practice time together, the arrangements for the Olympics, the team makeup, etc. have all been blamed for the poor showing. Similar criticisms are being made about the women's bronze medal finish.

Personally, I don't think Team USA played that badly. I watched every game but the last one and in every match the US skated well, played good defense, and had decent goaltending. They got plenty of scoring chances and I believe they outshot their opponents in every game they played. They certainly weren't blown out or dominated by anyone.

But they just didn't have any goal scorers, and it showed. It was frustrating to watch shot after shot go wide of an open net, or be blocked in front by the opposing defense. This may have been partly due to the lack of practice time together. Or it may have been that some US players just picked the wrong time to have a scoring slump *cough* Keith Tcachuk *cough*. Whatever the reason, hockey in the Olympics is a faster, higher-scoring game than in the NHL, and if Team USA ever wants to consistently win at the international level they need to get some snipers.

However, the backstabbing at Team USA headquarters will be nothing compared to the bloodbath at Team Canada's office. The Canadians, who have dominated international hockey since the 2002 Olympics, were shut out in three of the games they played. They were shut out by Russia in the quarterfinals, a result that would have been unthinkable just two weeks ago.

I don't really dislike the Canadians, but they deserved it. The arrogance around them was so thick you could cut it with a knife. I think most of them expected that this tournament would be a cakewalk, like the 2004 World Cup of Hockey, and they could just show up and everyone would step out of the way. The Canadian women won, but in the stratified world of women's hockey that is a given. It's too bad the women couldn't also get their comeuppance so they would approach the 2010 Olympics with some humility.

Hopefully, USA Hockey will start planning carefully and get their ducks in a row for the next Olympics. It means getting some fresh talent, learning from their mistakes, and being better organized the next time around. It would do my old heart good to see Team USA -- both women and men -- beat Team Canada in Vancouver for the Gold Medal.

Payback for the E Center Debacle and their Magic Loonie.


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