Friday, 26 February 2010

Deja Vu 2002

The majority of North American soil is shared by two countries. These two countries share the longest undefended border on the planet, and there are few differences between the people who make up these two countries. Of course, I'm talking about Canada and USA with this introduction, and these two teams will play for the 2010 Olympic gold medal in men's hockey. Both teams have performed much better than what we witnessed in the opening preliminary games, so the gold medal game should be an exiting finish to the men's hockey tournament in Vancouver.

I've been asked by several people who my pick is to win the games, and it's extremely tough to pick a winner when it comes to Team USA and Team Canada. Both teams have gone from individual NHL stars into a solid Olympic team in terms of the evolution throughout these Olympic games. The holes seen in each team have become smaller as the Olympics have progressed, making each team that much harder to play against.

Let's start with the team that I consider to be the underdogs going into the Gold Medal Final: Team Canada.

Team Canada has gone 4-1-1 in the 2010 Olympics, having lost to Team USA and defeating Switzerland in a shootout. They finished seeded sixth overall, and had to play an extra qualification game in order to reach the Quarter-Finals. They scored 32 goals-for in reaching the Gold Medal Final while allowing 14 goals-against.

Team Canada is led by Jarome Iginla with five goals and seven points. Jonathan Toews leads Canada in assists with seven, and also has seven assists. Dany Heatley also has seven points. Luongo is 3-0-0, and has won all three games in regulation time. His 1.75 GAA leads Team Canada, and he has a 91.95 save percentage with one shutout.

Statistically, Canada isn't at the top of any category. However, they discovered in the qualification game against Germany that roles needed to be filled. Players suchs as Jonathan Toews, Mike Richards, and Brendan Morrow stepped up and delivered magical performances against the Russians in the Quarter-Finals. The Slovaks provided some edge-of-the-seat moments in the Semi-Final, but Canada weathered the third period storm and advanced to the Gold Medal Final.

The favorites going into the Gold Medal Final have to be Team USA.

Team USA is 5-0-0 in the 2010 Winter Olympics. They finished first overall in the standings with 22 goals-for versus six goals-against. The Americans are, by far, the best defensive team in the tournament, and haven't allowed more than one goal in any game except against Canada in the preliminaries where they won by a 5-3 score.

Brian Rafalski leads Team USA with four goals and eight points, while Zach Parise, Ryan Malone, and Patrick Kane have added three goals each for the American squad. Ryan Miller is solidifying his mark as the best goalie on the planet right now as he enters the Gold Medal game with a ridiculous 1.04 GAA, a 96.16 save percentage, and one shutout.

The Americans can boast the best goaltender in the tournament in Ryan Miller, and the best defensive team because of Miller's efforts along with a total team defensive effort preached by head coach Ron Wilson. Ryan Whitney is the only player not to be on the plus-side of the ledger in the plus/minus category, and he sits with an even plus/minus. Team USA dispatched the Swiss by a 2-0 score in the Quarter-Final after earning a bye past the Qualification Round. They followed that effort up by blowing out the 2006 silver medalists in Finland in the Semi-Final by a 6-1 score.

Putting the numbers and figures aside, this game looks like it may end up being a war. Both teams have really stepped up their physical games, bringing an element that the European teams seemingly couldn't match. Canada absolutely abused the Russians down low in the Russian zone, and the Americans ran roughshod all over the Finns in their Semi-Final Game.

If anything, though, I'll have to give the physical edge to Team USA as they are a team of gritty, tough scoring threats that don't let up for any inch of ice. That wears teams down and causes players to make mistakes, and the Americans are extremely effective in playing this style of game.

In looking at both teams, Team Canada's worst game statistically was against the US. However, Team USA's worst game came against the Canadians. See how close this matchup truly is?

The one factor that no one can truly factor in is history. In 2002, the Americans had it in Salt Lake City as they were the only team to win a men's hockey gold medal on home soil, and they rode it all the way to the Gold Medal Game. However, they ran into a vastly-improved Canadian team in terms of Canada's evolution from the start of the tournament, and Canada came away with the gold medal after a very exciting game.

Combatting the history factor in Vancouver, though, will be the home ice advantage. You know that the Canadian fans at Canada Hockey Place will almost will their team to victory. Two nations will be behind their respective teams as a gold medal and four years of bragging rights will be at stake.

Sunday is a monsterous day for hockey. You know I'll be watching.

And, with the risk of being called a "homer", GO CANADA GO!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!


Sage Confucius said...

Teebz, if you weren't pulling for your home country then I would consider you a homer. LOL You SHOULD be pulling for Canada!


Anonymous said...

GO CANADA! Should be a heck of a game. Canada just needs to keep up the physical play and really needs to get good goaltending from Luongo.

JTH said...

A couple more factors: the anthems and the chants.

I'll give the edge to "O Canada" over "The Star-Spangled Banner", but "USA! USA! USA!" blows away "Go Canada Go!"