Saturday, 11 April 2009

Rivalry Renewed - USA vs. Canada

The time is currently 12:49pm as I sit high up in the media room. Neither team is on the ice yet, giving me time to chow down my lunch. The stands are filing up nicely between these two hockey powers as Canada looks to open the tournament with a win while the Americans look to rebound from their 6-2 loss to Finland yesterday. The largely pro-Canadian crowd, dressed in Hockey Canada jerseys and carrying Canadian flags, look to rally the troops in their first game of the tournament. I'll try to grab some photos of the fans, particularly the one man who is really showing his patriotic side. Canada reportedly plays an extremely physical game, hitting anything that moves, while bringing a lot of skill to the ice. The Americans, as seen yesterday, are a slick-skating bunch who rely on skill. If the Americans hope to win today, they will need to shoot more often. Finland outshot the Americans by a 42-23 margin yesterday afternoon.

Team USA is listed as the road team and will be wearing their dark blue jerseys. Except this goalie. Apparently an all-black look is much better. I asked a few people why David Rancourt isn't in uniform, and no one from the media side seems to know. One gentleman suggested they didn't have enough money for a jersey big enough as he was literally the biggest player on the US side. I will get an answer, though. Rancourt did have his jersey on for the game, however. Maybe it's just a warm-up thing?

Team Canada is in their home whites, and they came out with "Canada" on the back in place of their names. I guess Canada is playing for the logo on the front AND the name on the back! I really like the bottom hem of the jersey. The Canadian flag interwoven along the bottom is a really nice touch. Perhaps the International Olympic Committee and Canadian Olympic Committee could learn something from our friends at the Deaf World Hockey Championships?

We're about 13 minutes from the start of this game. Honestly, the place is buzzing. Canada has a strong following, and there are all sorts of Canadian jerseys being worn, including a pink Team Canada jersey by this fan. As you may know, the first Women's World Championship saw the Canadian women in pink jerseys. Great job by that fan!

For some strange reason, the electric-powered zamboni isn't being used to flood the ice today. We're back to the box-style, gas-powered zamboni. Why? No idea. There is a different driver today, though, so perhaps he hasn't been shown how to work the electric one? Maybe this new driver is a traditionalist?

It's 1:35, and the game is about to start. Here are your highlights:

  • The game has started out physical as both teams throw hits all over the ice. Both teams are fast and physical, meaning this game appears to have a playoff mentality to it already.
  • 18:39 in and the crowd erupts as Canada scores its first of the afternoon! #6 Brad Gurr has Canada's first marker in the tournament as he fires home a wrist shot from the slot. Canada leads 1-0.
  • After the US takes a slashing penalty, Canada is really moving the puck well on the powerplay, but no shots as of yet. Play is whistled dead after a puck gets passed inside a glove lying on the ice in the corner.
  • The Americans, showing a lot of heart and hustle today, equal the score at the 4:17 mark. A rebound can't be controlled by Canadian goaltender #35 Ryan Armitage. After weakly throwing a glove over top of it, the puck is pushed over the line by #24 Peter Gentoli to even the game. Game tied 1-1.
  • 12:37 sees American goaltender Joe Lingle clear the puck into the legs of a Canadian forechecker from the top of the crease, and nearly ricochet into the empty net. No harm, no foul, though, and the game remains tied.
  • Both teams have played very aggressively thus far. With 10:34 to go in the first, neither team seems to be giving an inch as the hitting and speed have yet to diminish.
  • Canada on another powerplay with just under seven minutes to play, and the Americans are really doing a great job in terms of blocked shots. In my estimation, Canada has only recorded one or two shots on two powerplays thus far.
  • American powerplay at 5:40. For the entire two minutes, the Americans are keeping things very simple. Open up passing lanes, and three or four shots from the point with a man in front. Very good powerplay by the US team, but no reward yet.
  • A brutal giveaway by American defenceman #4 Garrett Hepperly gives Canadian forward #8 Devin Bell a clear path to the net from the faceoff circle in. Bell takes two strides and rips home a slapshot past Lingle at the 0:00 mark. Canada leads 2-1.
  • Canada strikes again with 57 second remaining. #6 Brad Gurr rips home a slapshot from the blocker-side faceoff circle on a 4-on-3 powerplay after some nice passing opens up a shooting lane for Gurr. Canada leads 3-1.
With the first intermission upon me, this game's score doesn't really reflect how close these two teams have played. It's been physical and fast-paced, and both teams have had chances. Canada has finished a little better as the score shows, but the two teams are very evenly matched. I expect the American squad to come out fired up as the risk of going down 0-2 in the tournament has to be realized.

In a fabulous chance meeting, Walter Gretzky, dad of the greatest NHL hockey player to date, was downstairs in the lobby, and I got to speak to the legend. Mr. Gretzky wasn't turning anyone away from an autograph, and children's faces lit up as he signed each and every autograph with that child's name. If there is anyone who is a better ambassador to the game of hockey, I have yet to meet him or see him in action. Walter Gretzky is the standard.

The teams are back on their respective benches. On to the second period!
  • A tripping penalty to America's #8 Mike Wonoski at the 19:02 mark sends Canada back to work on the powerplay. Canada appears to be running an umbrella powerplay, but they just aren't generating any real pressure with his strategy. The American penalty kill has met the challenge very well.
  • Another American penalty, this time for cross-checking, at the 17:05 mark gives Canada an extended 5-on-4. It appears there is a lot of stickwork going on in the corners, but the referee is letting them play.
  • A blast by Canadian assistant captain #19 Mike Merriman from the point at the 15:24 finds its way to the back of the net. After some good puck movement along the blocker-side halfboards, the puck was blasted home by Merriman on the powerplay. Canada leads 4-1.
  • No sooner do I start writing that highlight, but Canada strikes again at the 15:10 mark. #4 Jon Lobodzinski blasts another shot from almost the same spot at the point, and it finds twine behind Lingle. Canada leads 5-1.
  • Tempers are beginning to flare as frustration mounts for the American squad. An elbowing penalty is signaled by the referee, and there is a lot of talk after the call between the officials and players on the ice. American #18 David Reid will serve the only penalty, though.
  • One thing that hasn't been tolerated by the referees here is chirping. Canadian defenceman Casey O'Brien was handed a 10-minute misconduct after he and the referee had a spirited discussion. This is the third misconduct handed out in three games. Ironically, all three have gone to North American-based teams.
  • Canada is beginning to run into penalty problems as well. A hooking call at 8:07 gives the Americans a 5-on-3 powerplay for 21 seconds. Again, stickwork is being called on players with the puck in open ice, but battles along the boards are being tolerated. Both teams need to realize this.
  • Canadian goaltender Ryan Armitage has made a number of spectacular saves today. Much like the Finnish goalie yesterday, the American team just can't seem to find a way to beat him.
  • With 3:25 remaining, the Americans crash the net hard after a save by Armitage There is legitimate bad blood between these two teams right now as players on both sides are knocking each other to the ice. It will be interesting to see how the referee sorts this one out. Turns out we'll have four-on-four hockey as the Canadian minor penalty runs down, while the American aggressor, Peter Gentoli, serves two for cross-checking, two for roughing, and a ten-minute misconduct.
  • After a huge hit by Canadian forward #11 Jason Plumb on American defenceman #39 Jason Kitchen, American Garrett Hepperly chases down Plumb and tries to make him part of the boards. The linesmen get in the middle of the two players, but Hepperly wants revenge on Plumb as he continues to try to get at him. Kitchen is helped off the ice by the American trainer, but gives the Canadian bench a "throat slash" gesture before he steps off the ice. Penalties are still being sorted out. Once they are announced, I'll run down who is serving what. All of this happened with 2:48 left in the second period.
  • Apparently, there were only two players who were penalized. Hepperly gets a two-minute minor for unsportsmanlike, while Plumb gets a five-minute major for charging and a game misconduct.
  • A two-on-one for Canada sees them strike again. Captain #7 Steve Devine cruises down the right wing and lets a laser fly off his stick that bulges the twine with 58 seconds left. Canada leads 6-1.
At the end of the second period, these two teams are doing a lot of talking. The officials split them up and sent them to their respective benches, but this game has turned ugly. Neither team seems very happy, and there are still 20 minutes to play. The third period should be very interesting with the score 6-1.

An interesting piece of news comes from one of my fellow journalists. Canadian Jason Plumb, the man given the game misconduct, is the son of former NHL player Rob Plumb. Rob only played in 14 NHL games, scoring one goal and two assists, but the bloodlines are there. He did, however, have a good career in the WHA, the minors, and in Europe.

Back to the action as the third period gets underway:
  • The physical game is very apparent now as both teams aren't holding up. Punches are being thrown behind the play, and sticks are off the ice more than they are on it. Five minutes in, and this is looking more like American Gladiators than international hockey.
  • A hooking call at 13:51 is being questioned by Canadian Brett McLaren as he is sent off the ice. If the stick is parallel to this ice, it's a penalty, guys. It's the same here as it is in the NHL, AHL, or anywhere else.
  • The Americans score on the ensuing powerplay. The powerplay goal at 13:36 is chipped in by #19 Andy Howard to cut the deficit to four goals. Canada leads 6-2.
  • Pressure in the American end by the Canadians lasts for almost two minutes. #13 Jason Veilieux puts one off the crossbar and looks to the heavens for an answer as to how he missed that opportunity on the American goal.
  • With 8:40 remaining, the Canadians will go on a powerplay again. The Americans had penalty problems yesterday, and that is still haunting them today. They can't afford to waste time killing penalties for tripping when they are down four goals.
  • A huge turnover in the Canadian zone at the 5:43 mark could have provided the Americans with a lift as #8 Mike Wonoski was all alone in front of the net. The only problem? He blew a tire as he went to corral the puck, and the Canadians recovered it before any damage was done. All Wonoski could do was shake his head as he went for a line change.
  • Team Canada adds some additional insurance as they strike again at 4:04. Defenceman #5 David Garbacz wires home a goal from the high slot. Canada leads 7-2.
  • With 2:07 remaining, the Americans are whistled for a hooking penalty. This one is in the books as a Canadian win. The only thing left to decide is what the final score will be.
  • The Canadians waste little time on the powerplay. With 1:59 remaining, #25 Scott Savard pokes home another Canadian goal from just outside the crease. Canada leads 8-2.
Another game is finished, and the Canadians take this one by an 8-2 score. Canada improves to 1-0 while the USA falls to 0-2. The story in the game really was the physical play from both teams. Canada got some good finishes on its chances while the Americans ran into another goaltender who made brilliant saves. As a note, due to his game misconduct today, Jason Plumb will be suspended for one game. Canada's next game is Monday versus Slovakia, and he will be ineligible for that contest.

Player Of The Game - USA: #24 Peter Gentoli.
Player Of The Game - Canada: #6 Brad Gurr.

The second game starts tonight at 7pm, so there are about three hours between this game and the next, featuring the Slovakian squad against Finland. I expect that one to be similar to this game with Russia, but the Slovaks are a developing team and should benefit from being here on the world's stage.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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