Prior to the Olympic games, the International Ice Hockey Federation ranked the men’s top 3 Olympic hockey teams as Russia, Canada, and Sweden. But hockey is not played on paper and the IIHF’s experts cannot measure heart. Heart is why the Slovakian team (ranked 10th) placed 4th. Heart is why the Russians and Swedes went home empty handed. Heart is why our United States team (ranked 5th) is playing Canada’s best Sunday for the gold medal. As Toe Blake said, predictions are for gypsies and the team that will win the gold medal tomorrow will do so not because they look like champions on paper, but because they will play like ones on the ice.
Much has been said and written about the United States’ 5-3 victory over our friends to the north on February 21 but U.S. fans should be careful not to fall into the same trap as the IIHF or gypsies. Predicting success based on past performance may occasionally work well in financial sectors over the long term, but in short tournaments, it means little to nothing. The only assurance the teams going into tomorrow’s games as well as we fans have is that anything is possible.
Canada will look for a strong performance from Robert Luongo. He will face deflections and traffic. I have seen first hand Luongo’s game when he is able to control rebounds. He can steal victories with the best of them. The U.S. team will ask Ryan Miller to not change a thing. Miller has been a rock in net, or better stated, a wall. His unflappable style brings a collective calm that resonates through the big screen and lessens the chances of spilt beer and involuntary cursing by 72%.
The neutral zone will be a battle field. Both teams will attempt to conquer it with speed and puck control. I don’t expect either to sit back and play a dump and chase game. Canada has too much skill for that. The United States team should be prepared to stand up the Canadian forwards at the blue line and keep them to the outside or put them into the boards. If Canada is allowed to gain the center of the offensive zone with time and space, their sharp shooters may wreak havoc. On the other side, the U.S. team will play an in your face style that will focus bodies in front of Luongo, cycle the puck and drive to the net. Ron Wilson’s line adjustments have created more balance and I expect the U.S. team to come out rolling 4 lines, with each line expected to stick to its designated role.
Both will play a hard checking and physical game, especially in the first 10 minutes and the commencement of each period as each team will look to take and keep the momentum. The team that can do that and stay out of the penalty box while forcing the other in the sin bin may be tough to beat.
Then we come to the intangibles. The U.S. will be considered the home team, but tell that to the Canadian crowd who may set new records in decibels. Experience, sure it matters but so does confidence and the U.S. team’s cup is overflowing.
Who will win?
I am no gypsy but maybe Surly knows. He does sport the long hair after all.
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