Of Course Canada Will Win Gold

Of course Canada will win the gold.  Why, there’s not really even much point in playing the game.  Maybe you should just go see the exhibition of hockey prowess that the Canadian team puts on as they beat the USSR 12-1.

Oops.  Wrong decade, wrong teams and wrong idea. 

But it was what people were saying in 1972 when the Russian Red Army team came over to Canada to play four games of an eight-game series, an exhibition that was obviously going to be a walkover for the Canucks.  It wasn’t.  Not even the first game, which they lost in Montreal on Sept. 2, 1972.

But that was then, and this is now, right?  And Canada’s got a superstar team that should, in theory, beat the younger USA squad. 

Now theory meets practice, and there are three big problems at hand. 

First, goaltending. Vancouver fans can say what they like, and Roberto Luongo has made some great saves in his career, but he has never won anything. He also hasn’t looked particularly impressive when the pressure has been on in the past.  Just one example is the Canucks’ series against Anaheim in the playoffs in 2007.  Instead of paying attention to the puck, he was trying to call a penalty when the shot that ended the series went past him.

The second problem is the home team.  It’s hard to imagine from points south of the good old 49th parallel, but the pressure on this team is tremendous.  You’re heard it said lots before, but everything, for Canada, is riding on this win.  McDonald’s has been hyping it for months with giveaways. 

Every talk station has featured discussion about the squad since Steve Yzerman was named the GM more than a year ago. You think the players don’t know this?  Just ask one of them who moves to a non-traditional hockey market how different it is from being in Canada.  This has been on their minds and in their nightmares for months.

And it’s not like there’s an advantage with the home crowd. There may be a little one, but the (well, let’s just say it) nincompoops who are responsible for staging the games have not allowed them to be a factor, pure and simple. 

They’ve filled the arena with the moronic soundtrack of NHL contests.  “Woo woo!” 

You’re supposed to respond, “woo woo!” and be happy about that.  Hey—wake up.  It doesn’t matter that you’re trying to enjoy a hockey game here.  What matters is that you yell when the guy at the computer sound board wants you to.

Quick, name another sport (aside from figure skating) where the participants play to an artificial soundtrack.  There are none. And hockey should be that way.

Because it isn’t, it doesn’t matter that the game is being played in Canada; it’s just another generic NHL-style contest with the crowd taken out of it because they’re treated like mindless drones who need to be told when to get involved.

The third problem is momentum.  The Canadians faced a really good Slovakian team Friday, but not a team that should have given them problems.  The home squad went up by a comfortable margin, then let the pesky Slovaks back into it.  Were it not for Pavol Demitra forgetting to put in his contact lenses (or whatever else explains his two last-minute misses right in front of the net), it would have gone into overtime. 

And maybe as an addendum to the list of problems, defense. 

The Canadian defense may be good, but they haven’t been great.  Put that down in some measure to the decision to put Scott Niedermayer out there for a retirement tour.  He hasn’t played well in Anaheim this season, and he hasn’t held up his end as the Canadian team captain.

So what does this add up to? 

Canada might win.  I hope they do.  But it will be interesting to see what happens if they don’t.  A national tragedy of epic proportions will be the narrative that results.

Of course, if they do come out on top all will be well, the sin of losing to the USA last week forgotten.  The lazy play late against Slovakia will be read out of history, or coded as a brief moment of looking past the present to see the next game.  The decision to play the old guy on the backline—that’ll be a case of choosing a steady leader who guided the ship through a storm and home. 

And that goalie, well, he’ll finally have won something.

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