Thursday, September 09, 2004

World Cup of Hockey

First of all, what is this "World Cup of Hockey" nonsense? It is the "Canada Cup". Also, the fact that none of the games are in New York, Philadelphia or Detroit is testimony to the utter stupidity of the NHL. Utterly stupid.

Now. No bones about it- I want Canada!

That is assuming Canada even makes it through the semi-finals. Sure they ought to roll Slovakia in the quarters tonight in Toronto- but then they get the Czechs- and I know I'd want no part of that Czech-flavored medicine in a one-and-done situation. There is no guttier team in international play than the Czechs- and they are always prepared and always nasty. There are like eight guys on the Czech roster who play in the NHL only because they are mean.

The Americans really, after a shaky start, have a good chance to win this tournament. Okay, they looked awful against Canada to open play: they looked old and unready- did not hit anyone.

But Wilson has made the right changes- and the tournament has opened up for them in a big way. They absolutely hammered Russia in the quarters last night- top to bottom. Yes, the defense is old, but I am not sure in a short tournament with three days between games, it is that big a weakness. Chelios and Leetch might not be a world-class players every night, but they might be six times over an eighteen-day tournament. And of course, Chelios brings a unique advantage to the Americans. If Coach Ron Wilson decides he has to cripple, say, Thorton or Iginla, to win this thing, it really isn't a problem for Chelios. "Yes Coach," Chelios would say cheerily- reaching for the "stick" he keeps for "crippling".

As a reward for last nights big win, the USA catches a real break in the semi-finals. After playing Slovakia, Canada again has to deal with those tricky Czechs. Conversely, the Finns have to fly across the ocean and play the semi-final in some horrible place in Minnesota. The Fins aren't terrible- but c'mon- they ain't the Swedes or the Czechs either. Particularly at home, we ought to beat up their chicken European wingers- and roll that mob by two goals.

I honestly wouldn't be surprised to see the Czechs in the Final- again no one overachieves more than that team. But realistically Canada ought to advance- and set up a great Final in Toronto.

Again, I know the Americans looked real bad in that first game. But this is kind of a good spot for them. First, Ron Wilson is a very good coach. He made the mistake of playing all-star hockey with Canada the first time- and yes, Canada is at least two goals better than the USA playing that game. But he isn't stupid- and the USA isn't playing that way anymore. Scratching Hull, refusing to play Amonte- all are signals that Wilson is going to play something besides the "skate in circles" effort we played the first time. In that scenario, Jamie Langenbrunner is a more important player than Hull.

It would be a big upset to beat Canada- but they only have to beat them once- and you don't have to beat them playing "hockey". They have to turn it into a contest of "who wants it more?" rather than "who is better?" Thorton defines pretty soft already- let's see how soft he is with an irritable Rafalski draped over him for twenty minutes. You know Chelois won't blink if asked to take a run at Lecavalier- again and again. How bad does Joe Sakic really want it? You think Martin St. Louis is going to stand up to Brian Rolston in a big spot? The Americans need to ask Canada to answer these sorts of questions- questions Canada didn't answer well at all in '96.

Plus, if you had to design a team to upset Canada, it might look like the one Wilson has. The top line is on fire. Esche is better than Brodeur (see last year's play-offs for one thing- and Esche has been fantastic in the tournament thus far) in the most important position on the ice. Canada hold distinct advantages up front- but the USA defense is more than adequate to hold it together for one game, one time, one supreme effort. Plus, let's face it- no team plays tighter than a drum in big spots than Canada in Canada.

Imagine Tuesday night, in Toronto, as the disappointed, sad crowd is forced to listen to "The Star Spangled Banner" yet again. The good news for Canada is that only a handful of people believe it can happen. The bad news for Canada is that twenty of them will be in Toronto wearing "USA" on their sweater.