Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Better Than Looking Indifferent Against Latvia

The Olympics finally started yesterday with the commencement of the Men’s Ice Hockey tournament. Unlike the 2006 Games, the United States is off to a good start- a solid, high-effort win over the game Swiss.

The 2006 United States team had no real chance to medal in Turino. Revisiting some of these reviews of their games back then- a tie with Latvia, loss to Slovakia- brings back all the ick. John Grahame and Robert Esche pitched as answers in goal! Slovakia dressing Zdeno Chara (definitely a world class player), Lubomir Visnovsky (leading NHL defensemen in points at that time) and Andrej Meszaros on defense- better than anything the mighty US could muster.

This American team is a step up in class. Sure, the pundits are right- it is a very young team. At no point yesterday could the US been described as heady and mistake-free. They aren’t slick at all- and showed no ability to get into the offensive zone other than dump and chase. Did you notice the unbelievable number of guys simply running into each other? But they were high effort- as Coach Brian Burke says in this morning’s PDN:
"Young players sometimes try things that older players won't," he was saying the other day. "Sometimes they do things that our older players won't."

Like? Like taking a stick to your nose while diving for the puck on your first-ever Olympic shift. Like blocking shots in a preliminary-round game with your team up two goals. Like playing a puck along the boards on all fours just to keep it inside the offensive zone, or rushing the puck from one end of the ice to the other, surprising the opposing defensemen, surprising the opposing goaltender, surprising the 16,706 who came to watch Team USA's victory over Switzerland yesterday.
Ryan Miller is a substantial upgrade in goal. And Ryan Suter’s good point play on the power play gives them “something simple to do” on the man advantage- not altogether unimportant with limited practice and get acquainted time. Just dump it in and let him play quarterback.

Baseball has the five tool player. I sort of break players down into four categories: speed, strength/size, puck control and scoring. This US team is not going to compete with Canada and Russia on the latter two categories. I mean, Jeff Carter is sitting home- and he’d be on the United States’ first power play unit. But the United States can skate and man!- really hit. The officials ignored the physical play, really had the whistles in the pocket, for yesterday’s slate of games. With no NHL style enforcers, the US might get a real chance to pound on and face wash Sidney Crosby and pals Sunday- see how bad they want this.

Canada’s disappointing 2006 finish wasn’t exactly the result of being unlucky or untalented- but playing with too little urgency (remember Switzerland in 2006?). They didn’t look too urgent yesterday against a bad Norge team (ed. note: I love Norge!)

But that is just it. This tournament doesn’t begin until the knock-out round, which everyone makes. The United Sates needs these games to get organized, get playing time together. Canada just needs to be ready to answer the bell next week.

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