Gearing up for another Canada-Russia classic

Photo courtesy REUTERS/Scott Audette

By Nathan White

Canadian Olympic hockey fans are breathing a little easier after Canada decimated Germany 8-2 in Vancouver Tuesday to advance to the quarter-finals against Russia.

But that doesn’t stop that 35-million-general-manager instinct I talked about in my last post, that sense of innate hockey knowledge that leaves us questioning Canada’s personnel and who was left home in a tournament such as this.

Early in the game, when Canada was having trouble putting a puck past San Jose Sharks goalie Thomas Greiss, I had an interesting back and forth on Twitter with National Post columnist Bruce Arthur. Arthur was arguing Steven Stamkos should have been on the team because Patrice Bergeron played only 13 seconds in the first period. His argument was that the team could use another scorer, and Stamkos was left home in favour of little-used faceoff specialist Bergeron.

My argument was, would you want Stamkos on the team to play just 13 seconds a period? The team already has plenty of scorers. In the NHL, you have fourth-liners who play 13 seconds a period. This tournament should be no different. And it’s much easier to ask a guy like Patrice Bergeron to do that because, let’s face it, he’s happy just to be on the team isn’t he? Stamkos’s time will come, but I think Team Canada executive director Steve Yzerman has done a great job putting together 9-10 scorers and 3-4 guys that can be asked to play a role.

I might have taken it even further and left off Ryan Getzlaf or Corey Perry for a penalty killing specialist. How about Jordan Staal of the Pittsburgh Penguins to join his brother Eric? (I also have a totally unresearched theory that teams with brothers on them do well.) What about Alex Burrows to be a pest? They aren’t better overall players, but surely those guys would be more accepting of third- and fourth-line minutes than Getzlaf and Perry?

FORMAT CHANGE?

Canada’s win sets up another Canada-Russia classic Wednesday. Unfortunately one will have to go home without a medal simply because of the way the preliminary round set the seeding.

Couldn’t hockey come up with some variation of a double-knockout format to avoid something like this, a la some curling tournaments?

Here’s one completely half-baked idea: The four quarter-final losers are knocked over to a bronze medal bracket. They play off, and the two winners play the two semifinal losers. The winners of those matchups become the two finalists for the bronze medal.

The extra games could happen on what is now a day off, the bronze medal semifinals could replace the existing bronze medal game on the second-last day of the tournament, and the bronze medal game could become an opening act for the final on the last day. Makes for more hockey, and a second chance for victims of bad luck.

By the way, this is the last time I will suggest hockey should emulate curling.

THAT MAGIC SCORE

Canada and Russia are gearing up for what could be yet another classic in the annals of hockey showdowns between the countries.

It seems many of these memorable matchups have ended in a 6-5 score. That was the score at last year’s world junior championship thriller, Game 8 of the 1972 Summit Series, and all three games of the best-of-three final in the 1987 Canada Cup.

Will Wednesday’s game be another?

HAPPY ANNIVERSARY

By the way, Wednesday is the eight-year anniversary of Canada winning the gold medal at the Salt Lake City Olympics, breaking a 50-year drought.

I will never forget that date. I was travelling with a friend in Stockholm, in search of a place to watch the game. We were told the bar we’d been watching games at had rented out its TV room and we couldn’t go down there. Just as we were about to leave, disappointed, one of the people downstairs heard our accents, and ran up the stairs recognizing a fellow Canadian. It turned out to be the local chapter of the Canadian Club, and they invited us downstairs to watch the game.

We ended up celebrating with a bunch of Canadian strangers, waving dozens of Canadian flags in the streets of Stockholm until the wee hours of the night. Probably one of the top 10 memorable nights of my life.

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~ by Nathan White on February 24, 2010.

3 Responses to “Gearing up for another Canada-Russia classic”

  1. While I’m excited to watch the game, I find the hype comparing this to Canada-Russia 72 overblown.

    Agree with you re: Bronze medal round format change. Too funny that we’re looking to the most boring sport on ice for inspiration on how to make Olympic hockey more exciting.

  2. Great stuff here Nathan. I enjoy your writing.

    First, I don’t think it makes any difference what format is taken post quarter-final game loss. If Canada does not end up in the final game, for better or worse, the rest of Canada sees it as a failure. Perhaps this would be a great move as it relates to other countries chances of capturing a medal, but for Canada… no gold = failure.

    On the Russia – Canada game tonight. I have to say that I’m nervous. I will be the loudest fan tonight cheering for Canada… but if I was forced to bet on the game… and I had to put everything I own on the game for the bet… I have to say… I would probably have to bet on Russia. If put in the same hypothetical situation, what would be your call?

    • You’re right about the no gold = failure mentality, that’s why there’s so much pressure on this year’s team to do it at home.

      Since I’m commenting after the game, it’s easy to say I would have bet on Canada, but i have a personal rule: I don’t bet on games/teams I really care about. Don’t mix love and money when it comes to sports!

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