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Team Canada vs Team USA – There’s Still Something That Hasn’t Happened Before

April 8, 2012

Women’s hockey fans were eagerly awaiting the start of the 2012 Women’s World Hockey Championships, the first with the new format. This format sees the four teams from Group A and the top two teams from Group B advance to a playoff round after group round-robin play.  The remaining two teams from Group B play a best of three relegation series. The concept was that it would prevent the blow outs that have permeated women’s tournaments. A thoughtful plan, but one that fell flat the very first day it was put into use, by the two most unlikely opponents.

In a highly anticipated game between the two world superpowers, Team Canada came out flat and were blown out in a fashion that had never happened before.  Before the game was 5 minutes old, the US had blasted out to a 5-0 lead and Team Canada had changed their goalie and called their timeout.  Team USA was dominating in all facets of the game and their ability to transition with speed exposed Team Canada’s defence.  Canada appeared to have no answer for the Americans, including the insertion of backup Shannon Szabados.

In no way was the score indicative of the just the goaltending.  Team Canada was simply being outplayed and outhustled.  Their mottos going into the game were ‘pressure is a privilege’ and ‘skill and sandpaper’. Unfortunately, neither appeared to have sunk in.  Perhaps the infusion of youth was taking its toll?  Between periods, Captain Hayley Wickenheiser looked appropriately angered by the treatment her team had suffered through the first period, and as a leader she knew the value of her words and actions.

Coming out in the second period with a quick highlight reel goal from Natalie Spooner, Canada appeared regained its legs and confidence.  That was immediately stifled by the second goal from Jocelyne Lamoureux.  The Lamoureux twins collectively killed any Canadian momentum throughout the game, finishing with 6 points including a hat trick  for Monique and 3 points for Jocelyne.  The game ended with the score 9-2 for the USA in front of a wildly chanting crowd.

Key occurrences in the game weren’t limited to the score, although TSN’s Rod Black couldn’t help repeating that the USA had never scored more than 7, then 8 and finally 9 goals against the Canadians.  In the whitewash first period, Canada’s Hayley Irwin appeared to catch an edge and slid awkwardly into the boards behind the American net with her right leg twisted beneath her. Injuries happen and there was nothing nefarious about the event itself. However, the lack of reaction from the officials when Irwin was not able to return to her bench was ridiculous.

I can forgive officials for missed calls in terms of hooking/slashing/tripping etc., but  to allow the play to continue while an injured player lies in pain on the ice, is unconscionable.  In this case, play continued for almost a minute before the officials noticed Irwin struggling on one leg across the US blue line and blew the play down. Granted, Team USA had possession of the puck during this time (registering two or three shots on net), but the officials should be aware of what’s happening on the ice, and obviously they weren’t. Kudos to American goalie Molly Schaus for giving Irwin a helping hand in trying to get off the ice. Irwin, who collapsed at the blue line when the whistle blew, was attended by Team Canada officials and assisted off the ice by her teammates.  Based on later reports, nothing is appears to be broken.

The question now is how Team Canada reacts to this rout.  None of them have ever experienced a blow-out game from the wrong end of the score.  It will be up to the coaching staff and team veterans to get everyone to blank the game from their minds so they can start fresh on Sunday against a gritty Finnish team that beat Russia 5-4 today.

On thing that has to change is their puck pursuit and aggression.  There was far too much standing around waiting for the puck. At one point Julie Chu was knocked off her feet and stickhandled on her knees for 3-4 seconds while the Canadians watched. This can’t be allowed to happen.  The two goals for were examples of the skill that Canada can field, but if they can’t figure out how to stop the potent American offence that ran roughshod over them all game, it will be a long night again, should they meet again.

Injury Update: Haley Irwin sustained a high ankle sprain and is out for the tournament. Well wishes for a speedy recovery.

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