MONTREAL — Hockey Canada has had better months. First, there was the still unexplained blow-up that resulted in the resignation of women’s coach Dan Church.
That one, surely, had something to do with friction between Church and Melody Davidson. Kevin Dineen was parachuted into a situation where he has no experience, the Canadian women immediately lost a series of games to the U.S., and although most of them were close and tough, the Americans appear to have the distinct upper hand going into what is really a two-nation tournament in Sochi.
For its next act after the Church debacle, Hockey Canada reached out to Brent Sutter, figuring that Mr. Miserable could staunch the bleeding and put an end to a four-year losing streak at the world junior championship. The result? More bleeding, more misery — and a five-year losing streak.
That Sutter couldn’t win on the big ice would come as a surprise only to Hockey Canada, where thinking hasn’t evolved much since the days of Punch Imlach. That’s why you saw Canadian players in Sweden wandering around looking for someone to hit while highly skilled Finns and Russians are flying down the ice.
Sunday morning, after Canada had managed to score all of two goals while losing to the Finns and Russians, Sutter looked almost as miserable as he looks when his team wins. He simply had no answers.
When called upon to actually think as opposed to bullying a bunch of kids, Sutter was found wanting — and the Canadians ended up a bunch of strangers in a strange land with no clue how to function against skilled opponents on the big ice sheet.
So we go into Tuesday’s unveiling of the men’s hockey team for Sochi with two outs: Melody Davidson on a foul pop-up and Brent Sutter looking at a called third strike.
If you’re not worried about what Steve Yzerman & Co. are about to pull, then you’re simply not taking enough anxiety pills. There are so many ways to go wrong.
The U.S. blew it just last week by 1) not yanking Brian Burke’s tongue with hot tongs and 2) choosing a team that somehow includes Brooks Orpik while leaving Dustin Byfuglien, Torey Krug and Keith Yandle at home. (And why, pray tell, does the gentlemanly David Poile have to be the one to apologize when it’s the oafish Burke who committed the offence?)
Whatever, like good North American hockey folk everywhere, the Americans are mortally afraid that someone might actually do something out there. Hand these people a young Bobby Orr, and they’d say, “sorry, we’re worried about who’s going to stay back while he’s on one of those end-to-end rushes that always result in a goal.”
Look, Sochi is going to be a tough assignment for Canada no matter who is selected, because this country simply doesn’t play well on the big ice. (Neither does the U.S., which is why they also bombed in Nagano and Torino.) If you’re going to win in Sochi, you have to be willing to take some risks.
It all comes down to where the games are played: Two Olympic tournaments with NHL players on the small-ice surface have resulted in two Canada-U.S. finals in Salt Lake and Vancouver — and two golds for Canada. In Nagano, even with Patrick Roy in goal (and Eric Lindros as captain in one of the great blunders of this country’s Olympic history) Canada lost the bronze-medal match to Finland.
In Torino in 2006, it was worse: zero goals in three games in the smaller of the two arenas and Canada was eliminated in the quarter-finals by Russia, 2-0. In an act of supreme stupidity, Sidney Crosby was left at home and not one Canadian appeared on the list of the tournament’s top 10 scorers.
So don’t talk to me about Vancouver. It’s irrelevant, because it’s a different game. That’s why I want to see youth and speed in this selection, why even Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry would be iffy selections in my opinion, why I’ll be pulling for Patrick Sharp, Jamie Benn and P.K. Subban — and why, if I hear the name of the perennially underachieving Rick Nash, I’m betting on Sweden.
If Team Canada wants to know how to get this completely wrong, Yzerman and his crew have only to look at the 2006 roster. It would be hard to do a worse job of designing a team for the big ice. The defence is painful to contemplate: Adam Foote, Chris Pronger, Wade Redden, Robyn Regehr, Bryan McCabe and Jay Bouwmeester. (The extremely mobile Scott Niedermayer had to withdraw with an injury, but so did Ed Jovanovski.)
The forward roster included Shane Doan, Todd Bertuzzi, Kris Draper and Ryan Smith. Even Martin St. Louis (who had two goals and an assist) couldn’t make up for that.
So please, fellas. No Rob Zamuners. No Kris Drapers or Ryan Smyths. Canada has the talent. Don’t leave Patrick Sharp at home, for the love of Chicago.
And let’s please not hear any more condescending talk about P.K. Subban and the need to play a 200-foot game. Subban has 33 points this season and he’s a plus-13, while Shea Weber (who is a lock to make this team) is a minus-11 with 26 points and I don’t hear anyone talking about Weber as a defensive risk.
Subban belongs in Sochi — and not as an eighth defenceman. Carey Price should be the starting goaltender, not Roberto Luongo simply because he won in Vancouver. Different ice, different game, different country. Fail to recognize that and Team Canada is doomed before it gets through customs in Sochi.
And this final note: Why, oh why, is the NHL playing so many outdoor games without going to the big ice surface? There’s certainly plenty of room in the venues where the outdoor games are played. The ice surface in Michigan, in comparison with the Big House, made it look like they were playing on a postage stamp.
Big ice outdoors would provide better visuals, better skating and an opportunity to test the surface for the NHL from many aspects, including entertainment value (has to be better) and player safety (ditto.)
Heroes: Rasmus Ristolainen, Jusse Saros, Teuvo Teravinen, Martin Reway, Aaron Ekblad, Zach Fucale, Curtis Lazar, Andrei Vasilevski, Mikael Kingsbury, Justine Dufour-Lapointe, Patrick Sharp, Tomas Plekanec, Daniel Brière, Bobby Ryan, Tajh Boyd, Trevor Knight, Quincy Enunwa, Tommy Armstrong Jr., Eusebio, &&&& last but not least, Team Finland — for finally beating the Swedes.
Zeros: Brent Sutter, Brian Burke, USA Hockey, TSN, Andy Dalton, Nick Saban, Urban Meyer, Man U, the Winter “Classic,” Randy Carlyle, Nazem Kadri, Phil Kessel, P.J. Stock, Don Cherry, Pierre Gauthier, Claude Brochu, David Samson &&&& last but not least, Jeffrey Loria.
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