2016 World Cup of Hockey
Canada versus the USA today at 8:00pm est 5:00pm pst. Not on a battlefield but on a 200 foot by 80 foot sheet of frozen water in a sold out arena known as the ACC in Toronto.
For Canada the game is important, a chance to show the world once again this is our game. We created it, and we are the absolute best at playing it. A chance to strengthen our position in the tournament. For our friends south of the border this game oozes of desperation. A team built to bump and grind, bash and pummel its opponents into submission must now find a way to overcome a team with superior speed, superior skill and an inborn will to do whatever it takes to emerge victorious or face exiting the tournament much earlier than expected filled with questions on what went wrong and how to remake their program. This game is do or die for the Americans, a loss eliminates them from advancing to the playoff round of the World Cup. This is their gold medal game and only a supreme effort for sixty minutes will do.
I would expect the Americans to insert Dustin Byfuglien into the lineup today. A big bruising defenceman with plenty of offensive upside. My guess would be that he will replace Jack Johnson in tonights roster. Team USA is going to have to find a way to get Kyle Palemeiri into the game as well. Leaving a thirty goal scorer in the stands does not serve them well. Needing as much offense as possible the Americans are going to have to sacrifice some of their nastiness for skill. Players like Ryan Kesler and TJ Oshie are going to have to leave their clubs in the dressing room and play with hockey sticks tonight. They cannot win if they cannot score and there is a dearth of weapons on this team as currently composed. Jonathan Quick will start in goal in my opinion, the one position of strength the American roster has. A two time Stanley Cup Champion Quick is more than capable of meeting tonights challenge and stealing a must win game for the U.S.
I don’t see any changes for Canada tonight. Carey Price should start in goal behind the same lineup that cruised to a win over the Czech Republic. The Canadians put on a clinic on how to play international ice hockey versus the Czechs and I expect more of the same tonight. While the Americans struggle to find goals the Canadians will roll wave after wave of skill and speed at them. This team is so deep it can sit the NHLs leading scorer since 2011/2012 (Claude Giroux) and not miss a beat. Stacked enough on defence, loaded with studs Team Canada couldn’t find room for a Norris Trophy winner (P.K. Subban) on its roster. Loaded enough that the current Vezina winner (Braden Holtby) will likely never see the ice.
This game is going to be played at a hundred miles per hour, lots of heavy hits nastiness and incredible skill. Canada will have to endure a furious start by the Americans who will be desperate to seize control of the game from the get go. The first ten minutes are going to be critical for the U. S. and they will surely try to dictate the play early on. In the end however the depth and skill level of Team Canada will prove to be too much for the Americans. I see a 5-3 final with the Canadians emerging victorious.
Team USA is going to have to rethink how they structure their lineups for international tournaments. I don’t feel they can win as currently assembled. I think every team at every level of hockey requires some players prepared to crash and bash. Grit and sandpaper are admirable attributes for a player to have. However hockey in general is moving away from this style of play. Rule changes in the NHL have allowed smaller more creative players with much more offensive upside not only to play but excel. This is where the Americans have been trapped, built for the clutch and grab style of the 90’s they cannot compete with teams filled with speed and skill. Sure they are good enough to pound the lesser lights into submission but until they modernize their way of thinking, gold medals and world championships will be a thing of the past. The Flyers of the 70’s were forced to change their style as the game changed. The Canadiens of that era and the Oilers of the 80’s forced hard hitting physical teams to take fewer penalties and adapt. Clutch and grab teams like the Devils were forced change and accept the new style of game as teams like Detroit and Pittsburgh raised the skill level of the game to new heights. Rule changes embrace the newer faster more skill focused style of play. It’s the Americans turn to change now, and until they do they will only find failure and head scratching disappointment.
American coach John Torterella just wants to play the damn game and says “we’re coming”. That’s nice John, but “we’re coming” too. It’s going to be one hell of a game, a battle for the ages, enjoy it everyone.
That’s how I see it, from the bleacher seats.