Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Ranking the World/Canada's Cup five Game Twos

Tuesday night's Game 1 of the World Cup final, which saw Team Canada earn a 3-1 win over Team Europe, sets up a do-or-die Game 2 Thursday night. A Canada win would end the tournament, and the trophy will be in the building, unless the league has come to its senses and thrown that ugly thing into a raging bonfire instead.

There have been seven World and Canada Cups in international hockey history, but we didn't get to see a Game 2 in all of those. Twice, in 1981 and 2004, the format called for a one-game final. But it's been best-of-three in the other tournaments, which gives us five Game 2 to work with. So today, let's take a look back at those five games, and rank them from worst to best.

As always, this is opinion only, and if you disagree, then you're wrong.

No. 5 – 1984: Canada 6, Sweden 5

The road there: Canada stumbled through the 1984 tournament, going 2-2-1 through the round robin and barely making the playoff round as the fourth seed. But Team Canada earned a trip to the final thanks to an overtime win over the Soviets in the semi-final, and they were facing an upstart Swedish team that had beaten them in their round robin meeting and had just embarrassed the Americans with a 9-2 blowout. The Canadians took the opener by a 5-2 final, but the second game proved closer.

Game 2: The game looked like a laugher early on, with Canada scoring four times in the first seven minutes and adding a fifth before the first period was over. A Paul Coffey goal early in the second made it 6-1, setting the stage for a furious Team Sweden comeback. They scored three unanswered goals to close out the second period, and draw to within 6-5 early in the third. But that was as close as they came, as Canada held on for the win and the series sweep.

The aftermath: This turned out to be the first of three straight Canada Cup wins for Team Canada, and remains the only finals appearance by Team Sweden.

The bottom line: What looked like a laugher wound up being a reasonably entertaining contest. But the game everyone remembers from the 1984 Canada Cup will always be that semi-final thriller with the Soviets.

>> Read the full post at The Hockey News

Monday, September 26, 2016

World Cup final preview

So, uh... just like the NHL drew it up, right?

As expected, the three-game final of the World Cup of Hockey will feature the two playoff teams from Group A. That was the group that was built around Team Canada and Team USA, and sure seemed to have been designed specifically to get those two rivals into a marquee final matchup that would pack the building, boost TV ratings and have sports fans all around North America buzzing.

Canada held up its end of the bargain, running the table in the round robin and then beating Russia on Saturday night. But Team USA's grit-induced meltdown became the story of the tournament, and it opened the door for Team Europe to sneak into the playoff round instead. They then went into Sunday's matchup with Sweden as a heavy underdog, only to come through with a shocking 3-2 overtime win.

That would be the same Team Europe that many fans didn't want to see in the event at all, given that the whole point of the tournament is supposed to be finding hockey's top nation, and "Europe" isn't one. The same was true of the 23-and-under Team North America, of course, but at least those kids were fun. This European mash-up couldn't even settle on an anthem to play.

But now Team Europe is in the final, two wins away from being crowned international hockey's greatest... whatever they are. And all that's standing in their way is Team Canada. Sure, it seems like a tall order, but when you weren't even supposed to exist in the first place, winning two hockey games shouldn't seem all that tough.

Game 1 goes Tuesday night. Game 2 is on Thursday. And Game 3, if necessary, will be played Saturday. Spoiler alert: It won't be, but we'll get to that. Let's take a look at our two finalists.

>> Read the full post at Vice Sports

Friday, September 23, 2016

What's next for the World Cup's round robin losers?

We're down to four in the World Cup of Hockey. After yesterday's action, the round-robin portion of the proceedings is officially in the books and half of the tournament's teams have been sent to the sidelines.

The semifinals take place over the weekend, with Russia facing Canada on Saturday night and Sweden up against Team Europe on Sunday afternoon. We'll have a full wrapup on Monday, which will give us a chance to break down those four teams, how they got there, and preview the best-of-three final.

So today, let's focus on the four who didn't make it that far. Here's a look at each of the teams that were knocked out in the round robin, and where they go from here.

Team USA

We may as well start with the team that has everyone talking. Well, "talking" may not be the right word. "Criticizing?" "Brutalizing"? "Ruthlessly burying on Twitter?"

Take your pick. And just about all of it is deserved, because Team USA stands as easily the tournament's biggest disappointment. They weren't necessarily expected to win it all, but they did seem to have a clear path to the playoff round at a minimum (one made all the more easy by a format that just happened to leave them and Canada in a group with two of the tournament's weakest teams). At the very least, you figured they'd work in a win somewhere.

Instead, they immediately burned through any margin for error by dropping a stunner to Team Europe in the opener. In the process, they turned their matchup with Canada into a literal must-win, one they had to have to stay in the playoff hunt.

In theory, that should have been fine. This is a team, after all, that made it very clear that they'd designed the roster specifically to beat their northern neighbors. They loaded up on heart and grit, with a healthy dose of agitators to pester Canada's stars. They even brought along Brandon Dubinsky, whose main claim to fame has been suckering Sidney Crosby. And the roster featured so much leadership that they felt the usual captain and two alternates couldn't hope to contain it.

And overseeing it all was John Tortorella, a choice for coach who made it clear that this was going to be a sandpaper squad. When he's not barking at the media or trying to fight the other team, Tortorella is known for demanding a hard-nosed style with plenty of blocked shots and bloodied noses. Sure, he was chosen as coach at least partially because he wasn't working in the NHL, then almost immediately took the Columbus job. No matter. Tortorella's hiring left no doubt about what this team wanted to be.

Reigning NHL MVP Patrick Kane was held scoreless in three games. Photo by John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

And for a brief moment, it looked like it all might just work. Team USA earned a win in its first exhibition game against Canada, taking a 4-2 decision in a game that featured plenty of scrums and at least one cheap shot. Canada won the rematch one night later, but the message had been delivered. The players bought in, promising that they would beat Canada just as long as the contest was decided by grit.

All of which made it all the more depressing to watch Tuesday's showdown, in which the Canadians largely toyed with their rivals on the way to a 4-2 win that eliminated Team USA from playoff contention. Dubinsky didn't even play, despite facing the one player he was brought aboard to neutralize. And maybe that was just as well, since it was almost embarrassing to watch guys like Justin Abdelkader being completely ignored while trying desperately to get under the skin of somebody, anybody, in red and white.

By the end, the whole thing just felt kind of sad. As Joe Thornton later pointed out, Canada had plenty of toughness of its own—it just happens to also double as skill. Trying to beat Canada at playing hard-nosed hockey is like challenging the whole country to a poutine-eating contest. It's not going to end well for you.

>> Read the full post at Vice Sports

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Grab Bag: Phil Kessel vs. Team USA

In the Friday Grab Bag:
- Phil Kessel's tweet heard round the world
- The implosion of Team USA
- The ref-can is freaking great
- An obscure player who scored one of the biggest goals in Canada Cup history, which we've all since forgotten
- A word about the World Cup tie-breaking procedure
- Wait, isn't today Thursday?
- And a YouTube breakdown of happier times for Team USA: Their (tainted) win at the 1996 World Cup

>> Read the full post at Vice Sports

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Avenge me: A history of teams paying back round robin losses

We're two games into the round robin portion of the World Cup, and we've already seen a handful of upsets, with favorites like Russia and the United States already tasting defeat, and in the case of the Americans, already being eliminated. With one game to go and some of the four playoff spots still up for grabs, fans around the world are no doubt panicking over the games their teams let get away.

But while the round robin is obviously important – you have to make the playoffs to win the whole thing – it's worth remembering that the results of individual games don't necessarily tell us much as much as we might think about what will happen in the playoff rounds.

In fact, the history of the World and Canada Cup tournament is filled with surprising round robin results that ended up getting flipped down the line. So in an effort to calm some nerves, here are five times that overreacting to a round robin result would have steered you wrong once the eliminations games began.

1976: Czechoslovakia 1 – Canada 0

In the first ever round robin game in Canada Cup history, Canada made a statement by crushing Finland 11-2. They went on the beat Sweden and the U.S., and they closed out the round with a win over their arch-rivals from the Soviet Union, winning those three games by a combined score of 11-3.

But in between, they dropped a surprising decision to Czechoslovakia. Vladimir Dzurilla outduelled Rogie Vachon at the Montreal Forum, turning aside all 29 shots he faced in a 1-0 win. The game was an instant classic, described at the time as one of the best ever played.

The two teams finished at the top of round robin standings, setting up a best-of-three final. But there was no repeat of Dzurilla's heroics – Team Canada blitzed him for four goals in the first period of the opening game, sending him to the bench and paving the way for a lopsided 6-0 win. Game 2 was more entertaining, with Canada jumping out to a 2-0 lead just three minutes in before a Czechoslovakian comeback set the stage for Darryl Sittler's tournament winner in overtime.

1981: Canada 7 – Soviet Union 3

By 1981, the Soviet Union was coming off a relatively rough stretch of international play. They'd won their usual Olympic gold in 1972 and 1976, but been upset by Team USA's Miracle on Ice squad in 1980, lost the 1972 Summit Series, and failed to even make the final of the 1976 Canada Cup.

When they met Canada in 1981 in the final game of the round robin, both teams were undefeated and battling for first place. The game was tied at 2-2 heading into the third, but Canada erupted for five straight goals in what ended up being a 7-3 laugher. Even with star goaltender Vladislav Tretiak sitting out due to illness, the result was an embarrassing one for the Soviets.

Both teams won their semifinal game to advance to a one-game winner-take-all final in Montreal. With Tretiak back in goal, most fans expected a closer game. Instead, they got an even bigger blowout. But this time, it was the Soviets who ran up the score, earning an 8-1 win and handing Canada what still stands to this day as its most embarrassing international loss.

>> Read the full post at The Hockey News