Winnipeg Free Press - ONLINE EDITION
Posted: 02/22/2014 12:52 AM | Comments: 0
SOCHI, Russia — Team Canada might win gold without Sidney Crosby scoring a goal. It’s fine with them and it’ll be fine with the rest of the country.
It’s no longer about who gets it done but only about getting it done. That said, a little more offence from the country’s greatest player wouldn’t hurt and it just might be time for 87 to explode.
Canada played a perfect game Friday to beat Team U.S.A. 1-0 and bounce them to the bronze-medal game. It’s been their blueprint for success and it’s the same plan they’ll employ in the gold-medal game.
Next up for Canada is a date with Sweden in a tangle for a gold medal Sunday, and if coach Mike Babcock’s group replicates the defensive effort it supplied against the U.S. they’ll repeat as Olympic champions.
The Swedes are masters of the international game and will be patient and crafty waiting for an opening. Think of them as Finland with more finish. Sweden will score when given a chance but Canada isn’t handing out any opportunities.
Babcock has been telling anyone who will listen that it’s all about defence first and that the offence will take care of itself. While it has sounded an awful lot like a positive spin at times, it was proven Friday.
The Americans were the most productive team in the tournament and entered the semifinal having scored 20 goals through its first four games. They’ll finish with the same number after having their offence strangled by a team effort that included brilliant netminding from Carey Price, rock-solid blue-liners and an obsessive pursuit of back-pressure from Canada’s forwards.
Backchecking is a hassle for some NHL superstars, which almost every Canadaian player can call himself, but it comes first with this group.
The egos were left in North America and this team cares not about who scores for their team but only that no one scores from the other team.
Through five games, the Canadians have allowed just three goals and posted a pair of shutouts. Doesn’t matter if one is talking about international hockey, the KHL, the NHL or their kid’s atom game: Those numbers equate to wins.
"A lot of people want to talk about this and that and things that aren’t so strong about our team. We knew all along we were doing a lot of great things, and we are going to continue doing that," said Winnipeg native Jonathan Toews. "As you saw Friday, we didn’t score a lot of goals, but we didn’t have to, to win. The next game will follow that work ethic. We can check, we can work our tails off and we can make things real tough for the other team."
Just as big for Canada as their defensive mindset has been the play of goalie Carey Price, who Babcock described as "big, square and soft."
While that may sound like an insult it’s the highest compliment. Big as in covering a lot of the net. Square as in always facing the puck. Soft as in when the puck hits him, it dies and he’s able to smother it.
"That defensive group in front of me has played very well," said Price. "They’re very good at boxing guys out and letting me have my eyes. Our forwards backcheck really hard. If we were to think about that result and visualize it at the start of the day, we’d say, ‘mission accomplished.’ "
Toews has made a career out of doing what it takes to win. He’s a highly skilled offensive player who sacrifices statistics for wins. It’s led him to a pair of Stanley Cups and a gold medal already in his young career.
"It’s just work ethic. It’s good sticks, I think we have active sticks… we never stop moving our feet, and we’re committed to doing the job right. Our penalty kill was great, too. Those are the things, whether you’re winning a Stanley Cup or an Olympic gold medal, those are the things you need to do," said Toews. "Especially if you only score one goal."
Babcock has said again and again since he arrived in Russia that it’s a "fine, fine line," between winning and losing at this level.
Crosby saved his best for last in Vancouver and while it would be a unique storyline if he went without a goal, it will make it harder for Canada to win.
Crosby is our finest player and he won for Canada in 2010 with the Golden Goal. It feels like it’s time for Sid’s Sequel.
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