IIHF World Junior Semi: Does Canada Have a Coach?

S. C.Contributor IJanuary 3, 2009

Let me start by saying that was a great comeback at the end.  I'll continue by saying that if there hadn't have been an extraordinary series of flukes at the end the game would have ended 5-4 Russia. 

If the Russian player had not gone for the empty net instead of just skating out or flipping the puck down, if he didn't miss the open net, if the Russian defense wouldn't have cleared just one more of Hodgson's multiple stupid no-look behind the back passes to no one in the slot in the final minutes (I counted three and couldn't understand why he was out there in the first place with the game he was having), if the Russian defender who stopped Tavares' backhand flip shot would have gloved it to the corner instead of bobbling it right to the Canadian forward's stick, etc. 

You get the point.  Exciting finish but also very lucky.  

So that brings me to the issue of how things got to that point at all.  Anyone else watching the game would have probably noticed that Canada's only good forward line was Kane's.  Sorry, but no other line had any jump in their step, they all made soft passes, didn't really create anything offensively, and pretty much looked like they expected to just breeze through this one. 

I'm not going to rip into Hodgson because every player has a bad game or two  but I honestly would have benched him for the last seven minutes of the second if I was coaching just to make sure he understands that at this level he needs to compete a little harder every shift of every game.  He wasn't the only one either and I won't even get started on how poorly I thought Hickey played basically the entire game but it should be noted that a lot of guys just weren't in it tonight.

 Looking at how the game progressed, how pressure was applied by each time, what sort of scoring chances came up, etc, you really need to ask how this game was at all close.  Canada really had better chances when they were deep in the zone, once the Canadian defense was really setup Russia had some okay chances but definitely weren't dominant so it's sort of surprising that they scored five goals.

 I think two of them really should have been stopped and the fifth probably should have been as well but that was an absurdly poorly play by the defense so I won't fault the goalie completely.  One could argue that whoever was telling the Canadian defenders to try and pick off passes and miss in the neutral zone, resulting in odd-man rushes, 10 seconds after scoring a goal is the culprit. 

The Canadian D made similar stupid plays in the first against the US which I blame for two of the first three US goals so that's maybe a fair argument.   

I expect a lot of old Leafs fans won't like what I think the real issue is.  In my honest opinion I don't believe Pat Quinn is coaching this team at all.  I think he feels it's fun and he's having a good time behind the bench but the team has not improved (have actually gotten far worse from a systems perspective) as the tournament has progressed. 

Further to that he hasn't rewarded good play or made any adjustments for poor play from anything I've seen.  It seems more like TSN has told him who his top lines are and he's just stuck with that the whole way through even if it doesn't make any sense to do so.  He's still playing Hickey's line as his first defensive pair but they aren't playing that way at all. 

Really, I would have taken Hickey off the ice after the first time he showed that he was going to put as little effort into shutting down players in this game as he did in the game against the US.  He's a good player but he's trying to do too much offensively and that's not what they need him to do in a lot of situations.  It's up to Quinn to deal with that and make sure his players are playing the role they need to for the team, not just for themselves. 

In a single elimination game you don't let a guy give the puck away that many times and give up that many odd-man rushes and still consider him to be on your top D line.  At least, not if you are actually coaching the team.  Same goes for how Hodgson played this game.  Kane's line was making a ton happen and Hodgson was just turing the puck over and making soft plays.  But there was no decrease in ice-time or any notable repercussions for playing so poorly in such an important game.

I thought the top two lines tonight were just standing around and trying plays that were far to fancy against even a reasonably solid defensive team.  Also not big on the goalie selection.  Two of those goals definitely should have been stopped along with a few in the US game.  I hope he picks it up against Sweden.

 I really do not believe that Quinn takes this tournament seriously enough to be able to coach it.  I think all of his decisions were made during tryouts (there are my No. 1 lines, this is my No. 1 goalie) and he hasn't effectively done anything to improve the team or adjust to their play.  Maybe in a seven game series you can do that but single elimination is a different animal.  

I'm sure a lot of people will disagree with my assessment.  But can anyone honestly say that Sutter would have allowed Canada to play as poorly tonight as they did?  And if they started to slack off does anyone believe he would have just sat back and watched it?  I don't. 

I think he would have shuffled lines, benched players, and said "If you aren't going to play hard for this team every shift you aren't going to play at all."  That's the type of team leadership we need to keep winning this tournament, not sitting back and assuming we'll be okay slacking off because we're wearing the maple leaf.  

This team has a lot of potential but they'll need to focus it against Sweden.  Here's hoping they get their act together before Monday.  Or at least that Quinn wakes up and realizes that a coach isn't just someone who stands behind the bench and reads comics or does whatever he's been doing to kill time without ever looking at what his players are doing. The only thing stopping us from getting five in a row in complacency, not lack of talent. But that doesn't make it any less unacceptable if we lose.