All those annoying people who spout "defense wins championships" get to gloat some more now. In the case of the Canadian men's hockey team, it also can be said that offensive defensemen win championships—or at least take them to gold-medal Olympic games.
Let's face it: Canada's defensemen are better offensively than most forwards for any country. That was one of the sobering realities offered up Friday in Canada's 1-0 win over Team USA in a semifinal game in Sochi. A puck on the stick of Shea Weber or Drew Doughty or Duncan Keith or Alex Pietrangelo felt a lot scarier than it ever did on that of Patrick Kane, Phil Kessel or Zach Parise.
It's tough enough to shut down Sidney Crosby or any of the other fantasy-leaguers the Canadians offer up on their forward lines in international competition. But what has often separated Canada from the rest of the world is that second wave of attack from the blue line. From Doug Harvey to Bobby Orr to Denis Potvin to Paul Coffey to Ray Bourque to, now, Weber, Doughty and Co., Canada's offensive power from the blue line has proven the winning difference countless times.
The Canadians didn't get a goal from their defensemen in their victory over the U.S., their third in as many Olympic final-four meetings since 2002. But Canada's defense dominated at both ends of the ice. If the puck came across the Canada blue line, which became rarer as the game went on, big men in red uniforms were quick to take it away. When the puck came across the U.S. blue line, big men in red uniforms dictated the tempo from there. Coming into this game, seven of Canada's 13 tournament goals came from the defense and, while they didn't score in this one, they were just as effective offensively.
This was supposed to be the year when blue and white would meet up with red in color superiority, though. This was going to be the year the Americans finally beat Canada at, literally, its own game. Russia having already been conquered a few games before, on its home ice, the Americans had everything together entering Friday's game, while the Canadians seemed disorganized and a little hung over still from 2010.
Nope. And really, it wasn't all that close. What's that, you say? A 1-0 game, not all that close? Not really.
As NBC analyst and former Team USA regular Jeremy Roenick lamented after the game, the American offensive attack consisted of spare, "one-and-done" moments. Aside from some early pressure and a couple of great chances, especially a charging one-timer for defenseman John Carlson, the American offense became like that old lawnmower with the faulty motor. There would be a little spurt of turf progression, then the thing would conk out for a while and need effusive effort to wheeze back to life.
"Seems like we had a hard time sustaining any pressure in their end," Team USA's Ryan Callahan told NBC's Pierre McGuire. "It's a tough one to take."
All that talk about the magic stick of Patrick Kane, the unstoppable speed of Kessel, the immovable object in the blue paint that was David Backes...it all was just chewed up and spit out by a dominant Canadian defense. And unlike the Canadian forwards, who can always toss it back to a Weber or a Doughty or a Keith when needing an outlet for the puck, it seemed like there was nobody there offensively on the American blue line. Now, we can start some of the second-guessing of Team USA's management group, for going with one-way D-men such as Brooks Orpik instead of, say, a Keith Yandle or Erik Johnson.
While we're in critical mode, let's add in the now seemingly foolish decision to leave a real goal scorer such as Bobby Ryan off the team. Sure, the Americans racked up the goals against teams like the Czechs and the Austrians, but when it came time to face the fantasy-league roster of Canada again, the American offense looked small. T.J. Oshie was a great story for a couple of days as a shootout hero, but against the Canadians he looked big and slow.
This was more akin to a 3-0 or 4-0 game. Only the great goaltending of Jonathan Quick prevented that from being the final score. The only thing that beat him was a great tip off the stick of Jamie Benn early in the second period.
Somehow, when that puck went in, it felt like it was over from an American perspective. The Canadians just never, not for one second, seemed flustered against Team USA. When they got that first goal, they just projected that "You guys had your chance, but now you're done" look. Sure enough, they were done. (And, boy, did the rest of the game seem to fly by after that or what? The entire game was just under two hours in length. It seemed over before it even started.)
There is no shame in losing to Canada in hockey. The Americans have been doing that for a long time now. The American Superiority Complex may remain over the rest of the world in many things, but when it comes to hockey, we're still the redheaded stepchild to Canada.
Adrian Dater has written about the NHL for 18 years and covers the Avalanche for the Denver Post. Follow him on Twitter @Adater.
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