The Slovakian men's hockey team is going to be kicking itself after losing its semi-final game 3-2 to a "superior" Canadian team. The key word is "superior".
For if Slovakia had not awarded that title to Canada at the beginning of the game, it might have been a Slovakia-USA matchup for the gold medal on Sunday instead the upcoming Canada-USA rematch.
Canada has followed a smart strategy during this tournament. Assume we have the best players, we have the home crowd, and come out in the first period playing an aggressive game to make that appear to be true.
It certainly worked against Russia, which got rattled early, fell behind 4-1, and never recovered.
It was working again against Slovakia, which allowed Canada to carry the play to them and build a 2-0 lead that included a wide margin in shots. Fortunately, the Slovaks got more from Jaroslav Halak in goal than the Russians got from Evgeni Nabokov.
In the second period, the Slovaks made a startling discovery: Start to hit the Canadians like they were being hit, start to carry the play and make something happen instead of waiting for a lucky bounce, and Canada might get beat.
They still got out-scored and out-hit, but they played a much better period.
So in the third, instead of being afraid of Canada simply by looking at the names on its roster, they came out playing like they were equals and like they could win the game.
The result was that they carried the play, scored two goals, out-shot and out-hit Canada, and might have tied it if Canadian goalie Roberto Luongo had not made a desperation save on his Vancouver Canuck teammate, Pavol Demitra, with a wide-open net in the last minute and Halak on the bench for an extra attacker.
Demitra might take personal blame for Slovakia's loss because of that miss, but that is not why Slovakia lost the game.
If they had not conceded superiority to Canada before the puck was ever dropped, they might be playing for the gold medal instead of the bronze.
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