What TC lacked was the Malkin/Kessel factor. A gamebreaker forward who could be counted on to produce something highlight reel worthy in every game.
TC was instead characterized by team play, Steve Downie and Brent Sutter - which is to say, smart, fast, and agressive, hockey.
The unfortunate part of Canada's victory was the no-goal call that robbed the Russians of a chance at closing the gap to 2-1.
I'm sure I'm not the only person who thinks that the right thing for the ref to do would have been to call it a goal and restart the clock. Which isn't to say I don't understand how the call got made the way it did, and why they don't go back and correct themselves, I just think that a gold medal game deserves to have the play of the teams be recognized properly. It was not a shutout for TC, and but for the graces of IIHF rules favouring quick face-offs, Canada's 2nd and 3rd periods might have gone very differently.
Throw into the mix that Canada essentially got into the gold medal game by tieing the US in the round-robin game (a tie was useless to the US so they pulled their goalie and we got the win), effectively, getting a bye by the skin of our teeth, and you have a nice win for Canada, but one with a few unsettling 'what ifs' attached to it.
- Phil Kessel: First I am back to hating Pierre Maguire. If I never hear 'He's got Lafontaine's wheels and Hull's shot' ever again it will be too soon. Once was a nice way to describe Kessel, twice was hyperbole, thrice is a cliche' and by the fourth time I was screaming at the TV every time he said it (I believe three more or so. I got hoarse).
As to the merits of Maguire's mental tic, Kessel delivered on the wheels, but I just don't see the sniper's touch that a Hull comparison warrants. As I watched the games my own Kessel impression dropped from;
'Instant Franchise Player'
This was an impression confirmed after the first game (5 assists) against Norway and with his performance at the 2004-5 Jrs still in my head. Rather than Maguire's clumsy comparison, I thought Ilya Kovalchouk was more apt.
'Oh man, is he Jeremy Roenick selfish with the puck.'
'Uh Oh. He's getting predictable with that inside outside move, and he's not overwhelming the D-man anymore.'
(This was at least in part obviously the coach's fault, someone sat down Kessel after the Norway game and said 'stop screwing around and just shoot more', and he took it to heart. That and he started getting the first look by everyone on his team for a pass.)
'He's neutralized whenever you play the body, and I don't think his head is in the game'.
Which leaves me exactly where? I still think he's a got solid FP potential, but I would be less willing to pin that hope on him then I would have been with Ovechkin, or Crosby. The fact is thanks to the GM who drafted him in the ED this year (uh..me) Kessel will never make it to the prospect draft in our pool now, and the next opportunity to sew him up to a long term contract will only come if a team looks at him as a potential FP.
If you'd have asked me before the tournament if he was 'Lafontaine blah blah blah Hull', I'd have said 'Yeah, I think he might be', and if I were looking at replacing an FP and considering the available candidates, I would have short listed him for consideration.
Now, I'm not so sure.
- Team USA: It's funny, but they've had enough talent to compete the last few years, but something has gone wrong in the wiring somewhere. It's not just Kessel's inability to dominate national teams outside of a minor Scandanavian power, it was the whole team. Jack Johnson's elbow to the head at the end of the Canada USA game was an example - it was the kind of play that could have got him kicked out of the tournamet, let alone hurt someone. Reports of Skille and Kessel butting heads, the invisibility of OHL scoring star Robbie Schremp in the teams offensive scheme, etc. are others. It just wasn't hanging right from the word go. Whereas TC only seemed to get tighter and faster and smarter as the tournament went on, the US only seemed to get worse - eventually succumbing to Finland for the Bronze. Throw in a goalie who was getting booed by the fans in the city that drafted him, and you have one of those classic psychic meltdowns that TC used to go through. A fluke goal here, a bad penalty there, and suddenly your brawling in a foreign country wearing skates, someone crazed looking in a refs uniform is shouting at you in Swedish, and then the lights go off.
They just have that feel to them, that something is doomed in the chemistry.
Canada, after bottoming out, eventually got rid of their ghosts, and now even in years where the high end talent is stripped out by NHL competition (Sid the Kid anyone?) TC is competive thanks to their solid administrative foundation.
The US development program...I'm not so sure.
- Evgeny Malkin: My Maguire tic: 'A Russian Lecavalier'. He got the Ovechkin treatment that TC handed out last year - namely, someone slamming into him every time he got near a puck. Fact is, I think he handled it fine, and he showed niftiness and creativity that Kessel's game lacked.
Did he go up in my estimation? Not really. He was pretty much as advertised. Big, strong, fast, creative with his wingers, wicked wrist shot, and a developed defensive and physical game. He didn't overwhelm any of the Canadian defenders though, and it would have been encouraging to see him put up any kind of offense in the gold medal game, but overall, he's about where I had him prior to the tournament. My only concern is that hint of 'Viktor Kozlov'.
- Jack Johnson: 'He's Chris Chelios in his own end and Kevin Hatcher on the rush'.
He's a beauty. I think he has more offensive upside than Dion Phaneuf. I also pulled a Kessel and selected him outright in the draft to prevent him from becoming a prospect.
Relax, he's gonna play for Carolina. Like they'll ever get their act together.
- Justin Pogge vs. Tuuka Rask: my Maguire tics 'Justin Pogge is what happens when you put Sean Burke and Martin Brodeur into the telepod at the same time', Which is to say he's a rangy tall netminder with a technical game who can make lethal outlet passes and is a legit threat to long bomb it for the odd goal. Rask however is 'VanBiesbrouck with a Tommy Salo'. Maybe its me, but doesn't Rask already have something of the tragic about him? The fact he now has to fight for his job with a guy he just lost to in the biggest game of his life? That kind of Hamlettian doomedness is pure Salo, the facing the a zillion shots and stealing a win in a big game he had against the US was the Beezer genes at work.
- Chris Bourque = Koivu x Barnaby / Ray Bourque
Maybe it was just me, but when you saw him running the powerplay from the point, didn't you get a chill?
I was a little concerned before the tournament, but then he ripped Norway for 5 goals, and played gutsy speed hockey for the rest of the way. Bonus points, he's part of the depleted Capitals organization so it's only a matter of time before he gets his spurs.
- Lauri Tukonen: 'Robert Lang covered in sandpaper'. The kid has got game. Of the offense the Finns put up, Tukonen seemed to be in on anything resembling a pretty goal, or offensive wizadry. If it didn't go in off of someone's leg, or from a playground scramble in the slot, it was Tukonen either creating the shot, or taking it himself. Could be a 2nd line scoring centre or winger for LA in the future. First Laurie to make my draft lists since Laurie Boschman.
- Luc Bourdon: Maguire tic 'Jovo-cops offensive range and Prongers defensive awareness'. Vancouver is totally delirious about him.
My surprise of the tournament;
- Nikolai Kulemin: Malkin was nice, but the kid who impressed me was this one. He was only 6'0 and 191, but I would have sworn he was bigger. Quick release on an accurate shot, heady offensive skills, but maybe lacking in the breakaway speed and lateral mobility of his linemate Malkin, he had a knack for getting himself open and creating scoring chances. He also showed no fear of traffic, physical play or for going where angels fear to tread. I have already added him to my prospect list.
Once Canada scored to go ahead 3-0 the writing was on the wall.