US Hockey Team upsets host Canada, grabs #1 seed out of Group play



Martin Brodeur was dominated by former NHL teammate Brian Rafalski in a game that Canadians insist the United States had no business winning

Martin Brodeur in the pre-game warmup in Calgary
Image via Wikipedia

In a game that pitted two NHL All-Star Teams against each other, nothing less than North American bragging rights was on the line.  Matching up on NHL-sized ice for the first time in Olympic Hockey history, Canada & the US fought a frenzied battle for the Group A title.

The Detroit Red Wings’ Brian Rafalski scored 0:41 seconds into the 1st Period on a slap-shot from the point that redirected off the stick of Canadian Forward Sydney Crosby… and the upset was on.  Team Canada never led in a game that they dominated everywhere except the scoreboard.  The final 5-3 tally does not tell the story of how close this game was right up to the closing minutes of the 3rd Period.

Now the US Men will exit the Group Round with the #1 seed and a Bye to the Quarterfinals Round.  They will play the winner of the Switzerland (#8) vs Belarus (#9) Qualification Round play-in game.  The Canadian loss designates them to the 6th seed and a Qualifying Game versus the 11th-seeded German Team for the honor of playing 3rd-seeded Russia.  (For more info on tournament seeding go here.)

Canada’s Eric Staal (Carolina Hurricanes) put one past US Goalie Ryan Miller (Buffalo Sabres) 8:53 into the opening period to tie it at 1 apiece, but the Americans answered 0:22 later with another Goal by Brian Rafalski.  This time Rafalski only got a half-shot on net, but it slid through a screened slot and under the outstretched left leg of Canadian net-minder Martin Brodeur (New Jersey Devils).

The two teams traded scoring chances through the remainder of the 1st Period and the first three & a half minutes of the 2nd before Canada’s Dany Heatley (San Jose Sharks) netted another tying Goal.  Unfortunately for Team Canada and their rabid fans nationwide, that would be the last time the two teams were even.

With less than four minutes left in the 2nd, the New York Rangers’ Chris Drury (formerly of Colorado Avalanche fame) scored the 3rd Goal for the Americans on a scrum in front of the Canadian net.  With Canadian defenders collapsing into their own crease and Brodeur out of position, Drury wristed a rebound through a sea of bodies for the score and a 3-2 lead.

The back-and-forth contest tested the defensive resolve of a US Team trying to duplicate the success of the 1960 & 1980 US Gold Medal winners.  On the 50th & 30th Anniversaries of those Cinderella Americans, the United States is the #1 seed after the Group Round of the tournament.

Ever since the Groups were set, the world has been waiting for this matchup: USA vs Canada Olympic Teams on NHL-sized ice for the first time in history.  With the Olympics in Vancouver and the Canadians on a strapped budget (and also hoping for a competitive advantage versus European Teams), the decision was made to allow these hockey games to be played on the smaller NHL ice instead of modifying the rinks to the larger International specifications.

Now the Canadians may be regretting that decision.  The US Men played tight, defensive hockey on the smaller sheet, and used their superior passing ability to stretch the ice through the Neutral Zone.  It was that impressive display of puck movement that prevented the Canadian Team from getting too comfortable, even though they were on the attack for the majority of the game.  Ryan Miller (42 saves) had an outstanding game in net, and it was his play in the closing minutes of each period that held off an offensively superior Canadian Team.

Rafalski was the real game-changer, though, scoring the United States’ first two goals.  He might as well have logged a hat trick.  The game-winning 4th Goal came on a Rafalski slap-shot from the point that redirected off Jamie Langenbrunner’s skate just outside of the crease, then banked off Canadian Goalie Martin Brodeur’s stick and through his legs.  That Power Play Goal put the US up 4-2 with less than 13 minutes left in the contest.  Langenbrunner is also a New Jersey Devil, and I get the feeling that it may be a while before he and Brodeur feel the typical teammate love again.l

Canada’s Sidney Crosby (Pittsburgh Penguins) redirected a Power Play Goal past Miler with just over three minutes to play to make it a one-goal game.  That set up a frantic finish.  Canada pulled Goalie Martin Brodeur for an extra skater twice, buzzing around the US zone and creating a number of scoring chances.  Miller and the US defenders held up to the barrage long enough for Forward Ryan Kesler to chase down a cleared puck in the Canadian end.  Ryan dove around a Canadian defender whose body was protecting the moving puck and slapped it into the open net for the game-sealing Goal.

Kesler plays NHL hockey for the home-town Vancouver Canucks, and that had to make his heroic diving goal with 0:45 left even harder to watch for the partisan Vancouver crowd.

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