SOCHI, Russia – Had Sidney Crosby been watching back home in Cole Harbour, N.S., he knows exactly what the scene would have looked like. “Probably a little tense,” said Team Canada’s captain. “A lot of people screaming at the TV, I’m sure.”
That sums up both Wednesday’s too-close-for-comfort victory over Latvia and where Canada stands with the Olympic medal round to come. It just doesn’t feel quite right yet, does it?
And so we turn to our other national pastime: Fretting about the fortunes of Team Canada. There is certainly nothing to suggest that it should be favoured in the semifinals against an American team that has been clicking in high gear since landing in Russia last week.
Watching Canada, by contrast, has largely been an exercise in frustration. There is at least some amount of faith required to believe that everything might still turn out OK – although the 2-1 quarter-final victory over Latvia was undeniably a product of the 55 saves made by little-known Tampa Bay Lightning prospect Kristers Gudlevskis.
While we know that Canada is guaranteed to have a chance to play for a medal at Bolshoy Ice Dome this weekend, there was very little focus on that fact. Instead, it was all worry, worry, worry – at least from those not wearing the sweaters.
“I don’t know what we’d go back and change,” said Crosby. “You look at tonight, and besides picking the puck up and throwing it in the net, what could you tell someone to do in those situations? I think you just trust in what you do.
“I think as far as the depth that we have we know that guys are going to put those in.”
These are quite the circumstances to have to do it. An unexpected meeting with the Latvians in the quarter-finals seemed to offer the perfect place for an offensive explosion, but that didn’t materialize thanks to Gudlevskis.
Canada dominated all over the ice and never really gave you the impression it might lose until the game got into the third period and remained 1-1. Hockey fans of a certain vintage certainly had some flashbacks to Sweden-Belarus in Salt Lake City, when a long-distance goal on Tommy Salo helped pave the way to gold for Canada.
Goals have been tough to come by for most teams in this particular Olympic tournament – outside of the high-flying Americans, at least – and Canada certainly feels like it should have more to show for its 168-75 total lead in shots here. Yet, were it not for Shea Weber’s glorious third-period slapshot, this tournament could have ended in disaster.
Keep Calm and Weber On.
“We had good looks today,” said Canadian coach Mike Babcock. “All you got to do is watch the highlights for six seconds – we had good looks and good players.”
This has been a most unusual way through the first four games of this tournament. Team Canada hasn’t lost yet even though the majority of its forward group is stuck on zero goals: Crosby, Jonathan Toews, Patrick Marleau, Rick Nash, Chris Kunitz, Patrice Bergeron … and more.
It hasn’t turned into a major issue because the blueline is producing at levels unseen in previous Olympics. The Russians didn’t have that kind of secondary support and are left to wonder what might have been as a result. The line is that fine in these type of tournaments.
“We’ve got a lot of guys that can score,” said Toews. “Now it’s just a matter of every guy looking at himself and digging deep and trying to come up with a big moment. We don’t care who it is. If everyone jumps over the boards expecting to have a chance to make a difference, that’s what we want.
“They’ll go in for us. We have to believe that.”
Truth be told, everyone is simply trying to figure out what exactly this Canadian team is. Internally and externally, that isn’t yet clear.
There will be yet more line juggling after John Tavares was knocked out of the Olympics with a knee injury on a hit from Arturs Kulda. Perhaps, Babcock will be contemplating other changes as well.
With Canada playing for a win down the stretch on Wednesday, we saw the first real evidence of a shortened bench. Crosby played more than everyone else while Martin St. Louis, for example, didn’t see the ice at all. That strategy could carry over.
The Americans should be confident, but the challenge for them is not getting too far ahead of themselves. They’ve outscored opponents 20-6 so far and have only truly been tested in a shootout win over Russia.
On top of that, they’ll be looking to avenge the gold-medal loss to Canada at the 2010 Olympics. By all accounts, they have the kind of team to pull it off, too.
“The Olympic Games isn’t supposed to be easy,” said Babcock. “They don’t just give the medals out. You earn the medals.”
The good news is that they’ll get the chance. Surely, a frayed nation of hockey fans can at least agree on that.