Team USA wins gold and defends their sledge hockey title

Bryan Mcwilliam
2014 Paralympic Winter Games - Day 8

After Team USA crushed the dreams of Canada on Thursday with a 3-0 win and Russia outplayed Norway in a 4-0 victory, the Americans and Russians squared off for gold in the Paralympic ice sledge hockey final today.

Both teams matched up well against one another, with USA coming in as the favourite on paper, while the Russians were favoured in the crowd.

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Canada avenges loss and captures Sledge Hockey bronze

Bryan Mcwilliam
2014 Paralympic Winter Games - Day 8

Canada had hoped to run the board on the ice and capture men’s, women’s and sledge hockey gold in Sochi, but those dreams were crushed on Thursday after a loss to Team USA 3-0.

The defeat set-up a bronze medal re-match against Norway, who bested the Canadians at the 2010 Games in Vancouver. This time, the results were different for Canada, as they walked away with medals draped around their necks after defeating the Norwegians 3-0.

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U.S. sledge hockey team beats Canada, will defend gold medal Saturday against Russia

The Hockey News
Paralympics

Team U.S.A.’s sledge hockey team has the opportunity to defend its status as gold medal champions after beating Canada 3-0 in the semifinals of the Sochi Paralympic Games. And they get the chance to in large part because of 16-year-old phenom Declan Farmer, who scored twice and added an assist to prevent Canada from sweeping men’s, women’s and sledge hockey at the two Olympic events. The Americans will take on the host Russians in Saturday’s gold medal final, while the Canadians will face Norway the same day for the bronze.

The Americans were upset by Russia 2-1 in their final round-robin game, but in front of a crowd of 5,150 at Shayba Arena, they were the deserving victors over their arch-rivals. Farmer, who only one year earlier became the youngest international sledge hockey player in American history, opened the scoring 9:12 into the first period and scored again with 56 seconds remaining in the opening frame to set the dominant tone; from that point, Joshua Pauls scored in the second period and U.S. goalie Steve Cash stopped all 11 Canadian shots he saw to secure the win. Read more

King Henrik rules in New York with 300th career win

Josh Elliott
Henrik Lundqvist waves to MSG

Sunday’s game between the New York Rangers and Detroit Red Wings had special meaning for No. 30 in net for the Blueshirts.

It was Henrik Lundqvist’s 300th career win, a 30-save shutout at home against an Original Six opponent.

Some goaltenders don’t care about such milestones – a win’s a win, after all – but Lundqvist expressed his gratitude to the Rangers faithful via Twitter.

One week after his 32nd birthday, ‘King Henrik’ is already on the verge of two more big Rangers milestones. He’s just one win away from tying Rangers great Mike Richter for first on the franchise’s all-time victories list – a record he’s pretty much guaranteed to eclipse this season.

And, if Lundqvist can register one more shutout, he’ll be in sole possession of first place for that Rangers record. Blanking Detroit tied him for tops with Eddie Giacomin at 49 a piece.

Sunday was a feel-good moment in what’s been an up and down season for Lundqvist. He battled injuries and struggled out of the gate to start the 2013-14 campaign, but his game started to round into form by December.

That’s when he signed a seven-year, $59.5 million contract extension to stay on Broadway until 2021.

Lundqvist then starred for Sweden at the Olympics, posting five wins and two shutouts before losing to Canada 3-0 in the gold medal game.

The silver medal may not have been the one he hoped for, but Rangers fans are hoping Lundqvist can turn that clutch Olympic performance into playoff success – something that’s eluded him in his last eight seasons in New York.

Mike Richter has one Stanley Cup ring. If Lundqvist wants to beat that number, he’d better get going.

Predators’ Roman Josi pays reverence to trailblazing countryman & all-world ‘D’ partner

RomanJosi

As he hones his skills alongside one of the planet’s best defensemen, Roman Josi is thankful for a pioneer, countryman and current Philadelphia Flyers blueliner who helped pave the way for Swiss players like him in the NHL.

“At first there were only goalies coming over, but the first (skater) to really make it was Mark Streit,” Josi said. “He really opened the doors for all the young players in Switzerland. He had a tough first season, but fought through it.”

Josi’s path to North American hockey was different than Streit’s, who was 27 when he played his first NHL game. Josi, 23, was drafted by Nashville in the second round (38th overall) in 2008, played a season in the American League in 2010-11 to acclimate to the smaller ice surface, then made the jump to the NHL the following season.

He’s now fully settled in Nashville and is second on the Predators in ice time behind his defense partner, captain Shea Weber.

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Team USA Olympic snub adds fuel to Kyle Okposo’s fire

Adam Proteau
kyle okposo (Photo by Jim McIsaac/NHLI via Getty Images)

There’s no soft-pedalling it: Kyle Okposo was hugely disappointed to be left off the U.S. Olympic team for the 2014 Sochi Games. And he has a good case.

In a year when little has gone right for his New York Islanders squad, Okposo, 25, is well on his way toward demolishing personal bests in goals, assists and points. The seventh overall pick in 2006 must have looked to Team Canada, saw Jamie Benn go from non-summer-orientation-camp-invitee to Olympic team member in a few short months and wondered why he was passed over for the likes of Blake Wheeler and T.J. Oshie.

When it settled in that he wouldn’t be in Sochi, Okposo did the best thing possible – he took his frustrations out on the ice. In the Islanders’ first game after the Olympic announcement, Okposo scored the overtime winner against Chicago. Team captain John Tavares recognized loud and clear the message Okposo sent.

“I don’t know if he thought (Team USA GM) David Poile’s head was in the net and he was aiming for it,” Tavares told the media.

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Ask Adam: bigger ice, Isles trade assets, and the NHL’s Olympic future

Adam Proteau
Thomas Vanek

The NHL is back in full swing after the Olympic break, but THN’s online mailbag never stops swinging. Thanks for all the submissions.

Adam,

After watching another round of Olympic hockey, once again I really enjoyed watching the game being played on a larger ice surface. Any chance of the NHL going to a larger surface anytime soon? I’m guessing it’s a million-to-one shot, but I can’t be alone here.
Ed Beckmann, Livermore, Col.

Ed,

In this case, I’d say that’s a generous set of odds. I’d also say it was even less likely than that. For one thing, there are many NHL people who will tell you the style of game that’s played on the bigger ice isn’t their idea of entertaining hockey. And to be fair to them, there were certainly some excitement-challenged games in Sochi.

But beyond the change to the on-ice product, the financial costs associated with removing rows of seats would be another obstacle in the way of making the ice dimensions larger. Now, just because teams remove x number of rows, that doesn’t mean they can’t transfer the higher ticket prices to fans in what would be their new front row seats. But there would be fewer people in the arena, which means fewer people at the concession stands.

Former NHLer Bobby Holik has said a number of times that bigger ice would also give players more room to avoid collisions (and by extension, concussions), but I don’t think anybody, Holik included, is expecting the league to make that change. So don’t hold your breath. Read more

Big ice a big failure when it comes to creating offense

Ken Campbell
Kane wraparound attempt

One of the prevailing opinions of the Olympic tournament in Sochi was that, in terms of the quality of hockey and the level of competition, it was not as intense, entertaining or at as high a caliber as it was in Vancouver four years earlier. In reality, it wasn’t even close.

There were a number of reasons for that. One of them, that the atmosphere in Sochi simply couldn’t live up to Vancouver, was indeed valid. (As much as the PA announcer at the Bolshoy Ice Palace tried. One of his classics was, “Who will win? We will know in the nearest of futures.”) The abject failure of the Russians to get beyond their team dissension and play with any sort of consistency was indeed a factor. And, let’s face it, a Canada-Sweden gold medal game doesn’t exactly engender the same kind of intensity that any permutation of Canada, USA and Russia would.

But, by far, the biggest culprit in dragging the tournament down was the international-sized ice surface. After watching Sochi 2014, it would be impossible for anyone to continue to perpetuate the myth that a larger ice surface would create more offense. The Canadian team, which allowed three goals in the tournament and outchanced its opponents badly, proved beyond any doubt that the extra 3,000 square feet afforded by the big ice is largely wasted space.

“People make a big deal of the big ice,” said Canadian defenseman Jay Bouwmeester. “They think it’s going to be a more offensive game and it’s kind of the opposite because all the extra room is on the outside of the rink.”

Duncan Keith remarked after Canada won the gold medal that much of the reason for its defensive success was that any time they were in trouble, they were able to put the puck into an area of the ice where it was a safe distance from the net. And only when Canada learned to adapt by basically playing within the faceoff dots did it really begin to excel in the tournament. In fact, at one point in the tournament, Corey Perry talked about “shrinking the ice…more like an NHL-size rink.”

This is a concept that time and again has failed to register with those who think there is not enough room out on the ice surface. But has it ever occurred to those who advocate for big ice that perhaps offense comes because of the smaller area in which to work? Hockey is indeed a game of skating and skill and panache, but at its core, it is a game that is played in confined spaces. That’s why puck battles in the NHL are so important. Teams that can use their size to win them are often the ones that are most successful. Watch any successful team in the Western Conference – the three California teams, three of the biggest teams in the league, come to mind – and you’ll see that having less space in which to work doesn’t prevent them from being successful.

Individual players such as Daniel Briere have made very lucrative careers with their ability to accomplish great things in confined spaces. And even in Sochi, if you look at most plays around the net, they looked like rush hour in Tokyo, meaning all that extra ice doesn’t help if everyone simply collapses around the net.

And really, if more space equated to more offense, why does soccer have the biggest playing surface and the biggest scoring areas in sports and sometimes struggles to produce one or two goals a game at the highest level?

And for those of you who think this observation is based on the anecdotal evidence of one Olympic tournament, think again. Because if the history of participation of the best players in the world is any indication, the numbers irrefutably back the theory up.

Sochi represented the fifth Olympic Games in which NHLers have participated. Four of those tournaments have been played on international ice and only one of them – Vancouver in 2010 – was played on the 200-by-85-foot surface. If you take the goals per game in games that involved traditional hockey powers only, you’ll notice an interesting trend. (For the sake of this study, only games involving Canada, USA, Russia, Sweden, Finland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia were used and goals awarded for winning a shootout were not included.)

In 1988 in Nagano, there were 12 games involving the world’s hockey powers that produced 56 goals for an average of 4.67 per game. In 2002 in Salt Lake, there were 10 games that yielded 46 goals for an average of 4.6 per game. In 2006 in Turin, the 16 games among the seven countries produced 79 goals for a per-game average of 4.94. And the Sochi Games had 12 games and just 52 goals, for just 4.33 goals per game, the lowest the best-on-best format has ever produced.

But in Vancouver, there were 12 games involving those teams that produced 67 goals, or an average of 5.58 per game, meaning Vancouver produced more than 1 ½ goals per game among the hockey powers than Sochi did and roughly between a half and one goal per game more than any of the others.

Would making the ice surface bigger make more room, thus resulting in fewer injuries such as concussions? Undoubtedly it would. But in terms of creating scoring chances, excitement and the opportunity to display skill, it would fail on all counts.