The best players in the world play the most boring style of hockey. And when it's all over, they pick up their championship rings.
For the (insert number here) consecutive time, Canada won a best-on-best international game, easily defeating (insert country or made up team here) XX-1. Canada had an easy time of it, outshooting (insert country or made up team here) by a XX-XX margin and carrying the play for the vast majority of the game. Fourth-line forward (insert NHL star here), who made the team only because of an injury to (insert another NHL star here) and started as the 13th forward, had a breakout game for Canada with a goal and two assists.
Hey, it’s boring, but it works. The same way Team Canada does. Take any game Canada has played in a best-on-best tournament since Vancouver in 2010 and you could pretty much use the above template every time.
Don’t believe me? Just watch.
For the (13th) consecutive time, Canada won a best-on-best international game, easily defeating (Team Europe) 4-1. Canada had an easy time of it outshooting (Team Europe) by a 46-20 margin and carrying the play for the vast majority of the game. Fourth-line forward (Logan Couture), who made the team only because of an injury to (Jeff Carter) and started as the 13th forward, had a breakout game for Canada with a goal and an assist.
See? It’s actually really easy to cover this team. Unless, of course, your coverage includes trying to defend against it. Not sure if this is a good or bad thing, but Canada is making a mockery of international competition. It’s great for Canadian hockey, but really bad for fans looking for something compelling. Canada has outscored its opponents 14-3 in the World Cup of Hockey so far and has a 238-166 edge in shot attempts in just three games.
It’s not a lot of fun to watch. Since Vancouver, Canada has played nine games and given up six goals. With the exception of early in the game against Team USA, when the Americans scored early to take a 1-0 lead before Canada went on the attack, the games have never been in doubt. As Team Europe coach Ralph Kruger, a native of Steinbach, Man., observed after the game, “The Canadian team continues to be the big favorite here. It’s going to take something magical to take them out of the tournament.”
The domination over Team Europe was in stark contrast to the game earlier in the day when Team North America firmly entrenched itself as the story of the tournament with a thrilling 4-3 overtime win over Sweden. The 23-and-under kids scored two goals in the first 95 seconds of the game, missed a penalty shot, had four first-period breakaways and put on a display of elan and skill that was breathtaking.
Not encumbered by near as much structure as the senior varsity team, North America is putting on a show. Team Canada is putting on a clinic. “Which would you rather watch?” asked Team Canada coach Mike Babcock, posing a rhetorical question that he never did answer.
Here’s the thing. Canada is boring and predictable because its players are so good. The better the players, the fewer mistakes they make. The fewer mistakes they make, the fewer chances they give their opponents to score. You smother your opponent long enough and sooner or later it just gives up. Canada isn’t content just beating teams. It also wants to steal their will to live.
Most people would prefer to watch Team North America, with all its speed and mistakes and its ability to get itself in and out of trouble. But how can you argue with a system that has produced perhaps the most dominant juggernaut in international hockey history – the Soviet’s Big Red Machine included? “I like watching that (North American) team because there’s tons of skill,” Babcock said. “I like winning more, though. I just want to win. That’s what our players came for. They came to win.”
And unless something magical happens, that is exactly what they’ll do. Again. Fans will pray for Russia to somehow lose to an overmatched Finland entry Thursday afternoon, which would set up a semifinal between the lethally efficient Canadian entry and the deadly fast North American squad. The Canadian team, true to form, would not declare a favored opponent for fear of giving it additional motivational.
The Canada-Russia matchup is filled with intrigue and has a ton of history, even though the most recent history hasn’t been that compelling. You’d have to think that Canada would love a chance to put the kids in their place and show them how to play big boy hockey.
“We’ll be ready for whoever it is, but there’s no denying (Team North America) has been entertaining to watch for sure,” said Steven Stamkos. “It’s a different brand of hockey than what you guys are used to when you watch Team Canada and the two-way play that’s expected of us. But they have a lot of offensive young guys who have just got to go and their coaching staff has been pretty vocal about letting them play. It makes for entertaining hockey.”
It might just be a good thing for Canada, and for the game itself, for this team to be dragged into a track meet. We can all hope, can’t we?