Canada and USA players shake hands after the Americans won Sunday's match 5-3. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
"To the people across Canada, we tried. We gave it our best. To the people who booed us, geez, all of us guys are really disheartened. We're disillusioned and disappointed. We cannot believe the bad press we've got, the booing we've got in our own building. I'm completely disappointed. I cannot believe it. Every one of us guys – 35 guys – we came out because we love our country. Not for any other reason. We came because we love Canada." – Phil Esposito, 1972.
OK, so the level of disappointment in Canada’s best hockey players isn’t as high now as it was after Game 4 of the Summit Series back in 1972. But make no mistake: the second-guessing has firmly begun.
It’s a silly, futile effort really. Proclamations about how Mike Green or Steven Stamkos would have put this team over the top are such easy statements to make. There is no possible way to prove otherwise and both players are great in their own right, so it’s not as though they don’t belong among our country’s elite.
But give me a break. Executive director Steve Yzerman and the rest of Canada’s selection crew took on this responsibility knowing that if they came away with anything less than a gold medal, Canadian fans from St. John’s to Vancouver would consider it a failure – an embarrassment even. Their decisions would be broken down piece by piece, their thought processes questioned or even ridiculed, while “should have been” teams are made up in the land of make-believe.
Analyzing what went wrong or what could have been different is a fair debate in an attempt to improve for the next time, but playing that game before the 2010 tournament has revealed its results does absolutely nothing for anyone and surely doesn’t help the team handle the mounting pressure and expectations.
Yzerman and his management team decided on a specific route to take and built their roster around that philosophy. Big, strong on the puck, hard in the corners, with a dash of speed and a pinch of experience seemed like a tasty recipe in December – and still does. Who could possibly have imagined Chris Pronger, Dan Boyle and Scott Niedermayer would actually be the Achilles heel of the defense to this point? Who in their wildest dreams would have foreseen Martin Brodeur rushing his plays and handling the puck like a rookie?
If you put up your hand, you’re either a) lying, or b) have a time-traveling phone booth.
Let’s face it, back in 2006 it was said the team had little chemistry and was more of an all-star team than one fitted for a competitive tournament. This time around there was a focus on who was familiar with each other, who had the talent to complement other talents as well as who could pull through in the clutch. That team was put together soundly and they line up favorably against anyone.
Yes, Canada lost to the U.S. – and not to take anything away from the Americans, who played well and attacked Brodeur fiercely whenever he had to make a play on the puck – but let’s not forget the Canadians absolutely dominated in the loss.
Would Stamkos, Green or Martin St-Louis really have been the difference?
Who would really have taken the three Lightning candidates over the Shark line in December? If Yzerman did that, he would have faced a ton of flak. And choosing Pronger and Niedermayer over Green isn’t a case of the old boys’ club looking after one another, it’s a result of a long, hard decision-making process that concluded, yes, Green is a great offensive defenseman, but Pronger, Niedermayer and Boyle aren’t exactly new to this kind of competition and together bring more than Green.
And Green’s exclusion wasn’t even being blamed on those guys two weeks ago, but instead the inclusion of other youngsters such as Shea Weber, Drew Doughty and Duncan Keith, who have been absolutely dynamite.
Every day there is a new piece to nitpick about, whatever the flavor is after an erroneous gaffe or a surprising loss at the hands of an incredible goalie. But it’s just silly. Canada sent a great gathering of hockey players more than capable of bouncing back and getting gold.
If they don’t, was Yzerman wrong in how he picked this team? No.
“We just can't go out and expect that we're going to go undefeated and win a gold medal in every tournament,” Yzerman told the press in Vancouver. “We're living it, we understand that and our players knew that coming in. I think the country has to understand that as well – that we're going to face adversity."
With a tough road of single-game eliminations upon us, now is the time to worry, cross your fingers and bite your nails. It’s also the time to cheer louder than ever and not bitterly second-guess or sourly dig for fatal flaws when the team is still very much alive.
What would Espo say?
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