Monday, February 22, 2010

U-S-A! U-S-A! U-S-A!

It wasn't The Miracle on Ice, but Team USA's victory over Canada last night was still pretty special.  No one has been talking about the Americans as medal contenders in this Olympic tournament.  Indeed, entering the tournament, one would have thought that the only teams competing were Canada, Russia, Sweden, and Finland.  My, how things have changed!  With Team USA's defeat of Canada's "dream team," and Sweden's victory over Finland, last night, Team USA has earned the #1 seed going into the playoff round.  They get a bye, automatically advancing to the quarterfinals, and will play the winner of Switzerland vs. Belarus on Wednesday.  Barring a monumental letdown in that game (which is not out of the realm of possibility, of course - after all, this is hockey and anything can happen), this means that they will have two opportunities to play for a medal.  If they get past their match-up with either Switzerland or Belarus, they will most likely play Finland or the Czech Republic in the semi-finals.  A victory in that game will put them in the Gold Medal game; a loss will put them in the Bronze Medal game.  So, things are looking pretty promising for the Americans, who, as I said above, were not really considered to do much in the tournament.

Meanwhile, the two favorites going in, Canada and Russia, will meet in the quarterfinals, unless Germany can pull of a real miracle and defeat Canada, which is highly unlikely.  This means that one of them will not be advancing to play for a medal.  Canada's sub-par performance against Switzerland a few days ago (having to pull out a victory in a shoot-out) and their loss to the Americans last night have already left their nation, which takes more pride in hockey than in all other sports combined, in a state of disarray and depression.  Imagine if they are not able to get past the Russians and contend for a medal!  That would be a devastating blow indeed, especially given the fact that they're on their home turf in Vancouver.  For many Canadians, the only thing that really matters is the hockey tournament.  Even if Canada were to win more medals than all other countries in the games (which they won't), the success of Vancouver 2010 depends on their hockey team winning the Gold.  Even now, with Team Canada having left themselves with a steep hill to climb, nothing less than a gold medal for their hockey team will do.  That probably doesn't make a lot of sense to those of you who don't know much about hockey, but for those of you who do, you know exactly what I'm talking about here.

As for the Americans, they have already over-achieved and raised eyebrows with their 3-0 record in the prelims, and especially with their emotional victory over the Canadians last night.  Unlike the teams from Canada, Russia, Sweden, and Finland, the American roster is not chock-full of NHL superstars.  They are a young team, built more on character than talent, more on hard work than flashy, dazzling skill.  Plus, they have a hot goalie in MSU alum Ryan Miller, which is a necessary ingredient for success in any hockey tournament.  Whether or not their character, hard work, and hot goalie can carry them to the Gold remains to be seen, but with their victory over powerhouse Canada, they have proven that they have a shot.  It will be most interesting to see how things play out.  For now, it is just nice to be able to revel in this unlikely, but most satisfying, victory over Canada's dream team.  And to beat them on their home ice makes it all the more sweet.  And to have Brian Rafalski (from our own Red Wings) score two goals and assist on another, right in front of his coach, Mike Babcock (head coach of the Red Wings and of Team Canada), just added even more to the sweetness!

Of course, it must also be said that the possibility exists that Team USA's victory over Canada could prove to be the best thing that could have happened to Canada, in an "Awakening the Sleeping Giant" sort of way.  It wouldn't surprise me at all to see Canada, now angry and more motivated than ever, advance and play for the Gold.  Who knows, maybe just maybe, we'll see a re-match of USA vs. Canada in the final.  That would be extra-special.  I'm sure Canada would love a chance to avenge this loss, even as the Americans would revel in the opportunity to prove that it wasn't a fluke.  So, I'm hoping to see it play out that way, although I know that the Russians, Swedes, and Fins have something to say about that.  We'll just have to wait and see.  Until then, let's join in chanting together:  U-S-A!  U-S-A!  U-S-A!

And to my friends from Canada, especially Pr. Bakker, I suggest that you take solace in the fact that you still have Curling! :)


Jon Bakker said...

Pastor Messer - this is like pouring a gallon of iodine, followed by rubbing a pound of salt, in a paper cut in between each and every one of my fingers, toes, and teeth! You are absolutely right about how much many Canadians cared about winning last night. It hurts. It really, really hurts.

That said, ever since the rosters were released I've thought the Americans have been grossly underestimated (and the Swedes, Finns, Czechs, and Slovaks over-rated). I put Canada first (of course), Russia and the USA at the same level, and then the rest of that group below. Russia would have been ahead of the US in my mind if not for all their lackluster KHL talent. As much as I hate to admit it, last night wasn't so much of a fluke as it was the best team in the tournament being outworked, outchanced, and outgoaltended by the second best team in the tournament. I still believe Canada will win this whole thing outright. We just need a four game winning streak.

I don't think there's any way Miller can have another game like he did, but if he does it three more times, your boys might be wearing gold at the end of this thing! Either way, I'd love a rematch of 02 in Salt Lake - it was a great tourny too, one that started similarly for Canada.

Rev. Thomas C. Messer, SSP said...

Oh, come now, Pr. Bakker, it can't hurt THAT bad. When "Sid the Kid" and company lay an egg on Wednesday and fall to the Russians, then the iodine and salt analogy will be most apt. :)

Actually, I really hope that doesn't happen. I'd love to see a rematch of 02 in Salt Lake as well, albeit with a different result this time, of course.

As for your assessment of last night's game, you are far too generous. I don't think we outworked you guys, and I know that we didn't outchance you. But, yes, we did outgoaltend you and we did win a few major battles when it counted the most. This American team, which has been most definitely underestimated, is feisty, and I like that a lot. We're not going to outshoot or outchance a lot of teams, but we're going to work hard, play our positions, and do a lot of the little things that often make a big difference in a game. Kessler's diving, one-handed, empty-netter last night provides a perfect example of the heart and character of our squad (What WAS Perry thinking there, anyway?). They are hungry, and I hope that continues. We'll see.

I wish the Canadians well and do hope that they get their act together and make a run. How can I not, with Stevie Y at the healm? I just hope that we play with the same intensity and desire over the next couple of games and can land a spot in the final against them, if they do make that run. I'm excited to see how it all pans out.

So, good luck to your boys and, as I said, even if they don't come through, you still have curling. :)

sag said...

Please don't make me watch curling or ice dancing for that matter. Now ski cross, that looks like a wicked sport. Downright scary! But then so is skeleton.

Dennis Peskey said...

Pastor Messer - How could you descecrate a perfectly good posting on hockey by injecting "the sleeping giant" reference. I am willing to conceed Canada is a "giant" in hockey - but they certainly are not sleeping. Slumping yes, slumbering never. So long as NBC does not preempt the hockey finals with Ice Dancing, we should be in for a exciting finish. Go USA!

Rev. Thomas C. Messer, SSP said...

Dennis - I thought "the sleeping giant" reference was appropriate in this context, unlike the inappropriate use as the title of a certain someone's recent book. Plus, I thought it would be amusingly ironic. It wasn't? :)

Jon Bakker said...

Well I found the 'sleeping giant' description neither amusing nor ironic! :-) Okay, it was amusing, but I'm still a proud Canadian!

I don't think Canada has laid an egg, especially not Crosby. He has points in every game, including the game winner in the shootout over the Swiss. Brodeur, you could say, laid an egg, but can you blame Babcock for riding him? He's the winningest goalie ever. We're running with Luongo tonight, but I'm not sure Fleury wouldn't be the better guy. Fleury's played most recently of any goalie in the Olympics in the highest pressure situation in hockey - the Stanley Cup finals. And he won. I'd give him a shot against Germany. Still Luongo is no slouch either - he did shutout Norway (facing few shots, though). I'd give it to Fleury and see what happens, but I'm not Babcock and he's the hockey guy so he should make the decisions. :-)

I'm not worried about Canada. *Everybody* brings it against us because we're so good at hockey and it's a true badge of honor to push us to overtime/shootout situations, and an even greater badge of honor to beat us.

We are the standard for greatness when it comes to hockey, and even if we lose to Germany tonight (not gonna happen :-) ) that's not going to change.

You have to outwork us and outgoaltend us (and I agree, we did outchance and outwork the Americans - we simply ran into the Miller-wall) to beat us. I can't wait for tonight! :-)

Go Canada!!

Dennis Peskey said...

Pastor Messer - I readily admit to Canadian hockey being more sanctified than a certain "book" I recently reviewed. What I can not assert is their "sleeping" - until they win the gold, I highly doubt any true Canadian will rest easy. P.S. I am a ardent fan of curling; best done with cigars and beer!

Rev. Thomas C. Messer, SSP said...

Pr. Bakker - I like Crosby a lot. What I don't like are all the comparisons made between him and Gretzky and Lemiuex. He may be the best player in the game right now (and that's debatable!), but he ain't even close to being in their league. Actually, I've always struggled with putting even Lemieux in the "Great One's" league, but I digress. But, yes, "Sid the Kid" has played well thus far, and I'm sure he will continue to do so.

As for the goalie situation, does it really matter? I mean, let's be honest, I could suit up and play goalie for the Canadians against Germany tonight. What will it prove if Luongo pitches a shut-out? The real decision Babcock faces is who he will play against the Russians tomorrow. And that decision will be even tougher if Luongo let's in a couple of soft ones tonight. Back to Brodeur? Give Fleury, who hasn't played yet, the nod? I'd hate to be in his shoes if that happens. :)

As for Canada being the standard for greatness when it comes to hockey, I'll grant you that, although I'm not so sure that is as cemented a reality as it once was, even though true Canadians like yourself would never admit to losing any ground here. :)

One of the greatest thrills in my hockey career was winning a Bantam AA tournament in Sarnia, besting three Canadian teams along the way. Back then, it was even more inconceivable and unacceptable for Canadians to lose to Americans in "their" sport. Things have changed a bit in that area, even though, as I said, Canadians have a hard time admitting as much. :)

Good luck tonight! Not that you'll need it - the Germans can barely stand upright on skates! :)

Rev. Thomas C. Messer, SSP said...

Dennis - Your're right, there won't be a lot of easy resting in Canada until they win the gold. Of course, the reference I made still stands, since I wasn't referring to Canada as a nation, but to Team Canada, who definitely did a little "sleeping" in the pre-lims. Not that they were guilty of "sleeping" against the Americans. They played solidly in that game. But, to allow the Swiss to take them to a shootout, they had to be "snoring" a bit. :)

As for curling, I'm actually a fan, too. The best thing about it is that it moves so slowly that the opportunity to indulge in cigars and beer is readily available. :) I just wish the Americans would have played a little better this year - oh well, we'll catch up in that sport, too, someday! :)