By Frank Seravalli Sept 17, 2916
TORONTO — Some 937 days have peeled off the calendar since that golden-drenched day in Sochi in 2014, but on Saturday night, it was as if none had passed at all since those Olympics.
There was Sidney Crosby, zooming in on a breakaway in the opening minute of play, and back checking to prevent another.
There was Carey Price, running his shutout streak to 224 minutes and 19 seconds in international best-on-best competition, dating back to that nail biting quarterfinal win over Latvia.
There wasn’t even any hint of nervous energy inside Air Canada Centre.
Total world domination? Ho-hum. Nothing to see here, move along.
Michal Neuvirth made a staggering 44 saves and the Czechs still lost by a touchdown. Canada’s 50 shots on net were the second most by any team in one game in World Cup of Hockey history.
“I believe we were ready to play,” Czech assistant coach Vinny Prospal said. “But after the first goal, it almost seemed like we stopped playing and started making bad plays, and they filled our net.”
They filled the net by tour de force from Crosby, Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand, who crammed three goals and seven points into just a little over 12 minutes of work. That line setup each of Canada’s first four goals, paving the way for the rout.
Their performance led one foreign-language reporter to read off Crosby’s stat line post-game, before gushingly asking Crosby: “Are you sure you’re human?”
There was Team Canada, pounding Team Czech Republic into submission with wave after wave of attacks. For Team Canada, the near flawless 6-0 win to open the 2016 World Cup of Hockey over the overmatched Czechs was just picking right up where they left off in 2014.
Crosby played superhuman at times, batting pucks out of midair, creating plays out of nothing. If the Conn Smythe and Stanley Cup freshly etched with his name was not enough, Saturday night’s opener plainly stated that any previous reports of his demise were greatly exaggerated.
“He’s the best player in the world and he dominated tonight,” Brent Burns said. “That line was great, they were buzzing, they were working. Not just offensively but defensively, too.”
Canada executed to the most minute of details, with Babcock and his coaching staff manipulating matchups late in the first period to squeeze every last drop out of Crosby’s buzzing attack. Crosby led the way there, too, his shift lengths shorter than any other player.
Babcock said Team Canada noticed that the Czech Republic’s third line stayed on the ice just a little too long. It enabled Bergeron to find the top corner with just 0.7 seconds remaining before the intermission.
“We were able to double up on their third unit there twice and we scored both times (against that line),” Babcock said. “That worked out good for us.”
The total mastery left many, including former American standout Mike Modano, whether anyone stood a chance against Canada. Other American alums Brett Hull and Jeremy Roenick took to traditional and social media to carve Team USA’s “embarrassing” outing.
Modano wrote on Twitter that organizers should just hand Canada the World Cup now and allow NHL players to still get a full training camp in. Even the Czech Republic contingent left scratching their heads about what it would take to beat Canada.
“I think it’d be a good start to score a goal,” Czech forward Jakub Voracek said, shaking his head.
Team Canada has not allowed a goal against in nearly four international games.
For all the talk of Team USA’s eventual rise to even footing with Hockey Canada, Saturday’s stark juxtaposition just a few hours apart on the same rink served as a reminder to the gulf that remains.
Just don’t tell Babcock that.
“You know, I’ve been to a number of these events, and the team that loses today usually gets better tomorrow and the team that wins today usually gets a little fatter tomorrow,” Babcock said. “The important thing to do is just live scared and get better tomorrow.”
That’s a scary thought for Team USA ahead of Tuesday’s win-or-go-home showdown.