BY STEVE SIMMONS, TORONTO SUN
September 20, 2016
This was about dominance.
This wasn’t about John Tortorella’s decision-making or standing for national anthems or the fact he was the wrong choice to coach Team USA or the strange roster determinations made by a behind-the-times American management staff.
This was about dominance of hockey. Dominance of style. Dominance of puck. Dominance of depth. Dominance of system. Dominance in goal. Dominance on the aggressive forecheck.
Sheer hockey dominance by the unbeaten, the undaunted and maybe the unbeatable Team Canada at the World Cup of Hockey.
This was the kind of hockey that is unquestioned and is absolute and far different from the clinical, transcendent, almost unemotional game we saw Canada play in Sochi. In an NHL-sized rink the Canadians played closer to an NHL style of game, less about puck control on the outside and more about puck aggression, a little more fun, a little more dangerous, a little more interesting.
In a one-sided, kind of interesting way.
It is one thing to have the best players: Canada does. We know that. It is another thing entirely when the best players become the best team, with a style of game that is impenetrable. The Russians must watch this and wonder just a little bit: Why not us?
But the Russians have all that speed and all that skill and still don’t have a Carey Price in goal or a Drew Doughty on defence or, maybe more importantly, a bench with Mike Babcock, Joel Quenneville, Claude Julien and Barry Trotz standing behind it.
It is two games of the World Cup for Canada and the cumulative score after two victories is 10-1. The Americans have scored goals in two games, allowing seven against.
Team USA lost in the semifinals at the Olympics in Sochi two years ago in what might have been the most one-sided 1-0 game in history. The game on Tuesday night, the first match between the two countries in real play since then, was more one-sided by score, not necessarily in play.
But the reality: The U.S. led the game for 89 seconds. Canada led for 53 minutes and 55 seconds, most of that time by more than one goal. And the Americans didn’t play terribly. They didn’t turn the puck over badly. They didn’t make terrible mistakes. They just couldn’t execute whatever style of play they were attempting in any meaningful way.
And now the Americans are out, having been given the advantage of the easier draw, and the belief by many that they would be medal winners here.
There was little belief they could duplicate the victory of 1996 that Ron Wilson talks about with such glee.
It’s amazing how much Hockey Canada and the national team program has progressed over these past 20 years. They had the best players then. They may not have had the best way to play the game. Over the years, they have melded the players and the coaches and the systems and ever-important succumbing of egos to turn centres into wingers and stars into role players and individuals into a team.
It is impressive — even in a one-sided way.
Ten different players had points Tuesday night for Team Canada and none of them were named Sidney Crosby or Doughty or Steven Stamkos. The magic, if there was any, came from this: The Canadians made Patrick Kane, leading scorer in the NHL, Hart Trophy winner and Marian Hossa’s choice as best player in the world, disappear. Just like that.
And in a strange way, the Canadian efficiency quieted the pro-Canadian crowd all dressed up in red and white on what was officially a road game for Team Canada at the Air Canada Centre. It was so much a road game that the in-house public address man, from Vancouver, announced the Canadian starting goalie as “Corey Price.”
That was one of the few Canadian mistakes on the night. In a sport that is built on turnovers, misjudgments and errors, the Canadian effort was about as clean as you can get. And when a mistake was made, Price did what Price does: He did his job. Price didn’t have to steal anything. This wasn’t a game to steal.
Just a game to win. A piece of pragmatic hockey business. By a team that inherently understands what it takes to win. A move to the semifinal round now of a tournament that should be theirs.
This was supposed to be the great challenge of the round robin. But it was more obvious than challenging, more a matter of control.
The Americans could have had the big mouths Brett Hull, Mike Modano and Chris Chelios in the lineup Tuesday night, along with a healthy Phil Kessel and maybe Johnny Gaudreau and Auston Matthews. It wouldn’t have mattered.
They didn’t have enough to challenge Team Canada. They rarely do.