U.S. beats Canada at its own game

VANCOUVER – The spoiling of Canada's Olympic party by the United States reached apocalyptic proportions – at least for passionate Canadian hockey fans – on Sunday.

Canadian defenceman Shea Weber of Sicamous takes down American centre Ryan Kesler

VANCOUVER – The spoiling of Canada’s Olympic party by the United States reached apocalyptic proportions – at least for passionate Canadian hockey fans – on Sunday.

Despite being outshot 45-23, the U.S. defeated Canada 5-3 to win Group A of the 2010 Winter Olympic Games at Canada Hockey Place on Sunday. The Canadians will play Germany on Tuesday in a qualification game while the Americans get a bye into the quarter-finals.

“We’ve just chosen a longer route to where we want to go,” said Canadian coach Mike Babcock, bench boss of the Detroit Red Wings. “We thought we played really well at times. I thought (U.S. goalie) Ryan Miller was excellent for them, and in the end we didn’t have enough to get it done.”

With the Americans leading the medal standings with 24 compared to Canada’s nine, despite the the much-hyped Own The Podium program, Sunday’s result almost seemed like piling on.

If the Canadian squad, which needed a shootout win to defeat Switzerland 3-2 Thursday, required adversity to rally around, like it did in 2002 when it won gold in Salt Lake City after being hammered by Sweden in the round robin, it’s got it.

“It doesn’t matter what happened in Salt Lake, we’re here to do something different and that’s what we’re focused on,” said Canadian captain Scott Niedermayer of Cranbrook. “We’re doing a lot of things well, there’s no question. We’re controlling the play for long periods of time and lots of activity around the net. For whatever reasons we don’t seem to be clicking.”

Canada will have to win four consecutive games in order to grab the gold.

“Obviously we made it tough on ourselves. There’s definitely a feeling we can do it,” said defenceman Duncan Keith, who is from Penticton and played for the Kelowna Rockets.

Right from the warmup Canada Hockey Place was thick with anticipation and expectation built on the over-the-top hype the game was getting because of the rivalry between the two countries.

A pre-game interview on the HD scoreboard with Canadian moguls gold medallist Alexandre Bilodeau, which prompted a deafening standing ovation, seemed to have primed the crowd for a big night for Canada. Any chants of “U-S-A” were drowned out by “Go Canada Go” from the 90 per cent Canuck crowd.

However, it was the young guns from America who came out firing while the Canadians stumbled and bumbled. Canada’s squad started like they were carrying weights on their shoulders. Of course, they were since it was a weight of an entire nation of 30 million.

Canadian icon goaltender Martin Brodeur was one of the biggest bumblers. Off the opening faceoff, the Americans threw the puck behind the Canadian net where Brodeur, known for his ability to handle the puck, got his team in trouble creating a scoring chance for the United States.

Then, just 41 seconds into the game, Brian Rafalski, one of the few American veterans, took a shot from the point that tipped off Sidney Crosby’s skate and past Brodeur.

Eric Staal evened the score at 8:53 deflecting a wrist shot by Tsawwassen native Brent Seabrook from the point by U.S. goalie Ryan Miller.

But just 18 seconds later Brodeur’s penchant for showing off his stickhandling skills cost Canada when he tried to clear the puck by batting it out of midair. It was intercepted by Rafalski, who rifled it past Brodeur, his former teammate with the New Jersey Devils. It was Rafalski’s fourth goal on just six shots in the tournament.

Canada appeared to settle down in the second period, especially after Dany Heatley tied the game 2-2 at 3:32.

“Our guys did a good job of responding,” said Miller. “When things happened they didn’t get nervous and anxious and kept playing. [Canada] scored that second goal and then we had the better chances in the second period.”

Brodeur also seemed to settle down making a big save off Patrick Kane and back-to-back off Rafalski and Zach Parise. But then the bad Brodeur showed up again. He went fishing for the puck while flat on his stomach trying to poke it away, but the puck wound up on the stick of veteran Chris Drury who scored easily.

“For the young guys this is going to be great,” said Rafalski. “But hey, we’ve got a long way to go.”

In the third, Jamie Langenbrunner extended the U.S. lead to 4-2 tipping a Rafalski shot on the power play. Crosby narrowed it to 4-3 but Vancouver Canucks centre Ryan Kesler scored into an empty net to kill any Canadian comeback.

Babcock, who played a year of junior in Kelowna in 1982-83, wouldn’t say if he’ll stick with Brodeur or go with Canucks netminder Roberto Luongo.

“Without emotion, I’ll watch the game here tonight and go from there,” he said. “Obviously tonight was a night we’d like to have been better in that area.”

U.S. head coach Ron Wilson still sees his squad as an underdog because Canada outchanced the U.S.

“We’ve got a long way to go. There’s some great teams out there. Canada, I personally think is the best team. Russia is right behind it with all the skill up front,” said Wilson. “The Swedes and Finns can play these type of tournaments better than ours because of the system they’re brought up in.”

Photos by Don Denton/Black Press

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