World Domination: Big Brother Always Wins–Just Ask Canada, the Czech Republic, and Sweden!

This man deserved the win on saves alone. (Bridget Samuels/flickr)

I’m one of those people who hates overtime—the thought of sudden death as the deciding factor in a game really upsets me. I mean, how much does it suck when your goalie has stood on his head to carry your team for, oh, the entire season, and one bad bounce ends your run? (See Blackhawks vs. Canucks game 7 this year. Nothing worse than seeing Corey Crawford hang his head after that Burrows goal.) Actually, I can think of one worse thing that thankfully doesn’t happen during the playoffs: a shootout. At the risk of climbing into my soapbox, I will simply say this: it makes no sense to me to end a team game like hockey, which requires so much input from each player on the ice to work, with a skills competition.

Of course, that’s exactly what the Canada vs. USA game came down to today because, to quote Runs on Duncan’s very own Hannah, “Oh USA you guys never make it easy!” Yet Canada outshot them 52-20—and no, that’s not a typo. I checked. Several times. The fact that this game even went to overtime rests on the shoulders of one Ty Conklin, who was exceptional. There were several shots that I for sure thought were goals (to the point of crying out, “YES!”)… and then they weren’t because somehow Conklin plucked the puck out of the air. But I recognize to say it was Canada’s game the entire time is a disservice to how hard the USA team was battling.  They took a 2-1 lead into the third, partially in thanks to Canada’s shaky start in the first and work to recover their composure in the second. And from there on, in a sense, it was exactly the game we expected it to be: getting tied left and right, with some pretty big power play goals, a lot of scoring chances, and at a lot of speed. Oh, and some nice hits—these teams definitely ramped-up the physicality for this game, and it made it all the more enjoyable. Up-and-coming hockey nations, take heed—this is the kind of game you have to be able to play to succeed in international play!

In the end, it came down to a shootout. Reimer held firm, denying both Jack Johnson and Blake Wheeler. Conklin got scored on by both Jordan Eberle and captain Rick Nash, and it was over right then and there. It was hard to see such a hard-working goaltender go down like that, but to be fair Canada’s shots on goal were just unbelievable and they were doing pretty much everything right. This win catapulted Canada to the top of Group F with seven points (one win, two OT wins), while the USA now has four points (one win, one OT loss, and one loss).

Both teams will play tomorrow, with the USA taking on France and Canada taking on Norway.

Frolik knows better than to celebrate too much just yet. (Photo: Bridget Samuels/flickr)

This meeting was a chance for Slovakia to chance in front of the home crowd, to get some pull in this rivalry—and to try and clear themselves a path for the quarter-finals. Instead, the Czech Republic (along with Germany) secured their own quarter-finals berth, and put the Slovak team in a place very reminiscent of the Blackhawks’ own at the end of the season: not only does Slovakia need to win their matchups against Finland and Denmark, but the Finns cannot take any points when they play Russia. Just a tad complicated, eh? Yet despite the high hopes for the Slovak team, this is an outcome that could’ve been predicted both historically speaking–the Czech Republic has won eight and tied one of their previous World Championships meetings as well as won all three of their Olympic meetings—and by their records in this tournament so far, where the Czech Republic came along having lost no points and Slovakia coming into the Qualification Round with zero points.

I will spare you the grisly details of this match, for they were grisly; the Slovaks fought and were clearly desperate, but the Czech Republic kept it steady despite the Slovak attack and they took the game 3-2. They had sympathy for the struggling home team, but they were on a mission, and their determination and focus was clear. Hopefully they will carry that strength into their meeting with Russia this weekend. As for Slovakia, coach Glen Hanlon put it best: “We have a lot of experience and strong characters in the dressing room. We started out on a mission, and that’s not over. We won’t stop until the finish line. We owe it to our fans.” Veľa Å¡Å¥astia, Slovensko!

Tre Kronor dominated without much help from Kruger this time. (Photo: Hockey Broad/flickr)

As a Tre Kronor fan, this game was wonderful. Three-goal lead in the first, Viktor Fasth turning away every shot ever (for a total of 29 by the end of the match), and Tre Kronor in general defending like I wish my other teams defended. France spent so little time inside the Swedish zone that “they had a lot of shots from the outside,” to quote Fasth. The third goal by Sweden didn’t just pretty much end France’s chances of winning—but it also demoralized Cristobal Huet. Magnus Paajarvi “bullied his way to the net,” to borrow a great description from Andrew Podnieks, and even though Huet stopped that shot he was helpless against Patrik Berglund’s excellent shot on the rebound. As a result, France inserted Fabrice Lhenry in goal for the second period—and he stopped all 20 goals he faced, but it was no use: Viktor Fasth was just as unmovable. A backhand by Staffan Kronwall put the final nail in the coffin, and Tre Kronor shut out France 4-0. French defenceman Kevin Hecquefeuille summarized his team’s stance after this loss: “Our job is already done making it to the second round, but we have to be motivated for the rest of the tournament and try to take the game for the experience.”

Remember him? (Photo: Shay Haas/flickr)

Wait, did I say Huet? I did! That’s right: I’m a terrible person who completely forgot the Blackhawks still own the rights to Cristobal Huet, so I haven’t been paying much attention to how France has been doing. To make up for it, here, have a picture of Huet and my France-related tournament note for today. (The rest of them can be found over at Aerys’s own IIHF: Hockey Abroad site. You can click on my name or on the ‘Tournament Notes’ tag to find all of them—or just browse and read the amazing coverage that my fellow Worlds contributors have been bringing to you!)

It is already “mission: accomplished” for the French team, as their 2-1 overtime win over Belarus has sent them to the Qualification Round and assured them they get a chance to try again next year. As the Blackhawks’ own (yes, still) Cristobal Huet puts it, it’s also about hockey’s future in France—and how this team, all born and raised in France, is setting a good example for kids and giving French hockey more attention. They have only had an ice hockey federation since 2006, which means that most of their growth has occurred over the past five years. There is still a lot of work to be done, but it seems that everyone is dedicated to doing their part, being coaching minor-league hockey or actually looking for opportunities to challenge and improve, such as exhibition games against Canada and international play. If you’re interested in learning more about the process to foster hockey in a country, this is a must-read.

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