No matter how badly American hockey fans want to think otherwise, Canada still reigns supreme when it comes to hockey.
That much was evident Friday as the Canadians downed the Americans 1-0 in a semifinal matchup at the 2014 Winter Olympics. The win means Canada will once again play for the gold medal and marks the second time in as many Olympic tournaments that Americas neighbors to the north have sent the U.S. packing at the biggest international hockey tournament in the world.
The Canadians only won by a goal, but that small difference was in no way an indicator of what really happened at the Bolshoy Ice Dome in Sochi. The Americans were badly outplayed by a far superior Canadian team that probably would have rolled to a more convincing victory had it not been for the play of U.S. goalie Jonathan Quick.
The Canadians picked the perfect time to play their best game of the tournament. It wasn’t necessarily pretty hockey, but it was winning hockey. Canada was suffocating defensively. The same packed-in defense that has kept them from scoring at will in the tournament’s previous games is the same defensive philosophy that slowed down the Americans. Team USA came into the game with the tournament’s top offense, but they were shackled by a Canadian team that not only features some of the NHL’s best defensemen, but a handful of highly skilled, defensive-minded forwards committed to the gameplan and executed it flawlessly.
It’s not like there’s much the Americans can do. The difference in talent between the two teams was evident all over the ice, and shame on those of us who confidently picked the Americans to win (oops). The reality with the advantage of hindsight is that the only way the Canadians were going to lose to the Americans this time around would be if Canada just fell flat on its face. That, of course, did not happen — far from it, actually.
On paper, the Canadians were the better team. They played like it, too, and that meant that Team USA never had a chance. This isn’t the time for “what ifs,” either. It’s certainly hard to believe that U.S. snubs Bobby Ryan or Keith Yandle would have made much of a difference on Friday in Sochi. Those two players or any of the other snubs wouldn’t be enough to bridge the gap in talent difference between these two teams.
And when it’s mattered most, the U.S. hasn’t been able to use grit, determination, chemistry or any other intangible to overcome the talent disparity. If the Americans can’t build the better team, they have to at least play like the better team for one game when the two teams meet. They haven’t been able to do that, either.
The Americans are one of the world’s best hockey nations, but the USA Hockey program got the harsh reminder Friday that they’re still not the best. They’ve been able to show improvement, but until they can match the incredible talent the Canadians can roll out, this type of result is going to happen more often than not when these teams meet on Olympic ice.
A gold medal here or there would help, too.