Let's begin with the vastly more entertaining game - USA's loss to Canada in the World Junior Championships.
With all of the hype of the Winter Classic in Chicago, the true classic got lost in the shufle. This was most entertaining hockey game I have watched in quite awhile. The skill, speed and emotion of all players for both teams made this game absolutely fantastic. The inability of these young players to control their emotions is the source of the best and worst in these tourneys. Their desire, anger, anxiety, and ecstasy oozes from the pores of these talented players on every shft. The fact that they are not professionals just doing their jobs is what makes these games such a pleasure to watch.
I'm sure the Americans are bitterly disappointed in the 7-4 result after being up 3-0 early in the first period. It was apparent that they surprised even themselves and did not know how to handle the situation. However, team USA should take comfort in the fact that they proved they are every bit as talented and skilled as team Canada (have you heard they are going for their 5th straight gold medal?) and they have no reason to be intimidated in the least should they meet again in the medal round.
Now, please allow me to indulge in a storied tradition of international hockey - whining about the officiating. Two major issues with this game and they combined to affect the 4th goal for team Canada scored early in the 2nd period - a pivotal goal that gave Canada it's first lead of the game.
Problem #1 - this is simply a difference in opinion on a judgement call - Della Rovere of Team Canada checks the US player from behind and only gets a 2 and 10. This hit was far more dangerous than the German hit from behind that Canadian fans were so incensed about (that player got 5 and a game). Rovere hit a guy who was already engaged with an opposing player, never saw him, had no opportunity to defend himself or brace for the hit, and was only couple feet from the boards. Rovere hit him square in the number on his back; the US player did not turn in to the hit whatsoever. This definitely should have been a 5 and a game. If it had, Canada would not have had their player coming out of the box just before they scored ther goal and problem #2 would have been averted.
Problem #2 - Penalty box official releases Canadian player early. He was released about 8 seconds early to be exact - and early enough to involve himself in the rush and make it an odd man situation which led directly to the Canadian goal. Pretty simple math shows the mistake - Della Rovere's mis-penalized infraction came at 18:34. Team Canada's goal came 37 seconds in to the second period - only 3 seconds after the player serving the 2 minutes should have been released. On the TV feed - you can see the Canadian player waiting in the neutral zone to join the play as the puck was skated out of the Canadian zone.
Imagine if this had happened the other way around. If this game was in the US, and the US player was released early to involve himself in a goal to give the US the lead in a game the US won and was decided by one goal? There would probably be troops amassing at Windsor right now for an invasion. I can't believe there hasn't been more written about this. There is stuff out there about the scrum after Canada's second goal (as I said, the emotions are the best and worst parts of these games), but hardly anything about the utter failure of game officials to properly administer one of the most basic aspects of a hockey game - when to let a player out of the box.
Perhaps it the frustrating ignorance of the NHL network announcing crew, who thought Coach Rolston was arguing a high-sticking call. I realize that they don't have my luxury of sitting on the couch with a jack coke in hand and the rewind button at my fingertips, but come on guys. It took them until the start of the third to even mention that there might have been a problem. Upon rewind, it showed that the penalty time on the screen graphic did not start counting down when the game clock began at the start of the second - the penalty clock stayed at 33 seconds for a good ten or fifteen seconds. But I have no idea if that mirrored the clock at the game or not. If so, perhaps that caused the confusion that led to the early release.
However it happened, it is sad that something so basic could be screwed up and affect the outcome of an otherwise fantastic game. Is it wrong to wonder about the nationality of the particular penalty box official in question? All I can say is thank god this was not an elimination game.
Other than that, I will echo others in saying that the celebrating and taunting is annoying. I cringed when the US player held up his glove to his ear and skated by the Canadian bench, and understood that it would be coming back around when Canada inevitably surged back in to the game. The stick on the visor from the US bench was stupid and dangerous, as was the sucker punch that felled the US player right after. This stuff has been going on for awhile though; I remember desperately hoping someone would put Ovechkin through the boards after he was running around tugging on his jersey in Grand Forks. Would some of the tension be released if two guys could just drop the gloves and go at it like a regular junior game? A discussion for another day, this blog is already too long.
My only other thought is that although Colin Wilson was named USA's player of the game, I'm sure that distinction does not erase the sting of disappointment from failing to score on team USA's best two chances to even the game at 5. Hopefully there will be no letdown today against Slovakia and all of that frustration will be bottled and poured out on the Slovaks.
I don't have much to say about the relatively boring Avs-Coyotes game after all that. Looked like the Avs were playing a good road game initially. They absorbed the home team's initial surge and got a hard working rebound goal to go up 1-0. But the Avs never quite got out the "absorbing" phase. They were much too passive throughout the game and didn't spend nearly enough time in the Coyotes zone. I was hoping to see them come out and take it to Phoenix at the start of the second, but they seemed far too content to sit on their 1-0 lead. The result was a waste of an excellent goaltending performance by Budaj, and a loss to a Coyotes team that doesn't look like it's going anywhere. Now they go back home and hopefully pick up right where they left off. Columbus - another bubble team that the Avs must beat if they hope to make then Cup tourney.
Here's to another great day of hockey!