Going For The GoldPosted on January 14, 2013 by Mike Vogel
Just under three years ago, I was in Moscow with a few of my media cohorts watching an upstart Team USA entry compete for the gold in the 2007 IIHF World Championship. That team did not collect a medal. But I do remember sitting and chatting with John Keeley of On Frozen Blog over one of Sergei’s killer double espressos and/or a few beers. We were both happy with the direction that U.S. hockey was taking. There was a serious injection of youthful vigor and enthusiasm to the red white and blue that spring, and we’re seeing some of that changing of the guard bearing fruit in Vancouver these last couple weeks. Caps defenseman Brian Pothier was one of the blueliners on that team in Moscow three springs ago. “I think that was the year that Jack Johnson and Erik Johnson and [David] Backes and [Paul] Stastny and all those young guys came up and it was a great learning curve for those guys,” recalls Pothier. “I think the U.S. development program has done such a great job of developing young guys, not in the typical fashion of American players either. They’re really skilled kids, intelligent hockey players and they think the game really well. “In the past I think we had some skilled guys, but it was more of a physical game. Now we’re as skilled as the Russians and we’re as feisty as the Canadians. I think we have a good opportunity to develop those kids into great players and contend with the Canadians and the Russians for years to come. A lot of credit needs to go to the U.S. hockey program for sure.” With Friday’s 6-1 thumping of Finland. the Americans put themselves in position to win just their third gold medal ever in men’s ice hockey when they take on Team Canada in the gold medal game at 3 p.m. today. “It seemed like one of those games where every time they’d make a mistake we’d score and every time we’d make a mistake it would bounce over their stick,” says Pothier of the semifinal win over Finland. “It was one of those games and that seems to be the whole tournament for the U.S. team and that’s great. I hope it continues today because they’re going to need a few bounces today. “The Canadian team is experienced. They’ve got the best defense in the tournament, the most physical defense and the most physical team. It’s almost a benefit that we’re so young because we don’t know any better. The guys don’t know that we’re not supposed to compete with these guys. We’re going to need some bounces and some breaks. And Ryan Miller is going to have to have the game of his life.” Team USA’s style of play has gone a long way toward making breaks for the young, upstart American bunch. “I truly believe that you do make a big portion of your breaks,” declares Pothier. “And when guys are working hard and competing, then you get the bounces because you’re forcing the other team to handle the puck a little bit quicker than they’re comfortable handling it. The Russians couldn’t hang with the Canadians in the quarterfinals because of poor coaching and too much individualism on the ice. Canada stymied the Slovaks for two periods in the semifinal, rarely permitting them to penetrate the middle of the ice for a serious scoring chance. Team USA took down the Canadians in preliminary play last Sunday, and the Americans’ style is better suited to an upset of the heavily favored Canadians. “A guy like Zach Parise has been the poster boy for the U.S. team this tournament,” says Pothier. “He’s small, he’s feisty, he’s fast and he’s got a great scoring touch. And he’s really intelligent. He just competes; he never gives up. That’s been the United States team during this tournament. “I wouldn’t want to be Team Canada right now. They’re playing in Vancouver. It’s the most pressure they’ve ever felt. I have to think that’s almost as much pressure if not more than Game 7 of the Stanley Cup finals. This is a big deal. This is a big deal for them. The U.S. team, they can go in and just play carefree hockey. They’re not supposed to win. They can go out and be reckless and just play. A lot of times, good things happen when you add those things up. So we’ll see.” Enjoy the game. Hopefully it provides a thrilling and fitting coda to what has been a marvelous tournament.
We are on a Buffalo-bound plane as I begin typing this entry; the Caps start up the post-Olympic break portion of the schedule with a road tilt against the Sabres on Wednesday. Between now and then, the NHL’s trade deadline will pass at 3 p.m. Washington will depart Buffalo after Wednesday’s game,