It is hard to explain. The roller coaster that the Team Canada – Russia semi-final game put millions of Canadians through Tuesday night defied the odds.
I have attempted to capture the feeling in this blog post a dozen time and each time I have had to erase it and start over. The night was filled with emotion as I watched, 2000 or so miles away. It ranged from frustration, anger, elation, despair and finally numbness.
Perhaps that is getting ahead of myself, here is a quick (or not so quick) recap of the proceedings in case you were under the proverbial rock or changed the channel after Canada fell behind 5-1 or 6-1. (My own comments or feelings at the time will be in brackets)
- The crowd was electric as the teams took to the ice for the warm-up.
- Bad omen as officials call Tanner Pearson for roughing when he never even touched the Russian player who was hit by the butt end of a teammate’s stick (uh-oh!)
- Russia stikes first when Evgeny Kusnetsov banks one in off Ryan Murray who slides into Scott Wedgewood and carries him and the puck into the net. (It’s only one, and a lucky one at that)
- Canada gets a power play and dominates the puck and ust can’t put it past Vasilevki
- Pearson takes another penatly, this one deserved, and Nesterov’s point shot goes off Murray’s stick right to the top corner (Not too bad, still in the game and next goal wins. Two bad breaks ened up in the net. Just stay out of the box.)
- Canada has a great chance with a lengthy 5-on-3 but Dougie Hamilton‘s high-sticking penalty quashed that and the period ends 2-0 despite Canada outshooting Russia 13-8. (Not ideal, but Russia played a tough game last night, and they will run out of gas. Just stick to a power game and chip away.)
- On a delayed Russian penalty two minutes into the 2nd, Brett Connolly picks it up along the left wing boards, swoops in and wires a wrister top corner to bring Canada within 1. (That’s more like it. Back in the game and the momentum has swung.)
- That joy is very short-lived as in the next 6 minutes Kusnetsov scores twice to put the Russians up 3. On the second goal Wedgewood is run over after the goal and he is forced to leave the game. (He probably would have been pulled anyway, whether he was able to continue or not. Canada is now in big trouble.)
- With Brendan Gallagher off on a high-sticking call, Kochlachev makes it 5-1. (It was a bad penalty to take, and they made us pay. Murray has been on for every goal so far this game. That was the straw that broke the camel’s back.)
- It looks like Canada is going to get a power play as Isangulov cross-body blocks Boone Jenner, getting an elbowing penalty. Jenner spears Kusnetsov aftrer the play, getting 5 and a game. (Didn’t see the spear at first and almost lose my mind when they post the 5 minutes. after seeing replay, very angry at Jenner for putting his team in that position. It wasn’t much of a spear, but putting the officials in a spot like that to make the call was on him. Canada lost its best faceoff guy, as well as a power play that they needed to get back into the game. In hindsight, this was probably the turning point of the game.
- With another Russian penalty evening it up 4 on 4, Jonathan Huberdeau slashes a Russian on the pants, earning a minor. He slams his stick on the boards, and earns a 10 minute misconduct as well. Losing one of Canada’s top scorers for 12 minutes. (Selfish play from a frustrated team. They are losing their composure. The slash was unwarranted but committed and the right call was made. This is painful to watch.)
- The second period ends 5-1, and Vasilevski is looking like he will not be beaten. (Is there a re-run of Criminal Minds or Law & Order on some other channel, because I can’t handle the commentators breaking this period down.)
- An early third power play goes blank, and then Nathan Beaulieu trips up Kucherov, and is going to get a penalty. Beaulieu stops skating and the Russians go down, and Kucherov ends up scoring on the delayed penalty, making it 6-1. (Canada has quit, something I never thought I would see. This team doesn’t have the character I thought they would.)
- Nineteen seconds into a Canadian power play, Ryan Strome finds Dougie Hamilton on the edge of the crease for an easy tap-in. (Too little, too late but nice to see they haven’t totally given up.)
- Twenty-three seconds later, captain Jaden Schwartz banks a shot from behind the goal line off a Russian defender and over Vasilevski, making it 6-3. Russia calls timeout and the Russian coach tears a strip off his team. (Well at least they are making it respectable. Then, there is a look of determination in Schwartz’ eyes that made me wonder if the impossible might just happen.)
- A minute later, Gallagher on the doorstep tips in Hamilton’s point shot to make it 6-4, and the crowd goes nuts. (I go crazy, scaring the dogs and probably waking up the neighbors. I think this is going to be the biggest Canadian moment and I remember the feeling I felt when Jordan Eberle scored with 4.5 seconds left in 2009.)
- Sergeyev takes his second penalty of the period, hooking down Huberdeau on the doorstep. (Likely saved a goal with that penalty, Canada MUST score on this power play.)
- Brandon Gormley brings Canada within one as his point shot goes through traffic and past Vasilevski. (I had vowed to stay off the internet during this game, but I had to tweet that we might be witessing the top Canadian Sports story of the year, and it is only January 3rd.)
- The Gormley goal chases Vasilevski with less than 5 minutes left. (Bringing in a cold goalie? WOW. Less than 5 minutes left, the Russians are panicking. The comeback will be complete, most definitely.)
- Makarov comes in cold and faces 7 shots as Canada buzzes. Russian icings bring more memories of 2009, when an ill-advised icing cost the Russians the game. Mark Stone nails the goal post, rebound from Connolly goes into Makarov’s pads. It wasn’t meant to be as they cleared the puck with 10 seconds left. (I can’t believe it, as with the momentum and the chances they had, it should have been enough to complete the comeback. I sit in stunned silence, much like the crowd.
- Post-game interviews re-affirmed my opinion of Canadian hockey players and their composure. They were accountable and humble, very apologetic. (Remember, these are still kids, and the expectations Canadians heap on them are unfair and insurmountable.)
- Looking at the stats closely and you see just how much the Canadians truly wanted it. They outshot Russia 56-24, and they hit multiple posts that didn’t even count as shots on goal. Vasilievski was the difference early on in allowing his team to stake him to a lead. Makarov earned his medal based solely on the 5 minutes he played, in shutting the door in a whirlwind of red and white.
In the end, you can’t blame the officials (some bad calls went both ways), can’t blame the Russians and can’t blame the Canadians for the loss. You could pin the loss on three mental Canadian mistakes (Jenner, Huberdeau, Beaulieu) but that would be unfair. If Vasilievski doesn’t shut the door on early Canadian power plays, it is a different game. On any given night the better team doesn’t always win, and if these teams played a best of 7 series, it would likely go 7 games. Russia was one inch better on this night.
It doesn’t make it feel any better. It hurts, and it is because we care so much. I can’t imagine how much worse it is for the players, who must have felt helpless seeing it slip away, and then to come so close to becoming legends, only to fall just short. I feel for them. I only hope that they can get it together enough to beat the Finns for the bronze medal and take away something from the tournament. It will not feel any better on Thursday, win or lose, but in a few years they can look back on it and be proud of their standing.
Thanks for indulging me in this post, as it was like therapy for me! I feel much better now. Well not really, but a little better, maybe.
***If you are not Canadian and don’t know why this is so important to so many Canadians, check out my pre-tournament post.
Thanks for reading and as always, comments are welcomed.
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