International Ice Hockey Federation

Canada-U.S. ready

Canada-U.S. ready

McDavid-Matthews intriguing side story

Published 21.05.2016 01:31 GMT+3 | Author Andrew Podnieks
Canada-U.S. ready
ST. PETERSBURG, RUSSIA - MAY 6: Canada's Matt Duchene #9 battles for position with USA's Brady Skjei #76 during preliminary round action at the 2016 IIHF Ice Hockey Championship. (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/HHOF-IIHF Images)
That the Canadians are in the semi-finals is hardly a surprise. But the United States are their opponents. And that’s the bigger surprise.

Indeed, the last time these two teams met in a meaningful game so late in the World Championship was 1991 in Finland. That year there was a round-robin finals group of four featuring these two teams as well as Sweden and the Soviet Union.

Canada tied its first two games and the Americans had lost their two. The other teams had a win and tie. On the final day of the tournament almost anything was possible for three of the teams, and a U.S. victory over Canada would have given the Americans bronze.

As it turned out, Canada won easily, 9-4, and Mats Sundin provided the heroics in leading Sweden to a gold-medal victory, 2-1. Canada took silver, and the U.S. finished fourth.

The Americans have won but five bronze medals since 1950. They are in unfamiliar territory this year, but that hasn’t fazed them a bit. They knocked off the Czechs on Thursday in a shootout with a poise that belies their roster, the youngest in Russia this year.

Canada is the favourite, to be sure, but that doesn’t mean anything except that perhaps they shouldn’t be considered the favourite then.

Although Canada leads the tournament in goals (40, nearly double the U.S. total of 24), its scoring has been nicely distributed throughout the lineup. All 21 skaters have registered at least one point and 16 have at least three. This is a balanced attack wherein all four lines can put the puck in the net.

That being said, Canada has four players in the top ten of scoring - Derick Brassard and Mark Stone have ten points each, while Taylor Hall and Mark Scheifele have nine. Defenceman Michael Matheson leads all players with a plus-minus rating of +12. Goalie Cam Talbot leads with three shutouts and a GAA of 1.17 (tied with Finland’s Mikko Koskinen).

Canada has given up just one power-play goal in eight games, in part because of great penalty killing, in part because it is the second-least penalized team in the tournament (just 28 minor penalties).

The top American scorer is, incredibly, 18-year-old Auston Matthews, who has five goals and eight points. He got the Americans this far by scoring the only two goals yesterday against the Czechs, and he shows a poise admired not only by fans of USA Hockey but also the Toronto Maple Leafs, the team that will almost surely select him first overall in the NHL Entry Draft next month.

His support is a group of college players and young NHLers, excepting 34-year-old captain Matt Hendricks. Nick Foligno and defenceman Connor Murphy have three goals each, and Matthews’ linemate Frank Vatrano has a goal and six points.

The Americans rely more on their first line than Canada, but it’s a heck of a first line. Speed, skill, confidence? Check.

Interestingly, one of the battles between the teams is their coaching. Fans can be excused if they don’t know much about Bill Peters (CAN) or John Hynes (USA), but both men have quietly gotten their teams to medal contention. Peters has no international experience while Hynes coached the American U18 team three times (2004, 2006, 2008) and the U20 team once (2008).

In the NHL, Peters has coached the Carolina Hurricanes the past two seasons while Hynes coached the New Jersey Devils this past season.

And, of course, there is the battle of ones. As in, last year’s first overall draft choice (Canada’s Connor McDavid) and this year’s (Matthews). Matthews has been front and centre for the Americans, but McDavid has posted a quiet seven assists without a goal. Both men love the big stage, and that stage in Moscow is starting to grow.

And what does the second game of the tournament mean? On day one, these two teams played, Canada falling behind 1-0 and then ramping it up and winning, 5-1. Both teams are different now—better coordinated, more confident, sharper. That result means a lot—and it means nothing.

This will be fast game. It will turn on a big save (which, to the other team, translates to missed opportunity) or a power play, a missed check or an accurate one-timer. It isn’t likely to be a 5-1 game (either way), but both teams know the importance.

Win and play for gold. Lose and play for bronze.

 

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