Stifling, smothering, relentless, non-stop: pick an adjective to describe Team Canada’s shutdown of Team USA. They all apply.
We’ve all heard the phrase countless times: “Defense wins championships.” In Team Canada’s case, it certainly gets you to said championship after their 1-0 victory over the U.S. in the semifinal on Friday. Canada and Chicago Blackhawks Jonathan Toews, Duncan Keith and Patrick Sharp face Team Sweden, who has three Blackhawks of its own (Niklas Hjalmarsson, Johnny Oduya and Marcus Kruger) for the gold medal early Sunday morning.
We’ll get to that game in another story; this one’s about Canada-U.S., and the former’s domination of the latter.
[PHOTOS: Canada defeats USA in semifinals]
Yes, you can dominate a 1-0 game. Team Canada certainly showed us that on Friday. For all its firepower, for all its offensive weapons, Team Canada was driven to defensively shut down Team USA at every opportunity. It was going to take that type of effort for one goal to stand up, and it did.
For the U.S., there’s the obvious disappointment. So achingly close to winning the gold medal in 2010 in Vancouver, now the team will be fighting for bronze on Saturday. It had its chances — Carey Price stopped all 31 shots. What Team USA lacked was sustained pressure, second-chance opportunities and those “greasy” goals we hear Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville mention so often.
Credit Team Canada for not allowing much of that to happen.
This will sting for a bit for Team USA, at least until Saturday when it has to regroup if it wants to leave Sochi with any medal at all. Jonathan Quick was tremendous, stopping 36 of 37 shots but he didn’t get enough help on Friday. He’ll need all hands on deck on Saturday when Team USA faces an equally defensive-minded group in Team Finland.
It’s not about style points at this juncture. It’s about winning, and Team Canada did what was necessary on Friday. Defensive hockey isn’t always pretty, although Friday’s game was more than entertaining. Thank the speed on both sides for that. But Canada put its foot on Team USA’s throat, and the U.S. was unable to break through the pressure.
Defense wins championships. It could very well pave the path to gold for Team Canada once again.