Having slipped up twice in the preliminary round, Canada pays the price starting today with an "extra" game, a match-up with Germany simply to qualify for the quarterfinals, (hopefully) to be followed with a very tough road to the gold medal game, through Russia and probably Sweden, as the three pre-tournament favourites all wound up on the same side of the draw. The single point lost to Switzerland wound up costing the squad nearly as much as the three points surrendered to USA, but so it goes. Failure to hold or build on a 2-0 lead against an inferior squad deserves to be punished. Win the damn game!
Starting today. The margin for error is now officially zero, and the only way to go on the requisite four-game winning streak is to win the first one. When it comes to Germany, at least, history is on our side:
1932: Canada 4, Germany 1
1932: Canada 5, Germany 0
1936: Canada 6, Germany 2
1952: Canada 15, Germany 1
1956: Canada 4, Germany 0
1956: Canada 10, Germany 0
1964: Canada 4, Germany 2
1968: Canada 6, West Germany 1
1968: Canada 11, East Germany 0
1988: Canada 8, West Germany 1
1992: Canada 4, Germany 3 (SO)
2002: Canada 3, Germany 2
2006: Canada 5, Germany 1
13-0-0, 85 GF, 14 GA
Average score of ~6-1, which wouldn't be a bad prediction for tonight's scoreline. Canada comes out with a lot to prove, and if they're not pissed off at this point they haven't got a bloody pulse. I pity Germany, already 0-0-0-3 in this tournament, facing this angry bear defending her home territory.
That said, in recent times Germany has been a tougher nut to crack, holding Canada to a one-goal win in 2 of the last 3 outings. Most relevant are those two recent games against NHL-calibre opposition in Salt Lake City 2002 and Torino 2006, in which Martin Brodeur and Roberto Luongo respectively led Canada to victory. Tonight the changing of the guard as Canada's #1 becomes official as Luongo steps between the pipes for a must-win game, and presumably has the car keys for the duration. A nice little run of four games here, and BobbiLu might earn himself a new fan.
A less relevant but far more memorable puck encounter between these two nations was the one time they previously met in a sudden death game, in Albertville 1992. That was pre-NHL of course, but Canada nonetheless sent a mighty fine team that was heavily favoured to crush the Germans in that quarter-final encounter, which was a first against fourth crossover game. Instead it was a nailbiter all the way, featuring one of the most incredible endings to a game I will ever see.
That 1992 Team Canada featured Eric Lindros, probably the most decorated amateur hockey player this country has produced in my lifetime. Not yet 19, Lindros was about to add Olympic silver to a trophy wall that already contained two World Junior gold, a Memorial Cup, and Canada Cup gold. That's right, he made Team Canada #1 as an 18-year-old amateur, and excelled. He was the Next One, and was trying to prove it in Albertville, all the while holding out on the Nordiques of course. Lindros was the headliner almost over and above the team, which was not good, but he played damn well and deserves credit for that.
Sharing the offensive load with Lindros (8 GP, 5-6-11) was one Joé Juneau, himself at a contract impasse, who led the tourney in scoring (8, 6-9-15). The following season Juneau would score 102 points for the Bruins, Lindros 41 goals for the Flyers, and both would be on the All-Rookie Team with a bullet. Another "ringer" was Sean Burke, a proven NHL netminder who was, uh, between contracts in the manner of Andy Moog at Calgary '88. Burke was seen as a major Canadian advantage in every game, perhaps the best netminder in the tourney. Canada also had its usual assortment of strong developing pros with solid NHL careers ahead of them: Trevor Kidd, Adrien Plavsic, Jason Woolley, Dave Hannan, Kent Manderville, Dave Tippett, and more.
Meanwhile, Germany was Germany, a few decent players but no big stars whatsoever. But they were tenacious sons of guns, and they hung on to Canada in that game like a terrier on your ankle. It was frustrating as hell to watch, similar to the Swiss game the other night except it was a "one and yer done" affair. Canada could never build a lead, and Germany kept chipping away, scoring very late in the third to tie it up, forcing the game to and through a ten-minute overtime that gnawed my nails to the quick. From there it was the shootout, a routine thing today but the first one I and many Canadian fans had ever seen. This wasn't any regular season game, either, this was to decide an elimination game at the freakin' Olympics. Like most hockey fans, I had strong opinions on that front, but I sure wasn't going to boycott watching it.
Proponents of the skills contest could hardly have asked for a more exciting introduction to the concept, which featured the most dramatic conclusion to a shootout I have seen to this day. It was a 5-rounder, which went extra innings after a further deadlock, each team scoring twice. In the 6th round, Lindros, who had missed in the first go-round, was given a second opportunity and made no mistake with a nifty deke. A save by Burke and Canada was into the semi's with a 3 in 4 chance to win its first Olympic medal since 19bloody60, and still-realistic dreams of gold. The Berlin Wall had gone up and come back down since Canada had last made the podium ... did I mention I had left the edge of my seat and was standing to watch by this point. In my own living room.
The Germans gave the task of equalizing to the immortal Peter Draisaitl, who roared in and tried to beat Burke 5-hole. Burke closed the gap, the puck disappeared, and Burke rolled to his side. The game was won! ... except what seemed like seconds later, the puck reappeared behind Burke, slowly, agonizingly rolling towards the goal line. The goalie was either oblivious to it or, as likely, afraid to move for fear of knocking it in. But sure as hell that darn puck was going just fast enough to dribble an inch over the line, in super slo-mo. Then it wobbled, fell flat, and stopped. Right on the damn goal line.
Up top is a very poor-quality video (in the original Japanese!) from this showdown, the only video record I could find. It is nonetheless worth watching at least for its denouement, which occurs right around the 2:00 mark. People tend to remember the subsequent shootouts that cost Canada Olympic Gold in Lillehamer 1994 and a medal period in Nagano 1998, but on first exposure to the confounded gimmick the hockey gods were smiling on us.
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But if it pleases the hockey gods, who have remained angry with our hubris, can we please, please, avoid the bloody shootout tonight? Let the better team win is all I ask. Cuz I'm pretty sure I know which team that is.