It was a disappointment for Team USA, losing in the semifinals to Canada 1-0. The US just didn't play its best game.
Give Canada credit for that. With all of the talk about a lack of scoring,the Canadians have been incredible defensively. Three goals allowed in five Olympic games is remarkable. The forwards are sacrificing stats to win and that's what a great team does.
Canada meets Sweden for the gold medal. Team USA plays Finland today for the bronze. It will be tough for both teams to play this game after the bitterly disappointing semifinal losses to arch rivals.
|Drew Doughty (Canada) and Dustin Brown (USA) skate against one another in the gold medal game of the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver. (Getty Images)|
It's the matchup everyone anticipated....the one game that justifies shutting down the NHL for a few weeks: USA vs. Canada.
The rivalry resumes here in Sochi, Friday at noon eastern time (NBCSN), 9pm here in Russia. A spot in the gold medal game is on the line, with the winner playing the winner of the Finland-Sweden semifinal.
Team USA has been the best team in the tournament so far. The Americans have scored the most goals, led by Phil Kessel's five. Canada has struggled to score, which is amazing considering all the talented forwards on the roster.
Defensively, Canada has been strong, limiting scoring chances and getting solid goaltending. Defensemen Drew Doughty and Shea Weber have been offensive forces but the Canadians will need the forwards to start putting the puck in the net if they want to keep winning. Cary Price will get the start in goal in the biggest game he has ever played in while Team USA will go with Jonathan Quick.
In the USA’s quarterfinal win against the Czech Republic, the offense featured a balanced attack, with the five goals coming from five different players. In addition, captain Zach Parise got his first point and goal of the Olympics while defenseman Ryan Suter hit the scoresheet for the first time in the tournament with three assists.
It's a matchup made in hockey heaven, USA-Canada...it doesn't get any better than this.
In what is the least surprising development of the Olympics, the United States and Canada women's teams will play for the gold medal on Thursday. They clearly are the two best teams in the world and the Winter Games here in Sochi, Russia have proved that.
Team USA is 3-1 in Olympic play heading into the gold medal game, with the only loss coming to Canada last week by a 3-2 final. In their three wins, the Americans have outscored their opponents by a combined 18-2. They outscored Sweden 6-1 in the semifinals as they outshot the Swedes 70-9 to get to the gold medal game. One of the stars has been Amanda Kessel, the sister of Toronto Maple Leaf and team USA men's star Phil Kessel. The other NHL link on the US team is winger Alex Carpenter. Her father Bobby was the first American to score 50 goals in a season in the NHL. He was also on the 1995 New Jersey Devils team that won the Stanley Cup.
The United States is coached by Katey Stone, who is the head coach at Harvard University. The team also features twin stars...literally! Jocelyne and Monique Lamoureux play on the same line and are dynamic offensive players. Canada has won the gold in three straight Winter Games after losing to the US in Nagano in 1998. That includes a 2-0 gold medal game victory in 2010 in Vancouver. Former Florida Panthers coach Kevin Dineen is Canada's head coach.
The two teams openly dislike one another and this is a rivalry that is so heated the two teams brawled twice during games leading up to the Olympics. The gold medal game is Sochi should be a doozy.
For the second straight Olympics, Team USA has won its first three games, beating Slovakia 7-1 on Thursday, outlasting Russia in dramatic fashion with a 3-2 shootout win on Saturday and finishing it off on Sunday with a 5-1 win over Slovenia.
Here is Sochi, they've outscored their opponents 15-4 in those games. In Sunday's win over Slovenia, Maple Leafs sniper Phil Kessel was the star with a hat trick, the first two goals coming in the opening 4:33 of the game to set the tone. Any thought of a letdown after the dramatic shootout win against Russia was gone in a hurry. Sabres netminder Ryan Miller got the call in net and had his shutout spoiled by a Slovenian goal in the final minute.
It's now on to the qualification and then quarterfinal rounds, where the real pressure starts. The losers go home, winners of the quarterfinals go to the semis to play for a shot at gold. By winning its group, the USA has earned a bye into the quarters which allows the team two days off. They'll also be fresh, playing their opponent on the second of back-to-back days.
Everything here in Russia has been top notch. The accommodations, transportation, food and security has been as good as any of the other three Olympics I've been to. The best part for me though is that the hockey action now picks up in a big way, although even with medals on the line it will be tough to top the thrilling 8-round shootout between the US and Russia on Saturday as TJ Oshie and Jonathan Quick helped the US earn the extra point and the Group.
If there was an example of why the NHL should continue to send its players to the Olympics every four years, that game was it. The buzz created in America by that game was off the charts and many people who never watch hockey were watching and listening to that game.
Dramatic sporting events create fans. That game was as dramatic as they come.
It's the one that everybody has been waiting for ever since the Olympic schedule was released: a post Valentine's Day match-up for the ages...USA vs Russia (7:30am ET on NBCSN).
It is rumored that Russian President Vladimir Putin will be in attendance come Saturday as this game carries heavier weight than just a preliminary round hockey game. The history of the relationship between these two countries is well documented and the 1980 Miracle on Ice is still the greatest upset in sports history.
As far as the game goes, it should be an emotionally charged Russian team. The US will need to be ready for that opening push by Alex Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin, Pavel Datsyuk and company. That will be key. If the young American defense, which played well in the first game in a 7-1 win over Slovakia on Thursday, can keep the Russian offensive stars under control early in the game, the US will then have the opportunity to show its full compliment of skills. Forwards Phil Kessel and Patrick Kane are having super NHL seasons and seem very confident on and off the ice. The bigger ice surface plays right into their hands. Kessel had a wry smile after the opening win over Slovakia when I asked him about the extra room to maneuver. The hard nosed style of David Backes and St Louis Blues teammate TJ Oshie was a factor against the Slovakians. Dustin Brown, the LA Kings captain, and NY Rangers captain Ryan Callahan like to throw the body too. This is a team that has great skill, is tough and has defensemen that can move the puck and skate well. The USA is the complete package as a team. Of course, goaltending is always important and it will be interesting to see how the goalies handle the big moment for both sides.
I'm personally looking forward to calling this one. It's a part of hockey history. I know many American players are relishing the chance to wear the red, white and blue jerseys and take on the Russians on Russian ice. It will quite the spectacle here in Sochi.
Greetings from Sochi.
The US women are on a gold medal collision course with Canada. Both teams are 2-0 with wins over Finland and Switzerland. They play in what should be a gold medal preview on Wednesday with the winner finishing atop Group A.
The US beat the Swiss 9-0 today. It was an impressive offensive display, highlighted by Amanda Kessel, who's brother Phil plays for the Toronto Maple Leafs and is a part of the men's team. Kessel had two goals and two assists, as did her linemate Kendall Coyne.
The men's teams are practicing and the US starts play Thursday against Slovakia with Tomas Kopecky of the Panthers suiting up for the Slovaks. There are eight teams that realistically think they can take home a medal and of those, five have a legitimate shot at the Gold; the US, Canada, Russia, Sweden and Finland, which has Panthers rookie phenom Aleksander Barkov as its top center with Anaheim and Finnish legend Teemu Selanne and fellow Young Gun Mikael Granlund of Minnesota. All five teams feature top-notch goaltending.
The pressure of the Winter Games will be great, particularly for the home team Russia. It should be a great tournament, one that could be decided by goaltending and which team handles the pressure and bigger ice the best. The international ice surface is 10 feet wider and longer than North American rinks. Goalies must adjust to the angles and skaters have to make the mental and physical adjustments, realizing they have more room.
The US plays its first game Thursday at 4:30pm Sochi time, 7:30am eastern. I am broadcasting with former Panther Bret Hedican on Westwood One radio network and all games will be picked up on Sirius/XM satellite radio as well. Make sure to check the local listings for which stations will air the games.
The Olympic village is super and the proximity of the arenas and things to do in the Olympic Park are outstanding. My hotel room is perfect and security everywhere is tight. I do not share the negative image being portrayed by some in the media. In the 24 hours I've been here in Sochi, and this is my fourth Olympics covering, the setup couldn't be better. And it was 55 degrees and sunny today, making me feel like I was back in South Florida! The staff at the hotel and everywhere else are helpful and it's evident they have much pride in these games being in Russia.
I am still feeling the affects of the long trip and nine-hour time change so until next time…
|Waiting for my flight at MIA|
My journey has begun to the Winter Games in Sochi and I'm excited to be working my second straight Games (Vancouver, 2010). Security getting through the Aeroflot terminal at MIA was no problem, extremely quick and easy.
My flight to Russia takes 11 hours as we land in Moscow and then it's another two and a half hours to Sochi. With the 9 hour time difference the trip will take about 25 hours.
Covering the hockey tournament and specifically Team USA for Westwood One (Sirius/XM Channel 92), our first game will be on Thursday, 4:30pm Sochi time or 7:30am East Coast Time. The United States plays Slovakia, captained by Boston's Zdena Chara. The Panthers' Tomas Kopecky will also suit up for the Slovaks. They have a good team but one the USA should handle. I expect Ryan Miller to start in goal. He was incredible in 2010 and the main reason the US played in the gold medal game before losing to Canada in overtime.
There will be plenty of pressure on the Russian team playing on home ice. They certainly have the talent with players like Detroit's Pavel Datsyuk, Washington's Alex Oveckin and Pittsburgh's Evgeni Malkin. Their goaltending will likely tell the story of their Olympic success.
As for my predictions? I'm Red White and Blue through and through so I am picking a gold medal rematch between USA and Canada with the Americans on the winning side this time. Going with the home team Russians for the Bronze medal. The Swedes and Finns are always tough teams. Their players are smart and with Henrik Lundquist and Tuuka Rask in net respectively, either could easily medal. Panthers young gun Aleksander Barkov will suit up for Finland.
I will be reporting on other games and doing post-game interviews so the days will be long and the hockey plentiful! Just the way I like it.
And with that, it's off to Moscow and eventually Sochi for me.
Florida Panthers TV PBP
CBS-4 TV Miami sports
WINZ Miami morning radio host
We have a pretty good sample size of the new coaching staff and the result is a positive one. Peter Horachek, Brian Skrudland and John Madden have taken a team that was ridden with bad habits and mental lapses and have cleaned up a lot of it. It's still a work in progress and can still be frustrating for fans but the hockey IQ has gone up and I expect the team to continue to play smarter, more disciplined hockey moving forward.
Horachek is a straight forward coach that knows how he wants his team to play and tells them in a direct manner that can't be confused by players.
Madden knows the game as well as anyone I've ever been around. He was always somewhat of a player/coach with New Jersey where he won two Stanley Cups. He also won another in Chicago and helped the Panthers win the Southeast Divison two seasons ago. Madden's in-depth knowledge of the center position has been extremely beneficial in the development of young centers Aleksander Barkov and Nick Bjugstad.
Skrudland is another straight shooter. You always know where you stand with the original panthers captain. In addition, he has pride in that Panthers logo, wants this franchise to succeed and was the leader when it was flourishing in South Florida in the 1990's. Skrudland knows hockey works here if the team performs well.
The previous Panthers coaches worked as hard as they could and wanted to succeed badly. Work ethic was never an issue. But it was obviously time for change, the change also falls on the players' shoulders. There are still challenges like the lack of energy to start games. Thats' inexcusable and on player's backs to get right. But Horachek has coached in the ECHL, IHL, AHL and NHL. He is an experienced, smart, disciplined man and knows exactly what he wants from his team.
Keeping lines and defense pairings together has also been helpful in a big way. Chemistry develops between players that are comfortable together and know one another's tendencies. I've enjoyed watching the improved play and there is still room to grow in the mental approach to games. One thing I know for a fact, that mental toughness, reading the situations on the ice and playing smart hockey is being preached every day by a coach and his assistants who know what it takes to win in the NHL.
The Panthers have played better hockey under new coach Peter Horachek. He and his assistants, Stanley Cup winners John Madden and Brian Skrudland have brought a different mentality to the team. A mental approach of high energy and intensity is evident.
The team has still made some unacceptable mistakes defensively but they're becoming fewer and further between. The turnovers that lead to opponents' goals will not be tolerated. The system is one of aggression. More aggressive play in the offensive zone, defensemen jumping up into the play and a north/south style is easy to see. Add in better goaltending and its a recipe that can be successful.
The Panthers have a big hill to climb and the current 5-game road trip presents both a great opportunity and daunting challenge. The Western Conference is better than the East this season. That said, the Cats have held their own against the West with three wins and two shootout losses (3-4-2). (Dallas, Minnesota, Anaheim, Chicago, Edmonton)
Hopefully the new coach will be able to clearly implement his system as there isn't that much time except for a few days for practice. It's ultimately up the the players to bring a strong effort to every shift and play smart hockey. The mental part of the game has been lacking at times but one can see improvement in that area.
"The Champs are coming, the Champs are coming..."
Game 3 of the Panthers' season-long 6-game home stand has the Stanley Cup champion Blackhawks in town. Both teams come off wins Saturday night, the Panthers beat Minnesota 2-1 in a shootout while the Blackawks earned a 3-1 victory over Toronto. Tonight will be a different challenge as the Hawks present a big, literally, challenge. Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews get all the pub, and it's well deserved, but Chicago boasts a number of big, strong forwards that the Panthers must physically match up with.
The Hawks defense is solid, led by Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook. The Panthers will need to have everyone going tonight to get a win. Tim Thomas has been super the last two games since returning from injury and said he's getting better as he goes along.
That bodes well as does the timely goal scoring of rookie Aleksander Barkov and 20-year old second year forward Jonathan Huberdeau. These two have been fun to watch and have produced. Panthers' fans are watching stars in the making right before their eyes. A win tonight would be a huge shot in the arm for the Cats. With Buffalo and Tampa Bay in town this weekend it could shape up to be a solid home stand. A big effort is needed tonight though.
Game time is 7:30 p.m. at the BB&T Center, and we are on the air at 7 p.m. with the pre-game show.