Sunday, February 21, 2010

Perfect Hockey

Hockey has a limited following in the United States. I mean, yeah, there's lots of NHL fans, but most people in America would rather watch basketball than hockey, far more would prefer baseball, and nearly everyone would rather watch football.

People give all sorts of reasons for not liking hockey. They say it's too physical, that it isn't physical enough, that there's not enough scoring*, and that the rules are too complicated. They don't like how the play gets caught in the corners, the interminable whistles, and the stupid term "power play."

If any of those people watched tonight's USA/Canada game, they have become hockey fans. It was a perfect game, with relatively few whistles, physical, fast play, and plenty of scoring. The United States, again led by unlikely hero Brian Rafalski, scored less than a minute into the game and never trailed, despite being heavily outshot. The game itself was pretty even, with lots of end-to-end action, including one sequence where the Americans earned a breakaway, followed by a Canadian breakaway, followed by an American breakaway. This is beautiful, beautiful hockey.

There was plenty of physicality, with hits on both sides of the ice, including a weird collision between two Canadians that wrapped up a third. There was finesse, with players batting passes out of the air and back onto their sticks. There was flow, particularly in the first and third, with lots of point shots and transition offense.

The Candians were victimized by, in my opinion, a poor choice in starting goaltender. Look, I respect Brodeur, but when you're playing in Luongo's home rink against your best competition thus far, you might as well use your best goalie. Luongo doesn't allow the goals Brodeur did, particularly the ugly five-hole goal that hit Marty's stick between his legs as it deflected in. Ryan Miller, however, was brilliant, making some saves in the third period that looked, well, Brodeur-ish.

It was nice to see Drew Doughty representing his country with style and grace. Where Canadians were unlikely to comment on Doughty before, I suspect we'll start to see some #8 Team Canada jerseys before these Olympics are over. He was really, really good, and almost scored late in the third on a brilliant deke and skate into the crease. He was, however, spun around by Kings teammate Dustin Brown before diving to poke away the puck before Brown could put a shot on net.

Soccer is often called "the beautiful game," but hockey looked pretty damn gorgeous tonight.

*For those of you who like football, and think hockey is low-scoring, make touchdowns worth a single point and goals worth 7. Tonight's game was won by the United States 35-21. The Saints won the Super Bowl 5-3, rounding up each team's actual scores of 4.4 and 2.4 to whole numbers. Hockey is not low-scoring.

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