What our Canadian juniors did Wednesday night at HSBC Arena in Buffalo was not pretty.
In fact, it was the polar opposite of pretty. A game and a finish like that can affect a player for a very long time. For the rest of their lives, when players from that Canada squad meet each other, that game will come up. Last night’s disaster reminds me of just one hockey game – and that one wasn’t very pleasant to watch either.
On Saturday, April 10, 1982, the Edmonton Oilers were visiting the Los Angeles Kings in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Gretzky, Kurri, Messier, Fuhr, Coffey, Anderson. They were all playing for the
Tops-in-the-Campbell-Conference Oilers. After two periods, the Oilers were up 5-0. Apparently, they were laughing at the Kings on their bench. But L.A. scored in the first three minutes of the third period. Then they scored again on the power play. They scored the tying goal with five seconds left in regulation. Daryl Evans scored the OT winner in what would become known as “The Miracle on Manchester.”
Probably because I worked for the Oilers at the time, I will never, ever forget that hockey game. It was the biggest hockey comeback/collapse I have ever seen. The third period was horrific to watch. It was a train barrelling down the tracks without an engineer. Unstoppable. Same as the Russians were in the third last night. Those Oilers never recovered from that loss, falling to the Kings (who were massive underdogs) in the series. But, in the long run, the Oilers used that game to help motivate themselves to five Stanley Cup championships.
Team Canada will never, ever get that chance at redemption. Those twenty guys will never, ever all play together again. Last night’s game was (like every game) two fighters pounding it out. Except, in the third period, Canada stopped throwing punches. Must’ve figured they didn’t need to. Fight’s already won. Let’s just make sure we don’t get hurt. Who wants the trophy first? That works really well when the judges are using the 10-point must system. Hockey doesn’t use that yet.
The biggest criticisms I’ve heard revolve around Canadian coach Dave Cameron’s use of his time-out when the Russians had tied the game 3-3. Most figure Dave should have T’d it up when the score was 3-2. Frankly, if he’d called the time-out when the score had just become 3-1, I guarantee you the Russians would not have scored 11 seconds later. But it is ridiculous to speculate when a time-out should, or should not, have been called. Dave did what he thought was best. And he’s coached more games at this level than any of us ever will.
Canada nearly made it through the entire tournament without its major weakness being exposed. Their goaltending was not at an elite level. Mark Visentin and Olivier Roy are good junior netminders. They are not great. Neither is JP Anderson, who was cut from the squad. Canada’s only hope in the tournament was to protect their weak goaltending underbelly by denying the opposition scoring chances every single game. Visentin and Roy were never, ever going to steal a game for this Canadian squad. Last night, when Russia started getting repeated, point-blank scoring chances, it was all over. Visentin needed to stone the Russians in the third, and he simply did not have the tools to do it.
Some of our Canadian kids will get a chance to win championships over their pro hockey careers. Most will not. They will remember and live with last night’s third period forever. And that is the cruellest aspect of any game like last night’s – the memory of it.