- Saturday, February 27, 2010 12:47 PM
- Written By: Steve Silver
NBC does not deserve this, but diehard hockey fans and even casual sports watchers certainly do -- USA vs. Canada for the men’s Olympic hockey gold medal on a real channel, in HD and without tape delay.
This is a dream match-up for a largely uninspired Olympics that is still searching for its “Michael Phelps moment.” While this game might not increase hockey’s fan base long term, it certainly can’t hurt right now.
This single game might even save one of the worst Olympics I can remember. (Side note, I’m still just really bitter that there was no Sasha Cohen this year, but beyond that, have you really been glued to the TV like most of the world was during the Beijing games?)
But before Gary Bettman and Dick Ebersol explode with excitement over this Sunday afternoon blockbuster, I want to chime in with a few key observations.
First of all, if the Americans do win the gold medal, the IOC, USOC and whatever other OC’s are in the world better be prepared for a tsunami of partying, or as the hockey community calls it, a gong show.
Trust me, this squad of young Americans will put on a gonger to end all gongers.
If you thought the Canadian women smoking cigars and chugging beer was bad, just wait. I’m personally just excited to see how the media react to the impending TMZ galleries of their Vancouver antics.
Oh a shirtless snowboarder had a girl kiss his medal? Please. Patrick Kane might not put on a shirt for a week if he wins gold.
Phelps and the infamous bong photo? Child's play compared to what Ryan Malone, Brooks Orpik and Ryan Whitney are going to do. Ask any Pittsburgher that has seen these boys out on a Saturday night on the South Side. They’ll be sipping on something more than a wine cooler.
Yet beyond my childish and fratty desire to see the Americans demolish Vancouver’s ice as an entire nation cries, I really do think the U.S. could prevail. This squad is young enough and in a sense stupid enough to believe they can win this game ... again.
Although the Canadians will certainly have the crowd, tradition and international playing experience on their side, not to mention that 5-3 loss to avenge from last week, our neighbors from the North might be putting themselves at a disadvantage for poor roster management.
This brings me to my second point -- Canada needs a goalie controversy, so I'm going to start one.
At this point the gold medal appears to be Roberto Luongo’s to win or lose, but should it be? Don’t get me wrong; Luongo is a fantastic goalie on a really hot streak now.
Despite lacking a lot of Olympic playing experience, Luongo is 11-11 in NHL career playoff games with a .930 save percentage and a 2.09 goals-against-average.
I’m mainly concerned, however, with Luongo’s mental vacation in the third period against Slovakia on Friday night.
I don’t know if he was already thinking about the gold medal contest, but Luongo came extremely close to allowing Slovakia to force overtime.
So does that mean the Canadians should start Martin Brodeur?
Nobody has more experience than Brodeur. The man has redefined the goalie position and owns every award possible.
Most importantly, his experience is unmatchable. He is 98-78 in career playoffs games with a .920 save percentage and a 1.98 GAA.
He has also won gold before in 2002 from which he proceeded to post a Game 7 shutout to win the Stanley Cup in 2003. So we know he has clutch in his blood.
Also, at the age of 37, this is most likely Brodeur’s last chance to win gold again and that could serve as fantastic motivation.
But let’s not forget Brodeur and Team Canada’s disaster in 2006 in Turin.
On top of that, the Americans are in his head. He allowed some very uncharacteristic goals in that 5-3 loss to the US last Sunday and I’m not so sure he can be trusted in this monumental game.
At this point I’m still leaning toward Luongo, but what about the man behind door No. 3?
Despite proving himself as perhaps the best big game goalie in the NHL, Marc-Andre Fleury has been relegated to the bleachers.
Did everyone forget his clutch performance in Game 7 to win the Stanley Cup last year? With a 31-18 career playoff record, he clearly knows how to win in pressure situations.
Perhaps it is not best to start him in this game, but I really do believe he should at least dress as the backup. I might be the only one, but I’ll take Fleury any day if I had my choice for Sunday. Yes, I'm biased being from Pittsburgh, but I really believe Fleury got the shaft in this Olympics.
Now that I’ve raised the collective blood pressure of the entire country of Canada it’s time for my predictions.
My head says the Canadians storm by the Americans 4-2, but my heart says Team USA pulls out a 3-2 victory.
So, I’m going with my heart. It has certainly steered me wrong plenty of times in the past, but a little sports-induced patriotism never hurt anybody.