Home > Uncategorized > Another Prediction: Americans get some long-overdue love, gold

Another Prediction: Americans get some long-overdue love, gold

Matt Slocum/The Associated Press Team USA forward Paul Stastny celebrates his goal as Slovakia goaltender Jaroslav Halak looks on during the second period of their round-robin game at the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, Russia, on Thursday. The Americans opened with a 7-1 rout in the most impressive debut among the projected medal contenders. As reigning Olympic silver medallists, Team USA is hoping to top the podium this time around, and they have some people believing in their potential.

Matt Slocum/The Associated Press
Team USA forward Paul Stastny celebrates his goal as Slovakia goaltender Jaroslav Halak looks on during the second period of their round-robin game at the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, Russia, on Thursday. The Americans opened with a 7-1 rout in the most impressive debut among the projected medal contenders. As reigning Olympic silver medallists, Team USA is hoping to top the podium this time around, and they have some people believing in their potential.

OK, I know it’s Valentines Day and this isn’t the romantic choice, but here it goes.

In 2002, I watched every Team Canada game in person. I remember the games like they were yesterday. Curtis Joseph’s struggles against Sweden in Game 1 stood out — well that, and the guy from Montreal beside me who was drunk on Smirnoff from a pre-game street hockey game in the E-Centre parking lot, but I digress.

Mark Payne
Mark Payne

Today, I listened to the constant babble of fans in Canada about a 3-1 win over Norway on sports radio. So while my days of chasing hockey players are behind me, I couldn’t help myself. Relax, it’s one game! This is the first Olympics I’ve been home since 2002. It reminded me: Wow, do we love hockey!

The one thing we like more than the “puck” is dumping on Team Canada only to ride the bandwagon to gold.

I won’t do that — I’ll leave it to Ty Rattie, who broke bantam scoring records only to sit at home and watch the World Juniors, or why it took two years to put Ryan Nugent-Hopkins in the lineup. Morgan Klimchuk was not even at camp this year because they only invited 25 players — good call when they needed goals to win a short tournament. Stupid.

Internal development is not our thing, with an embarrassment of riches in terms of players to select on national teams. We screw it up every year.

Another moment I will never forget in Salt Lake was watching a kid from my hometown, Jarome Iginla, play like a champion in a gold-medal game that will never be matched. It was the greatest hockey game I’ve ever seen — the Canadian fans singing the anthem as time ticked down and watching an All-Star team of NHL players end a 50-year drought.

Good thing Gretzky invited Iginla to camp — better late than never. Thanks for bailing the brass out Wayne, we owe you, especially after the Nagano shootout fiasco.

Believe it or not, I am Canadian and will be devastated if they don’t win gold this year. But I’m also a hockey fan who sees some great teams in this tournament — and one deserves your attention.

I ran into Team USA assistant coach Tony Granato last summer and shared my thoughts: “You have the best team to upset Russia.” Period. They weren’t afraid to make tough choices like leaving Bobby Ryan at home.

Meanwhile, Canada forgot that then-injured Corey Crawford has one thing on Bobby Lou — a Stanley Cup. Vancouver fans like to remind us that Luongo won gold in 2010. No, Sidney won gold. Luongo forced overtime.

You will also find Tuukka Rask and Jonathan Quick on Lord Stanley. Here’s hoping Carey Price holds up.

Beware of the Americans — they have nothing to lose. This is a group of players that deserve gold.

Patrick Kane has the best hands in hockey.

They have a solid, mobile young defence.

And the best big-game goalie in Quick, with a stellar backup in Ryan Miller. Nobody battles harder than Quick — and to be fair to Miller, Goodyear hasn’t seen as much rubber as he has in Buffalo this season.

In 2006, I travelled to Torino to cover the Games. Canada finished 7th and I saw them lose to Martin Gerber and the Swiss national team. I’m not going to sugarcoat this, I was so disgusted I can’t even use a Swiss Army knife to this day.

If Miikka Kiprusoff is in the Finns’ goal, they win gold. I couldn’t even bring myself to go to the gold-medal game after I walked by a 19-year-old Rick Nash on the streets of Torino a day after they were knocked out by Russia in the quarter-finals. He never saw me, but I could feel his disappointment. Losing sucks.

Between 2009 and 2011, I coached three midget teams in Calgary — and all won short tournaments in the U.S. They have a tremendous development system. No, this wasn’t the Olympics, but I saw some great high school teams. We never had the best players, but we always had a prepared group and we were the best team.

If Canada pulls this out, it’s not because of the players, it’s because of the best coach — there is nobody better than Mike Babcock.

I wasn’t the best coach, but we always had a player that was the “glue” in the room. If Babcock can find this and ride Shea Weber, Drew Doughty and Duncan Keith, then Canada is in good shape. They will need John Tavares and the young forwards like Jonathan Toews and Matt Duchene to step up. Logan Couture would have been a nice addition but, trust me, the best team will win, so it’s not about who is not in Sochi.

Back to the Americans. Ryan Kesler is a great defensive player. David Backes and Dustin Brown will do anything to win. Ask any Rangers fan and they will tell you that Ryan Callahan is a leader by example. And say what you want about the Leafs, but James van Riemsdyk and Phil Kessel are the real deal. These guys want to win, and they came so close it hurts (in 2010). Think of being that close to your dream, only to see it pass you by.

Who better to remind the group than Dan Bylsma, whose Penguins came close in 2008 only to pull it out a year later in the 2009 Stanley Cup Final. A “glue” player, Max Talbot, scored two that day. And if that’s not enough, have Brian Burke roll out of a single bed in Russia to add some motivation.

Fine, the Russians have more talent. Pavel Datsyuk is injured, and hopefully Semyon Varlamov left his girlfriend in the U.S. to avoid further confrontation — yes, I said it.

The Swedes have Henrik Lundqvist and a great group of players, but they just lost Henrik Zetterberg for the tournament and were already without Henrik Sedin, Johan Franzen and, for reasons unknown, Victor Hedman.

Finland has the best goalies — Rask, Kari Lehtonen and Antti Niemi. Please send Team Canada your goalie coach.

And even Slovenia has the Seattle Seahawks’ championship jerseys — sorry, I couldn’t help myself. Lime green was the only way to increase sales of Nashville Predators’ apparel. NHL Shop thanks you, because those are brutal. Thankfully nobody owns one in North America — of course, nobody will ever buy a Sabres’ third jersey, either.

Do you believe in miracles? I do. I’ve seen it twice.

Once in Salt Lake, and again when a kid from Cole Harbour screamed “Iggy!” in 2010. I also can still hear Chris Cuthbert’s call of “Zach Parise!!” in the dying seconds of the gold-medal game.

Parise is the “glue”. This time, the Americans beat Canada, and Herb Brooks and Badger Bob celebrate another great day for hockey from high above.

The one thing I do know after watching all these Games over the years and spending far too much time inside rinks: This is the best sport, with the best athletes, and this is the best showcase of talent.

There’s no money in it for the NHL, so Gary go ahead and screw it up like you do with the Stanley Cup presentation every spring. Nobody goes to the games to watch Ed Snider or listen to Bettman. They watch to see players play for pride!

This is the only tournament outside the World Juniors that Europeans play for pride. Money comes and goes — you will always be an Olympic champion.

My prediction . . . 

GOLD: USA

SILVER: Canada

BRONZE: Russia

Mark Payne is a freelance sports journalist in Calgary, Alta. He studied broadcast journalism in Lethbridge, Alta. He has worked for CBC Sports, TSN and NewCap Radio. This is the first Olympics he hasn’t been to the men’s hockey tournament since 2002. He is happily watching closely from his couch.

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