If someone referred to you as “big and square and soft,” you might not take it as a compliment. But as surely as they need different skates and padding, goalies require different adjectives, and it was a goaltender—his goaltender—Mike Babcock was describing in Sochi when he alighted on these descriptors.
“I thought he was great,” mused the Team Canada coach after Carey Price’s 1-0 shutout of a stunned and frustrated Team U.S.A. in Friday night’s Olympic hockey semi-final “Whether you’re a coach or a player, you build yourself a resumé over time that gives you confidence. He’s done that.
“He’s been an excellent goalie in the NHL. [Tonight's] game was close. It’s 1-0 and it’s tight. All those shots coming towards him—he had to make big saves.”
So rest easy, Carey: the coach likes you. So much so that you’ve punched your ticket for a dance on Sunday with some lovely and accomplished Swedes. We regret to tell you one of the twins couldn’t make it. But there are lots of others, so we’re pretty sure you’ll enjoy yourself.
Price the pillow. Price the sponge.
Pick your silly sports metaphor, because the 26-year-old from Anahim Lake, B.C. soaked up all 31 of the shots Team U.S.A. at him in this impressive win, and held the fort through some anxious final seconds after the Americans pulled their own netminder in a bid to salvage a hitherto impressive Olympic run.
The stakes were as high as Price has ever experienced: A guaranteed silver, and more importantly, a shot at Canada’s second straight gold medal in men’s hockey, the crowning event of the Winter Games. You could throw in bragging rights in the rematch of the gold-medal game in Vancouver if the Americans had shown the least inclination to make it the story.
But they didn’t, so all we’re left with is one terrific game at the Bolshoy Ice Palace, where Canada out-skated and out-chanced an opponent that had set the tournament standard in offence, with 20 goals in four games.
“The speed of the game was at another level for both teams,” said Bylsma. “It was a tough game for us. We didn’t generate that speed and we didn’t take the opportunities to get the puck into areas where we could go to work.”
Fast as the Canadians were moving, though, it wasn’t immediately clear that their game plan was going to work.
By the end of the first, they were in familiar territory: ahead on the shot clock but with nothing on the scoreboard to show for it. Quick made a series of close-range saves about seven minutes in on Patrick Sharp, Kris Kunitz and Patrice Bergeron. But Price was just as strong at the other end, nabbing a power-play point shot through traffic by John Carlson.
So the teams hit their dressing room deadlocked 0-0 after one. Then, 1:41 into the second, Canadian forward Jamie Benn made a no-look, drop pass to Jay Bouwmeester at the point and tipped the lanky defenceman’s slap-pass into the U.S. net.
It was the sort of play that shaves years off the lives of coaches: Benn’s high-risk pass had to cover 15 feet of ice to reach Bouwmeester. And U.S. foward David Backes was charging hard in hopes of pushing the puck past the Canadian defenceman. But he didn’t quite make it, and the goal gave Canada a jolt of confidence that produced a series of impressive forechecking shifts—especially by the line of Bergeron, Kunitz and Sidney Crosby.
Long minutes passed without push-back by the U.S., though the Americans rallied in the third, testing Price with close shots by Zach Parise and Ryan Suter.
And so Canada moves on to the main event of the greatest event in winter sports—the nation expected nothing less.
“If we’d thought’d about this result, if we’d visualized it at the start of the day,” Price said later, “I think we’d have to say mission accomplished. I’m really excited, just kind of soaking in this moment. It’s fun. It’s the whole reason we play the sport.
“We believe it’s the best sport in the world and it truly rewarding when you put in the work.”
To say the least, this gold medal won’t come easy. If they succeed, the Canadians would be the first repeat winners since the Soviets pulled off the feat in Calgary in 1988. And their opponent will give them everything they can handle.
Team Sweden finished with the best record in the preliminaries, and scarcely seemed to break a sweat Friday in dispatching the Finns 2-1 in the other semi.”Ego-less” the word Babcock chose to describe the Swedes’ team-first mentality, and he would know: six skaters on the team, including the now-injured Henrik Zetterberg, play for his Detroit Red Wings in the NHL.
Beating them means matching their commitment, said the coach, and a bit of good fortune —”You have to line up the moon and the stars to win.” Having a soft, square goaltender presumably won’t hurt, either.