Well it’s the game we’ve all been waiting for, the showdown for top spot in Group B and the bye in the medal round. Or at least it was supposed to be. Canada held up their part of the rivalry agreement, but apparently someone forgot to deliver the memo to the U.S.
Instead, the New Years Eve game will mean nothing to the Canadians and has the makings of about as much excitement as Canada’s previous three games. That’s right; instead of the mighty obstacle the U.S. was pegged to be from the start, they are now nothing more than a stepping stone. Game time is 8:00 pm EST / 6:00 MST
HOW DID WE GET HERE?
After losing to Finland, the Americans had one thing to focus on and one only: beat the Czech Republic and they had a date to challenge Canada in their own barn for the Group title. How hard could that be when the Canadians beat the Czech’s 5-0? Then again, they lost to the Finns, a team Canada had beaten 8-1, but certainly lightning wouldn’t strike twice and the U.S. would be on cruise control by the midway point of the second period, right? Not quite.
The U.S. had a narrow 2-1 lead with about five minutes left in the second, not exactly laying the boots to anyone; and when the Czech’s tied it up, it was time to worry. Even worse, with 8:35 left in the third, the Americans got a chance to do some damage when Josh Archibald was hauled down and they were awarded a penalty shot. That’s when Petr Mrazek took over and it was officially time to panic. In a span of just five minutes the Czech’s would score two more; Mrazek would even try to drive the final nail in the coffin with an empty net goal attempt, which he just narrowly missed.
Later in the evening it would once again be Finland playing the spoiler role as they hammered Denmark 10-1. That was all she wrote for the Americans, they were out of medal contention and would be playing in the relegation round. This brings us to the game against Canada.
With all the hype and anticipation for this game, how will it play out now that it doesn’t mean a thing to the standings? The U.S. can’t even play spoiler here because the Canadian clinched Group B as soon as the final buzzer went in the Finland – Denmark game. One has to wonder if either side will be motivated to show an ounce of enthusiasm or effort, which might not bode well for the thousands of fans at Rexall.
I for one don’t believe that will be the case. These two teams love to play each other because these two countries love to hate each other. It may not be for three points, but once the puck drops, that all goes away and once again it will be the United States versus Canada on New Year’s Eve. In the end, that’s all that matters; after all, we can always kick the crap out of Russia for the Gold! That’s still cool, right?
We all know how Canada got here; they didn’t care who they were playing and they treated each opponent the same. Not much is changing in the line up and why should it? Michael Bournival had a touch of the flu, but reports are that he is still going to play, which means the Canadians go in status quo.
Jaden Schwartz – Mark Scheifele – Brendan Gallagher
Jonathan Huberdeau – Ryan Strome – Mark Stone
Quinton Howden – Freddie Hamilton – Brett Connolly
Michael Bournival – Boone Jenner – Tanner Pearson
Brandon Gormley – Dougie Hamilton
Scott Harrington – Ryan Murray
Jamie Oleksiak – Nathan Beaulieu
Scott Wedgewood will be between the pipes for Canada. Hey, remember that goaltending controversy I said might be brewing? Kiss that goodbye. With the collapse of the U.S. it’s an easy choice to just keep rotating the two goalies and we’ll have to see what comes out of it once the medal rounds gets underway. Wedgewood has only played one game, but he played very well. If he takes the Americans apart, then it will probably seal it for him going forth as the number one guy. If he falters against this decimated club, it might open the door back up for Visentin, to avoid being relegated to the back-up.
Speaking of being relegated… We all know this is what Ryan Lambert has been probably saying for the past few days, so this one’s for you Ryan.
The Americans don’t have anyone in the top 10 in tournament scoring, but then again not many fans at Rexall will even care who to watch for. Flames prospect Bill Arnold played well against the Czech’s getting in on both U.S. goals, scoring one and assisting on the other. Arnold has done very well in the U.S. college system, so he’ll be one to keep a wandering eye on.
The biggest change to the line up comes with the absence of defenseman Derek Forbort, who was injured in the game against the Czech’s. Forbort was drilled from behind and went into the boards awkwardly, collapsing on the ice grasping his knee. If he can’t go, look for Kevin Garvel to take his spot on the blueline.
Emerson Etem (A)- Charlie Coyle – Brandon Saad
J.T. Miller – Adam Czarnik – Josh Archibald
Jason Zucker (C)- Nick Bjugstad – Kyle Rau
Connor Brickley – T.J. Tynan – Austin Watson
Jarred Tinordi (A) – Jon Merrill
Kevin Gravel – Jacob Trouba
Adam Clendending – Stephen Johns
Jack Campbell gets the start for the U.S. He is the guy that has started it all, and it looks like he’ll be the one to wrap it up. Campbell was reportedly feeling terrible about his play in the Czech game and he along with his teammates will be looking to save face.
Despite the lack of meaning or purpose to this game, tension is still going to be high between the two teams. The Americans aren’t ready to forgive and forget the Canadians walking into their barn last year and taking it over, both on ice and in the stands. The Canadians took over Buffalo like it was the War of 1812, and HSBC Arena was the White House.
Had the U.S. lived up to their side of the rivalry agreement, I’m sure the possibility for retaliation could have been worrisome for Canadians. Though we would never have to worry about American fans taking over the stands up here, one thing I do fear is the rivalry breaking down into a street fight. If the Americans have nothing to lose, I sincerely hope they do not look at it as a chance to take liberties with the Canadians, knowing full well that Canada still has everything to play for. Although the chances are slim, I’m not exactly one for giving the Yanks any credit without them earning it first. We’ll just see.
Enjoy folks…We’re off to the medal round!