men’s hockey SEMIFINAL preview
Star Tribune hockey writer Michael Russo’s thoughts heading into Friday’s U.S.-Canada semifinal:
A mere hour after helping lift the United States to a breezy quarterfinal victory over the Czech Republic, Zach Parise closed an e-mail to me with, “Need some revenge!”
Parise wasn’t even out of the Sochi rink, and the U.S. captain had already moved by the Czechs and was focusing squarely on Friday’s anticipated semifinal date with rival Canada — the nation that ruined the Americans’ gold medal aspirations four years ago with Sidney Crosby’s “Golden Goal” in overtime of the championship.
If the Americans have any shot, they must keep “Sid” off the scoresheet. The fear is that the best player in the world is due — strike that, overdue — to break out. Crosby is under much Canadian scrutiny because he has yet to score a goal.
Of course, this is a virtual All-Star team, and even though the Canadians suffered a big blow by losing superstar John Tavares for the tournament with a knee injury and even if the Americans hold Crosby in check, there are other stars just itching to score their first goals, including Corey Perry, Jonathan Toews, Patrick Marleau and Martin St. Louis.
Canada’s offense has come largely from its blue line, with seven of its 13 goals coming from sharpshooting defensemen Shea Weber and Drew Doughty. Of the six goals from forwards, three came from Jeff Carter against lowly Austria.
So Canada hasn’t been that impressive. The United States has, sweeping through the tougher group, and seems to be built more like a team (not an All-Star team), combining great goaltending with a mobile blue line, impressive role players and some of the NHL’s hottest goal scorers entering the tournament.
Former Gopher Phil Kessel and Joe Pavelski haven’t slowed, combining for six goals and 13 points.
If the Americans win, those with Minnesota ties are bound to be a big reason.
Kessel leads with five goals and eight points. St. Louis Blues captain David Backes has been an absolute horse, scoring three goals. Former Mr. Hockey Ryan McDonagh has been terrific alongside the Wild’s Ryan Suter, who had three assists against the Czechs.
And if it gets to a shootout, a T.J. Oshie vs. Toews showdown will be incredible drama. Heck, we can even lay claim to New Jersey native James van Riemsdyk, who has moved to Orono and has scintillated with five points.
And then, of course, there’s Parise. He started to receive criticism for zeros across the board in three games before scoring against the Czechs and playing on a line that did threaten with Patrick Kane and Ryan Kesler. In six pool games in two Olympics, Parise has no goals and three assists. In four medal-round games, he has five goals and an assist, scoring at least one goal in every medal-round game in Vancouver.
As Parise proved in the waning seconds of the 2010 gold medal game, we know the Wild’s Energizer bunny can come through in the clutch.
The Americans are hungry. They’d love nothing more than to put a titanic dent into Canada’s gold medal repeat dreams and even play a major part in preventing their rival from medaling.
Should be fun.