Team Canada received an unwelcome surprise in their semi-final game against Team USA, losing 5-1 and all hope of competing for a gold medal. After sweeping through four game in the round-robin, including a 2-1 win against this same American team, Canada entered the semi-final matchup poised to beat their continental rivals and move on to the finals. That did not happen and for a number of reasons, Canada now has to play the hosts Team Russia in the Bronze medal game.
First Period: The game started quickly, as was expected from these two rivals. But the Americans had a slight edge, getting some more chances and soon Canada was on their heels. Then at 7:18, the Canadian defence had its first major breakdown, resulting in a goal. Once the puck was near goaltender Malcolm Subban’s crease, four of the five Canadian skaters crowded in front of the goal. When the puck came out, Subban had to look past seven bodies, four of them Canadian. He had no chance.
Still, a 1-0 deficit is something Canadian teams can easily overcome. But then the Americans scored again. The same player (Jake McCabe), the same spot (high slot wristshot) and the same Canadian mistake (this time only one player was screening Subban). The period ended with the Americans up 2-0 and Canadians everywhere were getting nervous.
Second Period: The game was still there for the Canadians to take, but they started the period playing the same out of sorts game they had in the first. Players like Dougie Hamilton, Jonathan Huberdeau and Phillip Danault among others looked both out of sorts and out of gas. The two days off between games seemed to be too much for the Canadian team and they were continuously out worked by the Americans who had played just the day before.
The Canadians did open the game up at the three-minute mark, with both teams making quick rushes and getting scoring chances. But out of all that came another American goal, this time from John Gaudreau, his sixth in the last three games. Now things were looking bad for Canada, a three goal lead is hard to overcome. But last year Canada scored four unanswered against Russia in the semi-finals to come back after being down 6-1. They fell short, but proved a lead like that was not solid.
But then the wheels really came off the rails. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins took a dumb slashing penalty and Canada started playing aggressive and undisciplined. Shortly after the penalty, the Americans scored their fourth goal, and Malcolm Subban was pulled. Jordan Binnington was brought in to calm the storm. The 4-0 deficit was not necessarily Subban’s fault, but Coach Steve Spott wanted to send a message and didn’t have much choice. This was Binnington’s first game of the tournament but he was up to the challenge, robbing Americans multiple times with big pad saves and great rebound control. As the period was coming to a close, Anthony Camara took a high sticking penalty. Canada couldn’t keep up with their opponents and found themselves down 4-0 and shorthanded with 20 minutes to go in the game.
Third Period: Canada is known for having strong finishes and they needed one to come back in this game. But after being shorthanded to start the period, things quickly fell apart for the Canadians and the comeback quickly became a distant memory. Mark Scheifele went off for kneeing but the Americans also got a penalty so it was 4 on 4. Then Canada was called for too many men and fell down four men to three, then five to four.
But with four men on the ice, Canada got their big break and scored a shorthanded goal. But it shouldn’t have counted and it was a rare example of a ref having direct control over a play. After Ty Rattie fired a hard shot off the post, the whistle was blown. But Rattie still shot the rebound into the net, because he was in the motion before the whistle went. After reviewing the play, the ref called it a goal. So it should have counted, yet shouldn’t have counted. Canada didn’t complain, and now the score was 4-1 with 14 minutes and change to play.
John Gibson, who plays for Spott on Kitchener of the OHL, was a major factor in the game. Especially in the third period. Spott reunited Hopkins with Schiefele and Huberdeau, a line of NHL ready players that created a ton of chances in the third. He also put Nathan MacKinnon and Jonathan Drouin on a line together hopping to spark some of the chemistry they have in Halifax in the QMJHL. That also brought some scoring chances. But Gibson was up to the task the whole way and could not be beaten.
Once John Gaudreau scored his second of the game on a partial breakaway with less than five minutes to play, the game was all but over for Canada. That’s also when their discipline went out the window and the game ended with Canada down a man and with a delayed penalty. With a score of 5-1, the Americans beat up on the Canadians. Not once in the tournament, except maybe at times against Russia, was Canada as dominate as they were supposed to be. And that finally came back to haunt them in this game.
Canada will look to regroup in the Bronze medal game on Saturday at 4 am EST against Russia. It’s going to be a tough game, but if Canada wins, it will extend their medal win streak to 15 years in the tournament. There is a lot on the line for the Canadians and everyone in the nation will be watching to see if they can salvage anything from this semi-final loss.