Edmonton Journal

Brutal efficiency won gold medal

- SCOTT STINSON

With perfect hindsight, Postmedia’s national columnists revisit moments and events they observed in 2014 that deserve a second look. Today, some truly outstandin­g hockey at the Sochi Olympics. One of the unique things about Olympic hockey is that it affords the men who play it little time for either afterglow or a hangover.

So it was with Sochi. The hockey tournament was over, the medals handed out, and then the closing ceremonies carried off the Games and gave everyone nightmares about giant inflatable bears.

Days later, the victorious Canadians were back scattered about the National Hockey League, where everyone had day jobs to worry about and playoff positionin­g to chase.

Considerin­g the 1972 Summit Series still gets mentioned as some sort of nation-defining moment, it’s too bad that what might be the greatest two games of hockey Canada has ever produced so quickly became a relative afterthoug­ht.

The Vancouver Games had proven that a gold medal would not be easy: even with a stacked roster and a home crowd, it took an overtime goal to win that one. And in Sochi, Canada had been solid but not dominant in the preliminar­ies: an overtime win over Finland, a two-goal win over Norway and a romp over Austria. Then came the quarter-finals against the plucky Latvians, and someone named Kristers Gudlevskis stopped 55 of Canada’s 57 shots but lost 2-1.

Heading into the semifinals against the United States, then, Canada’s victories had been alarmingly close. Throw out the Austria result, and in three games all of their offensive talent had managed just seven total goals. There were reasons to be a little nervous.

And then Canada just crushed their opponents. They beat the U.S. in what was history’s first 1-0 blowout and then smothered a very good Team Sweden in a 3-0 gold-medal match that was the platonic ideal of clinically efficient hockey. Canada’s incredibly smooth defencemen swallowed up pucks and turned them back up ice with ease, never allowing Sweden, gold medallists in 2006, the chance to set up much in the way of offence. The 36-24 shot differenti­al was significan­t, but scoring chances were 277 in favour of the Canadians. And they were equally lopsided, 24-4, at even strength. When Sidney Crosby scored on a breakaway midway through the second period to put Canada up 2-0, he might as well have made it 9-0. A two-goal lead, the way that team was playing, was just as insurmount­able.

Head coach Mike Babcock would say afterward that his team didn’t focus on defensive hockey, but on playing a fast attack game that kept opponents struggling to mount their own rallies.

It was brutally effective. We may never see its like again.

 ?? JULIO CORTEZ/ THE ASSOCIATED PRESS/ FILE ?? Sidney Crosby’s breakaway goal in the second period against Sweden all but sealed victory for the dominant Canadians in the Olympic gold-medal game despite only providing a 2-0 lead.
JULIO CORTEZ/ THE ASSOCIATED PRESS/ FILE Sidney Crosby’s breakaway goal in the second period against Sweden all but sealed victory for the dominant Canadians in the Olympic gold-medal game despite only providing a 2-0 lead.
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