Warm up the hype machine; post up yet another Crosby – Ovechkin head-to-head graphic; write down your favourite “clash of the hockey superpowers”-type catch-phrase. Canada and Russia will meet Wednesday night in the quarterfinals of the 2010 Winter Olympics men’s hockey tournament in Vancouver.
Oh wait. There’s a game scheduled tonight. It’s easy to overlook that pesky playoff game versus Germany.
As a result of finishing in sixth place after preliminary group play, Canada’s path to a medal, of any colour, must first take an unexpected detour to purgatory a.k.a. “qualification round”, where they will join seven other nations in one-game playoffs for the right to move to the quarterfinals, where the bye-receivers wait.
It is guaranteed that the winner of Canada – Germany will face Russia and all the attendant drama that many knew was inevitable will no doubt be unleashed by nightfall tomorrow in anticipation of the renewal of the old rivalry. Canada – Russia … Henderson … Tretiak … Kharlamov … Gretzky to Lemieux … Makarov, Krutov, Larionov … Canada Cups ’81, ’84 and ’87 and of course the present-day oneupmanship, mostly media-created, between Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin.
But what about Germany? Yes, they finished at the bottom of the preliminaries in goals scored, with 3 on 82 shots. Yes, they finished at the bottom in penalty killing with an efficiency of only 60% on 15 shorthanded situations. While their defence limited opponents to the fifth fewest shots against (77), the goaltending duo of San Jose backup Thomas Greiss and Dimitri Patzold struggled, doubtlessly betrayed by the poor PK, posting a combined 0.844 SV%, a shade better than last place Norway.
So let’s get on with this game and start planning for a Canada – Russia showdown.
Not so fast. Any Swedish national alive and sentient in 2002 will painfully remind and warn forgetful Canadians that anything can happen in a short tournament; anything can happen in sixty minutes of ice time. If tiny Belarus can stun mighty Sweden, then Team Canada and its fans would be foolish to take Germany lightly.
At Salt Lake City in the preliminary round of the 2002 Winter Olympics, Canada eked out a 3-2 win over Germany. Back in 1992 at Albertville, when NHL players were generally not yet free to populate Olympic rosters, Canada and Germany played to a 3-3 draw in a quarterfinal game after 70 minutes of regulation and overtime, necessitating for the first time ever, a shootout. For Canadians who have lived a quarter of a century or more, this game is most certainly etched in your memory.
February 18, 1992. Sean Burke in net for Canada. Helmut de Raaf in net for Germany. Admit it. It’s all coming back to you now. The ridiculous diamond-weave pattern on the shoulders of the Canadian sweaters and the even more ridiculous blue hockey pants. Joe Juneau and Eric Lindros embarking on their careers; Dave Tippett and Curt Giles nearing the end of the line.
Shootout time. Note: the clip below has German commentary only. Even without understanding a word of it, one can tell how hopeful all Germans were during that shootout and how stunning the conclusion was if they rated it #24 on what appears to be a list of top German sports moments!
After both countries scored twice during the best-of-five portion of the shootout, Eric Lindros took a second attempt to open the sudden-death shootout round. He scored, putting the pressure on Germany, who needed a goal to tie the proceedings once more. Peter Draisaitl skated in and shot the puck in between Burke’s pads! Tied!
Or is it? Where is the puck?
The puck, of course, wobbled beyond Burke’s legs before settling flat on the goal line. No goal. Game over.
Peter Draisaitl was that close to becoming a German folk hero.
Consider: at the time of the ’92 Olympics, only seven German-born players had ever played in the NHL. One, Ulrich Hiemer, was on the ’92 German team. Today, seven current German-born NHLers are on the German squad, along with three Canadian-born players. Will something absolutely unexpected, like what happened in 1992, occur tonight? Will Roberto Luongo, back between the pipes, have to bear down like Burke? Could Marco Sturm or Jochen Hecht or, God forbid, one of the Canadian-born German players do what Draisaitl failed to do? The chances are realistically pretty remote.
However, if it comes down to it, Canada could play mind games and send its leading goal scorer, a Freiburg, German-born forward over the boards, to open a shootout – Dany Heatley.
About the Author: Adrian Fung (@PenguinsMarch) contributes game reports, opinions, analysis and features, mostly about the Pittsburgh Penguins. He has covered the World Hockey Summit, Kraft Hockeyville, World Junior Championship exhibition games, CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game, MasterCard Memorial Cup and NHL Rookie Tournament for Hockey Independent. twitter.com/PenguinsMarch