Monday, February 24, 2014

Former College Players Help Canada to Gold Again

For the second straight Winter Olympics, Canada won the men's hockey gold medal, this time with a 3-0 victory over Sweden on Sunday at the Bolshoy Ice Dome in Sochi, Russia.

The NCAA helped a little bit again, as five skaters on this year's Canadian squad once plied their amateur trade at an American university. They included Jonathan Toews (North Dakota), Chris Kunitz (Ferris State), Patrick Sharp (Vermont), Martin St. Louis (Vermont) and Duncan Keith (Michigan State). Toews and Kunitz sandwiched goals around one by Sindey Crosby in yesterday's gold medal championship win, the first goals of the 2014 tournament by each member of that trio.

Toews, Sharp and Keith all won the Stanley Cup both last year and in 2010 with the Chicago Blackhawks. St. Louis claimed hockey's biggest prize 10 years ago with the Tampa Bay Lightning, and Kunitz was a 2009 Cup champion with the Pittsburgh Penguins. Toews and Keith were also on Canada's 2010 gold-medal winning club in Vancouver, when Canada beat the United States, 3-2, for gold that year on Crosby's overtime goal.

Carl Hagelin (Michigan) of the New York Rangers was on the Swedish squad that earned silver this year. It was Sweden's first Olympic men's hockey medal since 2006, when the Swedes took gold in Torino, Italy. Phil Kessel (Minnesota) of the United States was named the top forward in the Sochi tournament, with eight points in five games, although the Americans finished fourth and out of medal contention with Saturday's 5-0 loss to Finland.

The NHL now resumes its 2013-14 season tomorrow night following a two-week Olympic break, perhaps the last time that league players will do so. The 2018 Winter Olympic Games will take place in South Korea.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

U.S. Finishes Out of Medals in Loss to Finland

Unbelievable. Terrible. Disappointing. Mortifying.

Four years after settling for silver in Vancouver, the U.S Men's Olympic Hockey Team didn't even bring home the bronze, falling to Finland by a 5-0 score in the third-place game today in Sochi, Russia. The Americans have now failed to medal in two of the last three Olympics, and three of the last five since NHL players became eligible to participate in 1998.

Patrick Kane came up short on two penalty shots against Tuuku Rask, hitting the post on the second one, and didn't register a single goal in the tournament. It was the second straight day the U.S. couldn't score, following a 1-0 semifinal defeat yesterday against Canada, which plays Sweden for gold tomorrow before the XXII Winter Olympic games close.

Finland led, 2-0, after two periods on Saturday, and added three power-play goals in the third stanza to put it away in embarrassing fashion. Teemu Selanne, 43, scored twice for the Finns in his international finale, including the game-winner. Jonathan Quick (Massachusetts) made 24 saves for the U.S. in suffering his second straight defeat, and wasn't happy afterwards about his team's effort, including his own.

Herb Brooks is spinning in his grave.

Friday, February 21, 2014

U.S. Men Fall to Canada, 1-0, in Semifinals

Early in the second period at the Bolshoy Ice Dome, Canada's Jamie Benn redirected home a seeing-eye pass from the left point by defenseman Jay Bouwmeester.

That play both encompassed and completed the scoring for the Olympic men's hockey semifinal game in Sochi, Russia.

When the final horn went off, Canada still held its recent hockey mystique over the United States with a 1-0 victory against its North American neighbor to the south. The Americans. despite a lineup boasting Dustin Brown, Patrick Kane, Phil Kessel (Minnesota), Zach Parise (North Dakota), Joe Pavelski (Wisconsin), Ryan Suter (Wisconsin) and James van Riemsdyk (New Hampshire) put up nothing on the scoreboard, at least in the scoring column. Zip. Zilch. Nada.

Canadian goaltender Carey Price made 31 stops to match his jersey number in besting U.S. netminder Jonathan Quick (Massachusetts), who made a number of key saves among his 36 stops to keep the Americans in a contest in which they would never score, despite averaging nearly five goals per game in this tournament coming into Friday's game.

A day after their female counterparts surrendered a late 2-0 lead in an overtime loss to Canada that cost them gold, the U.S. men again came up a goal short in Sochi to Canada, just as they did in Vancouver four years ago. The American will face Finland tomorrow for the bronze medal, while Canada, which recently won Olympic gold in both 2002 and 2010, will face Sweden on Sunday. The Swedes, who topped Finland by a 2-1 count on Friday, last won Olympic gold in 2006 in Italy.

34 years after the Miracle on Ice, the U.S. is still seeking its third Olympic men's hockey gold medal overall, and first since shocking the globe in 1980. Lake Placid is looking even lonelier after this one.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

U.S. Women Lose Lead, Then Gold in Sochi

The United States was less than four minutes away from its first gold medal in Olympic women's ice hockey since the sport was formally inaugurated in 1998 in Nagano.

Then it all fell apart in the third period on Thursday at the Bolshoy Ice Dome in Sochi, Russia in the gold medal game of the XXII Winter Olympics.

With the Americans ahead by a 2-0 score, Brianne Jenner (Cornell) got the Canadians on the board with 3:26 remaining in regulation. Marie-Philip Poulin then scored with just 55 seconds left to forge an improbable tie after the U.S. had nearly put the puck into an empty Canadian net.

In overtime, it was Poulin doing the damage once more, beating U.S. goaltender Jessie Vetter (Wisconsin) at 8:10 of sudden death on a power play to give Canada its fourth straight Olympic women's hockey gold medal.

The winning power play came about when Hilary Knight (Wisconsin) upended the ageless Hayley Wickenheiser on a breakaway for Canada. Both teams had a power play in overtime—but only Canada converted.

Poulin had previously victimized the U.S. four years ago in Vancouver, scoring both goals in Canada's 2-0 win in the 2010 title game when she was just 18. This one, from the American standpoint, had to be far, far worse.

Megan Duggan (Wisconsin) staked the U.S to a 1-0 lead on Thursday at 11:57 of the second period, and Alex Carpenter (Boston College) made it 2-0 with just under 18 minutes remaining in regulation on a power play. The U.S. hit a post in the final minute with Canadian goalie Shannon Szbados (27 saves) pulled for an extra attacker that would have iced the contest, although a Canadian defender got tied up with an official on the play. Poulin tied it, then won it.

Canada outshot the U.S., 31-29, on the evening, as Vetter, a three-time NCAA champion, finished with 28 stops. 

Tomorrow, Canada and the U.S. will be back at it, on the men’s side, when those Olympic NHL squads face off in a semifinal, four years after playing each other for gold.

Once again, for the fourth time in five Olympics, the American women will go home with silver medals.

So close.

But just like Salt Lake and Vancouver before, and now Sochi, so short.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

U.S. Men Advance to Semifinals in Sochi

The U.S. Men’s Olympic Hockey Team has advanced to the semifinal round at the XXII Winter Olympic Games with a 5-2 win over the Czech Republic today at Shayba Arena in Sochi, Russia.

James van Riemsdyk (New Hampshire), Dustin Brown, David Backes (Minnesota State), Zach Parise (North Dakota) and Phil Kessel (Minnesota) all scored for the Americans, who got 21 saves from Jonathan Quick (Massachusetts). Ryan Suter (Wisconsin) had three assists for the U.S., while Ryan Kesler (Ohio State) set up two American goals. Ales Hemsky tallied both times for the Czechs.

The U.S. will now face Canada, a 2-1 quarterfinal winner today over Latvia, on Friday for a berth in Sunday’s gold medal game, where the winner will play the winner of Finland-Sweden.

Monday, February 17, 2014

U.S Women Headed Back to Gold Medal Game

For the fourth time in five Olympics since women’s ice hockey became a medal sport, the United States is headed to the gold medal game. The Americans routed Sweden, 6-1, in a semifinal match on Monday at Shayba Arena in Sochi, Russia to advance to the final.

It wasn’t even that close.

The Americans took a 3-0 lead after 20 minutes, while outshooting the Swedes, 28-1, in that span. The shots-on-goal margin climbed to 70-9 before it was all over, with U.S. goaltender Jessie Vetter (Wisconsin) coming less than seven minutes of her first shutout in Sochi while seeing limited action.

Megan Bozek had a goal and two assists for the American blueliners, who also provided the game-winning goal by Kacey Bellamy (New Hampshire). Forwards Alex Carpenter (Boston College), Amanda Kessel (Minnesota), Monique Lamoureux (North Dakota) and Brianna Decker (Wisconsin) also lit the lamp for the U.S.

Sweden’s 3-2 shootout victory over the U.S. at the 2006 winter Olympics in Torino, Italy seems more and more like an anomaly, in light of today’s contest. The Americans will now face the winner of today's other semifinal between arch-rival Canada and Switzerland on Thursday (12 a.m. ET) for the gold, which Canada has won in the last three Olympics. The U.S beat Switzerland, 9-0, last week but fell to Canada, 3-2, in preliminary-round play.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

U.S Men End Preliminary Round with Victory over Slovenia

The U.S. Men’s Olympic Team completed Group ‘A’ play today at the XXII Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, with a 5-1 win at Shayba Arena over Olympic newcomer Slovenia.
Phil Kessel (Minnesota) notched a hat trick and Joe Pavelski (Wisconsin) tallied three assists, each coming on Kessel’s three goals. Ryan McDonagh (Wisconsin) and David Backes (Minnesota State) also scored for the U.S., while Ryan Miller (Michigan State) recorded 17 saves in net.
The Americans, who finished first in their group with a 2-1-0-0 record that also included victories over Slovakia and Russia (shootout), finished preliminary-round play as the third overall seed, and will now await their next opponent after receiving a bye into the quarterfinals.
The U.S. Women's Olympic Team plays Sweden in a semifinal contest on Monday morning (7:30 a.m. ET, NBC Sports Network). The Swedes defeated the Americans, 3-2, in a semifinal-round shootout at the 2006 Olympic Games in Torino, Italy. The winner of tomorrow’s game will face the winner of Canada-Switzerland on Thursday for the 2014 gold medal. 

Saturday, February 15, 2014

U.S. Edges Russia, 3-2, in Olympic Shootout

T.J. Oshie (North Dakota) scored four shootout goals and the U.S. defeated Russia, 3-2, in a men’s hockey preliminary-round game at the Bolshoy Ice Dome at the XXII Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.
Unlike in the NHL, IIHF rules allow players to make multiple attempts in shootouts. Oshie's took six of the Americans' eight shots, ultimately beating Russian goaltender Sergei Bobrovski between the pads to end it.
Cam Fowler and Joe Pavelski (Wisconsin) scored for the U.S. in regulation, with James van Riemsdyk (New Hampshire) and Phil Kessel (Minnesota) drawing assists on the first goal and Patrick Kane and Kevin Shattenkirk (Boston University) assisting on the second.
Russia, which had a 1-0 lead before surrendering two straight U.S. goals, got its own two goals from Pavel Datsyuk. A goal by Fyodor Tutin that would have put the host team up by a goal in the third period was disallowed because the American net had been knocked off moments before by U.S. goaltender Jonathan Quick (Massachusetts), who finished with 29 saves in regulation and then stopped 5 of 8 shots in the shootout.
The U.S. now faces Slovenia, a 3-1 winner over Slovakia today for its first-ever Olympic victory, on Sunday (7:30 p.m. ET) to complete Group 'A' play.

Friday, February 14, 2014

U.S. Men Open Games with 7-1 Blitz of Slovakia

The U.S. Men's Olympic Hockey team is off to a good start after recording a 7-1 thrashing of Slovakia on Wednesday in Sochi, Russia in the Olympic opener for both clubs.

The Americans scored six unanswered goals in the second stanza, with two coming off the stick of Paul Stastny (Denver), while Phil Kessel (Minnesota) recorded a goal and two assists and David Backes (Minnesota State) and Ryan Kesler (Ohio State) also scored for the U.S. Goaltender Jonathan Quick (Massachusetts), the Conn Smythe Trophy winner as MVP of the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs, made 22 saves in his Olympic debut.

Stastny is one of several players on the all-NHL American roster who has New Jersey connections. He spent part of his childhood in the Garden State while his father, two-time Olympian and Hall of Famer Peter, played for the Devils. John Carlson of Colonia opened the scoring on Wednesday with a slapshot from the right circle past Slovak starter Jaroslav Halak, while Middletown native and Christian Brothers Academy product James van Riemsdyk (New Hampshire) picked up an assist on Kessel's goal.

Carlson is one of just five players on this year's rookie-laden American Olympic roster who didn't play at least one season of college hockey. A team-high four players formerly skated for Wisconsin (Joe Pavelski, Ryan McDonagh, Ryan Suter and Derek Stepan), while Pavelski, Stastny, Brooks Orpik (Boston College), Paul Martin (Minnesota), Kevin Shattenkirk (Boston University) and Justin Faulk (Minnesota-Duluth) all won NCAA championships in their college careers. One player, goaltender Ryan Miller (Michigan State), won the 2001 Hobey Baker Memorial Award as the top player in NCAA Men's Division I hockey.

The U.S. now faces host Russia on Saturday  before taking on newcomer Slovenia on Sunday. Both of those games are slated for 7:30 a.m. ET. Russia opened the tournament yesterday with a 5-2 win over Slovenia, but needed two third-period goals to pull away after taking an early 2-0 lead.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

U.S. Women Fall to Canada, 3-2

If the U.S. Olympic Women's Hockey Team wanted some adversity heading into the medal round, it's got it.

After taking a 1-0 lead on a power-play tip-in by Hilary Knight (Wisconsin) late in the second period on Wednesday, the Americans surrendered three goals in the final 20 minutes to drop a 3-2 decision to archrival Canada in the preliminary round of the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia.

Canada finished first in Group ‘A’ with a 3-0-0 record, while the U.S. went 2-1-0. The Olympic semifinals will be held on Monday, with the gold medal game to take place on Feb. 20.

Meghan Agosta-Marciano (Mercyhurst), the NCAA's all-time leading with 303 career points from 2006 to 2011, and the MVP for Canada in its 2010 Olympic triumph in Vancouver, scored two of Canada's three goals on Wednesday to celebrate her 27th birthday. She tied the game early in the third period on a power play, slamming home a centering feed from the ageless Hayley Wickenheiser, and then sped away with an errant puck on a breakaway to beat Jesse Vetter (Wisconsin) to make it 3-1 for Canada.

The U.S. pulled within a goal with just over 30 seconds left on a slapper from the left side by Anne Schleper (Minnesota), who also assisted on Team USA's first goal, but that was as close as America would come. Charline Labonté (McGill) finished with 25 stops for Canada to snap America's four-game winning string over its northern neighbors.

Wickenheiser was credited with the game-winning goal in the final stanza when Vetter (28 saves), a three-time NCAA champion, attempted to cover up a shot with her gloves, but instead pushed it through her pads and into the net. Canada celebrated even though the whistle had blown before the puck actually crossed the goal line, but the Swiss referee reviewed the play and called it a goal. U.S. coach Katey Stone (Harvard) didn't agree when the referee's explanation was given to her, but the play put Canada ahead to stay.

The officiating was suspect for most of the game. Body checks on both sides were let go, Canada escaped two situations when it clearly had too many players on the ice (including seven players in one instance), and an apparent icing was not called on the Americans. To top it off, Team Canada coach and former NHL player/coach Kevin Dineen was livid after the U.S. was seemingly awarded a second time-out late in regulation.

The U.S. didn't help its own cause, however. It gave up several rushes off the left side early in the contest that Vetter had to stop to keep Canada off the board. American forwards had a hard time solving Canada's physical defense down low, and didn't convert on several close-in chances, including a shorthanded partial breakaway by Kelli Stack in the second stanza.

Agosta-Marciano’s breakaway goal was set up when Knight couldn’t corral the puck near the left boards in Canada’s zone, and Gigi Marvin (Minnesota) had pinched too far to her right along the blueline in anticipation of a pass from Knight. That left Agosta-Marciano a clear lane up the middle to skate in and shoot between old foe Vetter’s pads for a two-goal lead.

After falling behind in the third period, the U.S. also didn't register a shot on goal until there were three-and-a-half minutes left—and that was on a blast from the redline by Megan Bozek (Minnesota). The U.S. finished 1-for-4 on the power play, and was outshot, 31-27.

The Americans will have now four days to regroup for their semifinal round game on Monday, possibly against Finland, which the U.S. topped, 3-1, on Saturday to open this year's tournament. After that could come yet another rematch with Canada, this time with gold (again) on the line.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Boston College Wins Fifth Straight Beanpot Title

Johnny Gaudreau’s scoring string is intact, and so is Boston College men’s hockey’s Beanpot Tournament winning streak after No. 1 BC upended No. 12 Northeastern by a 4-1 count on Monday night at TD Garden. The Eagles claimed their fifth consecutive trophy, continuing their longest-ever streak in Beanpot play, while the Huskies’ heartbreak continued for a 26th straight February.
This one may have been just as excruciating for Northeastern as some of its other Beanpot losses in recent years, including a 7-6 overtime loss to BC in 2011. After BC’s Kevin Hayes and NU’s John Stevens traded goals over the first 40 minutes on Monday, the Eagles put the contest—and the title—away in the third stanza.
BC captain Patrick Brown notched what turned out to be the game-winner with 5:30 remaining in regulation, before Gaudreau, who also posted an assist on the evening to increase his point streak to 24 straight games, put the puck into an empty NU net with 1:16 left for his 25th tally of the campaign. Brown then added insult to injury with his second goal of the night, and ninth of the season, with 50 seconds remaining.
Clay Witt recorded 36 saves for the Huskies (16-10-3), who last celebrated on Causeway Street in 1988, while Thatcher Demko made 29 stops for the Eagles (22-4-3), who wore the gold throwback uniforms they first donned at Frozen Fenway last month in a 4-3 victory over Notre Dame.
BC has now claimed 19 Beanpot crowns in all, and five in a row beginning in 2010.  Boston University, which still holds the overall tournament lead with 29 titles, fell to Harvard, 6-2, in Monday’s consolation contest.

U.S. Women Shutout Swiss, 9-0

The U.S Women's National Team remained undefeated n the 2014 Winter Olympic Games with today's 9-0 blitzing of Switzerland in Sochi, Russia.

Molly Schaus (Boston College) turned aside all 10 shots she faced against the Swiss, while Kendall Coyne (Northeastern) and Amanda Kessel (Minnesota) tallied four points apiece. Coyne and Kessel are now tied with Hilary Knight (Wisconsin) for the U.S. scoring lead with four points each through two games.

The Americans opened the 2014 Games over the weekend with a 3-1 triumph over Finland. The U.S. now faces rival Canada on Wednesday (7:30 a.m. ET).

Friday, February 7, 2014

Winter Olympics Getting Under Way

The Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia got underway last night, with the opening ceremonies set for tonight, followed by a fortnight of competition until the closing ceremonies are held on Feb. 23.

The ice hockey competition starts next week, but surprisingly, I’m not at all stoked for it like I was four years ago for Vancouver. Maybe it’s because the Games were closer to home, or at least in North America. Maybe it’s the time difference between here and the former Soviet Union (U.S. men’s games will start at 7:30 a.m.)

Or maybe it’s because as a diehard Seattle Seahawks fan for the last 37 years, I’m still quietly celebrating their Super Bowl XLVIII win on Sunday, and counting down the days until the 2014 NFL Draft.

Oh well. The NHL itself shuts down for two weeks after tomorrow night, although NCAA hockey will continue. Monday will see Boston College, the new No. 1 team in the Pairwise Rankings, shoot for its fifth straight Beanpot Tournament crown on at TD Garden against Northeastern, which is seeking its first title since 1988.