In praise of Bobby Ryan

In praise of Bobby Ryan
"The biggest thing is just his poise and his hands are unbelievable. I played with [Evgeni] Malkin and [Sidney] Crosby, and those guys are probably the two best in the league. Bobby's hands are right with those guys... He's a superstar in the making, it seems."
---Ryan Whitney, former Ducks defenseman

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Super-rink Sunday

Forget the Superbowl, today is hockey's day.

There were three big games today, but I'll focus on the last two because those feature Duck players. Yes, I'm biased, but it's my blog and I can do whatever I want.

Yours truly attended a watch party for the big Team USA vs Team Canada game this afternoon. The location was my favorite local sports bar, Oggi's in Tustin. The atmosphere was pure electricity, as tons of hockey fans came out to cheer on their country of choice.

With Ducks on both Team USA and Team Canada, it felt a little like a win-win situation for yours truly. However, I'm known to be a sucker for underdogs (heck, I'm a Phoenix Coyotes fan for crying out loud), and my boy Bobby Ryan make the decision easy. Team USA all the way, baby.

In between the pipes, Team USA would stay with Ryan Miller. For Team Canada, Martin Brodeur would get the nod.

The game started off wonderfully with an early goal for Team USA courtesy Brian Rafalski. Further energized, Team USA went on to have a great first period. They played with confidence and speed, and the forecheck was incredibly effective. Team Canada could not even set up in the offensive zone.

Team Canada did get on the board before the first half of the period expired, with a goal by Eric Staal. But it was answered less than a minute later by a second goal from Rafalski.

Unbelievable game for Rafalski.

The holes in the defense had been addressed, it seemed, and they weren't as glaring in Team USA's game tonight. The defensemen were better distributed along the blue line, turnovers were better controlled, and I think Canada only got away with one odd-man rush the entire game.

The second period, for Team USA, looked a little more like a typical Anaheim Ducks' second period. The boys looked a bit slow, a bit caught back on their heels. Dany Heatley would take advantage and score for Canada, tying the game up 2-2.

Before the end of the period, a pinball play in front of Brodeur's crease would land a third goal for Team USA. Credit to Chris Drury, assists to David Backes and Bobby Ryan. Again, Team USA would take a one-goal lead into the locker room for the intermission.

A series of penalties for Team Canada drove the momentum back in Team USA's favor for the third period. The forecheck reappeared, some of the extra kick returned to Team USA's step. On the last USA power play, Captain Jamie Langenbrunner would give the US a 2-goal lead for the first time in the game.

And then Team USA would take two penalities of its own, allowing a goal in the last five seconds. Sidney Crosby, pulling the game once again down to one goal. It became a veritable shooting gallery around Ryan Miller, with a desparate Canadian team taking every possible shot.

With about a minute left in regulation, Brodeur was pulled for the extra attacker. Zach Parise and Ryan Kesler danced with the puck near the blue line. Kesler took off down the ice, as did his defender Corey Perry. Parise's shot sped past them. When it looked as if Perry had effectively kept Kesler away, the fallen American swung his stick, connected with the puck, and sent it into the far corner of the net.

Empty net goal! And in that moment, Team USA realized what it had done. Kesler was tackled by Parise, Langenbrunner, and Erik Johnson behind the Canada net. On the bench, guys were hugging and slapping each other on the back, smiles stretched wide across their young faces.

There were 45 seconds left in regulation, but Team Canada would fail to bring a tie. Team USA had done it, beating the favorite and creating a situation where either Team Canada or Team Russia would leave Vancouver empty handed.

Miller came up HUGE, especially in the last five of regulation. He would face 45 shots during this game, compared to Brodeur's 23.

A few Duck observations...

Bobby's ice time was considerably increased in this game, I'm happy to say. He played nearly 12 minutes, had two shots on goal and one assist.

Ryan Whitney got the least time on ice of any Team USA player, 5:22, and he was a -1.

This definitely wasn't Corey Perry's game. To add injury to insult, Perry collided at one point with Staal and, while crumpled on the ice, had Chris Pronger fall over them both. Perry left blood on the ice, but there would be no penalties as all of the players involved belonged to the same team! Not Canada's finest moment by far.

Both Perry and Ryan Getzlaf would fail to pen any goals or assists, but each served two penalty minutes and had one and three shots on goal, respectively.

Captain Canada, Scott Niedermayer, has played better games himself. I think Scotty showed some rare frustration, getting himself involved in post-whistle shoving scrums on more than one occasion. He had three shots on goal, was a -1, and saw 17 minutes of ice time (which, incidentally, is a lot less than Scotty is used to playing).

It was an incredible game, and the watch party atmosphere made it even more memorable for yours truly.

The game that followed could have also been a nail-biter. Team Finland and Team Sweden have had a very heated rivalry through many Olympics, including the gold medal game four years ago. Unfortunately, this game failed to meet most expectations.

I don't know what was wrong with Team Finland, but it seemed that nobody showed except for Tuomo Ruutu and goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff. He was able to stop the bleeding on a 0-3 meltdown by his countrymen, but with no effective attacks on net, Kipper couldn't exactly do anything about the bagel on the scoreboard.

With the preliminary rounds finished, the top four seeds go to USA, Sweden, Russia, and Finland (qualifying round). These four teams don't have to play in Tuesday's elimination rounds as they go straight through to the quarterfinals on Wednesday. The remaining eight teams will play Tuesday, with the top seed playing the bottommost seed, 2nd top playing the 2nd from bottom, etc.

- Czech vs Latvia
- Canada vs Germany
- Slovakia vs Norway
- Switzerland vs Belarus

The winners in these elimination rounds will go on to play the top four seeds on Wednesday. Yours truly will be posting the rest of the men's hockey schedule tomorrow.


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