Team USA-Slovakia Thoughts: It’s Not Worth Winning If You Can’t Win Big

I have always wondered what it would be like to live on the West Coast during football season and wake up just in time to watch the 1:00 p.m. games at 10:00 a.m. Instead of waiting for the football day to start by watching one of the dozen pregame shows, tinkering with fantasy teams or putting together improbable parlays in hopes of seven underdogs winning so I can retire to Hawaii, it would be nice to just wake up, turn the TV on and have the game start. I got a taste of that life on Thursday.

When I woke up on Thursday morning, I was greeted by Doc Emrick for Team USA hockey against Slovakia in the first game of the 2014 Olympics at 7:30 a.m.

– The troubling thing about the Olympics is that you don’t know what to expect. Sure, Team USA has one of the best rosters in the tournament, but you don’t know how the players and line combinations are going to work out or what kind of on-ice chemistry there will be once the first game starts. While they are coming off a silver-medal performance, it’s not like they are really coming off of a silver-medal performance since that was four years ago. So entering the game I was worried that the team would have trouble scoring goals like the Rangers and that fear was growing in the first period for the 14:27 of the game before John Carlson blasted one top tit past Jaroslav Halak.

Looking back at the game now, knowing that Team USA won 7-1, it’s funny to think at 0-0, 1-0 USA, 1-1 and 2-1 USA, I was worried about losing this game. After Slovakia tied it up to start the second, I envisioned a 2-1 loss and started to have flashbacks from 2006 in Turin. I’m glad I can now laugh at my unnecessary worrying from the first 22:32 of the game.

– I kept forgetting that the actual game was on Eastern Standard Time and had to remind myself that Doc Emrick couldn’t possibly be this fired up before 8 a.m. since he actually wasn’t. When the puck dropped, it was already 4:30 p.m in Sochi and Emrik wasn’t rattling off Slovakian names with such enthusiasm in the early hours of the morning. But in the words of David Wooderson (Matthew McConaughey) in Dazed and Confused, “It would be a lot cooler if he did.”

For as enjoyable as it is to listen to Emrick, that’s how painful it is listening to Pierre McGuire as one of the first voices you hear to start your day. That also goes for Ed Olczyk in this game as he didn’t have his A-game with him for the U.S. opener. How about Olczyk (I refuse to call him “Edzo”) throwing out the early “active boards” in the game. And then with eight minutes left in the second, there was the casual “Boy, they are using those boards a lot, aren’t they?” on the broadcast.

– In the second period, Team USA scored six times. Here are their goals:

1:26 – Ryan Kesler (Patrick Kane)

2:32 – Paul Stastny (Max Pacioretty, T.J. Oshie)

8:16 – David Backes (Phil Kessel)

13:30 – Paul Stastny (Kevin Shattenkirk, T.J. Oshie)

14:20 – Phil Kessel (Ryan Kesler, James van Riemsdyk)

15:17 – Dustin Brown (John Carlson, Patrick Kane)

So Team USA scored at 1:26 then they scored 1:06 after that, 5:44 after that, 5:14 after that, 50 seconds after that and 57 seconds after that. At that point, I thought Dan Bylsma was going to have to tell the team they were to make five passes before shooting in the third period and I think he did. Team USA had 11 shots in the first period and 16 in the second, but just six shots and no goals in the third. Yes, 7-1 was enough that point, and Team USA should have no problem getting one of the four bye seeds in the quarterfinals, but the second tiebreaker for the tournament (after head-to-head matchup) is goal differential. Pierre was right when he said, “It’s international hockey, you’ve got to run it up.”

– Even though I have known it for some time, I still find it intriguing/interesting/odd that Paul Stastny plays for Team USA even though he was born in Quebec, while his dad played Slovakia. Paul has dual citizenship for the United States and Canada and could technically play for either team, but I think he made the right choice since he probably wouldn’t be in Sochi if had chosen to be Canadian over American and Team USA wouldn’t be as good as they are without him. Everybody wins because Paul Stastny wants to be American instead of Canadian.

– I’m not going to make a big deal out of the missed offside call given the outcome of the game. But yes, had Slovakia won the game or won by a goal, I would probably already have a few thousand words about it.

– One of my friends said that he thinks Ryan Miller should get the start on Saturday against Russia to which I asked “Whyyyyyyyyy?” If Quick was the No. 1 goalie entering the Olympics, which he clearly was and is since he started against Slovakia, then why would he not start every game of the tournament until he proves he isn’t the No. 1? Against Slovakia, he let in one goal on 23 shots and deserves to start on Saturday. If Miller were to start, Bylsma and the Team USA front office would be starting Miller because of his MVP performance in the 2010 Olympics. If they were going to reward him for that, they should have made it clear he was the No. 1 goalie before the Olympics and made it clear Quick would be the No. 2. But now they can’t start him based on his performance from four years ago after they left players off this roster because they didn’t want to reward past performances. And if Miller did start on Saturday and Team USA wins, who starts on Sunday against Slovenia?

Coaches want to make less decisions and things as easy as possible for them. Creating an unneeded goalie controversy isn’t something you want to do for a team coming off a dominant win and about to play the best team in their group.

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