Team USA-Czech Republic Thoughts: We Want Canada

I wanted Team USA to draw any team other than Czech Republic in the quarterfinals of the Olympics. But after winning all three first-round games and having a better goal differential than Canada and Finland, Team USA’s reward for earning the 2-seed was the winner of Czech Republic-Slovakia. And Czech Republic-Slovakia meant Czech Republic.

Canada ended up drawing Latvia and Finland ended up drawing Russia. Team USA got stuck with the Czech Republic, the 1998 gold winner, and a team still boasting household names, even if those names don’t hold as much meaning because of age.

But being so worried about the Czechs upsetting Team USA for the last few days was all for nothing. Here are the Thoughts from the game.

– When James van Riemsdyk scored just 1:39 into the game, I thought we could be in for another laugher, and for a quarterfinal game, we kind of were … eventually. After the Czechs tied the game up less than three minutes after van Riemsdyk’s goal and dominated play for the first period, I thought we might be in for a USA-Russia-type game. Instead Team USA won by three goals and their wins now in the tournament have been 7-1, 3-2, 5-1 and 5-2 for a combined 20-6.

– Czech Republic had plenty of quality first-period scoring chances that they didn’t capitalize on, but the play they did score on was when Ryan McDonagh shot the puck off Ryan Suter and over Jonathan Quick in an attempt to clear the puck. McDonagh must have learned how to score on his own net from Dan Girardi since he has had enough examples to watch from his teammate.

– Jaromir Jagr was part of the Czech’s 1998 gold-medal team. To put into perspective how long ago that was, here are some members of the 1998 Team USA roster: Pat LaFontaine, John LeClair, Tony Amonte, Bryan Berard, Joel Otto and Gary Suter. And here some of the 1998 Team Canada members: Wayne Gretzky, Ray Bourque, Joe Sakic, Steve Yzerman, Eric Lindros and Trevor Linden. (Eric Lindros was the captain for Canada over Gretzky, Bourque, Sakic, Yzerman, anyone. That is real life.)

Even Petr Nedved played for the Czech Republic. He is 42, last played in the NHL in 2006-07 and I think he still has mid-90s TUUKs on his skates. At 37, Patrik Elias actually seemed like one of the Czechs younger players.

– Phil Kessel (6), Paul Stastny (2), David Backes (3), Dustin Brown (2), Cam Fowler, Joe Pavelski, Ryan McDonagh, John Carlson, Ryan Kesler, James van Riemsdyk and Zach Parise have all scored. Prior to the Olympics, I thought leaving Bobby Ryan off the team was the biggest mistake because of Team USA’s lack of goal-scoring ability, but it hasn’t been an issue. All four lines are capable of putting the puck in the net and the combinations created by Dan Bylsma and his coaching staff have worked out perfectly.

– Casual hockey fans knew Patrick Kane, Phil Kessel and Zach Parise before the start of the Olympics and now everyone knows T.J. Oshie. But David Backes, despite being the captain of the Blues, is a name that should be growing in popularity for those who weren’t familiar with his game.

Backes doesn’t garner the attention of some of the flashier names on Team USA since he doesn’t put up superstar offensive numbers, but his game is certainly one to be admired. He played his best game of the Olympics against the Czech Republic and that’s saying a lot since he has looked great throughout all of the games in the tournament. It’s enjoyable to watch Kane dangle, Kessel fly and Parise create, but it’s also fun to watch Backes overpower defensemen in the corners and take over the play in the offensive zone.

– With Team USA holding a 5-1 lead for most of the third, I couldn’t help by check in on the Canada-Latvia game, which was tied 1-1 until 13:06 of the third. Latvia had one NHL player on its roster (Zemgus Girgensons of the Sabres) and started a goalie (Kristers Gudlevskis) who has played in the AHL and ECHL this season, but they hung with the Canadians for the entire game and kept all of Canada on edge for 53:06 of the game. I only say 53:06 and not 60:00 because Canada dominated the play, outshooting Latvia 57-16, and you knew that once they scored the seemingly inevitable second goal it would be over.

If Latvia had won, it would have made for a great story for the 48 hours leading up to a USA-Latvia game (and it would have made for a great story in Latvia forever), but USA-Latvia isn’t what we want even if it’s the easier way. It’s been 34 years since Team USA won the gold and it wouldn’t feel right if Canada wasn’t part of ending the drought.