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Hockey: Is It Nabokov The Rest Of The Way For Russia?

By Mark Purdy
Friday, February 19th, 2010 at 4:40 pm in Uncategorized.

(I also posted most of this item on the Working The Corners blog on the Mercury News sports page)

I won’t be covering another hockey game until Sunday’s big USA-Canada epic. I’m at curling today, of all places — but so is the 49ers’ Vernon Davis, the USA’s honorary curling captain. It’s a great country.
I have, however, been monitoring the hockey here as closesly as possible — one of the great things about covering the Olympics is that all of the events are on in real time in every press area. That overtime shootout victory by Slovakia over Russia late last night was riveting — better than the Canada shootout win over Switzerland in my book. Sharks’ goalie Evgeni Nabokov, of course, was not in goal for Russia. It tells me that might be the last time we see Ilya Bryzgalov during this tournament. The loss also doesn’t hurt Russia much in the points standings heading into the quarterfinals.
As for that Canada game . . . well, I would definitely say that Patrick Marleau should buy beers for Martin Brodeur and Sid Crosby. If you watched the game, you know that the Sharks line has been Canada’s most effective and that Marleau scored a goal in the Swiss game . . . but the tying Swiss goal also banked in off Marleau’s skate while he was trying to position himself defensively near the crease. It wasn’t Marleau’s fault, obviously, but with the way the Canada press is here (insane), I’m sure some would blame him. Instead, Brodeur played fabulous the rest of the way and in overtime and in the shootout and Crosby scored the clincher. I was a little surprised that Canada coach Babcock didn’t use Marleau in the three-man shootout because I think he’s pretty good at that — but it’s frustrating not to be there to ask those questions (I was at figure skating). It’s often/always hard to tell what’s clicking inside Marleau’s head but I have rarely seen him more fired up than after that victory. It’s been one of my theories that, as a Shark, he plays with more emotion against Canadian NHL teams. And not that he’s playing for the national team, I really see it. His brother, wife, kids and parents are all here.
I did have a chance to visit with Joe Thornton the other day and he’s the same old Joe, seems loose and we talked about the book he was reading (a non-fiction one about fishermen in the north sea that I’d recommended to him). But I think all the Canada guys are feeling the pressure. As Dany Heatley told me, it’s like the fans expect them to score eight goals in the first 10 minutes of every game. I really look forward to doing a lot of hockey columns next week when the quarterfinals start. And I think I’ll be doing a column for Sunday’s paper advancing Canada-USA. The interest up here is intense. The television ratings in Canada for the home team’s hockey games are three times the ratings for figure skating. I’m sure it’s just the reverse in the USA, which is how Sunday’s game winds up on MSNBC. I’d be really pissed if I were the NHL guys. They break their backs to get here and play great hockey and NBC won’t even put them on the main network.
I know some of you have had questions about why we can’t start a new string just for each Olympic day on this blog. That’d be cool with me, but it’s not within my power. THe honchos make those calls and so far, I just have access here as a commentator (Pollak probably wants it that way.)
Some other info on Canada vs. USA, for the trivia minded: The two teams have met 15 times in Olympic competition. The Canadians have won 10 times, the Americans have won twice and there have been three draws. The USA has failed to win in the last six games against Canada. The last time it happened was in 1960, believe it or not, in Squaw Valley.
Their last meeting was the 2002 Gold Medal match in Salt Lake City, which I covered. It was close for a while but Canada eventually won, 5-2. Brodeur was also the goalie in that game.
I’ll try to weigh in each day on hockey, if possible. Tomorrow, my tentative plan is to give you a quick rundown/analysis of each Shark’s performance at the Games so far.

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