VANCOUVER, British Columbia
Observations from today’s USA semifinal game, a romp over Finland that I certainly didn’t see coming:
– I expected the USA to win this game, but leading by a touchdown in the first period was not what I had in mind. Wow. I was making a joke about the USA still not being satisfied with the 6-o lead because it couldn’t convert the extra point . . . when I suddenly ran into 49er offensive tackle Joe Staley on the concourse. He was wearing a large USA jacket and was also here for the quarterfinal game against Switzerland. Hoping to attend Sundays’ gold medal game. Staley is a big hockey fan (he went to college in Michigan) and I’ve seen him at many Shark home games.
– The remarkable part about that first period was that Finland totally dominated the first two minutes of play and the USA couldn’t even get the puck out of its defensive zone . . . and then the puck finally goes into the offensive zone on a dump-in and Finland goalie (and former Shark) Mikka Kiprusoff totally misplays the puck and gives it away to the USA’s Ryan Malone for what amounted to an empty net goal. That seemed to rattle Kiprusoff and the assault was on.
– As I noted in my pregame stuff that appeared in today’s Mercury News print edition, Finland is the oldest team here (average age a little over 31) and the USA is the youngest (avrage age a little over 25) but I never expected that to be a factor until the third period when legs get weary. Instead, it was a factor right away as the older and visibly slower Finns kept taking penalties. The USA scored on their first two power plays of the game ith Zach Parise, who in my estimation has been the USA’s best skater in this tournament (goalie Ryan Miller has been the best player), getting the first one. Then the Sharks’ Joe Pavelski fought for the puck behind the net on the next power play and made a scrambly backhand feed to Erik Johnson for the third goal.
– Finland replaced goalkeeper Mikka Kiprusoff with Niklas Backstrom after the USA’s fourth goal but it didn’t matter. The USA scored two goals in 16 seconds to more or less clinch the win with seven minutes still remaining in the first period. Amazing. The two power play goals were the first time any team here at the Olympic tournament has had more than one in a game.
– The six goals ties a USA modern Olympic hockey record (since 1956) for most goals scored in a period. But it’s the fifth time it happened, most recently against Germany on Jan. 31, 1964.
– The USA’s first period might have been the most impressive opening period of any team here in any game . . . although Canada’s big start against Russia two days ago was probably just as awesome. The score at the end of that first period was Canada 4, Russia 1, but Russia was a much better team than Finland.
– Wonder if Kiprusoff and Russian goalie Evgeni Nabokov (who gave up six goals in that game against Canada) would like to sit down over dinner and commisserate? They were once Shark teammates, as you’ll recall. Nabokov has already left town, though. Wonder if he’ll even watch the rest of the tournament games? If I know him, he was probably already at Shark practice today . . .or tomorrow, for sure.
– The second period was a sluggish meh . . . the USA still leads, 6-0, and man, the Finns really do look old and slow, and now not very interested as the game moves into the third period. The 39-year-old Teemu Selanne (another former Shark) looks like he’s ready to have a vodka martini, then climb into his Porsche and drive back to Anaheim . . . but the Finns will still have to play in the bronze medal game tomorrow, probably against Slovakia.
– Obviously, the gold medal game everyone wants to see will be Canada vs. the USA on Sunday and I expect the Canadians to take care of business tonight at 6:30 against Slovakia . . . but trust me, it’s going to be tough to beat Canada twice in Canada.
– Vince Vaughn, the actor, is also here for this game wearing a USA hockey jersey. He looks like he weighs more than Joe Staley. In a between-periods interview shown on the big scoreboard television screen, Vaughn complimented Vancouver and Canadian fans but when asked about a possible Sunday rematch, said: “Well, we already settled that once but we’ll go at it again, I guess.”
Glad he’s confident. I’m not. In a rematch, I think the USA will need to hold on for dear life in the first period and hope for a close game heading into the third with a chance to win.