Shot at redemption comes a round early for U.S. men's hockey team
By Karen Crouse
SOCHI, Russia — The groom has fled the altar, leaving a jilted Russia, which paid $51 billion for the once-in-a-lifetime ceremony, to watch one of the four groomsmen, none with blood ties, commandeer the celebration.
Those crushed by Russia’s quarterfinal exit from the Sochi Games do not include forward Zach Parise, whose U.S. team beat the host country in a shootout in the preliminaries and faced the prospect of having to play Russia again in the gold medal game.
“Because of how dangerous they are, it’s just a matter of time before they put in six or seven goals,” Parise said. “It just never came together for them.”
Besides, the Americans have the rematch against Canada they have waited four years for, though one round earlier than the dream scenario. The teams met in the gold medal game at the Vancouver Games, with Sidney Crosby delivering the gold medal to Canada with a goal in the seventh minute of overtime after Parise had tied the score with 24 seconds left in regulation.
Until last month, Parise had not seen a replay of the Olympic final. Sidelined with a foot injury, he was flipping through television channels, he said, when he came upon the rebroadcast, which was in the second period. Parise said he watched it through the bittersweet ending, and was transported back to that night at Canada Hockey Place. At the sight of his last-minute goal, he said, he got flashbacks “and some goose bumps.”
Would he have seen a replay more than once if the outcome had been different?
“Probably,” he said with a laugh.
The meetings between the North American rivals are always intense, but there might be more sparks flying in Friday’s semifinal, oddly, since the loser relinquishes any claim to the gold or silver medals. (Sweden and Finland play in the other semifinal.)
“The intensity is going to be, in my opinion, just as high as if it’s a gold medal game,” said Parise, who rejected the idea that the United States, also a silver medalist to Canada in 2002, had any score to settle or point to prove.
“I don’t think at this stage of the tournament we need any extra incentive or extra motivation,” Parise said.
At this level, the difference between success and disgrace can be thinner than a medal. Russia’s fortunes seemed to turn on its go-ahead goal in the third period against the United States, which was disallowed because the net had come unmoored. If the goal had stood and the Russians had hung on to win, would they have played the rest of the way with lighter hearts and clearer heads? How would the Americans have responded to the defeat?
“Honestly, I think too much is being read into that,” said Parise, the Americans’ captain. “At the end of the day, the net’s off. It’s not a goal.” He added, “I don’t think we’re here right now because that goal didn’t count.”
The Americans are in the semifinals because they have outscored their opponents, 20-6. The Canadians have scored 10 more goals than their competition, with seven of their 13 goals coming from defensemen. The rivalry between the teams is physical but friendly. If the Americans cannot work up a deep-seated hatred for the Canadians, and vice versa, it is because many of them are NHL teammates.
The U.S. coach, Dan Bylsma, and defensemen Brooks Orpik and Paul Martin are in Pittsburgh with Crosby and Chris Kunitz. The Canadian defenseman Jay Bouwmeester is a teammate in St. Louis of the U.S. forwards David Backes and T.J. Oshie and defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk. Defenseman Drew Doughty, Canada’s leading scorer with four goals, and forward Jeff Carter play for the Los Angeles Kings with the U.S. goaltender Jonathan Quick. And on and on it goes.
“Obviously we know everybody over there, so it should be a lot of fun,” said Carter, the only Canadian forward with more than one goal in Sochi.
Crosby, the 2010 hero who is the points leader in the NHL this season, has yet to score a goal in the tournament.
“I’m playing and reacting, trusting that it’s going to go in and sometimes if feels like it’s not going in very easily,” said Crosby, the Canadian captain. “But usually it takes one and they all start going in.”
The 2010 Olympic final was a masterpiece suitable for framing, although because of the outcome the Americans are inclined to let it gather dust in a closet rather than display it over the mantelpiece.
“It was a special game,” Parise said. “It was a great game to be a part of, a lot of fun. At the same time it goes hand in hand, you can’t think about how fun the game was without thinking how disappointing the end was.”
Maybe Friday’s game is not a grudge match for the Americans, but it is a chance to redirect the conversation. “For us,” Parise said, “it would be nice to not have to answer what it’s like to lose to Canada again.”