February 23, 2018
by Rob Longley, National Post
GANGNEUNG — The worst possible outcome for an Olympic team without NHL players landed like a spear to the gut in an embarrassing night for Canadian hockey Friday at the Gangneung Hockey Arena.
Never mind the comeback, a dismal effort early on doomed Team Canada in a stunner of an Olympic hockey semifinal. Not only did they fall 4-3 to a group of little-known Germans, they punctuated it with a tone-setting start marred by lacklustre play and some old-fashioned head hunting.
How colossal was the upset? It was just the second German victory in 30 international meetings with Canada and they did it despite being outshot 15-1 in the third period and 31-15 overall.
In no particular order, the Canadians were uninspired, undisciplined and unprepared to face a team they were favoured to handle with ease. Instead, they watched the Germans beat them to loose pucks and take advantage of some suspect goaltending while jumping out to a 3-0 lead, all before the makeshift bunch of Canadians showed any willingness to compete.
“There are no excuses,” forward Rob Klinkhammer said after the shocking defeat. “We’ve got to be ready to go. It’s one of the biggest games we’ve ever played, so there’s no reason not to be ready.”
For this version of Team Canada, there likely will never be another game that comes even close to being this important, which makes the laggardly start even more confounding.
As expected, the sport of hockey took a significant step back during this tournament, erasing some of the global gains made since NHLers joined the party in 1998. The blood is on the hands of NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and the International Olympic Committee for ruining a good thing.
But, who to blame and how to explain what happened on the ice in the early going of Friday’s game is another matter. Given the stakes, it was baffling how poor the effort was against a German team filled with hard-working players but not exactly deep in talent.
“We knew what they were going to come with and they outworked us, especially in the first half of the game,” defenceman Mat Robinson said. “That’s not the Canadian way. We had to be better.”
That they weren’t will be a heavy burden to carry for a team that knew scrutiny would come with the assignment of following the two-time defending gold medallists stacked with NHL stars.
Even with the absence of the best players on the planet, the result was a stunner. Germany, which had a handful of Canadians in its lineup, didn’t even qualify for the 2014 Olympics in Sochi.
Of further concern was the lack of discipline showed by the Canadians, who disrupted their already limited momentum by taking inopportune penalties.
The worst came in a sickening moment in the second period when Canada was trailing 4-1 and forward Gilbert Brule’s response was to go head-hunting. For a savage hit that felled Germany’s David Wolf near the centre-ice dot, Brule was ejected and the Germans awarded a five-minute power play.
Give the Canadians credit for coming out with some energy in the third period, scoring a pair of goals to make a rally possible, but best keep the praise faint given the hole they dug for themselves.
To a man, the Canadian players were angry and disappointed after the final buzzer as they slumped over on the ice and bench while watching a spirited German celebration in the far corner.
And they should be.
Goaltender Kevin Poulin blew off the media after a disappointing effort in the Canadian net. Of course, when he allowed four goals in his first nine shots, there wasn’t much to say.
All of this against an opponent Canada had beaten in 11 consecutive games by a combined score of 58-15.
“It seemed like everything they shot went in early,” head coach Willie Desjardins said, not exactly standing up for his goaltender. “It was one of those games where they put pucks to the net and they went in.”
Now, instead of playing for gold, the Canadians will attempt to salvage something against a Czech Republic team that will be favoured in Saturday’s bronze medal game (7:10 a.m. ET/4:10 a.m. PT).
It’s a frustrating end to Pyeongchang 2018 for Hockey Canada. After winning double gold at each of the past two Olympics, the national body now will have to settle with silver for the women and, at best, bronze for the men.
Ultimately, the opportunity of a lifetime — a chance to do something special for a proud hockey nation — ended Friday in one of the biggest upsets in Canadian Olympic history.
“There is no reason for it,” forward Andrew Ebbett said. “It is the Olympic semifinal and a chance to play for the gold and we just did not bring it.”
GERMANS EQUALLY STUNNED BY UPSET WIN
Perhaps German defenceman Moritz Muller said it best in the aftermath of a hockey win for the ages.
“I do not know what to say,” Muller offered after Germany’s big 4-3 semifinal win over Canada. “We’d have to be a little bit nuts to believe we would beat (Canada). But we made it and it is unbelievable. I’m just very grateful for this moment.”
With overtime wins in their past two games — including another stunning upset over Sweden in the quarter-final — the soccer-mad nation is starting to fall in love with this group.
You have to go way back to find the last time the Germans won an Olympic hockey medal, a bronze in 1976.
“I can’t even think right now,” said German defenceman Christian Ehrhoff, a former NHLer. “It’s (the) greatest day for German hockey. To put such a miracle on ice here … what comes now is just a bonus. Everybody talks about 1976 and winning (a) bronze medal, and now for the next 50 years they’re going to talk about us.
“We beat the Olympic champions. For us, it’s an unbelievable feeling and we couldn’t be happier right now.”