If ever a country was ready for the 2016 World Cup of Hockey, it was Canada. It’s their sport. The game’s best player Sidney Crosby put everyone on notice with a dominant performance. The two-time Stanley Cup champion, Conn Smythe winner and prince of the golden goal was at his usual spectacular self scoring the game’s first goal and assisting on two others- highlighting Canada’s 6-0 rout of the Czech Republic.
How amazing is Crosby? In what was a fantastic start by the Czechs, who went right at Canada, he found himself on a clean breakaway with the game scoreless. Everyone knew he was gonna shoot and go high glove. Czech starter Michael Neuvirth was ready and took it away with a breathtaking glove save to rob Crosby. He certainly did everything possible to give his team a chance. But couldn’t deny the crafty Crosby from behind the net. Imitating Wayne Gretzky, Crosby intentionally banked the puck off Neuvirth, who had to deal with an initial stop on Steven Stamkos at the far post and Brad Marchand. The goal at 8:26 got the party started in Toronto.
The Czechs came out flying. They used their speed and created chances. Ales Hemsky hit the crossbar with Carey Price screened. Jakub Voracek also had a great end to end rush and challenged Price. Ondrej Palat was dangerous early.
Eventually, the superior team took over. It was a great offensive draw that led to their second goal of the first. A perfect win by Patrice Bergeron allowed Crosby to dish back for a Brent Burns slap shot which was later credited to Marchand. Somehow, the pesky Bruins’ forward parked himself in front and got a piece of Burns’ laser to steer it in upstairs for a 2-0 lead with 2:52 left.
If you thought they were done and the Czechs would survive only down a pair, you just haven’t seen Crosby or Canada play. They’re relentless. It was Crosby’s relentlessness in particular that resulted in Marchand feeding a wide open Bergeron to beat the buzzer. Hounding Michal Kempny, who signed with the Blackhawks and had some better moments earlier, Crosby forced him into a sloppy turnover. Before you knew it, Marchand coolly threaded the needle past Crosby to his Boston teammate for a sweet finish with 0.7 seconds left.
That was the end of the match. The Czechs never recovered. They didn’t give up. It’s just that Canada’s speed and consistent fore-check tilted the ice. On for another shift, Crosby took a Matt Duchene feed and made an unbelievable backhand saucer pass to the bearded Joe Thornton for a tap in backdoor. Even though he didn’t get credit for an assist on Bergeron’s tally, Crosby basically deserved a fourth point for his great effort. He was plus-four with three points and dominated on face offs winning 86 percent.
During the telecast on ESPNews, John Buccigross and Kevin Weekes were entertained by the Crosby show. The same can be echoed for studio analysts Chris Chelios and Brett Hull who remarked, “It’s so hard to play with him.” Leah Hextall interviewed players between periods. Clearly, Buccigross and Weekes have great chemistry. They are a fun listen.
In between getting peppered for 50 shots and finishing with 44 saves, Neuvirth made some other spectacular stops including one where he somehow got his blocker up after being down for one of the best saves. Unfortunately, his best wasn’t enough for the Czechs, who next face Team Europe. Considering that Europe upset Team USA 3-0, it’s a must win for the Czechs. That could be more manageable than USA needing to beat Canada on Tuesday.
Canada would add two more goals. Jonathan Toews finished off down low for a power play goal from Ryan Getzlaf and John Tavares. In the third, Alex Pietrangelo made it a touchdown for another PPG from Drew Doughty and Tavares.
The Canadians have it all. It’s not just world class skill and star talent. But the will to compete every shift. That’s what makes them the best. Until proven otherwise, they remain the clear favorites.
Tomorrow is Group B play with Russia and Sweden in what should be a barn burner Sunday afternoon. Then we get to see how the young and talented North America fare against battle tested Finland. They’re in a very tough group. So, we’ll see if they’re up to the challenge.