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A net loss

Posted by Eric Wilbur, Boston.com Staff  February 22, 2010 08:54 AM

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It's not that Canada has been wildly unsuccessful in these Winter Olympics. But the fact that they're being dominated in the overall medal count (24 to 9) by the United States in their homeland isn't sitting well.

Then, there was last night.

In a game that changed the entire face of the Olympic hockey tournament, Team USA beat Martin Brodeur and the Canadians 5-3, forcing Canada to likely play Russia in the quaterfinals later this week, a game many had assumed would take place this Sunday in the gold medal showdown.

Cam Cole of the Vancouver Sun writes:

It has been written before - and it's a horrible disservice to the 160 or so Canadian athletes who aren't competing here with hockey sticks in their hands - but there's a certain amount of truth to it:

Win the Olympic men's hockey gold medal, and Canadians will quickly forget whether the sliders and skiers and skaters owned the podium or, actually, what that oddly confident-sounding phrase was all about.

But get taken to the woodshed by the Americans on pretty much every Olympic Games venue for 10 solid days, and then fail to stop the bleeding against Team USA at Canada Hockey Place ? at the end of a sad, dispiriting weekend in which our Own The Podium aspirations were officially rendered null and void ? and it would be difficult to pick the national chin off the floor for these last seven days.

And so it will.

Nick Patch of the Canadian Press details the scene in the streets of Vancouver:

The city collectively deflated as the men's Olympic hockey team sputtered to a 5-3 loss, and vocal fans directed their scorn at the few Americans brave enough to celebrate and hold their flags aloft.

"America sucks!" screamed one Canadian fan.

"Not tonight," came the reply.

There was some outrage, too, with fans chanting, "That was rigged!" and "It was luck!"

Around the glow of a TV in Vancouver's Yaletown neighbourhood, they greeted the Americans' third goal with a profane chant not fit for print.

"Canada played hard, they just about had it, but all in all, the Americans, they were the better team," said Brandon Hill of Ladysmith, B.C., who soon led his friends through a [Roberto] "Lu-on-go!" chant.

Going a little further with the blame game, Roy MacGregor of the Globe and Mail wonders if the entire Canadian approach to the game is at fault.

The critical game that everyone dreamed of - Canada's Crosby against Russia's Ovechkin - is just going to come a little early.

Crosby, in fact, was not even up to the standards of the U.S.'s best player this night,

Patrick Kane. Kane has to be the only millionaire hockey superstar who needs a soother, skating through traffic with his plastic tooth guard dangling so ludicrously out of his mouth that it makes the little Chicago Blackhawks forward look more like Maggie of The Simpsons than Bobby of the Hulls.

But can he ever play. And so, too, can teammates like Zach Parise and Paul Stastny and Jamie Langenbrunner.

Their secret is speed.

No one has ever explained why the Canadians excel at every feature of their national game but speed.

They are fast but rarely fastest.

It may well be that the Canadian hockey system, which stresses competitive games from childhood on, has the unwitting effect of teaching its athletes to slow slightly to survive, while the American and European systems, with so fewer games and so many more practices, get their children to adolescence at full throttle on the rink.

Are the Canadians still the favorites, or have they surrendered that claim to Russia? One thing is for sure, Canadians won't classify USA as the team to beat. The Toronto Star's Damien Cox writes:

Canadians from coast to coast might be blaming Babcock for his coaching, Brodeur for his goaltending and various Canadian players for their performances, but the fact was that the Americans won a game in the style that Canada used to use repeatedly in international circumstances, riding red-hot goaltending to wins it had no business recording.

As for whether of not there will be a change in goal this week, Roberto Luongo tells the Toronto Sun, "That's not my call, buddy. I'm here for Team Canada. I'm not here for Roberto Luongo."

Canada plays Germany tomorrow.

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About the Author

Eric Wilbur is a Boston.com sports columnist who is still in awe of what Dana Kiecker pulled off that one time in Toronto. He lives in the Boston area with his wife and three children. Comments and suggestions for the best Buffalo wing spots are encouraged.

Contact Eric Wilbur by e-mail or follow him on Twitter.

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