U.S. past ‘miracle’ stage in Olympic hockey (except vs. Canada)

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SOCHI, Russia – This seems to be the Olympics when everyone around United States hockey officially got sick of the Miracle on Ice. Well, it was inevitable. With the Olympics being in Russia, with famed Russian goaltender Vladislav Tretiak (who was pulled in the Miracle) lighting the torch, with my generation reaching the age of cloying nostalgia and with the U.S. men’s team looking for its first Olympics hockey gold since that 1980 team, everything pointed to overkill.*

*Which I happily participated in.

Thing is, hockey in America is nothing like it was in 1980. This was the point the U.S. hockey team kept hammering. Everything has changed. Now, professional hockey players are at the Olympic. Now, the U.S. team has some of the best players in the world. Now, the U.S. team has speed and size and depth that is the envy of almost every hockey-playing country in the world. When the U.S. team played Russia this time around, it was the Americans who were favored, and the Americans who played the villains when they got a favorable call and won in a gritty shootout.

So, yes, everybody was ready to move on from the constant reminders about a bunch of college hockey players who won a gold medal 34 years ago.

Trouble is, to get people to stop talking about the Miracle on Ice, you have to stop losing one-goal games to Canada when it matters most.

VIDEO: Highlights from Canada’s 1-0 win

The U.S. did lose another one-goal game to Canada in an Olympic semifinal Friday … this after the U.S. women one day earlier lost a crushing one-goal game to Canada in the gold medal game … this after the U.S. men lost a crushing one-goal game to Canada in the gold medal game in Vancouver, one of the most famous hockey games ever played.

To be fair, the United States’ 1-0 loss to Canada was different from the others. It felt cleaner and did not leave much room for regret. That’s because the Canadians pretty thoroughly outplayed the Americans. Was it not for some head-stand saves from Jonathan Quick – “our best player tonight,”  U.S. coach Dan Bylsma said – the score easily could have been 3-0 or 4-0.

Meanwhile the “0” on the American end of the score was more or less locked in. It is hard to imagine a team playing more suffocating defense than Canada played Friday. The U.S. power play was rendered all but useless. And other than a couple of moderate chances early and Paul Stansny’s point-blank shots in front in the second period, the U.S. rarely even threatened to score.

VIDEO: U.S. can’t find an empty net in final minute

The game was played at a high level—the speed on the ice was mesmerizing — and it was entertaining in its own way. But it really was quite a let-down from the famous gold medal game of four years ago. Well, for one thing that was a gold-medal match, while this was a semifinal just to see who would play Sweden for gold. That was a quirk in the seeding, and it definitely altered some of the emotion.*

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Photo credit: AP

Then there was the quiet. Here you had the two best hockey teams on earth – two of the most talented hockey teams ever put together – and it was so eerily quiet in the Bolshoy Ice Palace. Every now and again, a hearty soul would try to start up a U-S-A chant or beg the Canadians to finish one of their numerous goal-scoring chances and then it would dissolve into stillness.

Much of the time, the arena was quiet enough to read bedtime stories aloud.

So strange … but then maybe not. No event at these Olympics brought so much pain to the host country as hockey. The Russian hockey team lost to the U.S. in the aforementioned shootout that was, for many Americans, the emotional peak of these Olympics and was for Russian fans the very symbol of fraud. A goal-ahead goal by the Russians was nullified because the cage of the net was slightly off its mooring. Russians who even conceded the point that the net WAS off still believed that U.S. goalie Jonathan Quick had been the one to knock it off. Angry fans demonstrated in Moscow. Television networks replayed the disallowed goal again and again.

Then, more disconcerting, the Russian team disappeared in a 3-1 quarterfinal loss to Finland that featured no controversy and also no life from a gifted collection of Russian players who never quite came together.

So, it is logical that there simply wasn’t much enthusiasm left for the sport. Tack on the Russians’ famous reticence – something that various non-Russian figure skaters noticed during their soundless programs – and what you had was a striking lack of energy and volume. We grow so used to the biggest sporting events being loud and the tension being almost tangible.

But Friday, early in the second period, Canada’s Jay Bouwmeester – a tough defenseman not necessarily known for his playmaking abilities – slapped a pass that Jamie Benn deflected over Quick to give Canada that 1-0 lead. And then the rest of the game just kind of melted away almost unnoticed. Those sounds you associate with a close and important hockey game – the roars for developing chances, the groans when shots slip wide, the gasps when the winning team narrowly escapes – were largely nonexistent. It was a bit like being in a Vegas casino with no clocks. Time just gushes away.

VIDEO: Jamie Benn’s shot the only goal

In any case, the U.S. never came especially close to tying the game, and Canada came very close to extending the lead and it was clear, on this day anyway, that there’s still a gap between Canadian and American hockey. Maybe this is as it should be considering how intently Canadian life revolves around the sport (some 80 percent of Canada watched at least part of the 2010 gold medal game).

But it is a blow for a United States still trying to move past the Miracle on Ice. Bylsma made the point after the game that U.S. hockey is at a place now where it hardly needs a miracle to win a gold medal. He’s right, of course. All the U.S. really needs is a couple more goals against Canada. Thing is, that’s the proving to be about as elusive as miracles.

Columnist warns Blackhawks fans: DeBrincat may not make the jump

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It’s easy to see why Chicago Blackhawks fans are excited about Alex DeBrincat.

The undersized forward already seemed like a potential steal when the Blackhawks drafted him in the second round (39th overall) back in 2016, as he was coming off consecutive 100-point seasons in the OHL. DeBrincat topped that in 2016-17, scoring more than a goal per game (65 in 63) and finishing with a ridiculous 127 points.

Honestly, that last paragraph might leave some Blackhawks fans twitching with excitement.

MORE: DeBrincat was the one to watch at prospects camp

CSN Chicago’s Tracey Myers relays an important message on Thursday, though: tap the brakes.

Beyond the questions of the 19-year-old being ready for the NHL, Myers reasonably wonders if Chicago can fit him into its salary structure.

Looking at the Blackhawks’ listing at Cap Friendly, it’s clear that Myers has a point. There are 14 forwards under contract, and as Myers notes, only Nick Schmaltz can be sent to the AHL without needing to clear waivers.

The Athletic’s Scott Powers notes that few 19-year-olds have made much of a dent on recent Blackhawks rosters beyond Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, and Nick Leddy. As great as Joel Quenneville can be at integrating younger players into Chicago’s mix, history states that DeBrincat indeed faces an uphill climb.

Then again, for a smaller forward whose numbers sometimes get disregarded or downplayed because of his stature, DeBrincat’s probably used to overcoming odds. If nothing else, the Blackhawks seem willing to go the extra mile if it gives them a better chance to compete.

Even so, Blackhawks fans would probably be wise not to pencil him into the 2017-18 lineup just yet.

Katie Bieksa enlists husband Kevin, other Ducks to promote book (shirtless)

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Katie Bieksa, wife of Anaheim Ducks defenseman Kevin Bieksa, found herself in a bind after he was traded from the Vancouver Canucks. With extenuating circumstances keeping her from working normally, she wrote a novel … and decided to promote it in a brilliant way.

AJ Manderichio of the Ducks website provided an in-depth look at Katie Bieksa’s experience writing “Newport Jane,” which Bieksa compares – in some ways – to “Desperate Housewives.”

Which seems like a convenient segue to mention one way of hyping up the noveal: “Hot Guys Reading My Book” on Instagram.

It started with Kevin, although Katie told Manderichio that it required some negotiating.

“These guys are looking for opportunities to show off their summer bodies. They were volunteering, and that’s where the idea came from,” Katie says. “There was someone – it may have been Kevin – who said ‘I am NOT going to take a picture with your book,’ and I said ‘Oh yes you are.’

“When he said he would do it, the rest of the guys did. They’ve all been so supportive, and that’s such a nice feeling. It is a community, and you do depend on each other. It’s so nice to have that support, bear down and take the picture.”

Good stuff.

Kevin’s caption really sold it “Yes this is how I usually read.”

As you can see on the Instagram feed, noted pest Ryan Kesler also “contributed,” but Andrew Cogliano‘s missing teeth stole the show.

Here is part of the “Newport Jane” summary on Amazon, which in a just world would inspire people to call Kevin Bieksa “the cardiac surgeon.”

From the outside, Ellen has it all: a glamorous new life in a sun-soaked city more like a movie set than the small Northern town where she grew up, and her very own McDreamy. But being married to a gorgeous, brilliant cardiac surgeon also means standing in his shadow, putting aside her dreams to follow his—and having way too much time home alone to think about how much she’s given up to follow him to California.

Don’t worry, there probably won’t be a spin-off involving shirtless blogging.

Flames hand Hathaway a two-way deal

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The Calgary Flames signed forward Garnet Hathaway to a one-year, two-way contract on Thursday.

Hathaway, 25, earned some reps on the team despite being undrafted.

Here’s how his NHL work looks so far:

2015-16: three assists, 31 PIM in 14 games played.
2016-17: one goal, four assists, 44 PIM in 26 GP.

If the penalty minutes didn’t make it obvious, Hathaway is the “rugged” type. He’s already provided some snarly action shots against the Flames’ rivals, as you can see below and in this post’s main image.

via Getty

He clearly makes friends quickly.

The Flames celebrated his first – and so far only – NHL goal after the signing.

Penguins are ‘prepared to go to arbitration’ with Sheary, Dumoulin

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Earlier today, PHT discussed how the Pittsburgh Penguins might take advantage of robust cap space to replace Nick Bonino. Of course, that cap space could really start to dry up depending upon how things go with RFAs Brian Dumoulin and Conor Sheary.

At the moment, both are heading toward salary arbitration hearings, with Dumoulin’s scheduled for July 24 while Sheary is slated for Aug. 4.

Both situations are pretty tricky, so it’s not too surprising that GM Jim Rutherford admitted to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Jason Mackey that the hearings will “probably” happen.

“We’re prepared to go to arbitration,” Rutherford said.

There’s still time – especially for Sheary – yet both hearings could be especially interesting considering the variety of different ways you can break down their value.

Dumoulin: strong defense, weak offense (so far)

Hockey Buzz’s Ryan Wilson and FanRag’s Dave Holcomb both went pretty deep on what Dumoulin might be worth, as did Matt Cane. The disparity is pretty interesting; Cane puts Dumoulin at about a $2.5 million value, Wilson proposes a five-year, $15M deal, and Holcomb wonders if Dumoulin could be worth as much as $5 million per season.

Dumoulin’s reps might point to Olli Maatta as a handy comparable, although that comparison falls flat from simpler (i.e. Dumoulin not producing as much offense) and fancier perspectives. Sometimes it’s pretty plain to see HERO charts smiling upon one player more than the other.

Still, both Dumoulin’s prominent use and his strong at-home work indicate that he’s worth a pretty penny, however many he’d receive.

While he generated 16 and 15 points during the past two regular season runs, Dumoulin saw solid ice time in both 2015-16 and 2016-17. That was especially true during the playoffs, as he averaged 21:31 per night in the 2016 run and 21:59 TOI during this last postseason.

Considering the waves of injuries the Penguins endured during the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs in particular, Dumoulin really showed his importance to the team.

Now, will those details matter as much as weaker counting stats? We’d find out if Dumoulin’s hearing actually took place.

Sheary’s sheer luck

Somewhat amusingly, Conor Sheary is almost in the opposite situation.

If you look at his simple stats, Sheary could argue for a pretty nice little raise.

While his 2015-16 numbers are modest, he really took advantage of his time alongside Sidney Crosby this past season, scoring a remarkable 23 goals and 53 points … in just 61 regular-season games. That would be about 71 points over an 82-game span.

His postseason numbers weren’t as great (seven points in 22 contests after 10 in the previous run), but one could imagine a solid argument made on the 25-year-old’s behalf considering that 23-goal output.

Of course, the Crosby effect was significant. Sheary spent 697 of his 836 even-strength minutes with Crosby, while only spending 139 minutes without him last season. To his credit, Hockey Analysis’s numbers reveal that Sheary at least maintained decent possession numbers in those rare moments without number 87, but the sample size is too small to refute claims that Sheary was Jonathan Cheechoo to Crosby’s Joe Thornton.

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Ultimately, it’s tough to tell how much each player is worth, which might explain why arbitration hearings may just need to happen. Such hearings would be fascinating, though both the players and the Penguins would likely experience some serious nerves.