Reporting from Vancouver, Canada – Wearing uniforms that honored the Olympic champion 1960 U.S. hockey team and sending out a lineup that included the son of a member of the 1980 “Miracle on Ice” team, the current edition of the U.S. Olympic team made a little history of its own Sunday.
In an exhilarating game that often went end to end without affording fans a moment’s pause to marvel at the world-class skills on display, the underdog Americans rode a two-goal, one-assist performance by Brian Rafalski to a 5-3 win over Canada before a stunned crowd at a jam-packed Canada Hockey Place. The victory gave the U.S. a bye into the quarterfinals and sentenced Canada to compete in a play-in game on Tuesday.
Rafalski, of the Detroit Red Wings, scored the first two U.S. goals and assisted on the fourth, by Chris Drury. Also getting an assist on that goal was Ryan Suter, son of 1980 U.S. defenseman Bob Suter.
Canada’s Sidney Crosby made the last few minutes tense by redirecting a Rick Nash pass beyond the reach of U.S. goalie Ryan Miller, but Miller held on through a fusillade of shots and Ryan Kesler scored into an empty net with 44.7 seconds to play. Canada outshot the U.S., 14-3, in the third period and 45-22 in the game.
Rafalski, the oldest player on the U.S. team at age 36, helped the U.S. defeat Canada for the first time in seven tries–since the U.S. prevailed at Squaw Valley in 1960. Canada had won five games and the teams had played one tie in the interim. Rafalski has four goals in this tournament, as many as he had scored in 57 games with Detroit this season.
The U.S. dampened the fans’ enthusiasm by scoring in the first minute of the game. Suter made a cross-ice pass to Rafalski, whose slap shot caromed off Crosby in the slot and past Brodeur at the 41-second mark.
Canada tried to use its size advantage at every opportunity, with massive Columbus Blue Jackets winger Nash and Kings defenseman Drew Doughty leading the hit parade with a succession of bruising checks. One hit by Nash seemed to knock the wind out of Jamie Langenbrunner, but in true hockey-player fashion he returned quickly.
Canada killed off a penalty against an over aggressive Ryan Getzlaf, who was sent off at 3:41 for interfering with Miller, and the U.S. killed off a penalty against Joe Pavelski for having high-sticked Getzlaf.
Canada triggered roars from the crowd by pulling even at 8:53 after a point shot by Brent Seabrook–who had fallen from Coach Mike Babcock’s good graces in the previous game–was deflected down and through Miller by Eric Staal.
But the Canadians’ celebrations were short-lived. Merely 22 seconds later Rafalski scored again, capitalizing on a huge puckhandling gaffe by Brodeur. The New Jersey Devils goalie was trying to bat the puck out of the zone with a two-handed swing but instead swatted it up the middle for Rafalski to pick off and fire home at 9:15.
The second period was played at a breakneck pace and with less attention to defense than either coach probably liked. With about two minutes left in the period, there was an amazing sequence in which the U.S. had breakaways by Dustin Brown and Bobby Ryan and Canada had one, by Joe Thornton. None scored but it enhanced the edge-of-your-seat atmosphere in the jam-packed arena.
Canada pulled even at 3:32 of the second period, as Chicago’s Jonathan Toews fought off Suter to pass across the slot to Dany[cq] Heatley, who had an open right side of the net in which to deposit the puck. But the U.S. surged ahead again at 16:46 on a play comprised of grit at every step.
The physicality of the U.S. players had Canada scrambling in its own end and had Brodeur flopping on his belly. With defenseman Dan Boyle standing in the crease, Drury flicked the puck home on assists from Bobby Ryan and brawny David Backes.
The U.S. used its grit to prevail in the third and create a new chapter in American hockey history.