Above: Fonzie from Happy Days. Below: Coach John Tortorella.
Team USA beat their head against Finland's 1-2-2 trap for the entire game, and couldn't get any offense going. All their shots were long-range shots from either a very small angle or from the outside of the faceoff circles. Any NHL goaltender is going to stop shots like that every night.
The US offense was so weak it took serious blunders from the Finns for the game to go to overtime. The first US goal came when playing four-on-four, where Finnsih defensive coverage completely failed. The second goal was yet another hopeless small-angle shot, but Niklas Bäckström demonstrated his greatness by letting it in. There's no way a shot like that should get past a goalie, but somehow it did.
The better team won yesterday. It speaks volumes to the Fonz's coaching ability that Team USA played their worst game of the tournament when it counted the most. There were some ridiculously soft calls on the Americans, the low point being when Saku Koivu makes a diving play for the puck and the closest American player is called for tripping, and the Finns got away with a lot, but the US offense was so lousy that none of it mattered.
Another moment of shame: in a game where the refs were implementing the "IIHF rule" of calling more penalties on the team with the lower world ranking, i.e. letting Finnish D get away with obstruction penalties all the time, Antero Mertaranta went on and on about how the Americans are "diving". Most of the "dives" were taken with a Finnish stick jammed squarely in the "diving" player's skates. I can't tell if Mertaranta simply gets so carried away with calling the game that he talks faster than he thinks, or if he really is so bigoted that he assumes Finnish players can't possibly be tripping opponents.
Nevertheless, some things remain constant. The Finnish D makes hideous blunders with the puck in their own zone, something the Americans were unable to capitalize on. Now that the games are getting bigger, Bäckström's goaltending is going from bad to worse. In the Canada game and yesterday's quarterfinal, Bäckström allowed a goal on something like two out of three reasonable scoring chances. He stops low-angle shots and other easy shots, and to Mertaranta and the YLE studio team, that makes him a hero. The fact of the matter is that in the past two games he's been horrible. There's no way the quarterfinal should have gone to overtime; Bäckström is the only reason it did.
Of course, according to the Finnish media, he was great.
"YLE: Suomen maalilla jälleen hyvän ottelun torjunut Niklas Bäckström..."
Jatkoaika: "Tasoitusmaali olisi saattanut olla otettavissa, mutta muutoin 22 kertaa torjunut leijonavahti Niklas Bäckström torjui varmaotteisen iltapuhteen."
Bäckström himself blames his defencemen for the goals he let in against Canada. That shows you the calibre of sportsman he is. Out of the six goals Canada scored, at least four are squarely his mistakes. A goaltender can't allow goals like that, and like the US tying goal yesterday.
Next up: Russia. If Bäckström still can't stop the puck on a real scoring chance, as he probably can't, Finland's only hope is that their trap will hold up against the Russian offense. If it does, the Russians will likely get frustrated and their game will be shot to hell. If they don't get frustrated and make it past the trap, Finland will lose.
I could say something about the fact that Finnish commentators moan and whine and complain incessantly when other countries trap against Finland, saying it isn't hokey and those countries shouldn't even be allowed to play there. Mertaranta himself told us the Norwegian team doesn't even play hockey, they just trap. So does Finland. But of course, when Finland does it, it's great hockey.
Sport very often brings out the worst characteristics of people. Tomorrow Finland's non-hockey takes on Team Russia. Last year, Finland beat Russia in the quarterfinals, but then we had a real goalie. I anticipate the Russians will kick our ass.
Here's some Russians: