TORONTO (Sep. 21) — For a time earlier in the millennium, it appeared as if Canada would have a hockey rival capable of usurping the Russians in parity and malice. The Salt Lake City (2002) and Vancouver (2010) Winter Olympics — involving National Hockey League players — showed the continued growth of the United States program in the wake of stunning Canada during the inaugural World Cup final in 1996.
The Americans advanced to the gold medal showdown against Canada in Salt Lake and Vancouver — being subdued handily in the former while stretching the latter to overtime, whereupon Sidney Crosby decided a razor–close competition. At the moment, it appears the near–triumph in 2010 was something of an apex for the U.S., which faltered at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics with a fourth–place finish and proved no factor at all in this week’s reprisal of the World Cup event here in town. After a 3–0 defeat against Team Europe, the Americans bowed out of the tournament with a 4–2 loss to Canada Tuesday; the final score quite flattering on a night when the host country demonstrated a widening gap in skill and depth. In hindsight, the dismal result for the U.S. may have been different if such stars as Auston Matthews, Johnny Gaudreau, Jack Eichel and Phil Kessel were in the line–up. The first three are playing for Team North America, while off–season hand surgery prevented Fast Phil from competing (with no guarantee he’d have been chosen, if healthy).
But, the vastly–superior Canadians could make a similar claim, having lost Connor McDavid, Aaron Ekblad, Mark Sheifele and Jonathan Drouin (among others) to the North American newbies; prime shooters Tyler Seguin and Jeff Carter to injury. After two games of the tournament, Team Canada has not been severely tested, with a round robin finale against Team Europe on the schedule later tonight at Air Canada Centre.
I accompanied my trusty NIKON to the ACC for the Canada–U.S.A. match:
JONATHAN TOEWS (16) AND THE HOST CANADIANS MADE LIFE MISERABLE FOR AMERICAN GOALIE JONATHAN QUICK — CRAFTING A 4–1 LEAD BY THE MIDWAY MARK OF REGULATION TIME (BELOW) AND THEN COASTING TO VICTORY. THE U.S. WAS OUTSCORED 7–2 IN ITS PAIR OF LOSSES.
THE NEAR TRIUMPH OF VANCOUVER IN THE 2010 WINTER OLYMPICS (ABOVE AND BELOW) SEEMS LIKE DECADES AGO FOR THE LAGGING UNITED STATES HOCKEY PROGRAM.
IT WAS UNSEASONABLY WARM AND HUMID HERE IN TORONTO FOR TUESDAY NIGHT’S HOCKEY GAME.
THE CENTER–ICE LOGO AT AIR CANADA CENTRE — PRE–GAME, AFTER ZAMBONI–FLOOD.
THE TEAMS STAND AT ATTENTION FOR THE PLAYING OF O CANADA.
REFEREE WES McCAULEY IS SET TO DROP THE PUCK BETWEEN SIDNEY CROSBY AND RYAN KESLER.
IT WASN’T AN OVERFLOW AUDIENCE AT THE ACC, THOUGH MOST POSITIONS WERE OCCUPIED.
TEAM CANADA GOALIE CAREY PRICE GRABBED SOME REFRESHMENT DURING A TV TIME–OUT, WHILE COACH MIKE BABCOCK HAD BUSHY BEARDS AND SUPERSTARS AT HIS DISPOSAL.
JONATHAN QUICK LOOKED AROUND FOR HELP, WITH CANADA’S JOE THORNTON IN HIS KITCHEN.
PHALANX OF TV CAMERAS IN SEC. 108, BEAMING THE ACTION TO SPORTSNET AND ESPN.
MY VIEW FROM SEC. 324, ROW 11 OF THE GREEN SEATS AT THE HANGAR.
MORE BEARDS; BANNERS; FACE–PAINT AND HALL–OF–FAME JERSEYS IN THE ACC CROWD.
UPPER–DECK SPANNING THE NORTH SIDE (BEHIND PLAYERS’ BENCHES) OF AIR CANADA CENTRE.
ANOTHER CANADIAN ASSAULT ON THE AMERICAN GOAL — WITH THE GAME WELL IN HAND.
MAX PACIORETTY IS ESCORTED FROM A SCRUM TO THE PENALTY BOX IN THE THIRD PERIOD.
LATE–GAME GATHERING — THROUGH MESH — AROUND THE CANADIAN GOAL.
GOALIE QUICK DIDN’T HAVE MANY FRIENDS SEATED BEHIND HIM IN THE FIRST AND THIRD PERIODS.
BLUE JAYS NOW A CINCH: Having earned all kinds of grief for a pair of appalling performances in Anaheim over the weekend, the Toronto Blue Jays deserve corresponding credit after bouncing back with consecutive wins over the much–tougher Seattle Mariners. While prevailing 3–2 and 10–2 at Safeco Field, the Jays have all but cinched a playoff berth for the second time in as many years. Not since their World Series seasons of 1992 and 1993 have the Blue Jays done so. Though Toronto remains four games behind first–place Boston in the American League East (the Red Sox have reeled off six consecutive wins), it has moved back into the No. 1 wild–card spot — leading Baltimore by one; Detroit by 1½; Houston by two and Seattle by three. After the series finale this afternoon at Safeco, none of the Mariners, Tigers and Astros play the Blue Jays head–to–head, which makes it very difficult to catch up in the final week–and–a–half of the schedule.
LEFTY J.A. HAPP BECAME THE SECOND 20–GAME WINNER IN THE MAJORS ON TUESDAY NIGHT IN SEATTLE — THANKS, IN LARGE PART, TO A FOURTH–INNING ERUPTION BY HIS TEAMMATES. A.P. PHOTOS
This could change, of course, if the Blue Jays slump again in their last 10 games.
After a day off tomorrow, the club begins its final home–stand — encountering the New York Yankees four times (Friday through Monday) and the Orioles on three occasions (Tuesday through Thursday). Then it’s off to Fenway Park for a three–game weekend finale against Boston that doesn’t appear to have A.L. East implication right now. The Red Sox are on fire and will need to cool considerably for the Blue Jays to make an 11th–hour run at winning their second division title in as many years. But, all possibilities remain.