Saturday, January 03, 2009

What a bunch of homers

There's no cheering in the pressbox - usually. A quick scan of pressrow at Scotiabank Place last night pulled the curtain back on that ideological illusion when Team Canada forward Jordan Eberle scored with 5.4 seconds remaining against the Russians to send their game to extra time, and eventually a shootout, in which Canada won 6-5 to advance to the WJC final here in the national capital.
Eberle not only allowed dozens of scribes to press and hold delete on their under-construction ledes, he and John Tavares - the player whose perfectly plucky pass set up the tying goal - also buried in the shootout to allow the writers to poke out punchy prose full of upbeat quotations from beaming Canadian kids.

The Russians took a 5-4 lead with two minutes left, silencing a Scotiabank crowd as loud as, if not louder than (according to one arena staffer I talked to) anything the Senators provoked during their Stanley Cup Final run. And it's not like the Canadians stormed back. It didn't really look like the tying goal was coming. So the press box was quieted, too, except for the tip-tapping keyboards registering keystrokes reporters and columnists really didn't want to put together.

The game seemed over until the moment Tavares willed a magical pass toward the front of the Russian crease, where Eberle took it away from a defenceman and made a super-quick-yet-graceful backhand deke to put the puck in as a knee touched the ice.

I asked the Regina Pats star about the feeling on the bench when Russia scored their go-ahead goal, a bad-luck scramble that hardly seemed dangerous but somehow saw the puck inexplicably kick up and roll over goalie Dustin Tokarski's right skate and trickle in.

"We knew what we had to do," Eberle said.

"Where there any thoughts like 'our tournament can't end on a goal like that?" I pressed.

"We just knew we had two minutes to score a goal," he followed. "Maybe that's just the Canadian way of thinking."

Adda boy. Now tell me that's not more fun to write than whatever twist each reporter was reaching for after Dmitri Klopov gave Russia a 5-4 lead.

Sure, maybe it's only the worst-of-the-worst who stroll into a pressbox wearing their favourite team's baseball cap and the good ones are able to ply their pens with some sort of objectivity that readers respect. But WJC semifinal Saturday was a lesson in situated perspective by quote-unquote objective observers. Some things are more pleasant to observe than others.

With time ticking away on Russia's 5-4 lead, I'm sure those waiting to chronicle history in the press box were looking for context where they could - maybe a painful third period in Halifax in 2003 when Russia scored two unanswered third-period goals to steal gold away from Canada, the last time Russia defeated Canada in a WJC; perhaps they'd say Klopov's ugly third-period potential game-winner held shades of Marc-Andre Fleury's game-deciding gaffe in 2004 when the Americans downed Canada in that gold-medal game; or possibly they'd settle on the fact that Canada was never the favourite for this year's tourney anyhow.

Then, pressrow was ignited by the game tying goal. Impartial writers in black blazers jumped to their feet and grinned, albeit with a lot less noise than the 20,000-plus red-and-white sweater wearing fans below their feet. Today some report is undoubtedly pointing to significance of 6-5 in the Canada-Russia rivalry (see: game-winners by Henderson, Paul or Lemieux, Mario vs. the Soviets). Some will point to Canada's edge in "heart" and others may say that this time Team Canada actually held an edge in "skill" over the Russians.

Whoever they are, they're splitting hairs. Either team could have won in brilliantly even game.
Last night was positively the most entertaining, hard-fought hockey game I've see live. And maybe today someone, somewhere is using the words "instant classic." Both things are probably only true because Canada won. In reality, this tournament produces instant classics year after year. All the blowouts the prelim produced are forgotten as the final four days produce drama.

Team Canada needed a "classic" overtime goal from Matt Halischuk in the gold-medal game a year ago. The previous tournament, a semi-final shootout over the U.S. turned that game into a classic.

You could make a case that Russia's 3-2 victory in 2003, after entering the third down 2-1 to Canada, and the Americans' 4-3 victory in 2004, could have classic status, depending on who's doing the figuring.

Let's face it, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. And all of those reports you're reading and seeing today, those beholders desperately want Canada to win. If only because if makes their jobs more fun.

I'm sure you can't blame 'em.

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