David Backes

U.S. hockey keeps rolling in easy win over Czech Republic

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source: AP
Photo credit: AP

On a day filled with some dramatic quarterfinals matchups, the Americans continued to assert themselves as a major contender for the gold medal by cleanly beating the Czech Republic 5-2.

One of the things that has set the Americans apart from some of the other major contenders in this tournament — both current and eliminated — has been their ability to adapt to the big ice and thrive offensively. That’s something that almost every forward on this team can be credited with accomplishing as further evidenced by today’s game where five different forwards — James van Riemsdyk, Dustin Brown, David Backes, Zach Parise, and Phil Kessel — found the back of the net for the United States.

That brings the number of Americans that have scored in this tournament to 12. This also was the third time in four matches that the United States scored at least five goals.

Czech Republic goaltender Ondrej Pavelec faced an uphill battle against the Americans and he wasn’t up to the task today, stopping just eight of 12 shots before he was yanked midway through the second period.

His performance throughout this tournament will likely make the Czechs think back to the good old days when Dominik Hasek and Tomas Vokoun made goaltending one of the nation’s strengths. Perhaps if they had that caliber of netminding today, things might have gone differently as they otherwise played respectively and got a pair of goals from Ales Hemsky that would have helped make a contest out of this match under better circumstances.

Instead the Czech Republic has lost in the quarterfinals for the second straight Winter Games. Its last link to the 1998 gold medal winning team, Jaromir Jagr, has likely played in his last Olympic contest.

This Czech team, which made numerous questionable coaching and roster selection decisions, will be left hoping that its young players will be able to take over after the old guard couldn’t get the job done in its last hurrah. Meanwhile the Americans, filled with players in their prime, look onward and upwards.

Zach Parise sees benefits of big ice for U.S. men’s hockey

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After one impressive win, The U.S. men’s hockey team looks like it has the potential to be a powerful team. But how do they feel about the bigger ice surface, which is supposed to befuddle North American skaters?

Different United States players seemed to give different answers to Puck Daddy.

On one hand, you have team captain Zach Parise, who believes that the U.S. used its speed especially well over a larger surface.

“We almost used it to our advantage with our speed and taking the puck wide,” Parise said.

Paul Stastny seemed to warn against using that speed too much, however.

“The ice is big,” Statsny said. “We try to transition the game, and try to get good puck possession on the D-zone. You try to play a run-and-gun game and you’re going to be exhausted.”

David Backes was in the middle; he believes that the United States required “a feeling out process” in the first period before playing well in the second.

All of that aside, it’s just one game, and Russia is likely to provide a far more intense tense than Slovakia. Sticking with the likes of Alex Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin is a difficult task on rinks in the NHL and overseas.

Besides, as Canadian head coach Mike Babcock notes, it’s not always as simple as the ice being bigger.

“What I learned tonight about the big ice is the big ice isn’t very big,” Babcock said to PHT. “What I mean by that is the offensive zone is way smaller, length-wise. So the D have a harder time getting to the middle to shoot the puck. So our active D got chances, our D sliding got no chances; they can get to you way quicker.”

In the end, that might be the real tantalizing thing. The United States stocked up on young, attacking defensemen. While that raises questions about their readiness for Olympic play, they very well might be able to be one of the most active units in Sochi.

Then again, Russia’s attack might change the tone of such discussions by the time Saturday’s game is over.