Canada had two practices on Wednesday.
One they held in the morning, then another in the evening that included a score: Canada 13, Switzerland 0.
But that’s what happens when you unnecessarily run up the score.
The morning session was more important in the long run, The night before, Team Canada had delivered a weak effort in the first 40 minutes of their match against arch-rival United States, coming to life only in the third to tie the match at 2-2 and eventually win in the shootout.
Had it not been for the goaltending of Canada’s Shannon Szabados, the game would never have reached the shootout stage.
“We poked our sticks around and tried to take the easy way out,” head coach Dan Church said of his team’s start. “And we were pretty soft.”
It was only when the Canadians got physical, Church said, that matters began to turn in their favour.
But Church knew what he, and everyone else had seen: a Canadian team disorganized in its own end, unable to move the puck quickly up ice and sloppy in both delivery and reception of passes.
In many ways, the Canadians were lucky to draw Switzerland for their second outing. In four previous meetings in world-championship play – 1997, 1999, 2007 and 2011 – Canada had outscored the Swiss a stunning 37-0.
When the average score is 9-0, it’s hard to find much inspiration. But you can work on apparent weaknesses.
Such was the case for the Canadian men’s team in the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Games. The Canadians were flat and slow in Game 1 against Sweden, falling 5-2 to what was perhaps the best team in the tournament. Next the men met Germany, winning 3-2, but the real victory lay in finding their legs and line combinations that worked. They went on – with a little help from Belarus dumping the sleeping Swedes – to take the gold medal.
In this match against Switzerland, the Canadians were still sloppy on defence – allowing the Swiss a few good opportunities they could not cash in on thanks to excellent positional play by Canadian goaltender Charline Labonté.
Up front, Canada was better, with many excellent chances against a stubborn Swiss goaltender in Sophie Anthamatten.
Canada went ahead 1-0 after Anthamatten had made a superb stop on Jennifer Wakefield – the hero of the Tuesday night shootout – but a Swiss defence thoughtlessly kicked the loose puck straight back to Wakefield’s stick, leaving her the open net.
Marie-Philip Poulin scored just after a Canadian power play had run out, firing a hard shot from the slot over the glove of a screened Anthamatten.
Canada went ahead 3-0 early in the second period on a power play when Rebecca Johnston fired a wrist shot through on the glove side, Anthamatten once again screened by her own defence.
The prettiest goal of the night came off the stick of Jayna Hefford – wearing the ‘C’ in place of the injured captain, Hayley Wickenheiser – when Hefford, on a shorthanded rush, split the Swiss defence, faked Anthamatten to the ice and easily slid the puck into the open side.
Natalie Spooner made it 5-0 on a goalmouth scramble following a long shot by Johnston.
At the halfway point of the game, poor Anthamatten had faced 42 shots, stopping 37 of them.
At such a point, most hockey coaches would have their charges ease up and work on other aspects of the game, but the dark side of world championships and Olympic hockey is that they use goal differentials when necessary.
Theoretically, that might be the basis for an argument for running up the score, but in practice it is utter nonsense, given that there are two strong teams, Canada and the United States, with all others scrambling for a place on the podium. Last year, in fact, it was the Swiss, though heaven forfend that they are the strongest of the rest this year in Ottawa.
If Church had hoped his team might work on its own-zone play, this was not the “practice” he wished for – with the Swiss rarely able to get the puck across the Canadian blueline.
They did, however, work on their attack, pumping in goal after goal as the evening went on: 6-0 on a nice bit of stickhandling by Brianne Jenner, 7-0 on a fluttering shot by Sarah Vaillancourt on a partial breakaway, 8-0 on a quick shot from the slot by Jenner.
By this point, the game was more farce than anything else, though the 6,277 in attendance still heartily cheered each goal as if it mattered.
Theoretically, of course, it does in international play – but that doesn’t mean there is anything admirable in running up the score.
9-0 on a goalmouth scramble in which Haley Irwin shovelled the puck backhand into the net … 10-0 on a Poulin tip-in … 11-0 on a Poulin backhand that replay later showed the officials had missed – perhaps because they were sound asleep at the time … 12-0 on a cross-crease feed to Meaghan Mikkelson … 13-0 on Poulin’s fourth goal of the night.
Final shots, 79-16. Readers can decide who had 79.
This isn’t hockey.
And, frankly, it’s an unnecessary embarrassment.