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(Gene J. Puskar)
(Gene J. Puskar)

Hockey can be a funny game Add to ...

How do you explain how things can go wrong in a single game of hockey; or how a team that played nearly flawless hockey for five consecutive periods, as Canada's national junior team did, could then let it all slip away in the final 20?

It happens - and for further illustration, you just need to examine the past 48 hours for the NHL's Tampa Bay Lightning and their new/old goaltender Dwayne Roloson for a demonstration as to how quickly fortunes can rise and fall in this game.

Tampa acquired Roloson last week and were immediately rewarded with a brilliant shutout performance in his first game - a 1-0 overtime thriller against the Washington Capitals and Alexander Ovechkin that had a lot of similarities to Canada's clinical dissection of the U.S. favorites in the world junior tournament. Canada was so good against the Americans that there was never any sense at any moment that its composure would waver, or that the Americans could work themselves back into the game. The body language on both sides told you that.

It was the same for Tampa, Steve Yzerman's team, that with the victory leapfrogged Washington in the Southeast Division standings. A big important moment for that franchise, further proof that they were for real.

So what happens? The next night, trying to ride the Roloson wave, Tampa started him again - and he imploded. Three goals surrendered early, Dan Ellis came in to mop up, and it was a laugher by the end, finishing 8-1 for the Pittsburgh Penguins. What? How? The same team on paper, in two consecutive games, but not nearly the same execution or results.

The difference for Canada against Russia was that its collapse came much further along in the game. For two periods, they were the same efficient bunch as they were against the U.S. - calm in all areas of the game, defensively sound, couldn't do a thing wrong. In the third, they gave up an early goal, a weak goal by the goalie and then a great creative goal and suddenly, paralysis set in. The goaltending could have been better, but so could the defensive coverage and commitment to the attack.

In short, it all went collectively south - it can happen to teenagers, swept up in the emotion of the moment, who probably exhaled a little too soon after the second intermission; and to a veteran NHL team like Tampa, with Stanley Cup-finals tested vets such as Roloson, Martin St. Louis and Vincent Lecavalier there to steady the ship, who couldn't do it either. Not that night. Not at that moment.

Funny game hockey, as anyone who's ever played it will tell you - where momentum can reverse on a dime and once it's gone, it's usually lost for good, until the next time and the next chance for a regroup. That sadly is the unforgiving nature of an international tournament. Tampa gets to try again Saturday against Ottawa. Canada's world juniors need to wait until next year when the tournament reconvenes in Edmonton and Calgary.



 

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