IIHF Final Update: the goal heard ’round the world
Perhaps the headline seems a bit over the the top, considering that most hockey eyes stateside were firmly fixed on the Bruins-Lightning tilt Saturday (which Tampa Bay won 5-2 in convincing fashion) and the 3-2 Canucks’ come-from-behind victory over San José last night. Nevertheless, while it is not the first time that such a goal has been witnessed, the lacrosse style tally scored by Finnish youngster Mikael Granlund this past Friday has once again sparked a debate about what place this move has in the game.
For those of you not following the news, the Minnesota Wild 1st round pick embarassed the Russians at the World Championships in Slovakia with what some have called a cheeky goal. It was in fact the winner in a 3-0 game that saw Team Russia, on a high after having eliminated the Canadians in the quarter finals, bumped from the gold medal game for the first time in 5 years.
Actions speak louder than words, so perhaps any discussion would best be preceeded by an actual replay of the goal itself:
While the announcer’s reaction on the video attest to the wow factor of this type of goal, it is in fact not as revolutionary as some might think. It has been called “a Crosby goal” from time to time in the media, but it wasn’t even Sidney’s using the move in his junior career that could be called a first.
Trivia buffs might know that the guy most often credited with being the initiator is Mike Legg, who in the nationally televised 1996 NCAA championships did the deed when playing for the Michigan Wolverines (Legg’s stick ended up in the Toronto Hockey Hall of Fame to boot). Digging deeper, though, we learn that at the time Legg himself quickly gave due thanks to Bill Armstrong, an AHL and IHL minor pro who had done it long before Legg, and who scored on multiple occasions with what he called the “high wrap”. In an interview done at least ten years ago (check the previous link), Armstrong goes to quite a length to insist that the goal is not showing off, but rather that it has a real and useful place in the game.
So why all the uproar, when relatively small-time players (OHL and European league journeyman Rob Hisey is another example) are the ones using the move, as opposed to big name NHL stars? In Granlund’s case, it was as much his age (19) and the fact that in one year he went from playing in the World Juniors to establishing himself as a solid player in Finland’s first division (SM Liiga) with HIFK (40 pts in 43 games) that caused the stir, rather than the move itself.
Maybe it is not just goalies that find this type of goal a bit of an insult (for proof, check the body language of Russian goalie Konstantin Barulin after the goal). It would seem that the players themselves are wary of how they will be seen using it too. How else to explain why the lacrosse goal isn’t already a common sight in the NHL? If Sidney Crosby could pull it off in junior, it is hard to believe that in six NHL seasons that the opportunity has not re-presented itself.
Maybe it is for the better, at least from the goalie’s point of view. If this play becomes more popular (youtube videos notwithstanding), goalies are going to have a real headache to contend with.
If the move has its origins in lacrosse, it might be worth examining how lacrosse goalies defend themselves against shots that constantly come from an aerial angle, with a net that is higher than the 4 foot tall hockey goal. One look at these highlights should be enough to convince hockey fans that a) stopping aerial shots is possible, albeit with a much wider lacrosse goalie stick b) hockey goalies come off looking rather like pansies when one notices the almost total absence of equipment used by netminders in field lacrosse (no leg protection, no arm pads, no pants, tiny player shoulder pads). Keep in mind that the india rubber ball is almost as hard as a puck and even heavier, and can be shot at 100 m.p.h.
Meanwhile, with the championships just wrapping up yesterday, there was more than a just Granlund’s goal on the agenda of note. After being on the wrong end of an embarassing highlight against the Finns which was seen by millions, Konstantin Barulin was again in goal for a run-and-gun-fest that saw the Russian defensive corps make a number of costly errors which gave the Czechs point blank scoring chances and Roman Cervenka a hat trick. End result: 7 goals on only 27 shots. Atlanta Thrashers backstopper Ondrej Pavelec steered his Czech teammates to the bronze with a 39 save effort, though his first two goals were both shots from above the circles that went under his armpit on the blocker side. Here is the video evidence:
In the gold medal game, Swedish goalie Viktor Fasth, whom we featured in our last update, had a rough go, allowing 6 goals on 32 shots in a 6-1 rout by perennial rival Finland. However, the disappointing game did not stop him from being named tournament MVP and 2011 IIHF best goalie. The final, at least from a goaltending point of view, was arguably the most appropriate end (sorry Team Canada), as Fasth and Finnish netminder Petri Vehanen were statistically the tournament’s two best goalies (Vehanen: 1.24 GAA, 95.43% SP, Fasth: 1.71 GAA 94.57% SP).
Worth noting is how the wheels totally fall off the Swedish wagon in the third period, as a 1-1 tie turns into a 6-1 disaster. The fourth goal is a clever set play where the puck carrier shoots the puck in against the dasherboard so that the rebound comes perfectly to a streaking Janne Pesonen, who dekes Fasth with a pretty backhand . In any event, it will be worth following news on the up-and-coming Swede, to see if he indeed ends up being courted successfully by an NHL team for 2011-12. The Lightning, Rangers and Oilers are apparently interested in Sweden’s 2011 player of the year.