As much as I, like other Canadians, want to forget yesterday’s thorough butt-fumble of a World Junior hockey game against the Americans, I was goaded into doing this by a couple curious minds: an analysis of Jake McCabe’s first goal, in which, at one point, the Canadians were in the above defensive “formation.” Five of the six on-ice Canadians are packed into a lane slightly wider than the net (and as you’ll see farther down, they get tighter), along with three Americans, putting eight of the 12 humans on the ice in an area about seven feet wide. Actually, if we feel like drawing those lanes down 200 feet, nine of the twelve were in there. Presumably, this was not the game plan before the puck dropped.
Let’s take it from the top. This is a bit of a long one because I have to mention what starts the US breakout down at the other end of the ice, and because, y’know, the whole thing is a mess. Boone Jenner, this is not your finest shift.
First, take a look at it for yourself, if you dare.
This, to me, is a 50/50 puck. The problem, at least for Jenner, is that he’s probably going to get a touch on it first, which means he’s the guy who has to take the hit. Or, he could completely pull-up, forfeit the puck, and let US defenseman Mike Reilly grab solid possession and make a play. If he takes the hit there, at the very least there’s a puck battle and his linemate Phillip Danault can come in and help dig it out.
He pulls up. I know, it looks like he’s heading off to change, but I assure you, he’s not. You’ll see him again in a bit.
I’m about to get into the rush that leads to the goal as best I can, but there’s something worth noting before I do: sometimes defensive situations are tough to read, and when multiple people make the wrong read on the same play (or if they fall, or whatever), you can end up in a seemingly perpetual cycle of “cover for that guy, now you cover for my guy” and you end up trying to patch the Hoover Dam with bubblegum. The technical term for that development in hockey is “a clusterfuck,” and that’s what we had here: snowflake errors turned into an avalanche.
We start with the Americans breaking in, and the Canadians having numbers (as in, they had enough players back to cover the number of guys coming on the rush). Because of a quick camera switch in the video and the random routes of the players, I’ll label most of the pics so we can follow who’s headed where. I’m sorry to have to use every name on the ice, but seriously, you need all the ingredients to put together this soup sandwich of a play.
Barber has just picked up the wrap around the boards and brought it up the ice. He hits Galchenyuk in the middle with a pass (nice center support), who immediately one-touches it to his linemate Kuraly on the wall nearest us (gets the puck wide on the entry with a nice, short pass). Scott Harrington has Kuraly in his sights, however, and is about to put the body on him just inside the blueline as he should. The American forward is able to get the puck past Harrington, and it slides down towards the half-wall while he gets pinched off. Galchenyuk supports his winger (if you haven’t noticed, I like that kid on this goal), and he heads in to pick up the loose puck.
So far things are okay for Team Canada. Danault and Ritchie are not quite on their usual sides, because when you’re the high forward in the offensive end (as Danault was) you come back and take the wide lane, which in this case happened to be on the right wing. Now that they’re in-zone, they have the option to either stay on their current sides, or revert to normal. They’re close enough now to not bother communicating “stay” and risk getting tangled. So Danault comes across, and figures he may as way try and dig out the puck (not that that’s necessarily the right decision), while Kuraly has won the physical battle with Harrington, who’s now on the ice. Galchenyuk has gained possession, and “escaped” up-ice with the puck.
Here’s where things badly derail. Harrington has lost position on Kuraly after going down while his opponent stayed up. Danault could see this and cover for him, but most wingers (like me) tend to leave the job of “bailing out a fallen d-man” to our centers, because center is sooo hard, you guys. So he’s coming in for a half-ass swipe at the puck, then he’s just gonna chill on his proper wing and (he thinks) sorta watch his d-man. Basically, he’s about to skate past Kuraly to cover no one, while the puck isn’t there.
Kuraly then opens up, and Galchenyuk sees him and tries to get him the puck in the opening, only…. WAIT. WHO’S THAT?
Mike Reilly, the US d-man who started the play jumped into the rush, and (wrongly) carried on even as the rush stopped and it turned into a zone possession situation. He takes a niiice looong loop around the zone, then heads up towards his position, which creates the perfect storm. Galchenyuk’s pass to Kuraly is suddenly on his twig, Harrington is still recovering, and three Canadian are damn near the left wall while he’s in the middle with the puck.
Let’s back up a sec. Here’s Reilly’s route:
It’s tough because… whose guy is that? Is Danault supposed to stay with him from when he was back in the wide lane (but Reilly is the left d-man, so…)? The rush felt over, so Danault likely thought it was time to switch into d-zone cover mode. Reilly’s long loop through through the zone caused a confusion in coverage because…isn’t he supposed to be doing something safer, like standing on the blueline? He’s lost in the shuffle.
Throughout this whole process, Boone Jenner has been coming back into the zone (well after Reilly), in his mind to play center, but things are a mess by now – and he makes them worse.
When you come back into your own zone as a forward line, it’s supposed to be that F1 (the first guy back) plays low (usually the job of the center) and F2 and F3 play the wing roles until the center can switch with whoever was F1. Ritchie has assumed the low F role, grabbing onto Barber, who’s headed to the front of the net – a smart move, given that both d-men are caught out on the wall. Seeing that, Jenner should then take Ritchie’s role as the right winger, which would put him right in the slot – as in, exactly where this play is headed. He doesn’t (I have no idea what he thought he was doing), and now we’re stuck here.
Hamilton applied some light pressure to Galchenyuk, who now has him beaten off the wall. Harrington has stepped on marbles. Jenner has marbles between his ears. Danault is just sort of cruising around. And Ritchie’s like “Fuck it, no prob guys, I got this. I’ll just cover all your humans,” so he comes out to challenge Reilly, forcing him to leave Barber.
AND THEN. And then the panic strikes: when you lose your guy, when you lose your position, the best thing to do is collapse to the net and figure it out. You can always skate out from there, but at least get to the dangerous area, find a guy and get his stick up. So…they all do. And not just to “the house,” no no. They collapse to the crease.
Reilly gets the pass through to Barber…
And Subban make a stop on his attempted backhand, and the puck gets kicked out to the side of the net. I’m not going to clip the next shitshow of a second or so, because it’s just a mess of out-of-position humans heading to the crease trying to figure out who to cover and a few American forwards trying to jam in a rebound. But because they all went to the same area, everyone manages to simultaneously pick everyone else from covering anyone.
Let’s pick it up at this mind-boggling screenshot:
At this point, Barber has solid possession of the puck behind the net, Malcolm Subban is trying to get back into position, Hamilton and Danault are covering Galchenyuk, who is on the ice, Jenner is an extra from The Walking Dead or possibly a CPU character in an old video game that’s gotten stuck, Harrington is too lost in the shuffle to get to Kuraly, and Ritchie is behind sucked out wide, because he finally has a guy to cover – Reilly – and he damn well intends to do it. Still, he’s got to stop and start, and stay tight. This is no time for swinging. I want to say he was the only one who wasn’t a mess, but he’s pretty loopy during this sequence.
And then….HOLY SHIT, IS THAT JAKE MCCABE’S MUSIC!!?!??!?!!!!
Seriously, go back and look if you don’t believe me: McCabe is in zero of the previous 12 pictures of this breakdown. He was just like “Kay guys, you’re all gettin’ a little crazy here, I’m just gonna hang out and not get mesmerized by the puck for half a shift while the rest of you go bonkers.”
The clusterfuck immediately moves to DEFCON 1 as McCabe grabs solid possession, because OMG a guy is going to shoot the puck, so everybody tries to get in the lane. And as we saw earlier: boy, did they ever get in that god damned lane.
I chose “Comic” Sans for a reason in that picture, and let the record show that those quotation marks are meant to be bunny-ear air-quotes.
When I watched this the first few times, the part that makes me the most mental, even though I sort of get what he might have been thinking, is how hard Dougie Hamilton tries to wedge himself into the lane even further. This isn’t exactly a soccer wall Team Canada went with here…more of a Russian doll formation or something. Hamilton actually pivoted to make himself thinner. For all Subban knows, the puck could be in the US end right now.
And, we all know how it played out from there. McCabe pulled the puck into himself just enough to change the angle a half-foot…
…and he snipes it low glove-side.
And that’s all she wrote. An error-avalanche that achieved the title of Ugliest Canadian Moment during that game despite the other very-worthy contenders.
If there’s any takeaway from watching this goal and reading this breakdown, let it be this: don’t try to analyze goals where everybody messes up. I’ve only got five fingers to point, and I think I used every one of ‘em.