The scene was set for a showdown Thursday night at the Nassau Coliseum on Long Island between the Cup-hungry Chicago Blackhawks and the suddenly resurgent New York Islanders, whose impressive comeback victories over the Minnesota Wild and the Boston Bruins perhaps showed the initial signs of a team that is attempting to bring itself out of the depths of poor play and back into the playoff race.
The showdown featured two American-born point leaders, Kyle Okposo of the Islanders and Patrick Kane of the Blackhawks. The stage was set for Kane and the rest of the Blackhawks to dominate the poor Islanders and send the sad Nassau Coliseum fans home in the snowstorm.
However, when the final horn sounded, it was Okposo who would get the last laugh. His overtime GWG capped off a +2 night for Okposo, who disappeared into a crowd of his teammates during a chorus of “USA! USA!” chants from the Islander crowd. It was definitely a significant statement from the winger, who is apparently still not viewed as worthy of consideration by Team USA’s brass.
Okposo did the right thing by using the obvious Olympic snub to fire himself up for the next game. He did not mope or immediately respond back to Team USA brass (like Bobby Ryan did), he just put his head down and returned to his job, always willing to work hard, grind out pucks, and make difficult plays. If anything, he did the opposite of what we might expect a superstar to do. His humility, even when he was not selected, spoke volumes about his character as a player. I personally think that he is more of the kind of player that Team USA would want to be represented by.
His Blackhawk counterpart, Kane, was a -2 with no goals or assists. I am surprised that, given Kane’s reputation, he was chosen as a “posterboy” for Team USA. To me, Kane is an exceptional hockey player who is supremely skilled at scoring. However, his personality is also very loud, and he is a bit arrogant. Given the poor perception of American athletes on the international scene, I was surprised to see that Team USA embraced the hard-partying winger as a huge piece of their team. Though I cannot deny his skills, I do have significant questions about his character.
As I watched this game tonight, I was struck by the extremely different approaches taken by Okposo and Kane. Okposo, as the more quiet of the pair in this matchup, emerged as the most efficient. Kane, on the other hand, had nothing to take from the game besides a few spin moves and some no-look (or other similarly complicated) passes that will soon be forgotten because they did not lead to goals.
The fact is, Okposo simply outplayed Kane tonight. Now, I am not saying that Okposo is more talented than Kane is, or that Kane should have been left off of Team USA’s roster for the Sochi Olympics. I do, however, admire Okposo for his simple approach to the game of hockey, but at the same time, I wonder about Kane’s style. When Okposo did not make Team USA, many said that they were concerned about where he would be without John Tavares. At some point tonight, I found myself wondering where Kane would be without Jonathan Toews.