BRATISLAVA – Everybody knows just how important those lucky bounces are in hockey. Getting the bounces to go your way is what every team wants and, at a time of a loss, it’s the unlucky bounces that often seem to have decided the outcome of a game – at least at the post-game press conferences.
Bounces have become one of hockey’s most oft-repeated clichés. It’s funny because it’s true.
The teams in the top division are so close, and the margin of error is so small, that often it truly is a lucky bounce that opens the door to victory to the other team. At the very least, a random bounce can send a defenceman to the wrong place at the wrong time, creating a chain reaction that then gives the opponent a chance to score.
Like in the Olympic final in Vancouver when the puck hit the referee’s skate in the corner. Seconds later, Sidney Crosby scored the game winning goal on overtime.
"Because of that momentum going up the wall and (the puck) hitting the referee's skate, it got (Crosby) on the wrong side and in the end, it's those little things that make a difference. So that's how Sid got home free,” said Team Canada coach Mike Babcock.
A bounce the other way, and maybe Zach Parise had scored on a breakaway.
We’ve seen some nice bounces in this tournament, too. It’s easy to find good examples by looking at just two teams, Germany and Finland.
In the game against each other, Finland got on the board after just 13 seconds of play when Tuomo Ruutu tried to send a saucer pass to Mikko Koivu. His pass went long, and hit the stick of a German defenceman who came flying down the ice, and deflected the puck into his own net. Finland scored their second goal of the game when a puck hit Janne Pesonen in the helmet in front of the net.
Finland tied the game late in the game when Tuomo Ruutu took a wrist shot from the boards, the puck hit the side of the net, bounced up, hit German goaltender Dennis Endras’s behind, and went in.
In Finland’s game against Slovakia, the puck went in off a deflection from Ruutu’s own butt.
In Germany’s last Qualification Round game against the Czech Republic, Pavelec scored his first with a shot that hit German defenceman Justin Krueger’s blade in the crease before going in. The Czechs got a lead in the game when Michal Frolik’s wrist shot from the slot went wide but hit Korbinian Holzer’s thigh at the far post, and bounced in.
Of course, hockey players are only human, and we humans like to think that we can somehow create our own luck. "The harder I work, the luckier I get," said Samuel Goldwyn, the G in MGM, the film studio.
Stephen Leacock, a Canadian humorist, put the same sentiment in other words: "I'm a great believer in luck and I find the harder I work, the more I have of it."
Even hockey players take a philosophical stance on matters of randomness and luck.
"If you put the puck on net, sometimes it finds an interesting way to go off people and bounce in, and it's really tough for the goalie," said Krueger, after their loss.
Tuomo Ruutu gave one reporter a lecture on the topic after Finland’s game against Slovakia when the reporter took up the fact that, well, his two goals in the game had looked a little lucky. And luck without hard work would simply be cheating.
“Lucky, eh? Two goals. Really?” he said, staring down the reporter.
“You do have to drive to the net, right?” he then asked.
The reporter looked back at Ruutu, but didn’t respond.
“Is that not true?” Ruutu asked again.
“Right,” said the reporter.
“That’s what I thought. Also, maybe we were unlucky in the other scoring chances we had. If you never shoot the puck, you’ll never score,” Ruutu said, channeling another hockey wisdom, put into words by the Great One.
Wayne Gretzky is quoted as having said that “you’ll miss 100 per cent of the shots you don’t take.”
Maybe that’s why Gretzky was on Ruutu’s mind right after the puck went in, and beat Jaroslav Halak, even if he hadn’t even taken a shot.
"Funny, but the first thing I thought of was the old Gretzky quote of how he wanted to end his career in a goal that went in off Esa Tikkanen's butt," said Ruutu who practically ended Slovakia’s tournament with a goal that went in off his butt.
One guy’s hard work is another guy’s bad luck. In the long run, though, the bounces probably even out. See, the puck bounces a lot in hockey.