After months of debating who should be on national squads, weeks of arguing about who was snubbed, and days of questioning potential line match ups, men’s hockey at Sochi 2014 finally got underway on Wednesday.
The first game saw Sweden easily handle the Czech Republic in a 4-2 victory. I know this is going to sound quite lame and corny, but watching the Swede’s move the puck, especially on the power-play, was like watching poetry in motion. Every pass was crisp and on the tape, and they used the larger ice surface to their advantage, burning the Czech’s with their speed. The Czech Republic probably learned two things from this game.
1. Though he may not be the most consistent goalie, it was probably a mistake not to dress Ondrej Pavelec, and start KHL’er Jakub Kovar in his place.
2. It was probably a mistake as well to build a team filled with slow-footed veterans. They looked like they were playing catch-up all game with the Swede’s.
Though the Swede’s were able to come out with the W, they were dealt a major blow when it was announced that Henrik Zetterberg has a herniated disc in his back, and may be out for the tournament. More injuries are the last thing Team Sweden needs.
In the most anticipated game of the week (not sarcastic in the slightest…okay, maybe a little), the Swiss were able to pull off a 1-0 win over Latvia, with a last minute goal from Simon Moser. Typical Swiss play in this one: heavy reliance on defense and solid netminding from Jonas Hiller, not much offense to go around.
On Thursday, we saw the favourites dominate. First, the Russians toyed with the Slovenian’s on their way to a 5-2 victory. The top two Russian lines clicked immediately, though they backed off a bit in the second period, allowing Team Anze Kopitar (may as well be) to put two goals past Semyon Varlamov. Lets be honest, Slovenia probably won’t win a game, but at least they will take home the award for worst jerseys. Team Finland then did the opposite of what they were supposed to do. With both Mikko Koivu and Valtteri Filppula on the shelf, goals were supposed to be hard to come by, while they arguably had the best goaltending in the tournament. Instead, the Finns pumped eight goals past Bernhard Starkman (whose play was criticized by teammate Thoma Vanek after the game), while Tukka Rask struggled, allowing four goals on 20 shots. Wonder if we see Antti Niemi between the pipes for game #2? Also, the Americans did a number on the Slovakians in a 7-1 rout. Many questioned the decision to start Jonathan Quick over Ryan Miller for Team USA, but it didn’t matter, as the U.S. looked like a strong, cohesive unit, while Phil Kessel and James van Riemsdyk combined for five points, carrying their hot streak into Olympic play.
Canada was able to come out with a 3-1 win over Norway. Give the Norwegians credit though, they gave a heck of an effort in this one. They did not create many scoring chances, but they played a very conservative defense system, they clogged the slot and blocked a lot of shots, and had good goaltending from Lars Haugen. The Canadians looked a little lost in the first period. Many seemed reluctant to shoot, and the passing game was less than stellar. They settled down and played smart hockey in the second and third periods, with many of the lines beginning to “click.” One that didn’t though was the Kunitz-Crosby-Carter line. Something was off with this line all game, and though he provided a solid backcheck throughout the contest, Crosby was almost a non-factor. They’ll beat Austria today, but I’m interested to see how they perform against Finland on Sunday.
Oh, and Don Cherry pulled a classic Cherry moment when he referred to the Norwegians as “Finns,” and when corrected by Ron McLean that they’re Norwegian, Cherry responded with, “same thing.”
On a final men’s hockey note, a decision will be made in the next six months as to whether or not the NHL players will play in the 2018 Winter games in South Korea. Rumour has it that the NHL players will not be attending.
Congrats Finland and a Major Canadian Win
Speaking of the Finns, I wanted to wish their women’s team congratulations. After goalie Noora Raty turned in two outstanding performances in losses to Canada and the U.S., the Finns finally pulled out a 4-3 OT over the Swiss on Wednesday.
Finally, though the women’s hockey portion of the tournament has been criticized for being dominated by the U.S. and Canada, I could really care less, as these two teams played an amazing game on Wednesday. The intensity was at its peak for this one, as it always is between these two great rivals. After losing four straight to the U.S. before the Olympics, the Canadians were the underdogs, yet the game was so evenly matched, that is until Canada started to dominate in the third. A controversial goal gave Canada a 2-1 lead, and Meghan Agosta, on her birthday, iced the game with a breakaway goal, a goal in which I still have no idea what USA defensewoman Anne Schleper was doing on that play. What a game it was, and I hope we are treated to a match that’s just as good when they meet again for the gold medal.
(Photo credits to tsn.ca, bleacherreport.com, and sports.yahoo.com)