Since the end of the preliminary portion of the men’s and women’s tournament, we have been treated to many storylines over the last few days that sound like they have come straight from a storybook. The Cinderella run (well, kind of), the upset wins, and of course, the clashing of the two ultimate rivals in the hockey world at Sochi 2014.
The Cinderella Run (kind of)
I dub the Slovenians to be a Cinderella story, even though they were knocked out in the Quarterfinals, because they were not supposed to win a game in Sochi. Sure, they have L.A. Kings star Anze Kopitar, but the rest of the squad was a mish-mash of unknowns. The fact that they were able to beat Slovakia in the prelims. was crazy enough, and it really was like gold medal win for Team Slovenia, but the fact that they were also able to dominate Austria in a 4-0 win to move to the quarters to face Sweden made these games that much more speial to them. Sure, they were manhandled by the Swede’s, but the fact that they were able to win two games must seem like a dream come true to both the people and players of Slovenia, something evident in the face of Jan Mursak (pictured above) after the first win against Slovakia.
In the men’s section of qualification play, almost all went as planned. Russia handled Norway in 4-0 win, the Czechs survived a near collapse in the third period to beat Slovakia 5-3 (just me, or did Chara appear a wee bit worn down?). Now I already mentioned Slovenia, but there was another upset to be had. Two early goals from Oskars Bartulis and Lauris Darzins were enough to propel Latvia to a win over Switzerland. Though they began play with their usual ultra-conservative defensive game, the Swiss abandoned that style and poured an a fairly impressive offensive outburst in the second and third period, but Latvian goalie Kristers Gudlevskis held his ground for a 3-1 Latvian final score. I, like many others, pegged the Swiss and their shutdown defense to take this one, and many times it looked as if they were going to tie it up, but they couldn’t solve Gudlevskis, who propelled Latvia to the upset.
Upset number two occurred on Wednesday in the Quarterfinals, with the host Russians looking pitiful in a 3-1 loss to Finland. I personally don’t consider this an upset, but with such high expectations for the Russians (Hockey News predicted them to win it for some reason), a loss in the quarters is considered a major disappointment. There are many questions to ask about regarding what went wrong for Russia. Why did Semyon Varlamov start after Sergei Bobrovsky recorded a shutout the day before? Why was their power-play so stationary and focused on keeping the puck behind the goal line? Were the Russians playing too flashy with everyone being selfish trying to be a hero? Was the lack of depth after the top two lines a major problem? How many will get sent to the salt mines as punishment for the loss? The answers being: I don’t know, I really don’t know, yes, yes, and the whole team and coaching staff.
The Setup For a Rivalry Filled Semi-finals
Canada survived a bit of a scare. While the score reflects a closer game, it really was not, as Canada dominated Latvia (outshooting them 57-16), on the way to a 2-1 win. Kudos to Latvian goalie Gudlevskis, he played the game of his life. After the U.S. pulled off a convincing 5-2 win over the Czech’s, there were many questions from Canadians toward this much anticipated game between the North American nations. Canadian forwards have not been able to put the puck in the net, so how will they be able to do so against a red-hot Jonathan Quick? The Canadian defense has been excellent, but can they contain a U.S. offensive juggernaut with Phil Kessel, David Backes, James van Riemsdyk, Patrick Kane, and pretty well every line firing on all cylinders? Will Sidney Crosby show up (Honestly, when with the right linemates, he’s been creating chances, plus, is seems almost all Canadian forwards are suffering from the lack of ice time they normally receive…or is this just an excuse, as the Americans haven’t seemed to suffer from that)? How fast will Chris Kunitz become a scapegoat if Canada loses, or has it already started? Finally, when will Crosby shave that nasty mustache? Regardless of all those questions, it is going to be a thriller, though it may lose some luster as it will not be for the gold medal as it was in 2002 and 2010.
Lost in the Canada/USA drama is the Battle of Scandinavia between Sweden and Finland. Both teams are missing three key forwards (Finland: Koivu, Barkov, and Filppula; Sweden: Zetterberg, H. Sedin, and Franzen), yet have managed sufficient offense and great goaltending in impressive victories to get to the semis. I wonder how close the intense atmosphere over there is to that here in North America? I’m willing to bet fairly close.
I predict a 3-2 victory for Sweden, and though I took Canada to win it all two weeks ago, the Americans look too strong, and I think they win this one 3-1 (though as a Canadian, I hope I’m wrong, and I’ll be cheering for the boys come 12:00 EST time).
Canadian Women Win Gold
They say the parity has increased in women’s hockey at Sochi, though in reality, it has not. The Canadians outworked the Swiss in the semis in every category on their way to a 3-1 win, while the U.S. out-shot Sweden 70-9 in a 6-1 drubbing.
They’re thinking of getting rid of women’s hockey come 2018 because of the lack of said parity, but I beg of you IOC, please don’t punish the Canadians and Americans for being superior, because the gold medal final we witnessed on Thursday was unbelievably entertaining. I was on the edge of my seat for the entire game. The two giants of women’s hockey went shot for shot until late in the send period when Meghan Duggan capitalized for USA on a Catherine Ward turnover, and then Alex Carpenter made it 2-0 in the third. After Brianne Jenner’s goal made it 2-1 with under four minutes to play, you could almost feel a sense of something special about to happen. I thought it was going to happen on Natalie Spooner’s impressive rush to the net, though nothing occurred. Then Marie-Philip Poulin ties the game and I gave a joyous fist-pump, all coming after Kelly Stark hits he post on an empty net, which would have sealed it for America. After a controversial penalty on the U.S. in which Hayley Wickenheiser fell, Poulin scored to win Canada their fourth straight women’s gold medal, sending many across the nation into a frenzy. What a game, and what an ending, so again IOC, I ask please, please don’t take women’s hockey out of the 2018 games. I, and I’m sure many others, want to bear witness to more thrilling moments like this one.
(Photo credits to abc.net.eu, ctpost.com, thestar.com, and examiner.com)