The Best Hockey Tourney Of All Is Finally Here And Requium For A Goalie…

Marc Elliott

FOUR CORNERS… I have been waiting for this week since the day after the last games ended in 2010. I am ecstatic to hear these words; Let the Games of the XXII Winter Olympiad in Sochi, Russia BEGIN! The greatest hockey tourney of all is finally here. Sure I love the Stanley Cup tourney and all that goes with it, but this is a gathering of the best of the best representing their countries for 2 weeks. You won’t be seeing hockey fights, headhunting, coaches going berserk in hallways and so on, what you will see is some of the purest strategic hockey you can play.   
The games will be played on the Olympic ice surface (200’ by 100’) and the extra 15 feet in width does make for a bit of a different game. Proponents will say it magnifies the importance of skating, positioning and passing, and that with the big players of the era and the bigger ice that clogging up shooting and passing lanes won’t be as prevalent. Puck control and offensive creativity will be. I believe that for defensive play that you can’t sit back in a zone or box defense and allow the other team to play on the perimeter and look for their openings, rather I believe you have to stay closer to them as in a man to man defensive scheme in order to elevate your chances at regaining puck possession. If you sit back you just might be waiting to get the biscuit back all day.
There are 12 entrants in the Men’s Ice Hockey event; Austria, Canada, Czech Republic, Finland, Latvia, Norway, Russia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Sweden, Switzerland and the United States. I believe there are 6 teams in the medal hunt and I will focus on them. For Canada, as always they have a large talent pool to choose from and they will have a tough team. But for their strengths at the forward and defense positions, I believe that their goaltending could be a liability for them and might make it hard for them to repeat as the Gold Medalists, or even medal at all. I know, there are those recoiling at the thought of this, that I must be off my rocker, but consider that for their NHL clubs, Carey Price, Roberto Luongo and Mike Smith lost 16 of 29 games in January for their NHL teams. Sure they will have better overall talent in front of them, but that is my opinion. They aren’t my automatic front runner pick.
For the Czechs, they will have the Winnipeg Jets Ondrej Pavelec in net, and will also have some bonafide NHL talent at the ‘D’ and Forward positions, some of whom at one point in their NHL careers were upper level players with Kaberle, Michalek, Smid and Zidlicky on the backend. Same at Forward with Elias, Hanzal, Jagr, Nedved, and Plekanec. With some breaks this team could medal, my concerns are that this roster has some age to it.
For Team Finland, again, a lot of talent here and with the right breaks they could medal as well. Their expected starting Goalie, Pekka Rinne/NASH has been out injured all year. But don’t fear, they have Rask/BOS, Niemi/SJ, and Lehtonen/DAL to cover and look for Rask to start. One concern is that their backend only has 4 NHLer’s and of the Forwards there are no current scoring superstars. MN Wild captain Mikko Koivu may not play due to injury. They may be challenged on offense but strong team play could level that out for them.  
For the hosting Russians there will be some talent on the team, however, I wonder if politics will be their undoing. For some reason they have constructed a half KHL, half NHL roster. Perhaps I am biased toward the NHL, but I think it’s a higher level of play then the ‘K’. They will be solid in net with Varlamov and Bobrovsky, they will be tough at forward with Datsyuk, Kovalchuk, Malkin, and Semin, but their backend may be challenged with some solid, but no superstar ’D’ players. I have a feeling they will get a medal though.  
Sweden will come in with a competitive roster as well. Henrik “The King” Lundqvist  will be in net, they will have 2 of the best young ‘D’ men in the world with Ekman-Larsson and Karlsson, up front there is a ton of talent and experience with Alfredsson, Backstrom, the Sedin twins, Steen and Zetterberg. This club is a contender and if I have any concerns it would be the condition of their forward core group. Injuries and age could hold them back, but I think this team could medal.
For Team USA they will be tough in goal with Jonathan Quick and Ryan Miller. On ‘D’ they will feature Suter, Shattenkirk, Martin, and McDonagh. Up front we will see Kane, Kessel, Parise, Wheeler, Pavelski and Stepan. This roster had a lot of thought go into it’s formation and I have to believe they will be strong contenders to medal as well. However, Team USA has never medaled when the games have been outside of North America. So that concerns me. Quick was injured earlier in the NHL year and Miller is playing on an abominable club in Buffalo. There are several returnees from 2010 and I have got to think that that finish is still burning within them. I feel they will medal, I just don’t know which one.
I look for a spectacular tourney with some excellent hockey. If some NHL tilts are of a “beer and hotdog” mentality, these games are more of the “wine and cheese” ilk. Like NASCAR vs. Formula One racing. I love both and I can’t wait for the puck to drop! USA! USA! USA!
SHOULD NJ DEVS GOALIE Martin Brodeur call it a day for his career? The answer is yes. And I’m not basing that solely on his poor play in a recent outdoor game vs. the Rangers at Yankee Stadium. I have felt this way for the last three seasons. His post game meltdown about the ice conditions didn’t factor into my thoughts here either. Mar-tan just does not have “it” anymore. He has slowed down, his lateral side to side movement isn’t the same and his ability to recover to the ready position aren’t what they used to be. Oh, he has enough game to play here and there, but anymore of this and he will be tarnishing his brilliant legacy in my book. He seems incapable of admitting he is finished and talks of still playing next year. Don’t do it Marty, it’s time. If you can’t see it, perhaps someone close to you can whisper it into your ear. You ARE the greatest of all-time. Do the right thing, for you and your club…. PEACE

Marc Elliott is a free lance sports opinion writer who splits time between his hometown in Illinois and Minnesota.