Who Will Get Hockey Medals In Sochi? I Already Know!

Marc Elliott

MINNESOTA POINT…. The Olympics are underway and in less then 48 hours the Men’s Ice Hockey tourney will begin. The Team USA Women’s team has already beaten Finland 3-1 and Switzerland 9-0. They have a major showdown with cross border rival Canada Wednesday in the preliminary round. This should be one of the most exciting tilts in either the Men’s or Women’s tournament. These two programs have dominated Women’s Ice Hockey since it hit the world stage and the rivalry is at a fever pitch.
With it’s inclusion into the Winter Olympics in 1998, these two countries have dominated the sport with the USA taking one Gold, two Silver, and one Bronze medal. I am not going to profess to be an expert on the Women’s game but with two schools in Minny being prominent on a National level, (UMD & U of M) I do follow and of course when it is Olympic time I am all over it. With the two country dominance has come much debate on how to elevate the level of play of the other participants so it ceases to be a two team tourney.
That’s a hard call. The Scandinavian countries, Sweden and Finland in particular have had competitive teams but not consistently. Russia’s women’s program has seemed to have had trouble gaining traction and consistency, likewise for the other countries trying to get a grip on the world stage. For this go around it will most likely come down to the USA and Canada once again. So, how do I see it? Well, I have seen three of the exhibition matches between the two countries and the USA, from my viewpoint has the upper hand going in.
What is it that I have seen? Speed. And lots of it. In the exhibitions the USA was the much quicker team of the two and that will win puck races and increase puck control. The team is solid on defense, offense and on special teams. In fact, the speed of the USA has been a source of frustration for the Canadians to the point where they have tried to use physicality in a game that stresses non-intentional body contact to slow down the Americans which has led to a couple of major on-ice tussles in October and in December. At the end of the day I don’t see Canada staying with the Americans this time around, I don’t care how “fired up” they get.  USA gets Gold, Canada-Silver, Finland-Bronze…
ON THE MENS SIDE OF THE FENCE, the first games of the preliminaries will begin Wednesday morning with the USA getting their first taste of the Games on Thursday versus Slovakia. The Canadians will face Norway. These should be nothing more then mere tune-up games for the Yanks and the Canadians. I have been keeping close tabs on the NHL over the past few weeks with the games coming up trying to get a feel for what might happen as the tournament unfolds. There have been some injury concerns. Tampa Bay sniper Steve Stamkos had to pull out because his broken leg has not healed. The Wild’s Mikko Koivu is in a similar situation along with the CBJ’s Marian Gaborik and the Wings Pavel Datsyuk. Others have had to pull out, but these are the most prominent players sitting out and a decision on Pavel hasn’t been finalized yet. In addition, between Hockey Night in Canada radio and to a smaller extent, Sirius XM Home Ice NHL network, I am ready to hurl to the point whereby I hope the Canadians finish last in the whole dang tourney.
Yes, I know, that’s unlikely to occur. But I have had enough of the smarmy, arrogant hockey Canadians that I can’t wait to see someone knock them off of their high and mighty hockey perch! Their hockey arrogance is of the nature of picturing them speaking of hockey like Brit’s at an afternoon tea, pinky’s extended whilst they extol the virtues of their ice superiority. Throw in a few “harrumph’s” and I was reaching for the Pepto. The coup de’ grace was when a Maple Leafs writer suggested that Canada could send 3 teams and at least two of them would medal. This left me shaking my head and looking for something to break.
In the Men’s bracket I have broken it down to the four teams that I believe are the most
likely to medal. And in spite of what some of the hoity-toity Canadians believe, I don’t see their club as an automatic to medal. Those four are Team USA, Sweden, Russia and Canada. You might look at the USA roster and not think they have a strong shot. But I see a team that is consistently strong in all areas and if Jonathan Quick shows up with his Stanley Cup form or Ryan Miller arrives with his 2010 Olympic game, the USA will go far.
Russia has scorers, and goalies, (Bobrovsky and Varlamov) but I’m not certain of their backend and of their half NHL, half KHL roster makeup. We will see with them. Sweden has three of the best players in the World on their backend, G/Lundqvist, Ekman-Larsson and Karlsson on Defense and enough talent up front to get them through with some breaks. That leaves my buddies from north of the border. Now don’t get me wrong. I love Canada. I have some friends and acquaintances from there that I am totally fond of. It is a beautiful place. I also get the nationalistic pride and all of that. I mean, some us cling to the Miracle Team so intensely that it grates sometimes.
And for all of the Canadians strength’s on offense and defense, there are many that have some doubts about what they might have between the pipes in Sochi. They didn’t win Gold in 2010 because of Roberto Luongo for instance. (They won it because of ref Bill McCreary!) But Luongo has been chosen for this team and there are those that believe he should start. Carey Price is the other net minder vying for the one spot and when he is on he is one of the best in the world, when he is not he is average and has no track record of winning any “big test” games.
With the pre-eminence of the NHL in this tourney, and in spite of playing on the bigger sheet, I believe we are going to see a lot of basic NHL strategy with a little more room to operate. Canada has talent for sure, but I don’t see them as some unbeatable entity in this short tourney. Now, where is my cup of tea? Harrumph! PEACE

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