Are the Guardians of Hockey failing the game?

Marc Elliott

Matt Cullen scores versus NY Isles
Matt Cullen scores versus NY Isles

MOUNT ROYAL… It is just after 10 bells on this Monday eve and I am deep into the USA-Slovakia Men’s Olympic hockey tilt at the moment and the USA has just scored a Power Play goal to go ahead 2-0. After a bizarre series where a Slovakian player ran over USA netminder Ryan Zapolski and then moments later another Slovakian player gave American forward Ryan Donato a forearm shiv to the chops, the USA has a 5 on 3 opportunity. The US scored 18 seconds later on a James Wisniewski shot from just above the circles. This is the start of the elimination brackets, so Team USA should keep the pedal to the metal all the way here, it is now win or load up the luggage.

There has been a lot of exciting hockey at the 2018 Games thus far but with low expectations for the USA Men’s team it has left me wondering how this tournament is going over with the bulk of the fans of the game. (I haven’t seen any hard data TV ratings yet) The US entry went 1-1-1 in pool play losing the opening game to Slovenia in OT 3-2, (giving up a 2-0 lead) before besting tonight’s opponent 2-1 and then getting a, I’m not sure how to put this, before getting a hockey lesson from the “Olympic Athletes from Russia” otherwise known as the “OAR” team in a 4-0 domination style loss. It was an extraordinarily intense contest with the USA Coaching staff refusing the post-game handshakes. This will be the last time during these games that I will refer to them as “OAR” or anything like it. This is Team Russia pure and simple and their alleged “punishment” dealt out due to their doping scandal from the 2014 Sochi games is a joke. Should innocent athletes be punished? No, but guilty Olympic Organizing Committees should be, and the Russians cheated and should have been banned in TOTAL from these games. **The USA tilt is headed for the 2nd intermission with the USA up 3-1 and this game is getting rougher by the minute. 

I have seen several tilts on the Men’s side of the tourney. Among my favorite games so far was the Czech-Canada game, won by the Czechs in a 3-2 barnburner. And, I’m not sure with the rosters at these games, do you call this an upset? Would be if the NHLer’s were there, that’s for sure. I saw the Czech-Swiss game, and this was an incredible tilt and was very close until the end when the Czech team pulled away on 2 empty net goals for a 4-1 win. Team USA has just packed the Slovaks suitcases for them with a 5-1 victory. Speed and skill beat out size and brawn, and some skill of course. Their reward will be a meeting with the Czech Republic on Tuesday evening. How am I handicapping this one? The Czech netminder Pavel Francouz has been one of the sharper goalies at these games in my opinion. We are going to have our work cut out for us, it doesn’t get easier from here… 

ON THE WOMENS side of the Games, I just might be more into this then anything else in the Games. It has been intense, there is a much bigger Minnesota presence on the Woman’s team,
and for the top 4 to 5 teams, the skill and competitive level has been outstanding. Of course, the 
semis came down to the USA versus Finland and Canada versus the Russians. Both the US and 
the Canadians were 5-0 victors. Last week in pool play the US dropped a hotly contested game 
2-1 to their top rivals. On the GWG the commentators believed the Canadians were offsides and 
that the goal should have been washed out. I have seen the replay many times and it was almost 
too close to say. Since both clubs had already advanced into the semifinals, this game was 
basically an exhibition tilt. How will the Gold Medal game go down? If the USA wants victory 
this time around I think they are going to have to get an early lead and push hard all the way 
through. Head Coach and Duluthian Robb Stauber has kept his starting netminders close to his 
vest throughout, but I must believe that UMD Bulldog Maddie Rooney will get the nod 
between the pipes. You know who I want, and the winner will have to have a focus that we can’t 
imagine. Just writing about this is starting to get me twisted up….

DO YOU KNOW ANY fans on the men’s side of the games who are happy that the NHL isn’t 
there? I don’t. And after some dialogue about it in the early games I haven’t heard much talk 
about it since. The level of play has been better then expected, but still not what it would be if the 
NHL players were on hand, but the games have been intense and incredible nonetheless. I have 
enjoyed watching more than I thought I would. The early chat that I had heard revolved around 
why the NHL owners weren’t in favor of going and a major part of the reasoning was obvious; 
money. They say they lose money by going. We know that not all travel costs are covered, and it 
must cost revenue to shut down and reopen the league. That is a tangible thing and it can be 
What can’t be measured is an intangible. How much good faith and goodwill have they lost by 
not attending? And therein lies the challenge, there exists no calculator for that. We will know in 
short order if hockey fans intense or casual tuned in and watched. As soon as the final TV 
numbers are analyzed we will know how that went. For me, geez, I’d drive 100 miles to watch a 
mite game. But what about the guy who is just beginning to get into the game and was really 
hoping for a best on best tourney? Those fans in that category might not be too happy. I know of 
some fans over the last weekend that vowed that they would tune into the Olympics but that 
they weren’t going to watch a single NHL game and they hoped that someone would notice. 
Obviously, everything that NHL Commish Gary Bettman does is at the behest of the NHL 
owners and apparently, their accountants. I get it. But sometimes you must look past what it 
says on the paper. I believe the league and the game have moved forward quite a bit in the past 
few years. I hope this move hasn’t halted or slowed that down…PEACE

THE MN WILD go 2-3 on their 5 game homestand, but open their 3-game road trip with a 5-3 
win over the NY ISLES today and are still in the 8 spot for the playoffs! Over & Out!