The Games of the 21st Winter Olympiad are just about halfway home. For those of you not sick of the seemingly endless stream of Mary Carillo allegedly heart-wrenching fluff features, here are some of the biggest story lines from the premier competition of these Games.
The men’s ice hockey tournament is off to a schizophrenic start (and yes, fans of sequin-vested Russians, it is the premier sport). We’re now in the middle of the third round of games, and I no one is asserting anything looking like dominance on the tournament just yet. Let’s take it team by team to see where everyone stands:
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Canada: When I thought of writing this on Thursday, I thought by opening observation would be about how strong Les Habitants looked after their thrashing of Norway. But the Swiss begged to differ. I don’t know what it is about the Swiss, but they the biggest threat to Canada since Alan Alda in “Canadian Bacon”. If they were ever to somehow meet up in the knockout rounds, and the Swiss were to pull the upset, Stephen Harper would have no choice but to declare war. I’m picturing something like the US invading Kuwait in the first Gulf War, only instead of oil wells and deserts, we’ll have ski resorts and chocolate factories burning through the night.Coming in, you had to think the only way for the Swiss to keep it close would be for Jonas Hiller to summon the ghosts of Martin Gerber in Torino, and that’s exactly what he did. They really deserved a better fate. But in that shootout, even if you are the most ardent of optimists, was there anyone who would actually admit to believing that Sidney Crosby wasn’t going to score on his second shootout attempt? Or that Martin Brodeur was going to let anything by him? Even Jean-Jacques Rousseau couldn’t get behind either of those.
USA: The Red, White, and Blue are still a mystery, but tomorrow’s game against Canada is their litmus test, to say the least. This team probably goes as far as Ryan Miller is willing to take them. He’s a great goalie, but this is one of the deepest goaltending fields I’ve seen (case and point: he probably doesn’t even make the Canadian team behind that goaltending Cerberus). There are some good support scorers, but does anyone really see Ryan Malone taking over and carrying this team to victory? They just don’t have that mystique that surrounded guys like Jeremy Roenick, Doug Weight, Keith Tkachuk, and Billy Guerin. At least not yet.
Switzerland: I may not know Roman Wick from Air Wick, and I keep wondering why a pasta dish like Hnat Domenichelli is playing left wing, but this is a fun team. (By the way, I can’t be the only person who smiles a little bit when I hear Domenichelli a former Hartford Whaler. Where have you gone, Kevin Dineen?) Their game against Norway today wasn’t exactly a display of awe-inspiring skill, but it was intense, gritty, and just plain fun.
Norway: When you’re trying to figure out ways to maximize the number of shifts Patrick Thoresen gets, there’s really not much to say about your medal hopes. However, Tore Vikingstad does win an unofficial gold for coolest name in the field.
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Russia: See first line of Canada’s description. They’re probably in the toughest group of the three, and will have to work hard against the Czechs tomorrow to get the quarterfinal bye. How can a team with wingers like these (uh, Evgeni Malkin, Ilya Kovalchuk, and Maxim Afinogenov is the SECOND line!) not get more than one goal past Jaroslav Halak. The goalie situation isn’t too stable either, and two goals on just 20 shots can’t inspire much confidence in supposed number one Evgeni Nabokov (who’s always had such success in the playoffs, and is, after all, from Kazakhstan. We should get this guy to investigate.) As so often is the case in tournaments such as these, if you have three starting goalies, you don’t have any starting goalies.
Czech Republic: I have a confession: I had to look up who the Czech’s number one goalie was. Then I had to check through the roster to figure up what would happen if in net if Tomas Vokoun got food poisoning or missed the team bus. It’s not pretty. Vokoun’s capable of a gargantuan effort from time to time, but a 3-8 playoff record doesn’t exactly scream big-time goalie pedigree.
Slovakia: I hope I’m not beating this cliché too much, but this team goes as far as Halak takes them. Marian Gaborik, Marian Hossa, and the eight Slovaks the Blues had from 1999-2002 have always brought the offense with aplomb, but defense will yet again determine their fate. But don’t underestimate a great generation of players (Pavol Demitra, Michal Handzus, Lubos Bartecko, Miroslav Satan, Ziggy Palffy, and Richard Zednik) in their last Olympic go-round.
Latvia: As I’m writing this, Slovakia is in the middle of a 5-0, no wait, 6-0 romp of the Latvians. They’re probably the only team in this field that I would truly say is “bad”. Oh, how you are missed, Arturs Irbe!
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Sweden: I’m still unsure about the Swedes. I know better than to write off the defending Olympic Champs but something seems to be missing. They’ve got some great two-way forwards, vets like Peter Forsberg and Daniel Alfredsson, and a great goalie in Henrik Lundqvist, though he’s a bit banged up. (Oh, how you are forgotten, Tommie Salo!) But if there’s one hallmark of the Swedes, in addition to some of the coolest jerseys around, it’s their ability to make the whole much greater than the sum of its parts. There’s three things the Swedes do–neutrality, vodka, and on-ice chemistry–and they do them well.
Finland: When you’re two top forwards, Saku Koivu and Teemu Selanne, average 37 years of age, there’s some cause for concern. They are one of the few squads that rate with the host country in terms of goaltending depth thanks to Miikka Kiprusoff and Niklas Backstrom. But a medal threat, probably not.
Germany: You know, even without Olaf Kolzig erroneously playing for a team some 5,000 miles away from his birth place, at least all those guys that San Jose somehow drafts from the Black Forest make the Germans respectable.
Belarus: They should give Latvia a tough test in the 11th place game.
The first week’s results are all well and good, but tomorrow’s three games–The battle of North America, the battle of Scandinavia, and Russia-Czech Republic (sorry, I’m out of clever monikers)–will paint a much more definitive picture of the tournament.
– Matthew De George ’10