The following ran in Wednesday’s edition of “The Committed Indian”. In some other organizational developments, it’s been a bad couple days to be a former Blackhawk 2nd round pick. On Wednesday, defenseman Simon Danis-Pepin was sent to Toledo of the ECHL. Then on Thursday, Akim Aliu was sent to Toledo. Anyways, on to the good stuff.
For those who spent the last two weeks with their pants off, you’re likely experiencing a heroin-like withdrawal now that Olympic hockey has officially ended. It’s not hard to understand: the recently ended Olympic tournament was the most successful since the NHL started sending its players in 1998.
A lot of the tournament’s success had to do with the new format adopted (all 12 teams qualified for the single-elimination tournament – something never done before.); but it was mostly because this was the perfect storm of young, exciting players displaying their skills for the entire world to see. The only other year that could compare to this year’s talent pool would have been in 1988 if the NHL allowed its players to compete. You would’ve seen a young Mario Lemieux, Patrick Roy, Steve Yzerman, Chris Chelios, Brett Hull, and Gretzky in his prime. Yeah, that probably would’ve been pretty special.
Either way, the Games are done and all that’s left for us to do is take out the trash – our specialty. In the order of the final standings, here are our final thoughts about each nation:
1. Canada – A team loaded with future Hall-of-Famers and current All-Stars, it still took an overtime to win their precious gold medal. Great, now we can just go back to ignoring you for the next four years. On the bright side, tell me any of you are still worried about the great San Jose Sharks after seeing their top line go transparent in the biggest game of the tournament (and their Russian goalie go numb in the quarters).
2. USA – We’ve only been saying since December how sneaky-stacked the U.S.’s roster was. As the youngest team in the tournament, America will only be that much better when 2014 rolls around. Anyone who still complains about the NTDP will be railroaded by David Backes.
3. Finland – Holy hell, was this the most annoying roster ever assembled. The Koivus, the Ruutus, Olli Jokinen, Jere Lethinen, Sami Salo; this team was loaded with guys you’ve fantasized about axing to death. When America blitzkrieg’d them in the medal round, we may or may not have been reprimanded at work for screaming, “Suck my junk Jokinen!!!”
4. Slovakia – You probably don’t recall that Slovokia went undefeated in the ’06 Preliminary round only to lose to the Czech Republic in the quarterfinals. This time, the Slovaks went farther than they’ve ever gone but it still wasn’t enough to nab a medal. And by God, was that really Tomas Kopecky reeking havoc on their top line? Had Slovakia not had to rely on Pavol Demitra, Michael Handzus and Josef Stumpel to center the likes of Marian Hossa and Marian Gaborik, maybe the Slovaks would have medaled.
5. Sweden – Apparently that was the King Henrik Ranger fans have been bitching about all year. Lundqvist rolled out the red carpet for Slovokia when he allowed four goals on 14 shots in Sweden’s quarterfinal match. The rest of the team looked either completely disinterested or had one foot in the retirement home. After Nicklas Lidstrom calls it a career in a couple years, the Swedes may have some real problems when it comes to competing with the big boys in the World Championships and Olympics.
6. Russia – They were, by far, the most flawed team of the tournament. With a head coach more concerned with not pissing off the KHL players and brass, and a roster full of lesser talent to appease their federation, it was only a matter of time before everything exploded spectacularly. And did it ever in the quarterfinals when the Canadians bent them over the kitchen sink. Anyone still willing to send their first-born sons, Patrick Sharp, Dustin Byfuglien, Cam Barker, and the ghost of Jim Cummins for Ilya Kovalchuk? Moreover, you think the NHL’s still worried about having its best talent poached by the Russian league to co-star with Aleksey Morozov?
7. Czech Republic – Does Jaromir Jagr still think he can play in the NHL after most of his brain matter was scattered about Canada Hockey Place by Alexander Ovechkin? For five games, Jagr took the kind of physical abuse not seen since Brett Favre in the NFC Championship Game. After winning the gold in ’98 and nabbing the bronze in ’06, it was a very disappointing finish for the Czechs, who lacked the requisite high-end talent this time around. It was also nice to see old lover Martin Havlat on a regular basis even if he was channeling his ’07 version rather than last year’s Christ-on-Skates version.
8. Switzerland – They took the Americans down to the wire in the quarterfinals and lasted until a shootout against the Canadians. Not bad for a team with only two NHL players. With Jonas Hiller in net, the Swiss will always be dangerous in these short tournaments. If the NHL allows its players to compete in 2014, the Swiss will be a true sleeper with Hiller and 2010 1st round pick Nino Niederreiter anchoring their offense.
9. Belarus – The good news is the Kotstitsyn brothers didn’t burn the city to the ground. That’s about it.
10. Norway – It wasn’t a bad showing for the Norweigans who were participating in their first Olympic tournament in 16 years. They took the Slovaks to the wire during their qualifying playoff; they hung around with the Americans for a couple periods; and they competed with Canada for a period. We patted you on the head; now please go away.
11. Germany – It wasn’t very pretty for Team Deutschland. Some gave them a fighting chance with Thomas Griess in net. Certainly after only losing 2-0 to Sweden in their opening game, it looked like they might be a nuisance. Then everyone realized Sweden wasn’t that good. That was pretty much it for Germany, but at least their uniforms, which looked beautifully similar to the Canucks of the mid-90’s, scored points with the host city.
12. Latvia – This was the perfect example for how well the tournament was formatted this year. After getting spanked in three games during the preliminary round, the Latvians still had their chance for glory when they played the Czech Republic in the qualifying round. Latvia gave them all they could handle and nearly pulled off the amazing upset. That, our friends, is what makes Olympic hockey so damn fun.
Now, all us Olympic hockey lovers can do is put our pants back on and wait another four years. Of course, the NHL’s participation in the 2014 Olympics is anything but written in stone.
But, don’t fret: two major points support the players’ participation in four years. First, the NHL’s current public stance – that it won’t allow the players to go – was born out of a poor 2006 tournament; 2010’s featured a final of both North American squads, which is good business for the NHL. Next, with CBA negotiations just around the corner, the league has no incentive to come out publicly in support of sending its players; rather, they’ll use the public stance as a bargaining chip in two summers. Our call: we haven’t seen the last of NHL players in the Olympics.
Just keep your pants on until then.