Olympics: Hockey so far…

With the men’s Olympic hockey tournament underway, here are a few thoughts I’ve had from the opening games. At this point, all teams have played at least two games and we really are already separating the good from the bad and the ugly, as happens every year. The prelims really are just a warmup for the teams we know are going to make it to the medal round anyway, as they try and fuse a team together and get some momentum before the elimination games really begin.

Olympic-rings

  • Great job by Slovenia, the tiny former Yugoslav nation with fewer than 200 registered male hockey players, on getting their first ever Olympic win, over the reeling Slovakian team.
  • Even though Finland hasn’t dominated, as a Canadian fan, I am scared of what Tuuka Raask could do in the medal round.
  • The US team has looked dominant, maybe the best team in the tourney so far.
  • 4 goals by TJ Oshie in the shootout against Russia? Incredible. That will be seen as a classic game in no time.
  • Tough blow for Sweden, who were the favorites in my mind. Losing Henrik Zetterberg really hurts. He is a beast, and probably their best player. They have good team depth, however, and should be able to make a run at a medal without him. That D combination of Erik Karlsson and Oliver Ekman-Larsson is terrifying.
  • The uniforms: as awful as they were when they were released, they actually look pretty decent on the ice. That goes for most of the teams. I really like the Finnish flag jerseys, the Czech whites, and the Canada reds. Still a huge thumbs down for the black Canadian alternates, and those Russian ones look like a big mess with the white eagle heads. And is Austria just wearing the Canadian jerseys from 2010 with a different logo? No points for creativity there.

Now, specifically on the Canadian team:

  • I want Carey Price as my goalie moving forward. Luongo played well and got a shutout, but that was against Austria. I just don’t trust him to rise up like I would Price.
  • Crosby has been quiet, which shouldn’t really be a concern. He didn’t do tons in Vancouver, either, before scoring that one little goal of his…
  • I am endlessly impressed with our defense. Weber and Doughty have been great in both ends of the rink. Everyone else has been solid as well. No glaring giveaways, and it looks like they are all playing well together. This bodes well as we move forward, since in these short tournaments, D and goaltending are paramount.
  • Why is Rick Nash on this team again? I love to hate him.
  • Hopefully Canada got a scare from its close opening game against Norway. European teams can really shut it down out there, and Canada has to be willing to get dirty in the corners and messy in front of the net to get some mucker goals in order to bear those teams. For example, Switzerland gives you no chances, so you need to capitalize on every sniff you may get.
  • I don’t know if I like playing two easy teams off the hop. I would rather have had the Finns as a second game, a truer test for the team. Then an easy one to close the round robin. This would have given them a bit of a break going into the medal round. Now, they will be playing tough and meaningful games for the rest of the tournament. No more simple ones.
  • Again, those black jerseys were terrible.

It is very exciting going forward, to see which nation will rise above the others. There are still so many contenders out there, and it really is too tough to call at this point. The US looks like the team to beat, but that could change in a moment, which really is the best part about the Olympic tourney.

Go Canada Go!

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Olympics: Kaetlyn Osmond

There is nothing better in sports than the Winter Olympics. I will watch anything. There is a biathalon on? On it. A little bit of figure skating? Sure, why not? I don’t understand all the technical aspects of the sport, but I feel I get it enough to be a semi-intelligent viewer.

Obviously, my major draw is the hockey tournament, which starts later on in the week. In the meantime, we get the chance to feast on a bevy of fun and viewable sports, where we can cheer on Canadian athletes who have dedicated their lives to their sport, enduring years of grueling training in order to get their few minutes of glory on the world’s largest athletic stage.

You cheer for your country, first and foremost. But you cheer for the great stories, you cheer for the sport, you cheer for the underdogs. You cheer for all the good things that sport encompasses. For a while, you can forget about the politics of it, the problems that Sochi is having, and you can be a fan.

And there is nothing better.

osmondKaetlyn Osmond is our Canadian figure skating champion, and she is hard not to cheer for. At only 18 years old, she is our national champion, and the future of Canadian figure skating. For the past years, she moved across the country to train in Edmonton, while attending Vimy Ridge Academy in the city in order to complete her high school education while driving towards becoming the best that our nation has to offer in the discipline. She is cute, and friendly, and driven to win. She loves to skate. And all of us her in Edmonton are behind her.

Her initial programs in the competition are for the new team competition. Sure, she may have taken a tumble in her long program, but we still look at her with pride. The students of Vimy Ridge Academy are behind her, abuzz that a girl who graduated only in June is representing all of us at the Olympics. This was someone they would occasionally pass in the halls, share a class with, or simply know about through the stories of her victories.

Kaetlyn is a great story, and with years to go in her career, we hope for endless success. For her, for our country, and for sport.

Edit: With her performance, Kaetlyn is now an Olympic medalist! She has helped secure Canada the silver medal in the team skate competition. Great work Kaetlyn!

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Captain Crosby

Of course Sidney Crosby needed to be the captain of Team Canada’s Olympic Hockey Team.

He is the best hockey player in the world. He is the face of the NHL. He is a Stanley Cup champion. He has won Olympic Gold before, from that little overtime goal that may be the most memorable moment for an entire generation of hockey fans in Canada.

Photography by Kristian Bogner Copyright 2011. All Rights Reserved.It is definitely possible to debate Crosby as our captain. He has had a history of whining to refs, but that was before he matured in to the player he is now. There is also Jonathan Toews, who has won two Cups with Chicago, and presents himself in the stoic manner of other Canadian legends, such as Steve Yzerman and Joe Sakic. But is seems natural that Crosby is the choice, simply because he is the best. Over the years of being scouted and being a phenom from an early age, he has been saddled with pressure to perform since he was a kid. And nothing will change as the team heads over to Sochi, Russia, to attempt to defend our gold medal on foreign soil, on the much bigger ice that gives our guys fits.

There is no debate from me on this choice. Crosby is the perfect captain for us, the natural leader of this team. Along with him, I really like the selections of Toews and Shea Weber as his assistants. A great group, all with tons of experience.

Hopefully enough to help lead us to gold once again.

Quick Thoughts: Team Canada Olympic Hockey Roster

So it has finally been announced after months of debate, that will surely carry on now that we can debate who made it and who didn’t. In Canada, it is no secret that the majority of us base our Olympic viewing around the hockey team, and so many of our hopes rest on the team assembled for each Games. 

2014_olympics_three_jerseys_640original_127301Here is the list of players that made it:

Forwards: Jamie Benn, Patrice Bergeron, Jeff Carter, Sidney Crosby, Matt Duchene, Ryan Getlzaf, Chris Kunitz, Patrick Marleau, Rick Nash, Corey Perry, Patrick Sharp, Steven Stamkos, John Tavares, Jonathan Toews.

Defense: Jay Bouwmeester, Drew Doughty, Dan Hamhuis, Duncan Keith, Alex Pietrangelo, PK Subban, Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Shea Weber.

Goalies: Roberto Luongo, Carey Price, Mike Smith

Some of my thoughts on the picks:

  • I feel like Rick Nash is done. He is now dealing with concussion issues, and only has 8 goals this year. He has always been tons of promise, with little follow through. Sure, he has nice hands, skates well, and is a big body, but I would have chosen James Neal over him in a heartbeat.
  • I want Price to be our starting goalie.
  • How amazing is that D? Far and away the deepest group in the tournament.
  • Perplexed by Hamhuis getting named to the team. I may have gone with Seabrook as by defensive D-man instead.
  • Don’t like Marleau on this team. He was solid in Vancouver, but has a history of not showing up in the biggest games, and I feel like his time is done.
  • One of the more controversial picks, Kunitz, is fine by me. Anyone who keeps Sid going is fine. 
  • Glad that Jamie Benn, one of the biggest camp snubs, made the team. Big, can skate, can finish.
  • Same for Sharp. He has been way too hot lately to ignore. Throw him with anyone and he’ll score.
  • Jeff Carter? I never actually thought of him in the discussion for the team. Would rather have Martin St. Louis on there. Or Claude Giroux. Not nearly the same size as Carter, but it wouldn’t matter on the large ice.
  • There are two Canadian players who are 5’11”. And they are the smallest, with everybody else over 6′. That is a big team.
  • Smart moves: leaving Taylor Hall, Joe Thornton, and Dan Boyle at home. Hall can’t play in his own end and is very poor without the puck, Thornton is too slow for the big ice, despite being a generationaly good setup man, and Boyle is over-the-hill, having a poor year, and I was surprised he was being considered. 
  • Shocked Logan Couture didn’t make it, even with his recently injured hand. He will be on the next team, for sure. 
  • I think there is a good combination of finesse, scoring, and grit on this team to rightfully be a favorite for the Gold. Canada, Sweden, Russia and a darkhorse Finland (I just love those goalies) are my Top 4 teams. The US isn’t far behind.
  • Weakest area is in net. I’ve never been sold on Luongo, as we won last time in spite of him, not because of him. Price has been big before, but has also gone through major slumps. I think Smith is a systems goalie, and kind of surprised he is on there ahead of Corey Crawford.
  • Too bad those uniforms are just so ugly. I thought for a moment that they were growing on me. But then they weren’t. Will probably still buy one, thought. Sadly.

Quick Thoughts: Team USA Olympic Hockey Roster

Following the Winter Classic game in Detroit today, the US announced their Olympic hockey team for the upcoming games in Sochi, Russia. Immediately, we look to the players that didn’t make the cut, such as Bobby Ryan, Erik Johnson, Jack Johnson, Kyle Okposo, or my most surprising omission, Keith Yandle.

usa-hockey-2014-jerseysHere are the players (from cbssports.com):

Left Wing: Dustin Brown, Max Pacioretty, Zach Parise, James van Riemsdyk. A little bit of everything here. Brown is tough, Parise is fast, and Pacioretty can finish. I like this group.

Center: David Backes, Ryan Kesler, Joe Pavelski, Paul Stasny. Backes has become a favorite of mine, and there is good toughness here with him and Kesler. Not sold on the Stasny pick. It seems like the high point of his career is past him, and he is no longer an offensive force.

Right Wing: Ryan Callahan, Patrick Kane, Phil Kessel, TJ Oshie. Love the inclusion of Oshie. Kane is one of the best, and Callahan has grit and leadership.

Extra Forwards: Derek Stepan, Blake Wheeler. This is where it is surprising that Bobby Ryan didn’t make the cut.

Defense: Cam Fowler, John Carlson, Ryan McDonagh, Justin Faulk, Brooks Orpik, Paul Martin, Ryan Suter, Kevin Shattenkirk. Big youth movement here! I like these picks, although Orpik sort of sticks out like a sore thumb to me. It’s important to have defensive-minded players, but it seems to me that Orpik isn’t the best at doing this. I foresee him struggling on the bigger ice in more wide-open situations. Not a ton of size and definitely missing some angry with these picks, but that’s not the most important thing on the big ice. The team was going for speed, and they will get it with these D. There will be a ton of pressure on these young guys, and it will be interesting to see how they react. The worst-case scenario is that they do poorly, but Team USA is set up for the next couple of Olympics with this group able to grow together.

Goalies: Jonathan Quick, Ryan Miller, Jimmy Howard. No surprises here. Won’t be surprised if Miller comes in and takes over the starter’s role. He still has a ton of fight left in him, and has been doing his best in a bad situation in Buffalo this year. Plus, a big Olympics could boost his trade value even more. A little concerned with the Quick injury, but he will be back on the ice soon enough and will be able to get plenty of action in before going to Russia.

Overall, I don’t know that this team has near the same depth that Canada will once it reveals its roster. But something the US has been good at doing in the last couple Olympics is put together good teams, not necessarily just a collection of the best players. With this team, I feel they will be in the running for the medals. The US always seems to step it up, even when they are not expected to (see 2010 Games in Vancouver). I don’t see them as a gold medal threat, but I can easily picture them playing for bronze. Really, this tourney comes down to who has the hottest goalies (and I will call Finland as being a good dark horse pick, because their goaltending situation is amazing). Most glaring weakness for me is on the back end, and that could expose their goalies a little too much in such a short tournament.They also seem that they will struggle to score goals, because outside of Kane and maybe Kessel, they lack some true snipers. There is plenty of grit up front, and we will see how that works out for them.

Only a few weeks and we’ll get to see!