And now the real game begins.
We’ve made it through the elimination and quarterfinal rounds at the Olympic men’s hockey tournament. We’re now at the semifinals where ancient rivalries will be renewed on Friday as Finland takes on Sweden and the United States battles Canada for a shot at the gold medal. Before we preview the semis, let’s take a look at the quarters.
In need of a new Russian revolution?
I was one of the many people that bought into the hype that Russia was going to at least clinch a silver medal. However, there needs to be some serious changes in the Russian system. The loss prompted shock and anger within the country. The blame is already starting to go around in this whole nightmare. The Russian coach called out Alex Ovechkin and blamed him for the loss. (It only got worse for him as his dad suffered a heart attack.)
Ovie may have had another subpar tournament, but it hardly should all be on him. He was the only one that had the stones to talk to the media after the rest of the team stormed away after the loss to Finland. CBC’s Elliote Freidman did say that Columbus Blue Jackets goalie Sergei Bobrovsky and Detroit Red Wings forward Pavel Datsyuk did talk to the press afterwards.
Bobrovsky did come back to do a couple...apparently Datsyuk did speak to some of the writers, but Ovechkin carried the biggest load.— Elliotte Friedman (@FriedgeHNIC) February 19, 2014
To blame the loss singlehandedly on Ovechkin is insane. How about selecting more NHL players that were familiar with international play? (Sergei Gonchar, anyone?) What about the decision to start Semyon Varlamov instead of Bobrovsky against the Finns? What about the lack of scoring and anemic power play? Is Ovie completely innocent? Of course not, but he’s further down the list than people think.
The other lesson is that the KHL is nowhere as good as the NHL. Sure, Alex Radulov and llya Kovalchuk did deserve spots on the team, but the other KHLers looked lost out there. The NHL Russians were familiar with the guys on the U.S. and Finland. They would’ve been ready for the games. Is the KHL bad? No, but it’s not the elite league as the Russians want to believe. Russian management’s insistence on trying to prove the KHL is superior cost them a shot a medal.
The United States and Canada may be grabbing all the headlines, but let’s not forget how good Finland and Sweden are playing. Both teams have been plagued by injury, but the Finns and Swedes keep plugging along. They play great defensive hockey and have solid goaltending.
Finland frustrated Canada and Russia after a sloppy game against Austria. Sweden grabbed the top seed after winning all three games in regulation. Many of the experts had the U.S., Russia and Canada penciled in for the medals, but Sweden or Finland could sneak in and take the gold. Tukka Rask and Henrik Lundqvist have stolen many an NHL playoff game, and can do it again. I’ll get to the semifinal later, but let’s give props to these teams.
Love for the little guy
There have been some great stories besides who has advanced in the tournament. Let’s give some love for Austria and Slovenia as they advanced further than anyone thought. Latvia gave Canada one hell of a ride thanks to Kristers Gudlevskis. (Canada’s Carey Price called it one of the best performances that he’s seen.) If you dig a little bit, you’ll find great stories. I bet you that a bunch of Slovenian and Latvian players may get looks from NHL scouts after their performances. It’s how Mats Zuccarello got a look after a great 2010 Olympics in Vancouver.
And now we get to preview for the excellent semifinals that we’re in store for tomorrow.
Sweden vs. Finland
It’s a battle that has been brewing since the days of the Vikings as these two teams have survived injuries to get to the semifinals. The Swedes beat the Finns 3-2 in the gold medal game at the 2006 games in Torino.
Sweden has The King in Henrik Lundqvist and has been scoring plenty of goals in the tournament and their great defensive pairings (even without Victor Hedman) have been locking down teams. They’ve been plugging in guys since Tomas Holmstrom went down. I did say in one of my earlier previews that Sweden would challenge for a medal.
However, let’s not underestimate Finland. People keep overlooking this team as a medal contender, but the Finnish keep doing their thing by playing solid defensive hockey and cashing in on their chances when they present themselves. There’s a lot of promise in the Finns future in guys like Olli Maatta and Mikael Granlund. Plus, they have a Stanley Cup-winning goalie in Tukka Rask of the Boston Bruins and the ageless Teemu Selanne.
My prediction is that I think the Swedes just have a little too much offense for Finland. These two are even in pretty much every category, but the speed of the Swedish forwards will carry them to a 3-1 win.
United States vs. Canada
The other intense rivalry will take place as Canada takes on the U.S. for a shot at the winner of Finland-Sweden. This rivalry has been cultivated since these players were kids as they’ve played each other for years in youth hockey tournaments.
The Americans come into the game in better shape as they’ve lit up the scoreboard with 20 goals in their four games. The nagging question of goaltending hasn’t been much an issue except for the Russia game, where Jonathan Quick stepped up and matched Sergei Bobrovsky. Phil Kessel, Joe Pavelski and James vanRiemsdyk have looked fantastic.
Canada on the other hand is still tinkering with their lines looking for a great scoring combination. It’s not going to help that one of the most dynamic playmakers in hockey John Tavares is out for the rest of the NHL season. Carey Price has made some good saves and stood tall in the face of Canada’s struggling offense. Drew Doughty and Shea Weber have carried the team on defense and offense.
Even though Canada may not be on its game, they are still dangerous. You can throw the records and recent play out the window. However, we can’t ignore how well Team USA’s offense has been playing. I think Quick can match Price and the American offense will get revenge for 2010 with a 4-3 win to set a date with Sweden.
If you think my predictions are wrong, let me know by tweeting me @DanMountSports or commenting below. Enjoy the games because I will. Take care.
Dan Mount is an NHL writer for TJRSports.com. He is based out of Watertown, NY.