Posts Tagged ‘Olympics’

Why did Team Russia disappoint…again?

Posted: February 21, 2014 in NHL
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ovechkin

Entering the men’s hockey tournament in Sochi, the Russians were favored to win gold, or at least any medal. Now, with Wednesday’s 3-1 loss to Finland, the host nation will not be on the podium during the ceremony following the tournament’s conclusion on Sunday.

Despite being a world-renown hockey powerhouse, developing superstars such as Alexander Ovechkin, Ilya Kovalchuk, and Pavel Datsyuk, they have only medaled twice (neither of which gold) in the Olympics since the NHL was allowed in, in 1998, and haven’t medaled since 2002 at Salt Lake City. Despite this, they are favored to win something, be it gold or any medal, every Olympic games.

So how do they keep letting their proud motherland down?

There are a couple of explanations I will offer you: lack of chemistry, and a back end that just doesn’t shape up like other powerhouses.

Team chemistry is pretty difficult to create and maintain during the Olympic games. Players are separated from their teammates, with whom they’ve been playing for the entire season, if not longer, and joined with members of other teams, and in some cases, different leagues. Teams have maybe a couple of days to acquaint themselves before playing games. Team Russia may have had trouble here, as they had just 14 NHL players on their roster, along with 11 KHL players, compared to 25 NHLers for the USA and Canada, 24 for Sweden, and so on. The Russians had to adjust to new players they may or may not have seen before, with a half/half roster. It’s quite difficult creating good chemistry with players you just met a couple of days ago.

Alternatively, it may just be their back end. We know that they have offensive super-players like Ovechkin and Kovalchuk and Datsyuk, but their blue line crew isn’t quite up to world-class level. I will list them from most impactful in the NHL to least: Andrei Markov, Slava Voynov, Fedor Tyutin, Nikita Nikitin, Alexei Emelin, and Anton Belov (with Yevgeny Medvedev and Ilya Nikulin from the KHL). Once you pass Voynov on that list, it might take a true hockey fan, or just a local fan of their respective team, to know really who these players are. Markov’s been around the block, and Voynov was on a recent Cup winner. But there is a reason these guys aren’t so well known: they aren’t nearly as good as their mix-and-match front end. Combine a blue line you can’t completely trust, with boom-or-bust goalies Sergei Bobrovsky and Semyon Varlamov, it can lead to some holes in the back that even a dynamic (no KHL-team-related-pun intended) offense can’t make up.

I could be completely wrong on both ends here. I was just offering some ideas. They played tough teams that were just better than them, or had too much pressure on them to win as the host nation, much like Canada in 2010, or the USA in 1960 and 1980. But this has been a recurring theme for the Russians in the Olympics. They haven’t lived up to expectation in quite some time. Maybe it’s time they take a step back and reorganize their group for the 2018 games in Pyeongchang, although it’s quite a ways away.

They might have to if Vladimir Putin has his way, after this year’s showing.

latvia

 

I originally had in mind to watch the USA vs. Czech Republic game this afternoon, thinking it’d be somewhat competitive, while Canada would walk all over Latvia.

Oh boy was I wrong.

The USA beat the Czechs 5-1 to secure a spot in the medal round, which wasn’t a huge surprise. The Canada vs. Latvia game, meanwhile, made it’s case for game of the Olympics.

Most of the game was played in the Latvian end of the ice, with Patrick Sharp potting the first goal of the game at the 13:37 mark of the first period. At this point, I thought still that it’d be a blowout, and it wasn’t worth tuning in.

But the USA game took a small break in the play to clear off the ice, and I switched channels, just in time to catch something crazy. A set play off a faceoff saw Arturs Kulda spring loose Lauris Darzins for a breakaway and a goal on Carey Price to tie the game. The fans draped in maroon were jumping for joy. I was in disbelief.

Meanwhile, at the other end of the ice, Latvian goalie Kristers Gudlevskis was playing his heart out, stopping 15 of 16 in the first, and then all 19 shots in the second, to keep Latvia in the game. At the second intermission, I decided that this was the game to watch, because something special might happen.

At this point, it looked like the Canadians had a power play for the whole game. But every scoring opportunity the Latvians had, at any rush down the ice, you could hear the Latvian supporters cheering vigorously. The game was exciting.

There were two moments in that third period had me believing that this upset was possible.

First, a slap shot was fired from the point that felled Latvian defenseman Oskars Bartulis, who was clogging the middle. Bartulis was down on the ice for a few seconds, then got up, but was skating on one leg for the remainder of the shift. That moment was reminiscent of Gregory Campbell fracturing his leg blocking a shot in the Stanley Cup playoffs last year.

Second, a scramble in the net occurred after Jonathan Toews of Canada fired a shot that the Canadian team was convinced was in the net. The referee on scene called the play dead and went to the replay booth to confirm the call. The replay showed how remarkably close the Canadians were to the lead. The puck dribbled underneath Gudlevskis, and partially crossed the line when defenseman Kristaps Sotnieks gloved the puck and dragged it under Gudlevskis for a whistle, and to take away the goal.

The Latvians got a couple of chances to take the lead, until Georgijs Pujacs commited a penalty on which Shea Weber scored, giving the Canadians a 2-1 lead. At this point, at stoppages in the play, a trainer was coming off the bench to help Gudlevskis deal with fatigue. Gudlevskis finished the game with a whopping 55 saves on 57 shots. It wasn’t enough.

When Canada scored, I knew in the back of my head that it would put them over the top and win them the game. But I refused to believe it.

The game ended 2-1 Canada. Despite the loss, the Latvians got a standing ovation. They outhit the Canadians, and Gudlevskis so badly outplayed Carey Price, that they really deserved the win, despite getting outshot 57-16. Not to say that Canada played poorly, they played their game to near perfection. They just ran into a goalie who had the game of his life.

It would have been an upset for the ages, though. Despite it not happening, the Latvians deserved it.

The game didn’t have the camaraderie of a USA/Canada game, that we will get on Friday morning. The game didn’t have marquee names on both sides of the ice. The most notable players on the Latvian side are Zemgus Girgensons and former NHLer Sandis Ozolins. But it certainly had the excitement of one of those games.

It will be tough to unseat this game for game of the Olympics.

Steven-Stamkos-Shot

 

Steven Stamkos has missed the last 3 months of hockey, recovering from a broken tibia suffered on Veteran’s Day in Boston. He was looking at this weekend for his return, after rehabing well ahead of schedule. However, while seeking clearance from doctors to play again, it was revealed that the injury hasn’t completely healed, and that Stamkos would need to be pulled out of the Olympics.

Stamkos is widely known as one of, if not the, best pure scorer in the NHL. He was leading the NHL in goals at he time of his injury. But since then, he’s been sidelined, with the hopes of being able to play in Sochi. Now that that won’t happen, Canada had to look for a replacement.

Team Canada has plenty of offense to spread around, and it’s not to say that their high-powered attack will be hampered in any way by Stamkos’ absence. In fact, the player Canada chose to replace Stamkos is also a member of the Tampa Bay Lightning, Martin St. Louis, nearly just as dangerous with the puck, and one of the most elusive players in the game.

Stamkos will need more time to be re-evaluated, with the injury apparently not healing 100%. It makes sense that he was pulled from the games. St. Louis will be a more than serviceable replacement. Team Canada is still stacked to the brim with talented offensive players. The Canadians will still be the obvious favorites come puck drop in Sochi.

I will reserve my opinion on whether Team Canada will actually take gold in the games, but losing a guy with the ability to strike any time like Stamkos will always make a difference. Not to sneeze on St. Louis, who has stepped his game up dramatically since the injury to keep the Lightning in contention, but Stamkos is a once in a lifetime talent, with the ability to score at will from anywhere on the ice. Players like that are invaluable, and it may hamper Team Canada, just a little bit.

The gold medal is always far from a guarantee with any team, but having a guy like Stamkos can never hurt your chances. He will be missed by the Canadians, for sure.

The 22nd Winter Games is scheduled to start on Friday, February 7th, in Sochi, Russia. There is always excitement when it comes to the Olympic games, and the closer we get to the Games, the more you’ll see written about it.

Comedian Daniel Tosh mentioned how he hates the Winter Games because it’s a contest of “which country has more rich white kids”, and “who slides down a hill faster”. We all know how exciting the hockey games get, but Tosh has a decent point. Let’s take a look at why I’ll only really care to watch the hockey games.

Biathalon, Cross Country Skiing, Nordic Combined: These are in direct comparison with, say, the marathon. They involve people skiing (with variations on what exactly the contest is) very slowly and deliberately for long, long periods of time. So long, that they switch to other events, and return to one of these, and the race will not have changed. At all. The same dude is miles ahead of everyone, and it’s time to switch to another channel in hope something else is on.

Alpine Skiing, Ski Jumping, Speed Skating: These are actually pretty cool to watch, but it’s the same stuff over and over. One guy skis down the hill and is slightly faster than the guy before him. Another guy skates in a circle at high speeds slightly faster than another guy. Another guy flies farther than the previous one. British TV show Top Gear sent a rocket-powered Mini down a ski jump ramp, and it was awesome. But again, the actual event gets quite repetitive, much like swimming, or any various track/field competitions in the summer.

Bobsleigh, Luge, Skeleton: Who slides perfectly still down an icy tube faster? Granted it’s hard to do, it’s not very exciting, unless you hear the Jamaicans yell out “Feel the rhythm, feel the rhyme, get on up, it’s bobsled time! Cooooool runnings!”. Let’s be honest, NBC’s bobsled ratings will spike when the Jamaican bobsled team is ready to slide down the slope. The break-neck pace they slide at is wicked, but like the previous category, it gets repetitive.

Figure Skating: Wake me up when someone pulls off an Iron Lotus. Until then, I would rather not watch men in tights, unless it’s Robin Hood.

Curling: Mildly entertaining, because it’s silly to watch people vigorously sweeping ice with a broom. Unless the Norwegians are on, because of their pants. Which are way awesome and I want one.

Freestyle Skiing, Snowboarding: Have you seen the Winter X-Games? Good, because this is the exact same thing, but on a bigger stage with more prestige. It’s cool to see someone doing crazy flips and twists and sometimes fall on their bums. But it’s the same darn thing as the X-Games, which cuts into your valuable ESPN time.

Ice Hockey: It’s become the most anticipated event at the Olympics. For the 2010 Gold Medal game in Vancouver, 80% of Canada reportedly tuned in, and the other 20% was likely at their friend’s houses watching the game. At every hockey game you’ve watched on TV this season, they are talking about who’s gonna make the team. It’s the only sport on this list that really involved political views and entire countries stopped to celebrate, wherever they were. It’s where we believe in miracles.

I know that people still care about the other sports, and I’m cool with that. But let’s be honest here, the only games you will make time to tune in to, will be hockey.