State Of The Nations: 5 Takeaways From The Olympic Hockey Tournaments
The U.S. Becoming More And More Like Their Neighbours
As far as registered hockey players go, the Yanks are catching up to Canada, and are thus, producing some fantastic hockey players. Their team this year didn’t have the superstars of their northern rival, but was loaded with very good NHLers. While everyone is clamouring over the McDavid draft in two years time, the U.S. has a mega prospect of their own in Jack Eichel. In their semi-final game against Canada, the U.S. were thoroughly outplayed, yet kept the game a fluke away from being tied. They gave themselves a chance to win against the best team in the world.
It’s not just producing a high number of elite talents that makes the U.S. similar to Canada; it’s their newfound gold-or-bust attitude. Simply put, that bronze medal game wasn’t nearly as important to the Americans as it was to the Fins. Just as it would’ve have been for Canada. That might not be what supporters of the U.S. Olympic Team want to hear, but it shows that the days of just trying to compete at the world level are over. Be it at the junior, women’s and now men’s level, the Americans are going for gold.
Scandinavia Still Strong
With Sweden and Finland finishing 2nd and 3rd respectively, they managed to hang on to the top two spots in the IIHF’s world rankings. As flawed as those rankings might be, they do reflect a steady stream of success for the two small Scandinavian nations. Finland has won more men’s hockey medals at the Olympics than any other country since NHLers started competing. Sweden, after winning the World Championships on home soil last spring, did themselves well in Sochi, winning silver with a hampered-by-injury roster, and that was before Backstrom failed a drug test.
Russia Has Things To Figure Out
After failing to medal in Nagano, Hockey Canada held a summit to figure out a better way to develop hockey players. It’s tough to know what the effect of the summit was, (Crosby was already a twelve year old phenom at the time), but some soul searching could do the Russians some good. They fell short of expectations, and couldn’t use a preliminary loss to the Americans as a turning point the way the Canadians did in Vancouver. Going into the Olympics, much talk was made about how anything short of gold would make the entire games a failure in the eyes of the Russian people. Thankfully for them, a spectacular performance in non-hockey events, kept that from being the case. Still though, they could and should do better.
What Happened To Former Czechoslovakia?
For many years, Slovakia and the Czech Republic were considered medal dark horses, capable of surprising despite not being at quite the level of the Big Four. This tournament was a disaster for them, with neither country really impressing. It could be a sign that they have failed to keep pace with other hockey powers, or it could be an anomaly, but either way, more was expected.
Canada Looked Ok I Guess
In a short tournament, with single game elimination, it doesn’t take much for the best team to come up short. That was not the case this time around, with Canada going undefeated, and never even trailing en route to a second consecutive Olympic gold medal. They managed to put on a great defensive performance, without resorting to the kind of collapsing, passive system used by the Finlands and Switzerlands of the world. Much was made about the lack of playing time for P.K. Subban, but in the end they didn’t need him. Ditto for Claude Giroux, James Neal, Joe Thornton, Steven Stamkos and so on. The goaltending, which was supposed to be their biggest weakness, was superb. Everyone seems to consider the semi-final game against the U.S. to be a dominant performance, but in the first ten minutes the Americans had some great chances, all turned away by Price. He was great.
Women’s Hockey Progressing
The new format helped, but this Olympics didn’t have the double-digit blowouts of Olympic games past. Capped off by a thrilling gold-medal game, the women’s tournament was a success. Gone are the fears of women’s hockey being excluded from future Olympics, and that’s a good thing. Here’s a link to the highlights of the final game, with some very entertaining British play-by-play. Keep your ears open for an instant classic, “And the Canadians have levelled it!” Followed by, “And now the Maple Leafs believe!”
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