Sunday, February 28, 2010

Olympic Winners And Losers

What a finish in men's hockey in Vancouver. From the intense preliminary games, to a gold medal finish between two rival countries, you could not ask for a better Olympic tournament. The following is my list of winners and losers over the last two weeks. It will be my last look at the XXI Winter Games of the Olympiad as the NHL returns and heads down the homestretch.

The winners:

Team Canada - The pressure of winning gold in front of the home crowd nearly did them in. They started sluggishly having to beat the Swiss in a shoot out and a shocking loss to USA in the preliminaries. But they turned it around. Minus a few close calls, they demolished their biggest rival in Russia in the quarter finals sending them home with no medals. And they played the two most watched and most revered games against a new up an coming rival in Team USA. It would be an assistant captain scored a goal that sent a country into a frenzy. Congratulations to Canada for winning the gold medal.

Team USA - Not expected to do much (in fact many experts had not put USA in the top 4 at this tournament) USA did much better than that winning silver and gave the home country's team fits in both games they played against them. The team played a scrappy, aggressive style that propelled them to the gold medal game. They were never out of any game they played, and even when they were down 2-0 to Canada, they found a way to tie it and send it to overtime. Well done boys!

Ryan Miller (USA)- What a tournament. He may only leave with a silver medal, but Miller was by far the best goaltender in the tournament. Just in the medal playoff round, Miller only allowed four goals past him. That includes the three goals that beat him in the gold medal game. He was also named the tournament's MVP and took a stroll with the other Olympic athletes at the closing ceremonies.

GM's Brian Burke (USA) and Steve Yzerman (Canada) - When putting a team together for international play, you are going to break some hearts of your fellow countrymen. But both Yzerman and Burke were able to build teams that dominated the tournament. USA towered over their competition outscoring the competition 24 to 9 in six games and Canada dominated by outscoring their opponents 33 to 16 in seven games. Both teams had little trouble getting to the gold medal game.

Jonathan Toews (Canada) - He had 8 points for Team Canada, the most of any player. One goal and seven assists for the first time Olympian, Toews opened the scoring in the gold medal game. He had a spectacular tournament.

Ryan Kesler (USA) - He played the best two way game than any other player in the tournament. Kesler would only finish with a pair of goals, but one of those goals epitomizes the USA hard work ethic that got them to the gold medal game. He hustled to the open puck behind Canada's Corey Perry and knocks into an empty net sealing the win for USA. He was a spectacular back checker as well as a good forechecker for Team USA.

Olli Jokinen (Finland) - The Finnish forward had a pretty quiet tournament. That was until he scored a pair of goals against Slovakia helping Finland to win Bronze. Just when you thought Jokinen did have a big game in him, he comes up with two great goals.

The City of Vancouver - I mean what a great host city. Not only is it a beautiful city, but they understood the game of hockey and gave a standing ovation to both Ryan Miller and Ryan Kesler. Class act.

Alex Ovechkin's hit on Jaromir Jagr - The hit heard around the world and pretty marked the beginning of the end for the Czech Republic in these winter games. It was the talk of the tournament, even if Russia faltered down the stretch.

Which brings us to this tournament's losers:

Team Russia - A major disappointment as Russia didn't make it to the medal round. It might not have mattered as the faced power house Canada in the quarterfinals, but they didn't even show up for the game. Letting in 4 first period goals and losing 7-3, the Russians left with more questions about their goaltending, coaching and players. You can only help but wonder what changes will come from this disappointing finish.

Jaromir Jagr - The Czech came back to play for his country and looked good. That is until he got bonked by Ovechkin. Then he just couldn't help his team out when they needed him most. Jagr finished with 2 goals and one assist in five games played. He was hoping that maybe he could make a return to the NHL, but after seeing him in this tournament, maybe not.

Team Sweden - A favorite for a medal, they couldn't get out of the quarterfinals against a less talented Slovakian team. Their goaltending looked human, they struggled for goals and the defense was just not a factor. Their bright spots were Capitals Nick Backstrom who lead the team with 6 points, a goal and five assists.

Team Latvia - There had to be a team that couldn't buy themselves a win. That team was Latvia. Although they played the Czech Republic tough only losing by a goal in the medal playoff round. Latvia has pulled out upsets in the Olympic games before, but they couldn't do that in Vancouver.

Gary Betteman - Make a decision on Sochi already. If Betteman hasn't realized what having NHL players in the Olympics does for the sport, then he needs to cease being a commissioner. Let 'em play Gary, let 'em play.

In all, it was a great Olympics for hockey. The ratings, I am sure, will reflect that. While it got off to a slow start, its midpoint and ending couldn't have been scripted any better. It marks a great tournament for the Americans, who exceeded expectations.

Now that the games are behind us, it's off to more important things. Like the Stanley Cup. The Capitals will get all of their athletes (if they have not returned already) for a couple of practices. They will return to the NHL schedule on Wednesday night when they face Olympian and American hero Ryan Miller and the Buffalo Sabres. The Caps are only a point ahead of San Jose for lead in the league. But they have a 13 point lead in the Eastern Conference. New Jersey will be trying to chase them down in the conference.

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