If You’re Not Watching Olympic Hockey….It’s Your Loss
Yes I know the times haven’t been the most convenient for those of you who insist on watching sports in real time and not by DVR. My response to that would be “Suck it up” and “That’s what alarm clocks are for.” In case you missed it (and shame on you if you did), Team USA went 2-0 over the weekend in Sochi (both approximately 6:45 am starts Central time), beating the mighty Russians in a thrilling overtime shootout 3-2 on Saturday, then dispatching an over-matched Slovenia team yesterday morning 5-1. Next up for the US is the winner of Slovakia and the Czech Republic in the quaterfinals of the tournament, with the red, white and blue having earned a first round bye along with Sweden, Finland and Canada. (Full schedule below)
So just what is it exactly that’s so great about Olympic hockey? First off, each game is basically the equivalent of an all-star game talent-wise, but an all-star game where both sides are giving every single ounce of blood, sweat and tears they have to claim a victory, with nothing more on their collective minds then patriotic pride. The all-might dollar (or ruble as the case may be) doesn’t come into play here. Everyone on team USA, for example, plays in the NHL where the league minimum is well over $500,000 a year, and these players (being the best of the best) have average annual salaries that are multiple times more than the minimum. Very wealthy men who are playing “all-out” for nothing more than the love of the sport….and their homelands. And it’s the exact same situation for any of the other power squads, including the Russians.
The larger international ice surface also allows for more skating creativity and play-making, and the lack of commercials during the broadcasts allow the games to flow without the normal constant starts and stops we are so accustomed to. The talent differential between the US, Canadians, Russians, Swedes and Fins is also so marginal I refuse to predict the outcome of the remaining games – any one of these teams can claim the gold and it wouldn’t be a huge surprise, and that just intensifies each game. And of course its “one and done” from now on, making every single shot, save and penalty magnified in it’s magnitude.
When the Russians took the ice Saturday in front of their home crowd, you could feel the excitement mounting – there was an anticipation that regular season games in any sport can’t provide. I personally found myself with a handful of die-hard friends in a packed bar at 6:30 am, everyone cheering for the same thing and hanging on every second of play….and then the shootout began….well that was another level altogether. When the St. Louis Blues’ baby-faced TJ Oshie from Warroad, Mineesota scored on 4 of 6 shots (in international competition the coach can keep calling on the same player to shoot unlike the NHL) bedlham ensued in chants of USA! USA! and OSHIE! OSHIE! (Click here to see the early morning crowd at Trinity Hall at Mockingbird Station). Oshie added 130,000 twitter followers after the game, and received one special tweet from a resident of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue – “Congrats to T.J. Oshie and the U.S. men’s hockey team on a huge win!” “Never stop believing in miracles.” BO.
I’ve yet to see a sporting event that was more dramatic, more exciting or more historically poignant than the Miracle on Ice team of 1980 in Lake Placid, and I don’t expect to ever see that replicated. But from the thrills of what “just an opening round game” provided, and with a possible match-up with Canada in the semifinals, and maybe a rematch of Russia for all the marbles, all I can say is stay tuned. And set your alarm clocks.
The top four seeds get an automatic bye to the quarterfinals. The remaining eight countries play a qualifying round game on Tuesday with the winner advancing to the quarterfinals and the loser eliminated from the tournament. The schedule for the qualifying round games will not be announced until Monday.
Top 4 have a bye in the quarterfinals
5. Russia vs 12. Norway – winner plays Finland
6. Switzerland vs 11. Latvia – winner plays Canada
7. Czech Republic vs 10. Slovakia – winner plays USA
8. Slovenia vs. 9. Austria – winner plays Sweden
Winner of Sweden/Slovenia-Austria vs. winner of Finland/Russia-Norway
Winner of USA/Czech Republic-Slovakia vs. winner of Canada/Switzerland-Latvia