Friday, February 21, 2014

Olympics get their dream matchups, but is it what it needs?

The 2014 Winter Olympic Hockey tournament has had their share of upsets during these games but the marquis matchups have still managed to take place, largely because of the gap between the top countries and the bottom feeders. In both the Men’s and Women’s tournament the US and Canada have fought their way into an elimination game again. Much like overtime thriller four years ago when Sid the kid shot the game winner to beat the US in front of a partisan crowd in Vancouver, or in 02’ when it wasn’t quite as close as Canada won 5-2. The same for the women where Canada and the US have squared off in every final except one since the sports introduction in 1998, and therein lies the problem. For the Men it may be the usual suspects but everyone once in a while there is a sleeper that makes some noise, but there it’s really only four or five powerful countries that have a shot at the gold medal and in women’s it’s only two. The women’s tournament came to a head on Thursday and in epic fashion as Canada pulled the trick again in what should go down as the biggest choke in Olympic history as the US blew a 2 goal lead with just over 3 minutes to play, went into overtime, where the Canadians won it on a power play after the US had their chances early in the extra frame. The fact that it was one of the most dramatic competitions ever to take place in the Winter games will carry the day for a while but then the painful truth will become evident, that the women’s tournament may be in it’s final period if it doesn’t become more of a world-wide competition rather than the North American Championship game. The men’s side doesn’t quite have that problem as there has been several winners over the history of the tournament and for the longest time Russia was the ‘Death Star’ but much like Darth Vader, they haven’t aged well and other countries seem to be beating them to the punch with younger and more skilled talent. As the Russian commentator stated, “losing won’t mean the flags will be at have mass, but it’s close”. Particularly because they’re hosting the dance to not only not win gold but to get kept off the medal stand entirely, will not look good on a coaches resume in the eyes of King Vladimir. It’s been a long time since the “miracle on ice” game in 1980 and the US was even a higher seed this year but it didn’t take away from the drama of a US/Russia matchup which exceeded extra time and went to a shootout won by the US. Looking back I think that was the turning point for both countries as Russians weren’t the same after that and it seemed to be a catalyst for the US. That said, the biggest hurdle for the #3 ranked US team still lies ahead in the semis as they take on seconded seeded Canada, or friends to the north, at least until we step on the ice. Then it becomes as bitter as any of the original 6 getting together during the NHL season and worse. The US has double the revenge on their mind as they would love to give the Red Leafs some payback from 2010 and now to save face after the women’s debacle. There will be no love loss as Sweden takes on Finland in the other semi-final, as much like the US and Canada the distance is about as long as it takes to fly from LA to San Francisco and there is no love-loss between the two either. So other than the host nation being a part of the final four the matchups couldn’t be better, and the Olympic Committee needs to remember that next time around.

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