After all of the anticipation and the months, if not years, of waiting, we got to watch some Men's Olympic Hockey yesterday, and what a treat it was!
The three games on the menu showcased three Olympic hockey contenders: Team USA, Team Russia, and Team Canada.
No disrespect intended to any of the other teams out there, but there are only a few medal hopefuls in this 2010 Olympic Hockey tournament and they are Canada, Russia, USA, Czech Republic, and Sweden. All things considered, the Czech's and the US team are likely at the bottom of that list.
Things started off with the US taking on Switzerland in game one of the Group A pool. While you would expect that game to be a blow out, Switzerland actually stood their ground relatively well limiting the US to three goals in their 3-1 loss.
One thing that was evident about the US is that they intend to bring a physical brand of hockey to the rink. In addition, they intend on making things difficult for opposing goaltenders by crowding the crease and running goaltenders.
This is a Brian Burke team—who is the GM of Team USA—who intend on grinding down and physically punishing their opposition. Watching this team on the ice yesterday, they look like a team that was put together specifically to stop the Canadians.
Speaking of the Canadians, fans watched with bated breath as Norway matched Canada's game in the first period. Sure, their goaltender, Grotnes, played great, but you could see that Canada was still feeling each other out. They were trying to get a sense of each other and find that chemistry that was so elusive in Turin.
I'm sure the anxiety continued for Team Canada's fans as Canada came out of the first intermission with a 0-0 tie and seemed to be firing blanks on the powerplay. Shades of Turin: pass, pass, pass, pass, pass. Someone needs to shot in order to score.
Canada didn't keep their fans waiting too much longer though as they got on the board with a powerplay marker at 2:30 of the second. The goal was scored on a rifling shot from Iginla—who had a hat-trick on the night—off of a soft Crosby feed. From there, Canada started to drop the hammer on Norway, scoring two more five-on-five goals to end the period 3-0.
Things really turned around for Canada when Coach Babcock took Bergeron off of Crosby's line and replaced him with Iginla. Those two created the spark that ignited the whole team, setting the stage for a five goal outburst in the third and an 8-0 Team Canada win.
If there was one thing the Canadians will want to fix, going forward, it is that they took too many penalties with many of the "bad" and/or offensive zone variety. It's one thing to give Norway five powerplays but it is a completely different—and infinitely more dangerous—thing to give Russia, for example, that many chances.
Unlike Canada, Team Russia was rolling right from the drop of the puck as their offensive prowess was on display versus Latvia. With players like Ovechkin, Semin, Datsyuk, Kovalchuk and Malkin up front and Gonchar and Markov at the back end, this is a team with considerable offensive power, as the Latvian's learned in their 8-2 drubbing.
Russia will definitely be a team to look out for during this tournament, as they look hungry and ready to challenge for the gold. Them, along with Sweden, present the two biggest challenges to Team Canada in their quest for gold.
As the tournament progresses and the various teams continue to gel and find chemistry, the play will peak into a crescendo of awe inspiring skill and pace, the likes of which we haven't seen in decades, if ever.
If the first day of the Men's Olympic Hockey tournament is a sign of things to come, this tournament will produce some of the best hockey that has ever been witnessed. So enjoy and try to soak up the history as it's being written right before of your eyes!
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