Day 9 of the 2014 Winter Games saw two of hockey's biggest powerhouses win their group bracket to receive a bye into the quarterfinals.
The action continues to reach a fever pitch as the bracket style has done its job in making each game very competitive, given the way teams were sorted into groups.
Things are about to get even more hectic with the elimination rounds set to take place. The results from Day 9 did much to influence the standings and how the tournament will play out.
|Olympic Men's Hockey Results - Day 9 (Feb. 16)|
|Group A||Russia 1, Slovakia 0|
|Group A||USA 5, Slovenia 1|
|Group B||Austria 3, Norway 1|
|Group B||Canada 2, Finland 1|
The U.S. Wins Group A
After a triumph over Russia in a shootout on Feb. 15, one could have guessed the United States would be on a roll the following day against Slovenia.
This notion held true, as Phil Kessel scored two goals in the first period to signal a rout that saw his country emerge victorious by a 5-1 margin. He was hardly done there, as Kessel added a third goal to complete the hat trick:
As great as the offense was, much credit has to go to the defense, too. Thanks to goalkeeper Ryan Miller, who notched 17 saves, Slovenia was limited to just one goal, which came with the game already decided in the third period.
But the offense is what will allow the United States to best hang with the likes of Russia, Canada and Sweden. Kessel will have to continue to score at his epic pace in order for his team to keep playing at its current level. Center David Backes is one man who thinks this is possible, as quoted by Kevin Allen of USA Today:
He's a guy who has grown on the ice and he has shown he can handle the big-time situations. He is out there making plays all of the time. He's got composure. He doesn't get rattled when someone is in his face. That growth is great for our team.
The U.S. now has a bye into the quarterfinals thanks to its strong performance thus far. Thanks to having the No. 2 seed behind Sweden, the U.S. will have what looks like a winnable matchup to open the real hockey tournament:
Canada Wins Group B
The best matchup of the day saw Canada prevail over Finland 2-1 in an overtime thriller.
As a result, Canada nabbed the crown in Group B and secured the No. 3 seed behind Sweden and the United States.
While some expected this to be a lopsided affair in Canada's favor, a closer look beforehand would have proven that notion false. Remember, this is a Finland team that absolutely embarrassed Norway by a 6-1 margin in the team's last game.
This was more of a defensive battle, with Canadian goalkeeper Carey Price putting on a show as he saved 14 shots. On offense, Drew Doughty predictably stole the show with two goals, including the one to win it in overtime.
As Ray Ferraro of TSN points out, it was a bit shocking to see Doughty mostly alone as the offensive catalyst:
Regardless, Canada advances to the quarterfinals and will face the winner of Switzerland and Latvia, two games it should enter as the heavy favorite, to start what appears to be a rather easy path to the gold-medal final.
The real hockey can begin now that fans have seen a rather competitive set of preliminary games. James Mirtle of The Globe and Mail has an official look at the final men's bracket:
Based on that, it appears the U.S. and Canada could be in for a major showdown in the semifinals. One will emerge the winner and will likely take on Sweden, the team that quietly navigated the waters of the preliminaries to claim the No. 1 seed.
But it would be unwise to sleep on Russia, as the country will have the backing of a rabid home crowd hungry for Olympic success. Prepare for a classic end to a great tournament.