Olympic Hockey Panic Buttons
Its time to start the Olympic "ice" hockey chatter. The simple fact that I have to preface that last sentence with "ice" makes me throw-up a little in my mouth. You know that little puke, an unfriendly reminder that you probably shouldn't eat chicken fingers for breakfast, again (editor's comment, never start an article by typing 'puke' within the first two sentences). Note to field hockey from the world, "please change your name to 'field soccer' so real hockey fans don't have to vomit as much". On the other hand, women's field hockey consists of short skirts...on second thought, those short skirts are usually filled with legs so thick that they would make Adrian Peterson jealous. The last field hockey player of the year in the "FHL" (can anyone really name a field-hockey league) was banned by the federal government from ever wearing blue-jeans again after an incident where the jaws-of-life were required in removing said player's jeans after a swimming pool accident (reader wants to remind Knee-Jerk that for all of the hatred he intended to throw at Field Soccer, its certainly getting alot of ink in his column. Get to the point). There is only 1 hockey and its time to start chirping about the 2010 Olympics or as it is becoming known; "Brodeur's Public Funeral".
Team USA has as many question marks as it does sure-bets but the biggest question for management is, "Will Patrick Kane be on the taxi-squad?". Maybe that's a cheap shot but if team USA wins gold in Vancouver will there be at least one reporter that asks him if the shade of his medal is gold or more of a "taxi-cab yellow?". If team USA is going to be realistic, they have to think that a Bronze medal would be a huge accomplishment. Beyond Zach Parise, who else do they have upfront that can handle the physicality (copyright; every football colorman) of playing on the NHL size sheet and has the skill to create opportunities for himself? The list of forwards comes up short on one end or another; Gomez, Kane and Kessel have the skill but not the size; Backes, Kesler and Brown have size but lack top-end skill; and Drury, Langenbrunner and Modano are aging and play too similar a role to keep all three on the roster. Team USA's blueline is filled with shut down d-men that could possibly thwart an opponent's top guns; Brooks Orpik, Scuderi and Komaserk but lack a Dan Boyle-type puck mover/power play specialist that could ignite offense from the backend. Putting questions at forward and defense aside we must keep in mind that goaltending is the great equalizer in an Olympic tournament and the stars and stripes have two solid options in Ryan Miller and Timmy Thomas. One of the two netminders will have to stand on his head for at least two games (Russia, Canada, Sweden) in order to give team USA a chance at a medal. The good news for hockey fans worldwide is that if the Americans lose in overtime or in a shootout with Timmy T in net, we will all witness the patented "Timmy Thomas Dash" where Thomas leaves the crease for the exit faster than Ken Hitchcock to a buffet line. In a situation like that, everyone wins (except of course team USA, which will have lost).
Investing in Goldtending
During the 2002 Olympics Canada was saved from the pit of despair by a whiny speech from Gretzky and a Tommy Salo gaffe that propelled them to gold. Gretzky's speech, however whiny and cry-baby it was, actually helped to take pressure off the team and got them back on track. And Tommy Salo, come on Tommy! gave Belarus a win and Canada an easy route to the gold medal game (here is a terrific youtube clip that shows the blunder, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KFQnIFN1pYo, great soundtrack). 2010's version of Team Canada is stacked on forward (Crosby, Iginla, Lecavalier) and Defense (Niedermeyer, Boyle, Pronger) but team management will have to address their biggest question mark; how will they handle the goaltending situation with the all-time great Martin Brodeur aging and Roberto Luongo coming off a disappointing playoff performance. Team Canada will be under immense pressure playing in front of their rabid fans and if they lay another Swiss 2006 game, the coaching staff could hit the panic button and the hometown fans will want blood. Marc Andre Fleury could be a long-shot to get the nod in net but he could get a legitimate shot if Brodeur or Luongo falter early. It would take guts to sit down Marty in favor of Fleury but confidence is everything in goaltending and Fleury had an incredible Stanley Cup run this summer and with a solid performance early in the tournament he could be the guy that puts the Canadians back on the 'gold' medal stand.
Sweden has had an impressive hockey run in the last four years. In 2006 they won gold at the Olympics by beating arch-rival Finland. In 2008 Nick Lidstrom became the first European-born captain to hoist lord Stanley's Cup. With the 2010 Olympics right around the corner, team Sweden is certain to retain their status as one of the world's elite hockey nations. Up front the Swedes have lots of firepower with the Sedin twins, Henrik Zetterberg, Niklas Backstrom and the "Mule" Johan Franzen. It should be interesting to see how the Canuck fans treat the Sedins if Canada faces Sweden in the medal round. Their defensive corps consist of Norris Lidstrom, Kronwall and a bunch of guys named Erickson. It is almost as if Sweden clones their defenseman into smooth skating, nifty passing puck movers. In goal the Swedes have Henrik Lundquist, who already has a gold medal and has the ability to steal a game if his teammates have an off night (unlikely). Canada, Russia and Finland will all be formidible foes but the toughest opponent for Sweden might be the size of he rink. Team Sweden has great skating and puck handling ability which is a perfect match for an olympic-size rink but the 2010 Olympics will be played on a NHL size rink, which is more suited towards Canada's physicality (copyright..you know who) and less suited for Sweden's puck possession style.
The Russians have a lot of players that have last names that end in ...ov. Even though Ovechkin's name doesn't end in 'off' he is still, somehow, good. I guess they have some other guy named Malkin who has some ability and Alexander Semin, who's last name is more of a punchline than he might want (something, something the blankets at a hotel in Las Vegas). Team Russian has so much talent but really who is cheering for them? Kovalev might be the biggest coach killer on the planet. Who else has that much unrealized talent? Sit down Mr. Tanguay. Anyway, the Russians are talented and are led by Pavel Bure which means we'll see alot of cherry picking and hopefully some Anna Kornikova.