2010 Winter Olympic Hockey: Will Passion or Skill Win Out?

Billy ArmstrongContributor IFebruary 15, 2010

VANCOUVER, BC - FEBRUARY 12:  Royal Canadian Mounted Police raise the Olympic flag during the Opening Ceremony of the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics at BC Place on February 12, 2010 in Vancouver, Canada.  (Photo by Jim Young-Pool/Getty Images)
Pool/Getty Images

Going into this year's Olympics, the obvious picks for medalists in hockey are Russia, Canada, and Sweden.

It is almost out of the question to even throw the United States into the equation for medaling—not terrible by anyone’s standards, but lacking what the top countries posses.

One could even go out on a limb in a far-fetched way and say the United States upsetting Canada or Russia would relate to the 1980 triumph. Do not read too far into that statement, because it's more of a hypothetical.

Another fact to ponder is one of the biggest sports feats ever—we’ll just say 1980—happened for a country that pays almost no attention to the sport. A sport that gets overlooked by a majority of the land became one of the strongest reasons for total unification the country has ever seen.

Times have changed, but the storylines do not seemed to have changed as much. The Russians look as scary as ever with Alexander Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin, Ilya Kovalchuk, Alexander Semin, and Evgeni Nabokov...etc.

Also, the Canadians as usual are extremely well balanced and are heavily favored, and not only because they are hosting.

The United States has this riding against them: They have only medaled once in the past seven Olympics, in which they were runner-up, the team as a whole is inexperienced, and they virtually have no room for error.

On the flip side, manning the crease is Ryan Miller, who is easily in the top two this season for goaltenders in the NHL.

What really makes this year’s United States team more intriguing is they have an added element of inspiration, Brian Burke.

Burke is highly respected among the NHL for the intangibles he brings to any team he’s affiliated with. In this case, Burke is the source of inspiration for the States this year. Ten days ago, the general manager put to rest one of his beloved sons, whom he admired dearly, but vowed to be present at the Olympics.

United States veteran captain Jamie Langenbrunner had these comments: “I have three young kids myself and I can't imagine. It's not something that you wish on anyone, and to have to deal with it, it's beyond words. It shows the strength of him, and I don't know how to say this, but it shows his belief in us as a team that he is able to even be here, really.”

Langenbrunner also went on to say, “It could have been really easy for him to walk away and just take some time, which I don't think anybody would have second-guessed. I think, for us, we want to make sure we give him something to be proud of."

Granted, this is all well and good, but the United States has the daunting task of being in the same group as one of the most passionate hockey countries on the planet, Canada. Also, they have the possibility of taking on their powerful rival, Russia.

Some history between the United States, Russia, and Canada in Olympic ice hockey play includes Russia owning eight gold medals, one ahead of the host country Canada, while the United States has two. Three times in Olympic hockey history have the United States, Canada, and Russia all medaled in the same year, and in eight different years both Canada and United States both medaled.

Skill aside, the 2010 hockey side of the Olympics is going to simmer down to who wants it more. The Canadians and Russians have some of the most talented and explosive hockey talent on the planet and passion, but the big question is, will the newfound ignition of the United States will them to victory? Those sentiments beg the saying, “It’s not about the dog in the fight; it’s about the fight in the dog.”

Who will capture the gold this year: the emotionally driven Americans, the well-balanced Canadians, or the explosive Russians? All countries should tune in and witness the potentially best hockey ever played at any time period.