***Addendum: It looks like the powers that be have flexed their muscle and moved the Russia quarterfinal to 4:30 PM Pacific as the schedule linked below now states. I've struck out the text referencing it. I guess anybody that reads this will probably click on that link and think I'm nuts, but it previously said 9:00 PM Pacific and it was mentioned by Bob McKenzie on one of those hockey shows (I conveniently don't remember which one). Interesting to note, though, that the Wikipedia page for the men's tournament showed the 3D (Russia) vs. E2 game at 4:30 PM the whole time. Wikipedia got something right. Glad to see someone at NBC got something right, too.
Some random thoughts on the first week of Olympic hockey:
- The dream matchup that most hockey pundits wanted to see is going to happen, barring a German-led upset of Canada on Tuesday. On the international stage (meaning outside of the United States), the historic rivalry is Canada-Russia. There have been countless meetings between the two hockey superpowers including (but not limited to) the classic '72 Summit Series, the Canada Cup tournaments, the World Championships, the World Junior Championships and the 2007 U-20 Summit Series. The U-20 Summit Series was a low point for Russian hockey but it hasn't taken them long to regain their status as a superpower. Most pundits predicted a gold medal matchup between the Canadians and Russians in this years Olympics. They were almost right. But they likely got caught up in the wishful thinking of how a gold medal game between the two teams would help explode the game globally, particularly with the matchup of Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin. Well, the matchup will likely still take place and will still have a do-or-die background, but it won't be for all the marbles, probably taking a little of the luster off of it. It doesn't matter, though, because it is a matchup all hockey fans wanted to see. For us Americans, it has many benefits. One, of course, is that one of the two superpowers will be eliminated, meaning if Team USA is successful in it's quarterfinal matchup against Switzerland or Belarus, only one of Canada or Russia may be waiting down the road. (Of course, Finland, Czech Republic, Slovakia and defending champion Sweden are not exactly walkovers either). Two, we get to see a great game without having a stake in the outcome, meaning we can enjoy it that much more.
- Gary Bettman won't admit it publicly. Neither will 24 of the 30 owners in the NHL. But they desperately want the United States to medal in this tournament, preferably matching up in the gold medal game against Russia or Canada (and preferably winning the gold). A Team USA upset of Canada in the gold medal game would be huge for the growth of hockey in the United States. Likewise, a victory over Russia would bring back memories of 1980 and expose the great game to a new generation. None of this has anything to do with national pride. It has to do with the bottom line.
- Speaking of national pride, it seems Canadian fans and media are already calling for the ouster of Martin Brodeur in favor of Roberto Luongo. I half-agree. Brodeur's Olympic glory days appear to be behind him. Sure, he could possibly come back in this tournament, but it doesn't seem like he'll get another start. But Marc-Andre Fleury is a better choice than Roberto Luongo. Consider this: since the games in Turin in 2006, Fleury has played 49 playoff games. Luongo and Brodeur combined have played 54, just 5 more. And Fleury has won 31 playoff games. Brodeur and Luongo combined have won 25. Fleury has won 7 of the 9 playoff series he has played in. Brodeur has won 2 of 6 and Luongo has won 2 of 4. Combined, they have won 4 of 10. Most importantly, Fleury has played in 13 Stanley Cup Finals games including a Game 7 (which he of course won). Brodeur and Luongo: zero. In fact, of the two, only Brodeur has played in a game 7 in the finals (he's played 2 and has gone 1-1, the most recent of which came against Anaheim in 2003). Granted, Brodeur and Luongo have more international experience, but it's also been a while since either had a lot of success at that level. You have to go back to 2004 when Luongo backstopped Canada to a gold medal at the World Championships and Brodeur backstopped Canada to the World Cup. And Fleury has to be itching to prove his mettle on the international stage after back-to-back gold medal game losses at the World Juniors in 2003 and 2004 to Russia and the United States respectively. But it appears that now would be too late to give Fleury his first action of the tournament. If I had been Mike Babcock, I would have split the 3 preliminary round games among my goalies, giving Luongo the start against Norway, Fleury against Switzerland and Brodeur against the USA.
- Anybody else think that Canada is relying way too much on the San Jose Sharks players who have been known for their playoff disappearing acts the last five years?
- If the Vancouver Canucks think they can stay successful by only signing the Sedin twins and Luongo to long-term deals but not Ryan Kesler, they are sorely mistaken. Mike Gillis would do himself well to sign Kesler to one of those ridiculous 14-year contracts. They do not have a more complete player or more tenacious.
- Could we stop comparing the US upset of Canada to the Miracle on Ice? Apples and oranges. I seriously hope the American players are listening to none of this because this is exactly the kind of Kool-Aid they don't need to be drinking. It was a great game and yes it was a great moment in USA Hockey history. But they haven't won anything yet. It's single elimination now and it doesn't figure to get any easier.
- Finally, it was a great game last night. Unfortunately, I feel that it's impact for growing the game was stunted by the retards at NBC (uh-oh, I think I just got on Sarah Palin's shit list. Just kidding). Whoever the host of the post-game show was, he commented how the game probably attracted new fans. Well, it might have if it were on the big network in HD instead of on the Democratic National Committee Network, uh, I mean MSNBC (now I'm probably on Keith Olbermann's Worst Persons in the World list. Just kidding). I realize that I'm biased, but there is no fucking way that last night's ice dancing competition was near as exciting as the Canada-USA game. I don't care what Larry Brooks says, it is disrespecting hockey. What I don't understand is that NBC is in a revenue sharing agreement with the NHL. That means that they don't pay any exorbitant fees like the other networks do for the NFL, NBA and MLB. They split the revenues from their telecasts with the NHL. How can promoting the best players in your game be bad for revenue?
Now comes the news that (at least according to their ownschedule), the marquee matchup of Canada-Russia in the quarterfinals (assuming Canada beats Germany) will be played at 12 AM Eastern on Wednesday (10 PM here in Denver). Hmmm, do I watch Ovechkin vs. Crosby or late-night skin flicks on Cinemax.I'm sorry, but as much as the game should grow globally, it needs to grow in the USA first. Doesn't the whole Leno-O'Brien fiasco seem much less surprising now? Does the C in NBC stand for Congress to remind us of the uselessness of the people running the show?
But I digress.