The Scarlet & Black

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The Scarlet & Black

The Scarlet & Black

Cold War role reversals abound in Olympic Hockey

These 2010 Winter Olympics is perhaps the most anticipated event in the history of international ice hockey. Why? Well, it helps that the games take place in Canada, the birthplace of hockey and home nation to approximately 50 percent of the National Hockey League. The best way I can describe the popularity of ice hockey in Canada is this:  if football, baseball and basketball made love and conceived a love-child super-sport containing only the elements of each game that everyone likes…that sport would still not be as popular in America as ice hockey is in Canada. However, these are not the first winter games in Canada, and the host nation is not the only reason why this ice hockey tournament holds such promise.

No, what makes these particular games so special is the parity. Canada, Russia, USA and defending champion Sweden may have fielded their best teams ever, and all of these nations have a legitimate shot at a gold medal. Below these four nations lie a multitude of countries with top-end NHL talent on their rosters, chomping at the bit to upset one of the big four. The Slovakian Team, a team not even expected to finish in the top five, still boasts 13 NHL players and three more former NHL players on their 23-man roster. In fact, I think it is pretty evident that the global diversity of the NHL has caused a  ‘closing-of-the-gap,’ in international play. Twenty years ago, roughly 10 percent of players in the NHL hailed from outside North America. Today, that number is somewhere around 40%¬—the openness to diversity that the NHL exhibits has allowed the best players in the world to play against each other, regardless of nationality. This has allowed a small nation that may not boast the same resources as Canada and USA, such as Slovakia, to compete successfully. I could go on about the implications of the influx of international players into American leagues, but I would much rather break down some sweet hockey teams.

Personally, I am rooting for Team Russia, otherwise known as the Moscow Capitals, Red Red Wings, or the Kremlin Kings. How can I turn my back on the USA, you may ask? Simple, my allegiance lies first and foremost to the NHL’s best team, my hometown Washington Capitals. Three Caps will suit up for Russia in Vancouver, including the best hockey player in the world, Winger Alexander Ovechkin. If you still haven’t heard of the Great Eight, he’s basically LeBron James on skates. At 6’2” and 235 lbs., OV is the perfect combination of size and speed, and he also happens to have a wicked wrist shot. The other winger on Ovechkin’s line is another Capital, Alexander Semin, a.k.a. Captain Dangles. Centering these two teammates will be a man who arguably possesses the best ice-vision in the entire league, Detroit Red Wing, Pavel Datsyuk. Though Russia has always had the firepower, what makes this year different is that Russia finally has the goaltending to make up for a suspect defense. San Jose Sharks Goaltender Evgeni Nabokov is in the prime of his career at the ripe old age of 34. He is ranked in the top five of the NHL in save percentage, goals against average and wins. We’ll see how he handles playing in front of a less-than-stellar defense.

While Russia may be the most top-heavy team in terms of talent, Canada definitely boasts the best roster from top-to-bottom. Chicago Blackhawk fans, this is your team. Center Jonathan Toews, Defenseman Duncan Keith and Defenseman Brent Seabrook will all suit up for Canada. Put together by NHL legend and Canada General Manager Steve Yzerman, this team is the perfect mix of scoring and defense, finesse and power, youth and experience. I have a huge grudge against Yzerman because he left Capitals’ Defenseman Mike Green, the best scoring defenseman in the league, off the roster. I guess he figured that Canada had enough scoring up front with their impressive stable of forwards—I can’t really blame him for that—Canada has Forwards Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, Dany Heatley, Sidney “not Ovechkin, but still a hockey god” Crosby. Between the pipes they’re solid—the best goalie in the history of hockey, Martin Brodeur, will start for Team Canada. There is no weakness in this team, not a single chink in the armor, and yet I do not think Canada will win the gold. This is partly because of the whole Mike Green situation, but mainly because I think the pressure to win a gold in front of the hometown crowd will get to them and they’ll choke.

Clearly Russia and Canada are the two best teams, but Sweden and the United States are not far behind. Not only are the Swedes the most attractive team on the ice, but they are loaded with scorers, including my boy Center Nicklas Backstrom, another Capital. The Swedes have four Red Wings on the roster, smack dab in the middle of an era of Red Wings dominance, which explains why they won the Gold in 2006. Team “Miracles are for an older generation” or the United States is an intriguing team because this team is loaded with under-the-radar NHL talent and fantastic goaltending. I know you Blackhawks fans are proud to see Winger Patrick Kane suit up for the Red, White and Blue. Ryan Miller at the goalie spot for America should help temper the offensive onslaught of Canada and Russia, but alas, this team is bound for a tragic ending off the podium.





-Kunal Bansal ’12

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