Winter Olympic Thoughts (with lots of hockey)
The U.S. men’s hockey team was supposed to be an afterthought at these Games, but they sure didn’t look like one in their 5-3 victory over heavily favored Canada. Goalie Ryan Miller got bombarded with 45 shots but stood tall and kept enough pucks out of the net to give Team USA a victory. In hockey and in soccer, great play in goal can cancel out every advantage that the other team has. Brian Rafalski scored two goals (and would have had a hat trick as a defenseman if Jamie Langenbrunner hadn’t ticked one of his shots on the way in), and while Patrick Kane didn’t get on the scoresheet, he spent the game stealing pucks, throwing hits, and generally creating havoc in the offensive zone. Vancouverites must have felt bittersweet seeing Canucks center Ryan Kesler make a diving jab (a hell of a play, by the way) to score the empty-net goal that iced the game for USA.
Up north, they’re wailing and gnashing their teeth. Canada isn’t out of gold-medal contention (nobody is yet), but losing to the Americans on home ice is almost as bad. This result has ruined the Olympics for somebody: Assuming that the Canadians get past Germany on Tuesday, the Canada vs. Russia matchup will take place in the quarterfinals instead of in the gold-medal round like the neutral fans were hoping for. That means one of those teams will be leaving the Olympics early with no medals. Either Sidney Crosby or Alexander Ovechkin will be cursing the result of this game come Thursday.
(Speaking of Ovechkin, did you see him lay out Jaromir Jagr and cause an odd-man rush that led to a goal against the Czechs? I came away from that game with the overriding impression that I don’t see nearly enough of “Alexander the Eight” and the Washington Capitals.)
All the talk in Canada now is about whether starting goaltender Martin Brodeur will be replaced by backup (and Vancouver native) Roberto Luongo. Brodeur didn’t look good, and his handling error led directly to Rafalski’s second goal. Giving him the hook might well be for the best, but I’m mystified as to why nobody is considering third-string goalie Marc-André Fleury. The guy’s only the reigning Stanley Cup winner.
For now, Team USA can bask in the glow of this win, having earned an extra day off and the easiest quarterfinal-round matchup with the winner of the Switzerland-Belarus game. The Americans shouldn’t slack off, though; they struggled earlier in a win over Norway despite the 6-1 scoreline.
In other Olympic news, if Canada’s hockey loss isn’t bad enough, the women’s curling team also suffered a shocking loss to China. They’re still in pretty good shape, though.
The sport of ski cross was introduced at the Winter Games, and it looks pretty cool. Some people object to the X Games-ing of the Olympics, but I’m all for it. I’d advocate it for the Summer Games, too, but those are too big already. I’d take out the target shooting and yachting events in the Summer Olympics (I haven’t heard a compelling reason to keep them) and put in some skateboarding events, as well cyclo-cross and BMX freestyle. That’ll make Olympic cycling cool.