February 14th, 2002
Controversy has surrounded the NHL's participation in the Olympic games.
Many feel it's a traditional spot for
amateur athletes, while others feel the condensed NHL
schedule to accommodate the Olympics has hurt the season,
and caused many an injury.
For Calgary Flames fans, it's simply a nice
break from a woeful two months of losing hockey, and a
chance to cheer for a winner again.
Calgarypuck.com and it's writing staff takes a look at all the teams as well as
offering up a prediction on who will be wearing what on medal day.
The Olympic tournament pits eight teams in
two pools in a round robin tournament that sees all eight
teams graduate to the medal round. Essentially the round
robin portion exists to seed the teams into first round
Below are the teams sorted by pool. Click on
the name of teach team to read a detailed profile of each
Handicapping the Tournament
Each Calgarypuck writer makes an attempt to
make sense out of the tournament, and pick his choices for
gold, silver and bronze medals.
With six top teams vying for three spots,
there are essentially six "Dream Teams" and with
it a wide variety of combinations for the three medal spots.
Let's get one thing straight - I'm a Canadian and I want
nothing more than my home country to win the gold medal
against the U.S. in Salt Lake City. Actually, that's a lie.
I want nothing more than Canada to win gold and the U.S. to
lose every game in front of its home crowd. But I don't
think that's going to happen.
Talent wise, I think Canada has the best overall team.
The Czechs may have the best goaltender, but up front I
think they're weaker than four years ago. The Russians
probably have the hottest goaltender, but injuries and
notable player absences will hurt them. Sweden and Finland
are both talented teams, but I don't think they're deep
enough to be considered medal favourites. That leaves the
USA, a group with lots of scoring talent but with some
notable concerns about defence. In any other year, the US
would be only a marginal contender. But this year, they're
playing on home ice, and America's spirit and patriotism may
be at all all-time high. And as you've probably heard ad
nausem already, the USA has won hockey gold in both previous
Winter Olympics held on home soil.
While the Olympic tournament features the best hockey
players in the world, that doesn't mean the team with the
best players is a given to win. The talented Slovakian team
failed to win a game in the preliminary round, having been
beaten by teams that stuck to a system and worked together.
And while the Olympic game is similar to NHL game, what's on
the line is completely different. Players aren't competing
in a financially-driven market for a Stanley Cup,
performance bonuses, or their next contract; the Olympics is
about competing for your nation's pride.
In picking my winners, I first looked at the make-up of
the teams to determine how they might finish in the
round-robin. I see Canada and Russia each winning their
pools, with the U.S. and Czech Republic each coming second.
I think these four teams will all win their quarterfinal
games, setting up an interesting scenario for the medals:
Canada vs. the U.S; Russia vs. the Czech Republic.
I think the Czech Republic will make it to the final in a
low-scoring semi-final game decided by a shoot-out. And, as
much as it pains me to say it, I think the U.S., based on
the strength of their team effort and desire to win, will
defeat Canada in a heartbreaker. Canada will go on to take
the bronze in a convincing win over Russia, although if I'm
proved wrong and they finish higher, I'll gladly admit my
The U.S. will ride their semi-final win and will go on to
defeat the Czechs to take the gold medal. I'm making this
prediction because I believe that heart and desire will play
a major role in determining a winner among these elite
hockey nations. Past Olympic history has proven that the
home nation will often exceed expectations (the Americans
are already close to matching their Nagano medal totals),
and I think the U.S. will be anxious to make up for their
1998 embarrassment in a big way. The home crowd will be the
determining factor, as the red, white, and blue will win
gold in 2002.
Hard to believe it's been four years since Trevor Linden scored in the dying
minutes of the third period to help lift Canada to a 1-1 draw against the Czech
Republic in the Olympic semi-finals.
Four years since Joe Nieuwendyk and four of Canada's supposed best shooters
were foiled by Dominik Hasek in the shootout and shattering the dream of
winning Olympic Gold.
Four years since Wayne Gretzky sat on the bench, watching helplessly as his
team failed to put a puck past the Czech netminder.
If there's one thing that won't change in the 2002 Olympics, it will be that
Gretzky will still be watching as the rest of Team Canada decides the outcome.
Only this time, it will be by choice. Gretzky has taken upon the ominous,
thankless task of being the front man in assembling this year's Canada squad.
They are heavily favoured to take home the Gold medal. But will they?
The pressure for Canada to win is enormous; perhaps it will end up being too
much for the team to carry on its shoulders. In the end, I think the team will
be unable to rise to the occasion once again. A number of other teams in the
tournament will have nothing to lose when facing Canada. Despite the team's
veteran leadership and impressive depth, they won't be able to get it done.
A step up from the 1998 Olympics, but Team Canada will still fall short in
these Games. It will essentially all depend on when Canada will end up facing
Russia, who I think will be the eventual tournament victors. Canada will defeat
the United States in the Bronze Medal Game. The downfall for the Canadian team
will be their blueline. Defence will be such a key factor in this tournament
and, quite frankly, beyond Blake, Pronger and Niedermayer Canada's defence is
very slow. The Russian forwards will have a field day beating them to the
Sweden is a real dark horse in the tournament. They have a system in place (the
"Torpedo") and several key front line forwards, including Markus
Naslund, Mats Sundin and Daniel Alfredsson. They will also be on a mission
following 1998's disappointing finish and have a solid goaltender in Tommy Salo
to lead the way. Not to mention, their defence is as strong and skilled as
anyone's in the tournament with Ohlund, Johnsson, Jonsson, Lidstrom and
Norstrom among others.
Russia will return to the Gold Medal podium for the first time in ten years.
The team has everything it takes to be a contender for the top prize in Olympic
hockey superiority. Up front, the number of weapons is has is impressive: Pavel
Bure, Yashin, Kovalev, Zhamnov, Fedorov and Kovalchuk. While the defence isn't
quite as physical, especially with the injury of Yushkevich, Nikolai Khabibulin
has been the best goaltender in the NHL this season and he will show everybody
why in this tournament.
Czech Republic will finish a disappointing fifth, and Finland will finish
sixth. Two advantages the Czechs had going for them in Nagano was (a) they
played a very tight defensive system that was perfected due to the number of
non-NHL players they had on their roster and (b) they caught a number of
opponents by surprise. Neither factor applies this time around. While they are
still strong in goal, Hasek is a step slower than he was four years ago and
will likely be facing a lot more quality scoring chances this time around.
Their defence is unimpressive, with the exception of Roman Hamrlik, and up
front they are very ordinary beyond Jagr, Hejduk and Elias. … Mario Lemieux
will prove why he's the world's best hockey player and lead the tournament in
Expectations are a bitch.
Basketball's American "Dream Team" can leisurely take the court and guarantee
themselves Gold in each Olympic games they attend. Other countries have
players, but no other country has the depth.
In hockey, a completely different story.
As was the case four years ago in Nagano, six "Dream Teams" take the ice in
Salt Lake City when the Championship Round commences tomorrow.
Six teams, six relatively equal chances for success, with on marked difference.
Citizens from all competing countries feel in their hearts that they "could"
win Gold at the 2002 Olympics ...
on the other hand feel they "should" win Gold, and with that comes a
tremendous load of pressure for Wayne Gretzky and his cohorts.
Cups and the 1996 World Cup the pressure was the same, but the playing field
wasn't quite as even. Hockey has exploded on to the world stage, and while I
won't admit that all the skill is over seas, only a fool would fail to admit
that there is no longer one or even two hockey superpowers.
So how will this tournament shake out? Will Dom Hasek or Nikolai Khabibulin
single handedly carry their team to Olympic Gold? Will post-September 11th
fervor in the
to a win on home soil? Will the absence of Patrick Roy prove to be the
Achilles heal for the
We'll find out soon.
First off ... don't believe a word of this "first three games are meaningless"
nonsense being bandied about in the media.
Nothing ... nothing could be further from the truth.
With six top teams aligned with three each in two pools, finishing last in a
pool would mean three straight wins over top teams to achieve gold ...
something no one will accomplish.
Getting to first in the pool is a huge key, yielding a quarterfinal date with a
I'm going to go against the two esteemed writers above and say ... Yes,
will win Gold in Salt Lake City.
For two reasons.
One ... I love Gretzky's "send the best" principal in picking this team. No
matter how hard I look up and down the Canadian roster I just can't seem to
find Rob Zamuner. As I look again I also don't see the existence of a
self-serving general manager making sure his NHL interests back home get a shot
in the arm. No Eric Lindros thrust into a captaincy role to make the Flyers
better for the stretch drive. No Glen Sather led '96 World Cup "thank you" to a
quartet of old Oilers, past their prime and not deserving of overt ice time.
Two ... as a web site that covers the Calgary Flames, this group is well over
due for some cheering, and on ice success. The Flames are heading for a seventh
year of futility, so another shoot out loss for Canada is simple unacceptable.
are deep at all positions, with skill on the ice at all time. Personally I'd
rather have Steve Yzerman as the checking line center, knowing that if the puck
turns over he's as likely to bury it as the guy that he's supposedly checking.
I don't buy the goaltending as a weakness, Patrick Roy was in Nagano and they
didn't win there. Curtis Joseph and Martin Brodeur as options are a cut above
Mike Richter and Jani Hurme for example. While I'll admit that Dominic Hasek is
a factor that can't be overlooked, and that Nikolai Khabibulin is the hottest
goaltender in hockey, the margin between these two and the best of Canada's two
just isn't that large.
will surprise in the other pool, going 3-0 in the round robin and moving on to
the semis after disposing of
in the quarter-final.
The gold medal match up will have
n's, with the Swedish squad beating their rival
for the bronze.
Dominic Hasek and the
will struggle in this tournament, with the element of surprise just a dot on
the horizon. The
team has more players in the NHL this time around, meaning their cohesion will
be on a level playing field with the rest of the teams. The fact that Robert
Reichel and Jaromir Jagr are well off their games this season should mean their
offence will sputter.
will be great up front but there aging defence and inconsistent goaltending
will result in an early exit from the competition. Their lodging furniture will
It doesn't get any better than this.
The race for gold in Salt Lake City will be the most competitive
tournament in hockey history.
There have been other tournaments of interest in the past, of course, but even
Cups of the 1980's never had the quality of depth we'll be seeing in Salt Lake.
The great hockey powers of the day have become thoroughly integrated the last
ten years, with little in the way of mystery among the major participants.
There was a time when the
), Czech's and
ns were something of an enigma - not only in our view of them but vice versa as
In those days these types of gatherings were often a clash of hockey styles and
temperaments, a periodic coming together which produced spectacular and
gut-wrenching hockey simply because the participants knew little of each other.
But there is no mystery to Mats Sundin for Curtis Joseph. The Dominator knows
all the quirky tricks that Steve Yzerman can offer. Nik Khabibulin has
faced Eric Lindros a hundred times before, as has Mike Richter. When Tony
Amonte is barreling in on Chris Pronger it will seem like old times.
This will be different, but no less brilliant in the quality of play we will
Strangely, it will be the venue itself, aside from a large ice surface that
will cause most of the player's consternation.
Many, if not all, of the American and Canadian players have played on the large
ice surface before and while rusty, the experience will hardly be new.
But the absence of the red line in this tournament will be just as much a
mystery to most of the NHL veteran Europeans as it is to the
. And the European NHL'ers have spent so much time in North America now that it
must be difficult to step back and break the North American habits they've
Amid all those impressions is one startling fact - this might be the last,
great chance for
to end a 50 year drought for Olympic hockey gold.
The pressure will be large on any of
, the USA, the defending gold medallists Czech's as well as the
needs to win this tournament more than any other country primarily because it
seems unlikely the NHL will go through the hassle of shutting itself down again
for future Olympiads. Which means
may never again have a chance to assemble a team this good for a shot at
It's now or never for
And the best team in this tournament, top to bottom, comes from the frozen
It's actually an easy call.
's strongest opponent in this tournament but the USA always turns in an
outstanding performance when the Olympic tourney is on their home turf and will
surely find a way to kick, scratch and claw their way into a memorable final
also has an outstanding team for the large ice surface but internal wrangling
means only tournament best goaltending of Nik Khabibulin will take them to the