The Olympians


The Vancouver Canucks are very well represented in the 2010 Winter Olympics held in Vancouver, British Columbia, with 6 players suiting up for their respective countries.

In an Olympic tournament that has had surprisingly few degrees of seperation, “underdog” nations are making headlines.  Earlier today, the strong Slovakian team learned this the hard way, with one of the narrowest escapes for a favored country, slipping past Norway, 4-3.  The Czech Republic also survived a scare with Latvia to squeak out a 3-2 overtime win.

Demitra’s Slovaks had some adversity to overcome to advance to the quarter-finals.  The Norwegians tied the game 3-3 in the final second of the 2nd period.  Fellow Slovaks Michal Handzus and Marian Gaborik scored powerplay markers and Miroslav Satan netted the game winner in the third.  With their prolific, high scoring forwards, Slovakia could present some real problems for reigning Olympic champions, Sweden.   Lubos Bartecko could be lost for the rest of the tournament with a concussion, following a scary hit to the head from Norway’s Ole Kristian Tollefsen.  Bartecko’s helmet came off before his head hit the ice, which opened a gash that bled profusely.  He would lie motionless for several minutes before a silenced sell-out crowd at GM Place.  He was treated by trainers in the arena before being moved to a clinic in the olympic village.

Considering that a record number of viewers (most ever for a hockey event in Canada) took in the Canada/ USA game on Sunday, I won’t drag readers into a full recap of the Americans first victory over Canada in 50 years.  But interestingly, Ryan Kesler foreshadowed the match with sentiments that the Americans would win this game.  Though Canada played it’s best hockey of the tournament in the last 4 minutes of the third period, Team USA would add an empty net goal to win 5-3.  That win forced Canada to play yesterday against Germany in a qualifying match for the right to face Russia, which Canada won handily, 8-2.

Following Canada’s loss to the Americans, head coach Mike Babcock approached Roberto Luongo Sunday night to inform him he would be starting the must-win game against Germany.  Though Luongo didn’t have to make a save until halfway through the first period, he was sharp, and saw the puck well.  Many of Germany’s shots were perimeter shots, with the Canadian defense playing aggressively.  On the second goal, Luongo stopped the first shot of a two-on-none, but was helpless to stop the rebound.  He finished the game with 21 stops, and looks to get the start in goal as the Canadians try for their first win over the former Soviet Union since 1960.  “I had a lot of fun out there tonight, and I’m sure I’ll have a lot more fun tomorrow” said Luongo.  The Canadians have been outscored by almost a 2-1 margin, and have a 1-9-0 record against the Soviets/Unified Team/Russians.

The reigning Olympic champions, Sweden, are off to another fantastic start in this tournament.  They are undefeated in their first three games, with only USA boasting a similar record.  The Sedin twins have factored largely into the winning equation, working very well with Daniel Alfredsson.  As has been witnessed so often in GM Place, their uncanny passing and ESP-esque playmaking continues during their olympic run.   Many hockey pundits are predicting that, despite Slovakia’s hardworking style and potent offense, that Sweden will overtake them in the quarter-finals.  The general prediction is a 4-2 final.

Excitement continues to build as the push for Olympic gold intensifies after the playoff rounds.   Several teams seem poised for glory, but the quarter finals will force a couple of contenders into a battle for silver and bronze medals.

While it won’t necessarily breed malcontent in the Vancouver Canucks dressing room, it should be interesting to see what national bragging rights will do for any Canucks that have gold medals hanging from their necks come tourneys end.   No matter the result, Vancouver Canuck fans can hold their heads high, knowing their team is comprised of Olympic heroes.