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Olympic Hockey Heats Up, At Least For Now

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In men’s Olympic hockey games yesterday the United States beat Switzerland 2-0, and Canada smashed Russia 7-3, bringing a United States-Canada rematch one step closer. Finland defeated the Czech Republic 2-0 and Slovakia beat Sweden 4-3. The US will play Finland and Canada will play Slovakia in the semifinals on the February 26.

U.S. goalie Ryan Miller once again turned in a good performance by blocking all of Switzerland’s 19 shot attempts. The excellent play of Jonas Hiller for Switzerland (42 shots) kept this from being a blowout. Both goals occurred in the third period by Zach Parise. His first goal came at 2:08 on a power play, and his second goal was an empty net goal at the end of the game.

Meanwhile, Canada put on a scoring exhibition in their game against Russia. Evgeni Nabokov started in goal for Russia, but was replaced in the second period by Ilya Bryzgalov. Nabokov gave up six goals to six different players before being pulled.

Unfortunately, the Canada-Russia game did not live up to the expected hype of a close, low-scoring, and hard-hitting game. The NBC analysts built it up as a physical match between NHL rivals Alexander Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby, but neither player provided anything noteworthy. Ovechkin slightly injured his hand late in the third when he tried to catch a puck, but he quickly returned after a brief rest on the bench. The game play by the Russians disappointed to the extent that NBC announcer Mike Milbury referred to their lackluster play as “eurotrash” hockey. Canada certainly showed up for the game, but the lack of competition sullied the hype.

With only a few minutes left in the game Russia’s Alexander Semin and Canada’s Dan Boyle got into an altercation. Semin took a cheap shot on Boyle behind the net, and Boyle retaliated. Both players ended up in the sin bin. While Semin’s hit was uncalled for that late in the game especially with the lopsided score, the retaliation by Boyle seemed over zealous. Boyle took out Semin’s legs for a total knockdown as well as hitting Semin with a high stick.

As we enter the elimination rounds, it is getting much rougher, the level of competition is improving, and the hits are getting harder. The NHL players have provided hockey fans with enjoyable and entertaining Olympic hockey. Yet, you have to wonder if the NHL will continue to allow their star players to participate in the Olympics past 2010 and risk injury to their investments. Both Canada and the United States have 23 NHL players. Russia has 14 and Switzerland only has two. The NHL claims they have over $2.1 billion in players participating in the Vancouver Olympics with no fiscal return on their investment.

In addition to the player injury concerns, the 17-day break occurring at roughly mid-season also bothers the owners. That’s 17 days with no revenue generation for the owners, arenas, or hometown businesses. Some of the smaller clubs such as the Tampa Bay Lightning are already having problems attracting fans. Maybe simply seeing the NHL players in the Olympics will bring in more fans. But how much the layoff affects the bottom line of clubs remains to be seen.

The NHL has not made a decision in regards to allowing their players to participate in the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. Because players will need to travel further, that break may need to be longer than 17 days. This will definitely be one of the issues they bring up at August’s Molson Canadian Open Ice Summit.

In a pregame interview with NBC analyst Jeremy Roenick, Alexander Ovechkin stated his desire to play in his homeland for the 2014 Winter Olympics regardless of the NHL’s decision. He said for him, hockey is not about the money, but about heart. Unfortunately, for owners it is about money, and we will have to wait on their decision for future Olympics.

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About Bruce G. Smith

I'm a part time writer with a few articles published here and there. In addition to writing, I'm into nature and architectural photography.
  • El Bicho

    “with no fiscal return on their investment.”

    Maybe not directly but from a marketing standpoint it’s a great showcase for the some of the best players in the league and provides access to an audience that may only tune into hockey because of the Olympics.

  • Sahar

    I find it rather unfair that NHL players can participate in the Olympics. I know it makes for great hockey – including for Canada, when our players are not sleeping on the ice lol – but it hardly seems fair to countries who have few if any professional players.

  • Dr Dreadful

    Same thing can be said for basketball at the summer Games. But at least the NHL is much more cosmopolitan, which levels the Olympic playing field somewhat.

  • Dr Dreadful

    ^ than the NBA

  • roger nowosielski

    I don’t buy that argument, Sahar.

    Look at how the level of tennis improved since the Jack Krammer professionals were allowed to compete in the Open.

    The professional-amateur distinction is no longer valid. Darn, it wasn’t valid even ages ago when the so-called amateurs from the Cold War era were in fact pros.

  • Bruce Smith

    El Bicho, I agree the NHL is getting some great exposure. We’ll have to see if that can translate into increased ticket sales, and television viewership when the players return to their NHL teams.

  • El Bicho

    Bruce, that’s what made NBC’s decision to hide the US v Canada on cable an odder decision than Jay at 10. NBC has the NHL so how did they not see it was in their best interest to bump ice dancing or whatever was on

  • Matthew T. Sussman

    I can sort of see why they didn’t show it on NBC. They didn’t want to be pigeonholed into three hours of a hockey game (which could have been ugly the other way around) instead of something for the whole family that otherwise doesn’t care for sports. In hindsight it wasn’t a good decision.

    Of course, this now sets the table perfectly should USA and Canada rematch in the medal round.

  • Jordan Richardson

    Russian players like Ovechkin and Kovalchuk have already stated their intentions to play in the Olympics in Sochi, so you can expect them to be there in their home country when the Olympics hit there.

    They’ve gone so far as to say that they’d leave the NHL if they weren’t permitted to represent their home country and I think fair is fair. With so many Russian players putting asses in seats in the National Hockey League, it would be foolish for Lord Bettman to sit on his hands and not sign the deal.

  • Jordan Richardson

    Sahar, lots of teams are have pros that aren’t in the NHL. Look at the Russians with a large amount of KHL players, for instance. With the growing KHL and better coaching and management in other international leagues, I think the time will come when having the “NHL advantage” will be quite meaningless.

  • roger nowosielski

    The simplest way of breaking the possible impasse is for the NHL players to insist on Olympic participation as part of their NHL contract.

    It would be interesting to see how many owners would balk when faced with such a predicament.

  • Jordan Richardson

    I don’t know that you can build those clauses into contracts. It would certainly be unprecedented and would take some smart footwork from the NHLPA and the owners to try to iron something out that pleases both parties.

    This really comes down to the same thing that sits at the root of most similar issues: Gary Bettman’s ego. He never gets tired of playing “tough” with the players and insists on backing a quest for TV ratings, so that’s his major concern regarding Olympic competition in Sochi. He simply believes that the time zone differences will made fewer viewers and that fewer viewers will mean a smaller amount of crossover ratings to future NHL games.

    Of course, in order for Bettman’s viewpoint to carry much weight here, he’d have to have proven that he’s actually interested in negotiating viable TV contracts in the U.S. in the first place. And the NBC deal, as it currently stands, is far from what it could be to benefit the game. Couple that mentality with the stubbornness of keeping teams in pisspoor markets and you’re getting warmer as to the cause of this “impasse.”

    It isn’t the players and it isn’t the owners, in other words.

  • roger nowosielski

    Why couldn’t adjusting the NHL schedule to accommodate Olympic competition be the first constructive step?

  • roger nowosielski

    Here’s an argument against NHL participation.

    I understand the concerns. However, NBA’s drawing card did not suffer from Olympic participation. Likewise, it’s arguable that neither will NHL’s.

    It’s just a fact of live that NHL will never draw as much as basketball.

  • roger nowosielski

    fact of life . . .

  • Jordan Richardson

    Why couldn’t adjusting the NHL schedule to accommodate Olympic competition be the first constructive step?

    It is adjusted each time Olympic competition comes on to the table. It’s not actually that big of a problem to do so once every four years, especially with players wanting to represent their countries.

    And that article, as with most objections to Olympic participation from a money standpoint, take an Americentric point of view.

    Bettman’s desire to grow the NHL game should extend beyond the United States for a change – and into Canada.