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.Powered by Sidelines