Monday, February 15, 2010

Olympic Hockey Preview

The 2010 Olympic Games from Vancouver are underway and the NHL has entered a two-week hiatus to allow stars from around the world to compete. With competition beginning on Tuesday afternoon, SportsJudge chatted with Olympic hockey expert Timo Seppa to get his take on the Games:

SportsJudge: Typically the Olympic Games are played on a much larger ice surface than what is standard in the NHL. Since these games are being played in Canada, that will not be the case. What impact will the normal NHL-sized ice surface have on the Games?

Timo Seppa: I love international ice and long for it every time it's missing from the tournament. The NHL's done a nice job of opening up the game since the lockout, taking away all the clutching and grabbing--from this point of view, the lockout was actually a great success--but going to international ice in the NHL would make the game even faster and more offensively-oriented.

With less room to move, what teams will this hurt the most? What teams will benefit?

Speed and skill teams like Russia and Sweden would have benefited from international ice. I'd say the US and Finland are two of the winners. Since 1980, the only time the US has medalled in recent history was in Salt Lake City, on the NHL-sized rink.

The NHL has halted league play for Olympic participation since 1998, but hinted it may not for the 2014 Games in Sochi, Russia. Will the outcry from Russian superstars like Alexander Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin force the owner's to give in?

Bettman and the powers that be would be nuts to forgo the Olympics in the future. It's not like folks rip it like the World Baseball Classic (with injury concerns). The rest of the hockey world sure as heck cares about the Olympics. I can't think of anything better--even Stanley Cup playoffs--than say, Canada vs. the United States, Russia vs. the Czech Republic or especially, Sweden vs. Finland.

In the 1988 Games in Calgary, Team Canada was favored on home ice, yet left with a disappointing 4th place finish. Is this the year Canada finally wins Gold at home?

Canada's clearly one of the four favorites, with Russia, Sweden, and USA. Puck Prospectus has picked Russia as the gold medal favorite. I admit, they are stronger at goaltender (Evgeni Nabokov and Ilya Bryzgalov) and defense (Andrei Markov and Sergei Gonchar) than usual, but I like Sweden to repeat. No team has the kind of crazy quality depth they do with the Sedin twins, Daniel Alfredsson, Nicklas Backstrom, Nicklas Lidstrom, rookie Patric Hornqvist, the wily old Peter Forsberg and of course Henrik Lundqvist in net.

What will it take for USA to knock off Canada?

For Ryan Miller or Tim Thomas to stand on his head, because Team USA's defense is their weakness. Also, with checking-oriented 3rd and 4th lines (shocking choices like Chris Drury and Ryan Callahan over the likes of Bill Guerin and Scott Gomez), those checking lines will need to do their job of shutting down the opposition's stars. But yes, Team USA is capable of beating anyone in the tournament, I'm just not sure they pull off two or three games in a row like that against the big boys.

Besides USA-Canada, what's one game in the preliminary round that fans should be sure to watch?

I'm biased, but Sweden-Finland is a grudge re-match from the 2006 Finals. I don't think the Swedes have so much of a problem with the Finns, but the Finns definitely have a Little Brother complex when it comes to Sweden. That game, along with USA-Canada, should be for secondary round byes, unless someone's faltered in their earlier games. The situation in Group B, with Russia, Czech, and Slovakia is more muddied.

It should be a great, great tournament. I'm really looking forward to it.

Timo Seppa is a Finnish-born hockey writer at Puck Prospectus who also runs the statistical website Ice Hockey Metrics. Timo represents Puck Prospectus in the Fantasy Hockey Challenge.

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Anonymous said...

Great interview, looking forward to it.

Blog Of Sport said...

It would be a great fun to play olympic and watch it online for everyone.

Sam said...

Hockey - graet sport!