With the Olympics and a whopping 80% of the country watching at least part of yesterday’s gold medal game it’s going to be a bit of a culture shock going back to watching games like Tuesday’s Leafs/Hurricanes match-up, but it was one hell of a two weeks. One thing I heard at the end of yesterday’s matchup is that although Canada won the game the real winner was the sport of hockey. I can’t agree more with this, but not because of the gold medal game only.
One thing that stuck out in my mind was that this was the first international hockey tournament I’ve seen in which every team was competitive. With the exception of the 8-0 Canada win over Norway, and Finland’s collapse in the first 10 minutes of their semi-final game against the US losing 6-1, there wasn’t a single blowout in the mens bracket. Teams like Latvia, Belarus, and even the Germans were competitive in every game. The fact that Latvia got two (very good) goals past Nabakov is huge in my mind. What about Belarus playing the defending Olympic Champion Swedes, being down 3-1 in the 3rd, bringing it within 3-2 and then ringing one off the post moments after their second goal nearly tying the game. There was also the Latvians who down 2-0 in the 3rd period of their qualifier who completed a 3rd period comeback only to fall just short in OT.
There were a handful of moments at this Olympics which demonstrated just how far the sport has come internationally. One last such example was Norway who almost beat a Swiss team that the game before had taken Canada to a shootout. Norway a team made up of KHLers, SELers and other European league players with only one NHL player to their roster. They lost to the Swiss 5-4. Belarus also almost made it out of their qualifier game and in what was probably the biggest upset of the tournament, the Slovaks beat the Russians in a shootout capped by the Canucks own Pavol Demitra.
After watching two weeks of some of the best hockey we’ll ever get to see in this city one thing’s for sure, the sport we love to watch is becoming more competitive which only spells good things for the future. It’s only a matter of time before we see other teams entering the mix. Japan has a hockey league that saw Claude Lemieux’s presence for a number of years before he returned to the Sharks for one last stint. Heck, we all know if the Chinese want to be good at something they will find a way to be. The presence of China’s womens hockey team at this Olympics in my mind means it’s only a matter of time before the sport becomes even more global than it already is.
The reigning champion Swedes lost in what is now a changing of the guard for Sweden as it was likely the last Olympics for a number of Swedish greats like Lidstrom and Forsberg. It also saw the Slovaks tie their best finish in an Olympics ever. While this sport is Canada’s game, and while we still get over the Olympic hangover and the first gold rush in BC in over 100 years, the rest of the world wants to play and I for one love it!