SOCHI, Russia — You may recall Team Canada didn’t exactly come flying out of the gates in 2010 either. A mere shootout win over Switzerland and a loss to the United States in the preliminary round meant the Olympic hosts would have to play Germany in the qualification playoffs, instead of advancing directly to the quarterfinals. You know how it ended — Roberto Luongo replaced Martin Brodeur and Canada won four straight, including the gold-medal game.
Sure, it would be nice to get the rest. Yes, there’s always the risk of injury. And of course there’s always the possibility you could, you know, lose. But there’s something to be said for the additional time a qualification game provides to come together as a team.
“Now we suddenly have some video on our own guys,” coach Mike Babcock said Thursday after Canada’s 3-1 victory over Norway. “We can talk about our team game.
“Once you trust each other and you trust your structure, your skill comes out because you’re in the right spots and playing fast. I thought we did a lot of good things tonight. Don’t get me wrong. But we can be way better. We understand that, and we’re confident that we’re going to be.”
Canada. Russia. United States. Sweden. Finland. Czech Republic. At least two of those sides will have to play in the qualification playoffs. If it happens to your side, try not to fret; it’s not necessarily the worst thing, and may in fact be a good thing.
—- Per the Olympic News Service, this was Russian coach Zinetula Bilyaletdinov after his team’s 5-2 win over Slovenia: “We passed too much today, we needed to shoot much more. The fancy passing is nice to watch, but shooting brings results.”
Babcock could’ve said the same thing after Canada’s 3-1 win over Norway. (Jonathan Toews did.)
I think we’ll see a more basic approach from the Canadians tonight versus Austria, and Sidney Crosby is one player to watch in this regard. For all the fancy passes he completed last night, the results weren’t there.
—- Helene St. James of the Detroit Free Press sums up the Red Wings’ concerns following Henrik Zetterberg’s withdrawal from the Olympics with a back issue: “The Wings can ill afford to be without Zetterberg, their captain and best all-around player. They are coming out of the Olympic break, in less than two weeks, clinging to the last wild card spot in the Eastern Conference playoff race. Pavel Datsyuk is also hurting, playing on an inflamed knee, but [general manager Ken Holland] said he has heard nothing new on Datsyuk.”
And remember that Johan Franzen (concussion) is out until further notice as well.
The focus is on the Olympics now, but the Wings’ injuries mean opportunity for Columbus, Ottawa, Washington, Carolina and New Jersey when the NHL gets back to business.
—- Here was commissioner Gary Bettman, almost two decades ago, before NHLers were set to make their Olympic debut in Nagano: ”We’re going to get exposure like the world has never seen for hockey. This is about 120-plus of the world’s elite hockey players playing for pride and playing for their countries. It will give us a tournament of high magnitude. It will be quite compelling.”
And here was deputy commissioner Bill Daly, earlier this week on an ESPN.com podcast, on the prospect of continued Olympic participation: “We’re in a different place now, 20 years later than we were 20 years ago. And that adds to the equation as well. Where is the National Hockey League today on the global landscape, on the North American landscape? Do we need the Olympics to help raise the visibility of hockey, and professional hockey, throughout the world? And I’m not sure the answer is yes.”
Keep that in mind.
Related: If NHLers want ongoing Olympic participation, they need to speak up