Kukla's Korner Hockey
from Brendan Shanahan at NHL.com,
I’m trying to get in the heads of the Team USA brain trust. While watching Team Canada squeak out a shootout victory against the Swiss, I couldn’t help but wonder what coach Ron Wilson and General Manager Brian Burke were thinking.
As pleased as USA was in beating Norway, I have to believe that the coaching staff’s attention already had turned to Sunday’s game against Canada before most players had taken off their skates. When you are about to play a hockey “super power,” there is a part of you that hopes the team you’re facing comes in over-confident and unprepared for the attack you’re planning. Were Burke and Wilson thinking, OK Swiss team, THANKS A LOT—you just woke up this entire team AND country?!
from sixsevenfiftysix of Japers Rink,
With only one game remaining for each team, the scenarios for what each team needs to have happen for a first round bye are as clear as they’ll be. I thought it’d be fun (in a nerdy way) to break down which teams would get a top four seed depending on how the remaining games go down.
continued and don’t get a headache…
from Risto Pakarinen at NHL.com,
Finland wants Sweden’s scalp. No kidding.
Sunday will be a day of rivalry without, well, a rival when all of the big hockey nations meet each other. Czechs and Russians, Canada and USA—and then Sweden versus Finland. For a few million people 4,700 miles east of the Winter Games venue, the last one may be the biggest of the tournament….
The Finns really, really don’t want to lose to Sweden. Especially not in hockey.
Here’s an example: During the Beijing Summer Olympics in 2008, a leading Finnish newspaper reported every day how Sweden still hadn’t won a gold. That was the whole story. “Sweden hasn’t won a gold medal”. And what a great story it was.
“No. Absolutely not, you never want to lose to the Swedes, in anything. It’s like the Old Firm in Scottish soccer, between the Glasgow Rangers and Glasgow Celtic,” says Niki Juusela, play-by-play announcer for Finnish YLE.
The Swedes can stick it to the Finns, too, although for them, it doesn’t seem to be as important, no matter what Nicklas Bäckstrom—“It’s a pretty big game, a little more emotion in it than in a regular game”—or Nicklas Lidström—“The rivalry is not just in hockey, it’s about all sports. It’s a fun game to be a part of, and surely it’ll be a great battle”—would have you believe.
from Dejan Kovacevic of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette,
Evgeni Malkin, solo artist?
That is how he has looked for most of Russia’s first two games, and through no apparent fault of his own: Malkin has skated feverishly since the first faceoff, at times bowling through teammates and opponents alike to win loose pucks. But there has been no more than scant indication that he is clicking with linemates Ilya Kovalchuk and Maxim Afinogenov.
On one level, that should be little surprise despite the compelling assembly of names: Kovalchuk’s passing is not a strong suit, certainly not compared to his shooting, and many of his shots have been blocked. He has been the target of most of Malkin’s passes, with little reciprocation. Afinogenov always has been known more for his speed than hands, and there has been little chemistry….
One possibility could be to move Pavel Datsyuk, who looks just as isolated on the top line with Washington teammates Alexander Ovechkin and Alexander Semin, with Malkin.
from Craig Custance of the Sporting News,
On Sunday, three of the world’s best rivalries will be played in a hockey tripleheader expected to be as intense as anything in these Olympic Games. Canada plays the United States, Russia plays the Czech Republic and Finland plays Sweden.
All three are huge rivalries, and they’re also rematches of the past three Winter Olympic gold medal games.
“What’s the odds of that? I think maybe someone had something to do with that,” Sweden forward Henrik Zetterberg said with a smile. “It’s good for the fans, and it’s good for us, too. We enjoy playing against each other.”
In what was touted as the best hockey tournament ever assembled—and the tight, exciting games so far have lived up to that hype—Sunday could be the pinnacle. Or at least as big as the gold medal game.
Wayne Gretzky is predicting a showdown between Team Canada and Russia in the men’s hockey gold-medal game at the Vancouver Olympics.
“And I pick Canada to win gold,” he told a roaring crowd Friday night at Molson Canadian Hockey House….
“The best thing that probably could have happened to this team was a close, tight game and it shows this team can win under pressure,” Gretzky said. “Going forward, I think they’ll just get better and stronger every night.”
He predicted Canada, Russia, the U.S. and Sweden will face off in the semifinals, though he didn’t rule out Finland showing its mettle.
from Phil Sheridan of the Philadelphia Inquirer,
“I always want to play better,” Forsberg said after Sweden’s white-knuckle 4-2 victory over Belarus yesterday. “I’m 36. I don’t think it’s going to get much better. To be honest, I’d rather be in my prime than like this.”
There was resignation in his voice as well as his piercing blue eyes. For the last couple years, since he withdrew from NHL competition because of a chronic foot problem, there are periodic reports that Forsberg might return. He is hockey’s Sasquatch, Loch Ness monster and D.B. Cooper all rolled into one.
“I would say [he’s been asked] at least 100 times,” Forsberg said, and that has to be a conservative estimate. “I tried to come back in Colorado, but I wasn’t playing at the level I want.”
Guess what? Forget it. Forsberg said he will finish the season with the Swedish League team he plays with, but that will likely be it for his stellar career.
Indeed, when he looks back with the benefit of hindsight, he can see that his efforts to play with the foot injury were futile.
from Jeff Z. Klein of the New York Times,
No one says that the N.H.L. is anything less than the world’s top league. But some of the best players so far at these Olympics do not make their living in it.
Some once were stars in North America: Jaromir Jagr of Avangard Omsk in the Russian K.H.L., Zigmund Palffy of HK 36 Skalica in the Slovakian Extraliga, Peter Forsberg of Modo Hockey Ornskoldsvik in the Swedish Elitserien and Sergei Fedorov of Metallurg Magnitogorsk in the K.H.L.
Others are players who established themselves as stars in their respective domestic leagues: Alexei Morozov of Ak Bars Kazan in the K.H.L., Roman Cervenka of Slavia Prague in the Czech Extraliga and Hnat Domenichelli of SC Bern in the Swiss N.L.A.
“We can skate — in Switzerland the games are so fast,” Domenichelli said after the Swiss team had rallied from two goals behind to extend Canada to overtime and then to a shootout.
Domenichelli was born and raised in Edmonton, Alberta, and played 267 N.H.L. games before heading to Switzerland in 2003. He is the N.L.A.’s No. 2 scorer.
from Steve Simmons of the Toronto Sun,
The U.S. won the World Cup of hockey in 1996, defeating Canada in the finals.
Canada won the gold medal in Salt Lake City in 2002, beating the Americans.
And so it has gone: The most recent example being a Canadian shootout win on New Year’s Eve, followed by the gold medal loss at the World Junior tournament in Saskatoon last month.
This isn’t 1980 anymore. This isn’t a pickup team of hungry American college kids taking on the world’s best. This is Patrick Kane and Erik Johnson, first picks in the NHL draft, and this is Bobby Ryan and Jack Johnson, second picks. This is more than half a team of first round picks — and most of the rest should have been first rounders.
“There’s a lot of talent in the U.S. right now” said Team Canada executive director Steve Yzerman. “This is a legitimate rivarly and they’re a legitimate rival.
“The game is growing in the States and we can bad mouth the NHL that we’re in all these bad markets, but what’s happened in those markets is you’re starting to see hockey players developed. You’re starting to see players from Calfornia and St. Louis and other places where there were no players before.”
from Phil Coffey of NHL.com,
The one-game philosophy sure makes it interesting, even in 2010 where logic tells you Team Canada has more than enough goods to win this thing. Or the Russians, with their strong goaltending and potent offense.
“If you were to put us against Canada in 82 games, I don’t like our chances,” Sweden’s Daniel Alfredsson said. “But to play them one game, we definitely can beat them.”
“I don’t think it’s a given that Canada’s going to win. Not at all,” American forward Ryan Malone told reporters. “I mean, I can understand why people here feel that way. There’s a lot of pride. Canadians learn to play hockey before they go to church. But I look around at the players I’ve seen here today, and I see not just two or three teams that can win this. I see a lot of them.”
“That’s the biggest thing of all,” Malone said. “It’s just one game. Anything can happen.”
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Paul Kukla founded Kukla’s Korner in 2005 and the site has since become the must-read site on the ‘net for all the latest happenings around the NHL.
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