Wednesday, February 24, 2010

You All Should Care About This More

It's a big ol' day of Olympic hockey as we move on to the elimination rounds, and not those silly qualification round games where giants pick on lesser countries. I shouldn't be quite so condescending. After all, Norway did push Slovakia to overtime and Latvia put a scare into the Czech Republic, which also needed overtime to advance.

But let's be honest here. These were not big matchups. With the possible exception of USA-Switzerland at 3 p.m. all of today's quarterfinal matches feature big-time showdowns. I of course will be most glued to the United States, which should, all things being equal, manage a victory over the Swiss. Beyond defenseman Mark Streit and netminder Jonas Hiller, this team is mostly bereft of NHLers and should be a relative easy match. Of course, if being a Mets and Giants fan has taught me anything it's not to take any game for granted. This goes double for the Swiss, who almost stole a game from Canada in the round robin. With Hiller in goal, Switzerland is a threat to beat anyone any day, which makes me extremely antsy.

That said, USA-Switzerland is probably the least sexy game of the day. Finland and the Czech Republic will give us a meeting of two gold medal contenders at 10 as will Slovakia and Sweden at midnight.

But neither of those is the one I'm excited about. Nope. Not one bit.


"Well, what are you excited about, Dave?!"

At the beginning of this tournament, Canada was the prohibitive gold medal favorite with many tabbing Russia as the team most likely to stand in its way. Well, Russia does, indeed, stand in its way, but not for all of the marbles, as we all expected. Instead, the Canadians' disappointing first-round showing, which saw the greatest collection of hockey talent on the planet get taken to a shootout before a stunning loss to the U.S., has put both of these teams in quite a predicament.

We're all getting the game we wanted, but instead of gold, they aren't playing for any medal at all. Whomever loses will go home in a remarkably unexpected turn of events.

And that's not why it's so exciting.

Here's why it's so exciting. Canada and Russia don't like each other. Really, they don't. In fact, they hate each other. While we Americans only think of Russian hockey in terms of Sergei Fedorov and the Miracle on Ice, Canada has its own storied rivalry with the east. This comes not so much out of any history of dramatic upsets, but more over the pride of which nation is the greatest in the sport. These tensions came to a head during the 1972 Summit Series, which still is one of the proudest hockey moments for any Canadian who was or wasn't alive at the time. Canada rallied from a 5-3 deficit with three third-period goals in the decisive game in Moscow.

Some Canadians, such as the delightful, and phenomenally dressed Don Cherry still believe the Russians to be too soft to compete with the real men of Canada. Or at the very least that they're taking jobs from good Canadian boys.

If the historic rivalry over the two doesn't whet your appetite enough, perhaps the fact that the three best players in the world will be in the game will. In fact, number one and two will be on opposite sides of the ice and they don't like each other one bit and they're quite vocal about it. The two have faced each other a number of times, including a thrilling playoff series last year when both scored hat tricks in the same game.

During the regular season, Ovechkin's Capitals have had a tendency to win more often than not lately, including a thriller on Super Bowl Sunday this year, when Ovi's hat trick propelled the Caps to their 14th straight win in overtime. Of course, despite the regular season success, Crosby has clearly been the one who has gotten the ultimate prize so far among other spoils.

Regardless, what this all boils down to is the two most dynamic players in the world, who don't like each other, playing for their countries, which don't like each other, in the biggest international hockey tournament in the world in a one-off elimination game.

How on Earth can you not be excited about this? The only person who might not be is Crosby's phenomenal teammate and Russian forward Evgeni Malkin, who, if nothing else, just gets lost in the shuffle. I haven't even gotten to the dozens of All Stars suiting up for either side such as Jarome Iginla or Ilya Kovalchuk.

This is an incredible international matchup with stars and stakes that happen once every four years if we're lucky. If you enjoy any sport, let alone hockey, you should be watching this game.

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