Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Gold Bug

With Switzerland and Belarus currently locked in a 2-2 third period tie in the first of today's playoff qualification games, it's a good time for a quick Olympic hockey review. We start with an e-mail from long-time Fraters reader James of Folsom, California:

No predictions? Seriously? Come on, no guts, no glory.

Honestly, I am embarrassed for you.

When a guy who plans his vacation schedules around the Frozen Four and the opening hours of the US Hockey Hall of Fame and uses Comic San MS as his default e-mail font is embarrassed for you, you almost have no choice but to respond. Here goes:

Although the Belarusians could be on the verge of playing spoilers early, I see all the higher seeds winning today. Tomorrow, I'll take Sweden over Slovakia and in a bit of an upset, see the Czechs knocking off the Finns. Canada and Russia should be a great one and I'm torn on the outcome. The home ice will be just enough of an edge to let the Canucks squeak by in a thriller. The US may struggle a bit, but should be able to get by either the Swiss or the boys from Belarus.

That would mean another stellar semifinal match up for Canada against Sweden. Again, a close game, but Team Canada comes out on top. The other semi with the US and Czech Republic facing off will also be a good one. But the Americans are on a roll and I gotta go with the hot hand.

Which would mean a gold medal game rematch between Canada and the US. Which would be incredible for hockey fans in both countries. Even those who don't follow the game closely in the US would likely want to tune in for this game. My heart says USA, but my head says that Canada has too much talent to lose twice to the plucky US squad on home ice. The entire country will finally be able to exhale as they win the gold on Canadian soil. Sweden grabs the bronze.

Having said all that, I just as easily could see the Russians besting the Canadians in the quarterfinals and winning the gold themselves. When you're talking single elimination hockey games with teams that are this closely matched, the sports cliché that "anything could happen" actually rings true. As we're seeing right now with Belarus and Switzerland headed to OT.

Wright e-mail to share his Olympic memory:

For me, Mark Johnson's goal with one second left in the first period of the 1980 game against the Russians was the Olympic moment to remember and treasure. I was on my way home from work listening to the game on the radio and had just come out of the Lowry Hill tunnel when he made that shot. It was an electrifying moment, totally changed the complexion of the game, and all of a sudden, all the dozens of cars around me on I-94 started blowing their horns. It was really something.

That shared experience is something that makes the Olympics special. When I came into the office yesterday morning, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that just about everyone--even people who don't know a forecheck from their forehead--was talking about the previous night's US-Canada game. Even here in the State of Hockey, you don't see that same level of interest over a Wild playoff run or a Gopher Frozen Four appearance. Hopefully, we'll get a chance to share further experiences over the next five days.

Finally, Mark e-mails with a story on one of the hardest working men in Vancouver:

Mike Emrick announced two Olympic men's hockey games Sunday--Russia's defeat of the Czech Republic and the United States' win over Canada--then relaxed with his wife, Joyce, in their hotel room to watch Sweden shut out Finland.

"I fell asleep in the middle of it," he said Monday by telephone. "I don't know if Joyce chose something else."

There is some fatigue in calling Olympic doubleheaders, as Emrick has already done six times in Vancouver.

Calling two hockey games in one day is a challenge. Doing it SIX times in ten days is a feat of vocal strength. While I'm usually pretty hard on announcers--especially in hockey--Emrick is about as good as it gets on the TV side today. My only suggestion for improvement would be for him to pronounce Parise the way it's been said in these parts for a long time. Al Shaver is my gold standard when it comes to hockey announcers and the proper pronouncement of player names.

Switzerland downs Belarus 3-2 in a shootout to set up a rematch in the quarterfinals with Team USA tomorrow. 2pm central time? (cough cough) I think I'm coming down with something.

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