There’s a lot of talk going on about hockey at the Olympics. Especially the debate about whether the NHL should stay or go. Its not just about the shortened season or stopping an NHL season in its tracks. The argument now is that Canada or the USA is too good, and the games do nothing for Hockey. That you can’t get a read for how the Olympics effect hockey’s popularity. I for one think that a simple look at the difference between 2006 and 2010 Olympics shows that hockey is gaining traction in Europe. Especially in the smaller hockey playing countries of the world.
2006 had a different format, but all you have to do is look at what happened when the playoffs came around. In 2006 in the Quarterfinals the games weren’t close except for Finland – USA. All the other games were 2 goal wins which except for Russia-Canada were out of reach by the 3rd period. In 2010 two games went to OT (one requiring a shootout) and those two teams that lost supposedly didn’t have the talent to push it that close. Norway, another team which was supposed to be routed, mounted a huge comeback after a major penalty gave Slovakia a 2 goal lead right out the gate. Only Germany facing a pissed off Canada team truly got manhandled in the Qualification round.
Twice in the Quarterfinals a team won only by two goals in the third period. Canada again ran over a team, but it wasn’t a small country or non hockey country. Russia had no right to be destroyed, and were one of the top rated countries going into the Olympics. A round later little Slovakia put up a better fight against Canada then anything Russia managed. Russia coming out of these Olympics should be embarrassed and ashamed of their performance.
Little Slovakia took out the last Gold Medal winner Sweden. Finland defeated the Czech Republic just barely by 2 goals in the third. USA beat Switzerland but it was another close game only won by a goal in the third and an empty netter. You couldn’t have gotten any closer then these games. These close games weren’t with teams overloaded with NHL talent, especially the Swiss and Slovaks.
The 2006 Olympics saw two blowouts in the Semis. Although the US manhandled Finland, the incredible Canada – Slovakia game was well worth every moment spent watching. Slovakia spent the game protecting their zone and counter punching. Finally when Canada started playing not to lose, Slovakia came back with two goals and if not for Demitra missing two shots at a wide open net in the closing seconds it would have went to overtime. Although the finals ending up USA – Canada, you can’t deny the improvement of a lot of smaller teams. Maybe not during pool play, but definitely once the games started to matter.
Plus if the NHL wasn’t in this Olympics, you wouldn’t have Canada’s golden boy scoring the winning goal in overtime. Obviously the US amateurs can play to the same level of the Canadians, but its much more likely with the pros. The US – Canada game was an instant classic. The great goaltending at both ends can not be denied. Ryan Miller definitely deserved to be voted MVP of the tourney. Even more incredible is that Canada had 3 goalies on their bench. Two of them have been to the Stanley Cup finals multiple times, one had one Stanley cup win, the other had multiple wins. Yet the goalie that leads them to the Gold has never been past round two of the playoffs. Hopefully Roberto Luongo will get some more respect that he deserves.
I say keep the NHL in the Olympics. Its obvious that the sport in Europe is only getting bigger as time goes by. Just like when the Dream Team in the Olympics routed everyone the first time, in a few years the Dream Team became the Nightmare Team and Europe overtook Team USA. We are getting closer and closer to the day that Russia/Canada/USA aren’t going to run roughshod over the Olympics.