The Winter Olympics can be compelling for a variety of different reasons, but for NHL fans it invariably comes down to one event: men’s ice hockey. Both the Canadian and American teams kick off today, with Team Canada starting against Norway at 4:30 Pacific Time.
Coach Mike Babcock has elected to start Roberto Luongo in net against Norway, while Martin Brodeur will get his first game on Thursday against the Swiss. Babcock explained that the move would give Brodeur a few more days of rest:
“Marty has played a lot of hockey and this gives him a couple of days’ breather. Marty will play against Switzerland and after that I will make the decision. That’s what we came up with.”
Babcock’s words indicate that the decision about who will be the number one goalie for the remainder of the tournament has not yet been decided. Brodeur remains the overwhelming favourite for the job, on the basis of his strong resume and success in championship games, but the recent history of both players makes things less clear cut. Frankly, I still think it’s Brodeur’s job to lose; in Detroit Babcock has traditionally gone with total track record over recent results in making his goaltending decisions (Hasek over Osgood to start the 2008 playoffs, Osgood over Conklin in 2009), but that doesn’t mean that Brodeur can’t lose the job and I’d assume Babcock is keeping an open mind.
As for Canada’s opposition, Scott Reynolds did a great write-up on Norway during his preview of Group A, as they aren’t terribly imposing. Patrick Thoresen (pictured above) is an incredibly underrated player and should probably still be in the NHL, but when he’s the best forward on the team it doesn’t take a particle physicist to realize that these teams are not on even footing. Ole-Kristian Tollefsen headlines the defence, and aside from those two there aren’t any players particularly recognizable on this side of the pond.
This shouldn’t be close.
Team USA starts the tournament off with a game against Switzerland at 12:00 PT. The Swiss have improved a lot over the last decade, and Jonas Hiller is the key player for them. It will be interesting to see how they fare against the Americans prior to their game against Canada, and this should be the closest of today’s games.
Continuing the theme of mismatches, the very scary Russian team plays Latvia, and while the Latvians have some players (notably Karlis Skrastins) they’re minus their older ex-NHL stars Irbe and Ozolinsh, and if they can keep the score to within three goals it will represent a major accomplishment.
A lot of the stuff I’m including here comes from Scott Reynolds’ excellent Olympic previews; I linked to his Group A article above but I strongly recommend reading both his Group B and Group C articles as well.