Next month, the 2014 Winter Olympic Games will be held in Sochi, Russia. At the centerpiece of the competition will be the men’s ice hockey tournament. Host country Russia will aim for gold–with strong challenges from across the world.
Four years ago, the two most powerful hockey nations in the world engaged in one of the best games ever. Team Canada won a gold medal, in overtime, against the United States in Vancouver. It was a perfect moment, with superstar center Sidney Crosby scoring the golden goal. For a brief moment, the world turned to ice hockey and its best players.
Since then, it’s been an interesting time between the NHL and its upstart counterpart, the Kontinental Hockey League. Based mostly in Russia, the KHL wants to match or beat the NHL in every aspect of play. During last season’s NHL lockout, rumors swirled that Dynamo Moscow was going to offer Alex Ovechkin a substantial contract. He didn’t take it, and has since returned to play for the NHL’s Washington Capitals.
The KHL has lured some Russian players back to the fold. After an unsuccessful run with the Nashville Predators, Alex Radulov
decided to sign with CSKA Moscow. While this may have been disappointing, it wasn’t wholly surprising. Before this season, Devils winger Ilya Kovalchuk decided to “retire” from the NHL. He did this to free up his contract and then return home to Russia to play for SKA Saint Petersburg.
Many have pointed to the KHL as a possible reason for the decline of Russians in the NHL as a whole. The country is not totally unrepresented, with young stars such as Nail Yakupov and Vladimir Tarsenko in the league. Furthermore, as much as the KHL has grown, much of the Olympic roster is comprised of NHL players.
As much as the KHL may want it to be a demonstration of their league versus the NHL, it will not come down to that in the tournament. Instead, it will focus on selections or lack thereof by the North American teams.
On January 1st, the Winter Classic happened, with the Leafs beating the Red Wings in a shootout. Afterwards, USA Hockey announced the roster of players who were to be competing in Sochi. Some names were obvious Parise, Kesler, Suter. A couple names were left out and the most notable was Bobby Ryan. The Ottawa Senator is the best scoring forward America has to offer, taken one spot after Sidney Crosby. His inclusion was thought to be automatic.
The decision caused a lot of strife throughout the hockey world, especially those concerned about Team USA. While Ryan will still be an injury replacement if necessary, the fact that he wasn’t named to begin with is ridiculous. Nonetheless, Team USA will attempt to medal with a solid squad of players including scorers like Joe Pavelski and Phil Kessel.
Bobby Ryan. Snub.
Team USA’s group will be somewhat tilted in their favor, with the big game coming against Russia. While every team makes it, the goal is to become one of the top two teams to earn better seeding. Slovenia and Slovakia are not major hockey countries, and both the United States and Russia should be able to win those contests. An early tone may be set on February 15th.
Since Team USA and Russia do not end with each other, they will most likely put out their best teams to play for the group title. A small victory will be good for either team, with no one getting any moral satisfaction out of it.