1. I'm seeing a lot of headlines about USA winning like the final game against Canada. What happened?
The men's U.S. Olympic hockey team defeated Canada 5-3 in the final game of the preliminary round
of play. The Olympics began with three groups of four teams each. Each team then played three games against each of the other members in the group. A win in regulation resulted in 3 points, a win in OT or shootout resulted in 2, while a loss in either resulted in 0 or 1 point, respectively. As an aside, the points awarded in the preliminary round reflect a fair and accurate distribution of points based on the victory obtained. In the NHL, you receive 2 points for a win (in regulation, OT, or shootout), but 1 point for an overtime or shootout loss. This results in an extra point being awarded to a losing team--which rewards teams like San Jose and hurts teams like my beloved Kings.
2. So, you're saying this game was not that important?
No, that's not what I'm saying. When Cal plays Stanfurd, the game is always important, regardless of the actual stakes. Likewise, the USA-Canada hockey rivalry is storied. In 2002, for example, the Canadians beat us on our soil to win the gold. On top of that, Canada entered this tournament a favorite to win the gold (along with Russia). To beat them 5-3 sends a strong statement. We have 10x the population of Canada, but our hockey program is largely relegated to a few colleges in the midwest and northeast. Canada has players entering the lower level pro leagues at 17.
3. OK, but aside from the sentimental crap about hockey minor leagues, there was nothing at stake in this game?
Au contraire. By beating Canada, and by having a large enough goal differential, the United States is the number 1 seed and gets an automatic berth to the quarterfinals. Teams ranked between 5 and 12 must play an additional game to move on to the quarterfinals. Think of it as a bye in the NFL playoffs. With the number 1 seeding, we will play the winner of the 8/9 seeded teams--meaning we play the winner of Switzerland/Belarus. Neither is a hockey powerhouse, and neither has more than a few NHL players on their roster. Not to put the cart before the horse, but the US has a good chance of beating either of those teams and advancing to the semi-finals. In the semis, we will face either Latvia, Czech Republic, or Finland. On the other hand, Canada falls to the sixth seed and must play Germany (0-3 so far) to advance to the quarterfinals. In the quarterfinals, it will face Russia. That means of the two teams favored to win, one will go home without a medal.
4. That means the US should waltz into the gold medal game?
I'd like to think so, but you can't completely discount the Czech or Finn. I think the U.S. has a better team than either of those two countries, but there are a few subtleties of international play that can hurt us. Most importantly, the rink is about 13 feet wider, which favors a less physical, more skilled passing style of play--the traditional domain of the Europeans. Also, while team USA beat Canada, we did not exactly dominate them. They controlled the puck more than the US and got far more scoring opportunities. Thankfully, Ryan Miller made some remarkable saves. Incidentally, it appears that Miller is single-handedly keeping Buffalo in the playoff hunt. Yes, he's that good.
5. Screw hockey, when does the World Cup start?
Not soon enough.