The men’s round robin part of the hockey tournament has just finished, and the women’s competition is well into the knockout stages. It’s time to step back and reflect on some of the lessons learned in the first rounds at Pyongchang 2018 Winter Olympics.
It’s OAR’s World, We Just Live In It
It’s no hot take to say the Olympic Athletes of Russia team are good. Despite restrictions on NHL players, the OAR coaches had the pick of the KHL’s finest, a lot of whom have considerable NHL experience, including two-time Stanley Cup winners Slava Voynov and Pavel Datsyuk, also zero-time cup winner Ilya Kovalchuk. Datsyuk has worn the C in each game and is proving a capable leader, while the rest of the old guard are doing a solid job supporting the younger players. Kirill Kaprizov scored a hat trick in game 2, and Kovalchuk already has five points.
The bookie’s favourites, OAR dominated Group B losing to Slovakia 3-2, but beating Slovenia 8-2 and the United States 4-0. It’s been 16 years since a Russian team last won an Olympic medal (bronze in Salt Lake City) but this definitely seems to be the year. Even Sweden, who won all three games somehow don’t look as impressive.
How far the OAR team can go in the competition remains to be seen, but on performances so far, the odds are excellent for a medal and pretty good on the medal being gold. By finishing top of Group B, the OAR advanced straight to the quarterfinals and will play either Slovenia or Norway on February 21st.
Bettman Has Broken The USA and Canada
The impact of teams being denied NHL players is already being felt. In 2010 and 2014, USA and Canada finished top of their groups, whereas in Pyongchang Canada finished second behind the Czech Republic. Team USA won just one game in the round robin and have to beat Slovakia to progress to the next round. The three teams that won their respective groups (Czech Republic, OAR & Sweden) don’t have as many top players in the NHL as the USA or Canada. That’s not to say those teams aren’t missing some real talent, but the challenge isn’t as insurmountable. The KHL has a plethora of elite players, as has the SHL.
With the knockout stages imminent, anything can, and often does happen. It’s too early to rule out either Canada or the USA, but it’s also clear just from watching the games that neither team is playing to the level of potential that they could do.
If when the decision was made not send NHLers, someone told us that the USA would lose to Slovenia, a team ranked 10 places lower, the powers that be may have thought differently. We’ll revisit this soon though. Now for something cool:
Korea Unified (For Hockey)
We don’t often talk geopolitics on these pages, primarily because this is a hockey website, but also because Carl and Joel aren’t very good at geography. History was made in the 2018 Winter Olympics when the International Olympic Committee allowed North Korean hockey players to join the South Korean women’s team, creating ‘Korea’ known as ‘COR’ on the scoreboard and flying under a flag showing the whole peninsula. This is a pretty bold move for a pair of countries that went to war in 1950 and still haven’t signed a peace treaty.
History was made in the women’s tournament on February 14th when Randi Griffin scored the first ever goal for the unified team. Despite Griffin’s goal, scored in the in the team’s 1-4 loss to Japan, the women’s team didn’t qualify for the quarterfinals unfortunately, having lost their first two games (Switzerland and Sweden) 0-8 each.
The South Korean Men’s team on the other hand gave citizenship to six Canadians and one North American (some of whom were already playing in the country) to help bolster the roster. This didn’t help in any way though; the team lost all three games in the round robin.
Fun fact: both the men’s and women’s team were beaten 8-0 by their equivalent Swiss teams.
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