The Men’s Olympic Hockey tournament commenced today with pool play in Group C. The first of two scheduled games was between Sweden and the Czech Republic, which was followed by a thriller between Latvia and Switzerland that came down to the last 10 seconds of regulation.
Olympic hockey is played on an ice surface that is quite a bit larger than the North American version. The international surface is 98.4′ X 197′ in length, while in North America the rink’s 85′ X 200′. The result is that the Olympic game is nothing like the NHL version; the wider rink and the extra space behind the nets allows for a game that is much more free-flowing and less about boxing a player along the boards. There’s just too much ice to risk overcommitting to the periphery. For this reason, European teams should perform better than they did in Vancouver four years ago. Today the Swede’s took advantage of their game that is suited to the bigger ice and defeated the Czech Republic by a score of 4-2.
Men’s Hockey is the biggest draw to the Winter Games. The NHL’s best are players are competing for national pride. For example the game between Sweden and Czechoslovakia had NHL All-Stars in spades. A bunch of Blackhawks played for Sweden, including Oduya, Hjarmalsson and Kruger. On the Czech team, Michael Rozival represented the Blackhawks. Sweden won the competition the last time the Olympics were played on a larger ice surface and today their terrific power-play suggests that they will be in medal contention next weekend.
In the other game two teams that don’t expect to medal played a scoreless game until the waining minutes of the third period when the Minnesota Wild’s Nino Nierderreiter scored with less than 8 seconds to go to give the Swiss the 1-0 win. It was closely-contested affair with some terrific goaltending as the Ducks Jonas Hiller continued his stellar season to the Olympic sheet with a 21-shot shutout. Switzerland has a terrific defensive core with several of their national team blueliners playing for NHL teams. With the Czechs losing to Sweden, the Swiss could make it to the playoff round if they could steal a win against either Sweden or those Czechs.
In other notes: Tomorrow’s games include the U.S vs. Slovakia at 6:30 AM, Canada vs. Norway, Finland vs. Austria, and Russia vs. Slovenia.