Monday, February 22, 2010

Doing It The Hard Way

An exciting day of hockey yesterday, as all important positions were determined in an afternoon/evening.

Canada lost, of course, but are still very much alive. They merely set themselves a place at the adult table when they could be sitting with the children where the US are now.

Losing to the US was always possible, but it was their clumsy win vs. a Swiss team that needed OT to scrape by Norway that cost us biggest. Had the Canadians won that game, they would now be lying 4th, with a US rematch in the QFs and a tricky, yet winnable QF vs. Finland. Instead, by being under-prepared and over-relaxed (as usual) they have put themselves in a hole. It'll be a playoff vs. Germany, which should be a foregone conclusion (but, hey, you never know), then a QF vs. powerhouse Russia and a need to face Olympic champion Sweden (in all likelihood) for the right to even play for the Gold.

Even if Canada had beaten the US, they'd still face Russian ahead of the final, and they'd have had a tough QF game (though Slovakia is not Sweden), so don't fret about yesterday too much.

Scoreboard watching

Really, it's Sweden who quite uncharacteristically chose the harder road on Sunday.

The organizers truly underestimate the players ability to shape their efforts to shape outcomes. You'd never see staggered group games in a World Cup – they'd all be simultaneous. If European soccer players were gifted these staggered starts, you'd see some crazy own goals and all kinds of other bloopers. I guess not all hockey countries are so Machiavellian in approach. Sweden, though – ask Italian football fans – are.

By the time Sweden and Finland played, the teams knew that losing meant a bye with a QF vs. Czech, but a semi with the US or the Swiss. The winner gets the far less attractive Slovak QF with SF of Russia or Canada. I didn't watch the game, but looking at Finland's shot totals, their final score and knowing that they have the very savvy Saku Koivu at the helm, it seems like they might have played for position in their game. Last Olympics, Sweden tanked to draw the cheaper run and it worked as they were rested to win a Gold. This time, it seems like Finland may have just pipped their rivals in the strategic losing department.

Gold medal favourite

Any team can win from here, and I find it hard to make a prediction.

But I have to say, Canada doesn't look favourite for me anymore. They lie 6th, but of the top 7 teams, they are the only one who has not beaten a worthy opponent.

I have to think that the team on the top side of the draw will now have the slight edge coming into the final, given their finals opponents are likely to have had a few trying games. I still don't like the USA, and don't rate Finnish goaltending or defence anymore, so I have to think the Czechs have a great shot. From the other side, Canada/Sweden/Russia all look set for a photo finish in the next few days. If Canada finds better goaltending, they'll get the ankle transponder over the line first, I think.

Canada vs. Czech in the final could be great. But will a Canada who can't rise to beat the Swiss in regulation or a US team that carries actual 4th line talent really beat Russia, Sweden and Czech in sequence.

Well, if it's dreams of gold in your head, you'd better start believing they can.

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