|Connelly’s Top Ten: Bingo – We Win Again!||Tom Brady Freed! Suspension Dismissed||Tom Brady Suspension Overturned: What’s Next?||James Develin Out For Season with Broken Leg|
The men’s round-robin hockey play has seen some huge surprises in 2010, like the U.S. knocking off Canada for the first time in 50 years, and what about Slovakia beating the Russians? The Russia/Canada match everyone thought would be the gold medal game is instead a potential quarterfinal contest. The defending champion Sweden is #2 behind the also unbeaten United States. Latvia emerged as the worst team, just barely behind fellow point-less country, Germany. So much is going on, and it’s still anyone’s medal, so take a look at what the brackets look like following the completion of the preliminary rounds:
With a surprising upset over Canada, the U.S. claimed the top spot heading into the quarterfinal round. It’s been all Ryan Miller so far, and he has impressed. He has made key stops when needed, especially when Canada took a total of 45 shots against him. The offense has scored 14 goals over three games, tied for the most with Canada. Their #1 seed ensures that the United States will face either Switzerland or Belarus, then likely either Finland or the Czechs. From there, it would likely be Sweden, Russia, or Canada in the finals. The U.S. has what it takes to win, but they’ll need to give it their all. Surprise losses by Canada and Russia greatly help their chances of another miracle on ice.
The defending gold medalists finished unbeaten with a 3-0 defeat of Finland, the #4 seed. That defeat showed Sweden is able to hold their own against the top teams in the bracket, but the most goals they scored in a game was four against Belarus. Many games have seen the winners surpass that mark, which means Sweden’s offense will need to heat up if they hope to appear on the podium. Sweden awaits the winner of Slovakia/Norway, which shouldn’t be too difficult. Heavy hitters Russia and Canada, whichever one beats the other, will give Sweden a true test as to whether or not they belong with the elite teams.
Russia looked good against Latvia and the Czech Republic, but Slovakia surprised Team Ovechkin and Kovalchuk in a seven-round shootout. Alex Ovechkin had three attempts in the shootout, only converting one. Kovalchuk also missed in the shootout. Russia may have their potent scorers, but they’ll have to keep themselves on track, more like Russia’s 8-2 victory over Latvia. Russia had to beat the Czechs in regulation to win their group, but they came through in the clutch when needed. But can they do the same against Canada, which has Sidney Crosby to light things up in his own right? Both countries are known for their hockey. Both countries have large land areas, much of which is too icy to be habitable. We’ll see which team does better at coming back from close matches.
Finland rounds out the top four with byes into the quarterfinals. They scored five goals in each of their first two games, before being blanked by Sweden. Finland beat Belarus 5-1, Germany 5-0, and lost to Sweden 3-0. They beat the poor teams, and lost to the good one. They’ll likely face the Czechs in the quarterfinals, who like Finland, have scored 10 goals and have six points. But the Czechs managed to put two goals on the board when they faced Russia, whereas Finland couldn’t do likewise against their contender opponent. Finland will go into the quarterfinals with the advantage in the standings, but they’ll have a tough time advancing. Whatever happens, Finland should have the most interesting game of the tournament that doesn’t involve Russia, Canada, or the U.S.
The Czechs have already beaten Latvia 5-2, and show no signs of losing this time around. Latvia finished 0-3 with only four goals to their name, while the Czechs lost only to Russia. The Latvians gave up 19 goals over their three games, tied with Norway for the worst total. Overall, it really shouldn’t be much of a challenge for the Czech Republic to advance to the quarterfinals.
Never has a Canada/Germany fight been more anticipated than D-Day. Germany finished win-less, point-less, and with a bracket-worst three goals. Canada scored a bracket-best 14 goals, tied with America. Martin Brodeur won’t be playing for Canada, though, in favor of Roberto Luongo. If Germany is to have any chance of winning they’ll have to take advantage of Brodeur’s legacy of negative momentum for Canada, and hope the law of averages says it’s time to give Germany a win, though that’s still incredibly unlikely.
Norway did their best against Switzerland, but only managed one point for their efforts. Slovakia won two games, one of them being the huge upset of Russia. Slovakia was part of low-scoring games, scoring nine and giving up four over the course of their three games. Norway scored five (four against Switzerland), but gave up 19 in all. It might not be a blowout like they’re used to, but Norway will find it rather difficult to beat up on Slovakia.
Switzerland nearly pulled off a major upset of their own, but fell to Canada in a shootout. Belarus’ only win was against lowly Germany. Both teams are actually quite similar in their offense and defense so far, but Switzerland has shown a remarkable ability to stay in it against Canada, and only lost to the U.S. by the score, 3-1. That will probably be the difference-maker in giving Switzerland the victory. After all, Switzerland is famous for its neutrality and guarding the Pope, while Belarus is famous for not being famous.