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No Real Surprises in Day One of Olympic Hockey

Plenty of Heart as Players Represent Their Countries

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No Real Surprises in Day One of Olympic Hockey
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Jaromir Jagr's Czech team falls to the Swedes.

COMMENTARY| Hockey junkies have had to go almost three whole days without hockey - about 60 hours, actually. That's a long time for a fan base that can usually choose between half a dozen games on any given night.

Olympic hockey opened up with two games, one eagerly anticipated and one between a couple of outliers.

Czech Republic vs. Sweden

The Czech-Swedish matchup has been eagerly awaited. Sweden is a heavy favorite for a medal, possibly gold. No one wants to write the Czechs off though. They took gold the first Olympics that allowed NHL players to participate. And they still have one of those stars - Jaromir Jagr. Teams write him off as "washed up" at their peril - he's the leading scorer on his New Jersey Devils.

The Czechs came out strong early, but a delayed penalty and some undisciplined play allowed them to go down 2-0 in the first period. Perhaps some undisciplined coaching contributed as well - the team chose to start Jakub Kovar instead of NHL net minder Ondrej Pavelec, who has been so strong for the Winnipeg Jets recently.

When Henrik Zetterberg scored early in the second, putting the Swedes up 3-0, the Czechs replaced Kovar with… not Ondrej Pavelec. Inexplicably, the Czechs put Alexander Salak between the pipes to try and stop the red-hot Swedes. He gave up a goal early, so that the Czechs were down 4-0, but managed to hold off the Swedes for the rest of the game.

It was too little, too late, though.

Marek Zidlicky finally scored for the Czechs.

Nonetheless, Swede Erik Karlsson, of the Ottawa Senators, showed no respect for the veteran Jagr, despite the 4-1 score. Midway through the second period he slammed Jagr into the boards. Maybe, for whatever reason, he was trying to rattle the veteran, remind him of his old bones.

It didn't work. Jaromir Jagr showed off one of his trademark moves just a few minutes later. He held off a defenseman with one arm - just one arm - while making a play around the net. The puck went in. Jagr showed the Swedes - and the world - that he's still got it.

The BBC Olympics announcers were in awe of him, chattering to each other, "He's so big and so strong." "He's bigger than 6'2." "He's never been 6'2."

The Czechs were revitalized in the second and showed fire in the third, but they were never able to recoup the goal deficit.

The loss, so disappointing for the Czechs, begs the question - why did head coach Alois Hadamczik not start NHL goalie Pavelec? You have to wonder if the outcome wouldn't have been different if he had.

Latvia vs. Switzerland

The Latvian-Swiss match was the dark horse. Switzerland is starting to come into its own on the world stage of ice hockey. The Latvians are the major underdogs.

Only one Team Lativa player currently plays for the NHL, rookie forward Zemgus Grigensons for the Buffalo Sabres. He has a modest 17 points on the season so far.

Former NHL defenseman Sandis Ozolinsh skated for Team Latvia, though. In his time he was known for being an offensive defenseman, someone who roamed the ice and made plays happen. He still roams - a little more slowly, and not for as long. But he still roams. As a defenseman in his 875 NHL games, he scored 167 goals, assisted 397 times and amassed 564 points.

He still plays in the Russian KHL. For Team Latvia, he serves as captain.

The game started out slow. Not a lot of action happened in the first period -- except Latvian goalie Edgars Masalskis' goal mask kept coming off. At that moment you noticed the underdog aspect of the story -- you felt bad for a super-poor country to be playing a super-rich country.

Nonetheless, the two teams seemed surprisingly well-matched. The Swiss have nine NHL players, including goalie Jonas Hiller of the Anaheim Ducks. (Actually, even their backup goalie is NHL-level - Reto Berra of the Calgary Flames.)

The heat between the two teams waxed and waned throughout the second and third periods. The Latvians started worrying the Swiss in the third, though, finishing their checks hard, giving an extra shove whenever possible.

Overall both teams played a tight game. There weren't a lot of penalties, nor any real undisciplined play. In fact, the game looked good to go into overtime.

However, an unassisted goal by the Swiss Simon Moser, also of the Nashville Predators, won the game with just seven seconds left. The Latvians, naturally, were deflated.

Seriously, you do feel a little bit bad, matching up the rich Swiss to the poor Latvians. Team Latvia showed they're willing to join the scrum, though.

Nadia Archuleta is a native Coloradan and professional writer. An Avalanche fan since their beginnings, she has a sports blog, Hockeygrrls on Blogger, and writes content for several websites.

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