March 01, 2010
VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- There are a lot of things we're going to miss about Hockey Place, our home away from home (away from home) for the last two weeks of hockey mayhem:
The fans from all over the world creating a party-like atmosphere for every game; the mad dash by reporters to get from the press box to the media "mix zone" before dejected players waddled through to the locker rooms; the Garbage Princess, whose bellowing siren-of-a-voice motivated the clean-up staff between games; and, of course,
the smell of herbal narcotics filling the air a few blocks away on Hastings Street the free coffee.
Mostly, though, we're going to miss the hockey. Because there was a lot of it, and a lot of it was great.
Here are some yearbook-style awards for the best and the worst of the 2010 Winter Olympic hockey tournament from inside the arena, taking us from Severin Blindencaher's holding penalty at 9:49 of the first game (USA/Switzerland) to Sidney Crosby's(notes) overtime game-winner for gold.
Best Game: Well, if the USA/Canada gold medal tilt is being called one of the greatest hockey games of all time, chances are it's the best game of the tournament, right?
The talent, the crowd, the offensive flow, the stakes, the stunning shifts in momentum, the goaltending exhibitions and the heart-stopping heroics at the game's final stages ... all of it combined to make the 3-2 Canada gold medal victory one for the ages. The image of the players skating the Canadian flag as if it were the Stanley Cup after the victory was as incredible as the celebrations the win sparked all over the country. It was like the end of "Return of the Jedi" in the special editions; we like to think of Toronto as Coruscant.
Worst Game: Slovakia's 6-0 win over Latvia. It lacked the chaotic charm of Latvia's mini-rally in its earlier 8-2 loss to the Russians. This was a flat-out curb-stomping. Latvia gave up more goals in the first periods of their tournament than some teams scored in their entire tournament.
Best Song Played Incessantly at Hockey Place: Jay-Z's "Public Service Announcement," a favorite of Ryan Kesler and the unofficial entrance music for Team USA throughout the tournament. Runner-up: "Waterloo" by ABBA, which was treated like a national anthem by the Swedish fans.
Best Atmosphere: With due respect to the enormous outpouring of enthusiasm for Team Canada from the home fans in games against the USA and Russia, we'll take the booze-filled, chanting masses in any of the 9 p.m. games during prelims, where the Euro journalists would show up on press row with a few Molsons themselves.
The Five Players Whose Stock Rose in the Olympics
He's now a household name in the U.S. among casual sports fans, and even a Stanley Cup victory may not have given him that. All the "Do You Believe in Millercles" stuff was a sensation, but it was Miller's clutch play that made it more than a meme. The fact that the Olympics dragged the personality out of him helped hockey fans connect with Miller better than ever before. If you didn't appreciate his MVP qualities prior to the Olympics, chances are you do now.
Coach Mike Babcock said there isn't much Toews did in this tournament for Canada that he doesn't do for the Blackhawks, but that doesn't change the fact that Toews proved to be Canada's most versatile and effective forward. He could play up with Sidney Crosby. He could play down on a checking line. When Babcock put together the unit of Rick Nash(notes), Mike Richards(notes) and Toews, it became Canada's best line against the Russians and played well throughout the tournament. Star-making performance for Toews, especially in contrast with Patrick Kane's(notes) struggles on the U.S. team.
Say hello to Captain Clutch for this generation of American players. Parise struggled here and there but ended with eight points, including two goals against the Swiss and that third-period goal against Canada to send the game into overtime.
The Jagr nostalgia movement was one of the most unexpected and charming stories to come out of the Games. But before he was injured, Jagr was living up to the love-in: Looking fast, looking sharp and looking very much like a player who could come back to the NHL in the fall and thrive.
5. Tore Vikingstad, Norway
Forgetting for a moment that we're dealing with perhaps the greatest name in hockey history, Vikingstad also scored four goals for the Norge, including a hat trick in a terrific game against the Swiss. But yeah, back on the name: The only way it could be better is if Tore spoke about himself in the third person ("VIKINGSTAD IS SAD NOW... WHERE IS VIKINGSTAD'S BEER?").
Player Whose Stock Dropped The Most: Peter Forsberg(notes), Sweden. The hands were still there. The legs weren't, and Forsberg was an anchor out there for Sweden, despite some Forsbergian moments of offensive creativity.
Best Line of the Tournament: With due respect to Canada's Brendan Morrow/Ryan Getzlaf(notes)/Corey Perry unit, there was no line that clicked better than that of Daniel Alfredsson(notes), Nicklas Backstrom(notes) and Loui Eriksson(notes) of Sweden. They had instant chemistry, showed a high level of offense skill and buzzed the net on seemingly every shift. Backstrom had a very strong tournament. This line was a bright spot on an underwhelming Swedish team.
Biggest Surprise Team (in a good way): Slovakia, for sure. Not only for making the bronze medal game, but beating the Russians and the Swedes on its way there. We knew the Slovaks had talent; we didn't know that winger Pavol Demitra(notes) of the Vancouver Canucks was going to lead the Olympics in points (10). Guess skating with Marian Hossa(notes) brings out his offense more than skating with Kyle Wellwood(notes).
Biggest Surprise Team (in a bad way): Russia, hands down, no debate, conversation over. The loss to Slovakia in the prelims was a stunner, but the no-show in the battle with Canada during the quarterfinals was a titanic whiff by this team. The lines never came together. The KHL reinforcements played like ... well, KHL reinforcements. It was an embarrassment for Russian hockey.
Biggest Flameout by a Big-Name Goalie: Evgeni Nabokov(notes) must have breathed a sigh of relief after seeing Miikka Kiprusoff's(notes) epic fail against the Americans. Nabby had a poor showing against the Canadians, but Kipper gave up more goals (4) than made saves (3) against the U.S.
Scariest Moment of the Tournament: Slovakia's Lubos Bartecko getting elbowed by Ole-Kristian Tollefsen(notes), banging his head on the ice and blood pooling under it. The single most gruesome image and scene that played out in Hockey Place. We should be thankful that there wasn't much competition in this category.
Most Overblown Story of the Tournament: Alex Ovechkin vs. the camera. We won't get into the gripes about his media availability again, because you're either going to think that it's media whining or a legit gripe about the most famous player in the world not helping to sell his sport or the 2014 Games. But the videos of Ovie getting rough with a few cameras isn't part of that story. It's bad optics for a celebrity athlete, but it sure as hell isn't a suspension-level offense.
Most Underplayed Story of the Tournament: The bronze medal game. We'd wager that 80 percent of the media covering the tournament sat this one out, which meant missing a furious four-goal rally by the Finns in the third period and some great hockey throughout the last 40 minutes.
Best Goal of the Tournament: Raffaele Sannitz of Switzerland in its 5-4 victory over Norway, a.k.a. the best game you didn't see. He was in front of the Norge net when he received a bouncing pass from the slot. He used his stick to stop the puck and lift it up off the ice before batting it in about waist high. Sannitz later told us that he's a tennis player, and was using that skill set to play the puck. This would have been the YouTube moment of the tourney in another game.
Best Hit: Ovechkin on Jagr. It still hurts to watch, even in some strange Sega '94 pixel way:
Worst Star Player Moment: Marty Brodeur's belly flop against the U.S., allowing a key goal.
Best Chant: "We Want Russia."
Best Fan of the Tournament: Who else but Mitkini Girl?
She's 30, from Ottawa, painted herself for Canada's game against Germany and slammed her mittens on the penalty box glass while dancing for Scott Niedermayer(notes). She had no idea Canada would be playing in that game when she purchased the tickets, which led us to ask if she still would have pulled off the outfit if it were two random teams playing. That she said yes makes her the Fan of the Games.