February 08, 2010
It's difficult to comprehend what daunting task has Canadians more spooked: The notion of surviving the immense pressure of winning hockey gold on home ice, or defeating a Russian team that's every bit their equal or, perhaps, their superior. Joe Pelletier, hockey historian and proud Canadian, explains:
There seems to be this sense of great confidence, even invincibility about the Russians. They are a ridiculous offensive juggernaut with arguably the best goaltending in their country's history. They are led by the best player on the planet, but more importantly he has set the tone for the team.
If the Canadians, Americans or any other nation is going to beat Alex Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin and the Russians, they'll have to topple the best men's hockey program in the world, according to the pre-Olympic ranking by the International Ice Hockey Federation:
Boy, the Germans must feel peachy being ranked behind a team that's not even in the tournament.
Now, these point totals aren't specific to the actual Russian team hitting the ice next week. They are computed based on the long-term success or failure for a national team program (formula found here). So Russia's wins in the last two IIHF world championship tournaments were weighed heavily, while its fourth-place finish in the 2006 Turin Games was dropped from the rankings because of the IIHF's "four-year cycle" for points.
In essence, it's Poindexter math-lete stuff, but it's also confirmation that the Russians are the hockey bullies heading into the tournament. Which is refreshing in a "Rocky IV" sort of way. It also relegates Canada to underdog status, which seemed pretty darn near impossible with this roster.
Speaking of Canadian underdogs: The U.S. women are ranked ahead of Canada by the IIHF, and like Russia have captured the last two world championship gold medals. Yeah, that'll bring the blood down from its boiling point in that rivalry.