A League of Her Own: Hockey gods are smiling big in Sochi
by SARALYN NORKUS Banner Sports Writer
Feb 20, 2014 | 449 views | 0 0 comments | 16 16 recommendations | email to a friend | print
With the “wonderfully” Russian (see nonfunctioning hotels and general corruption in the dictionary and you would find Sochi and the IOC listed as examples) 2014 Winter Olympic Games beginning nearly two weeks ago, things are now nearing the end.

Despite an overall shaky start, the winter games have turned into a fabulous event.

The Jamaican bobsled team qualified to compete, Meryl Davis and Charlie White (rep the Mitten you two, rep the Mitten) won the United States its first ever gold medal in the ice dance competition, and U.S. slopestyle skier Gus Kenworthy is not only bringing home a silver medal from the American sweep of slopestyle, but is also coming back with a pack of Sochi’s stray puppies and their mother.

And then there was curling, which was fantastic as usual.

With things winding down in the Russian “resort” town, things have ramped up in my personal favorite competition of them all: men’s ice hockey.

Wednesday marked an incredible turn of events for Friday’s semifinals competition; While it was no real surprise that Canada and the U.S. would eventually come to meet on the ice, it was slightly shocking to see Finland topple Russia 3-1, ending the host team’s hunt for a gold medal.

Now that I think about it, perhaps that wasn’t so surprising after all.

No disrespect to the Russians, because hey, my NHL teams have a couple of fantastic players in Pavel Datsyuk and Evgeni Malkin, but in reality the majority of Russian hockey players live up to their self-absorbed reputations.

The Russkies have produced many a stellar player, problem is that most are living proof that while there is no ‘I’ in team, there is most definitely a ‘me.’

While most will blame the Russians’ downfall on a lack of offensive line productivity, lack of overall defensive or poor coaching (all valid complaints, by the way), I still maintain the thought that if you put a pack of self-absorbed showboaters on one team the results will almost always be negative.

Egos don’t win games. Teamwork and, more importantly, passing the darn puck to an open player, does win games.

Anyway, enough with this Russian rant and on to what I consider two of the best hockey matchups the Olympics could have provided us with.

Sweden will play Finland on Friday at 7 a.m., while the U.S. takes on Canada at noon in a rematch of the 2010 gold-medal game.

Folks, the hockey gods have most certainly smiled upon us.

It’s neighbor vs. neighbor, rival nation against rival nation. It’s absolutely phenomenal and something that only Olympic international play could present us with.

Sweden is a powerhouse team made up of 24 players from the NHL. Big names, big players, big-time opponent.

In the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin, the Swedes defeated Finland 3-2 in the gold medal game.

There is no love lost between the two teams, and while some are referring to Sweden as the dark horse in the gold medal chase, I would like to make an argument for the Finns.

Finland has put together a team consisting of 16 NHL players and more importantly they have 43-year-old “Finnish Flash” Teemu Selanne who you just know would like his final chance to stick it to his Nordic neighbors as his retirement draws near.

Four years ago I made the bold prediction that our 2010 U.S. Olympic hockey team could very well be the next “Miracle.”

I was almost right until Sidney Crosby, aka Canada’s wonderboy, crushed our gold medal dreams with a flick of his wrist in a overtime.

Goodbye 2010 Miracle team ... hello silver medal.

This time around I’m not bold enough to make any claims comparing the 2014 U.S. team to 1980’s gold medal winning team.

Here is what I do know about the 2014 men’s U.S. team: They’ve got this whole concept of teamwork down pat and they have arguably one of the best coaches in the NHL, Pittsburgh’s Dan Bylsma, at the helm of the Olympic ship.

Jonathan Quick provides excitement in goal while guys like Brooks Orpik, Ryan Suter, Phil Kessel, Patrick Kane and Zach Parise control the ice.

Oh and we also have one T.J. Oshie who shall now forever be referred to as “The Shootout Whisperer.”

Then comes the powerhouse, gold medal favorite Canadian team.

Sidney Crosby, Drew Doughty, Shea Weber, Chris Kunitz, Jonathan Toews, Patrice Bergeron, Carey Price — there is not one position nor line where Canada isn’t solid.

Let’s not forget that Canada is coached by Detroit Red Wings head coach Mike Babcock.

Hockey is Canada’s game, and you can bet on the fact this team isn’t going to let anyone forget that.

What worries me is that up until the semifinals, the USA has not truly been tested.

We may have thought that the shootout win over Russia was a testament to the star-studded roster, but seeing how the Russians tumbled out of competition makes me truly uneasy as we approach Friday. Then again, Canada was barely able to beat Latvia 2-1.

Common sense says that it will be Canada vs. Sweden for the gold, but the optimist in me has a bold prediction: I think there is a very good chance that we could see a U.S. vs Finland gold medal game.

Time will tell, and come Friday all will be answered, whether we like the outcome or not.

No matter what, be ready to see the best hockey games of the year (outside of Stanley Cup playoff time) to be played in Sochi tomorrow.

For local sports updates follow Saralyn at twitter.com/SaralynV