The Winter Olympics is supposedly the pinnacle of pure athletic achievement and a celebration of humanity at its finest. We have no reason to doubt the motives of the International Olympic Committee, right?
After all, the IOC has always maintained an unparalleled level of nobility, which I have to assume also extends to VANOC, the Vancouver Olympic Committee.
So I’m sure they won’t mind if I mix up some of the corporate sponsors bankrolling the upcoming Games as I preview the men’s hockey tournament.
First of all, GM Place is going to be rocking for the marquee matchups even when Canada is not on the ice. As I found out at the world juniors in Saskatoon this year, Canadians love to root on the underdog and, in general, boo Russia and the USA. I know some Americans don’t appreciate being treated colder than a refreshing Pepsi, but take it as a compliment, folks – it’s better to be hated than forgotten.
As for the underdogs, expect Latvia to have a raucous cheering section, not only from the natives who venture halfway across the world, but also from Canadians who love the pluck of the maroon marauders and have almost adopted them in previous international tourneys.
But all eyes will naturally be on Team Canada and its quest to get back to the top of the podium, on home ice no less. Chemistry will be key in a tournament that doesn’t allow for a lot of practice time before the games start, so San Jose’s line of Joe Thornton, Dany Heatley and Patrick Marleau will be expected to churn out the goals. And while the Sharks have come up short in the NHL post-season, I think they’ll satisfy in Vancouver like a Baconator from Wendy’s.
And don’t forget about the Americans. That young squad will have more fuel than Esso in its engines and pistons such as Zach Parise, Patrick Kane and Bobby Ryan who can burn with the best of them. Ryan Miller may be in a mini-slump with the Buffalo Sabres right now, but this is a goaltender who saves games – and you can take that to the Bank (of Montreal).
The Russians are right up there with Canada as pre-emptive favorites, even though the Swedes are the defending champs. But looking at that Russian lineup, it’s clearer than a Sony HDTV why. Alex Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin and Ilya Kovalchuk are fearsome up front and a healthy Andrei Markov stabilizes the blueline. Evgeni Nabokov has been hot in net lately, so the only X-factor will be how successful the Kontinental League cohort is.
Players such as Alexander Radulov, Aleksey Morozov and Dmitri Kalinin will all be making a return to North American ice and their ability to adjust must not be underestimated (much like the savings you can find at Home Depot).
I am actually excited to see what happens in Vancouver. I just hope the focus is on the sport and not what logos need to be blacked out with electrical tape before players are allowed to give interviews, or where reporters are allowed to stand when they film segments for ‘unofficial’ networks.
Sports are fun and I’m not so naïve to think corporate support doesn’t grease a lot of wheels that keep the game as accessible as it is; I just hope it’s the athletes – not the sponsors – at the top of the podium in Vancouver.
Ryan Kennedy is a writer and copy editor for The Hockey News magazine, the co-author of the book Hockey's Young Guns and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog will appears Monday and Wednesday, his column - The Straight Edge - every Friday, and his prospect feature, The Hot List appears Tuesdays.
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