Sunday, February 12, 2006

2006 Turin Winter Olympics
Predictions of Olympic proportion

Lame headlines — they're my specialty.™

Well, I'm sitting here tonight, watching as the last NHL game we'll see in a while plays out (Vancouver's winning, 1-0, after a Ryan Kesler goal). Normally, knowing there'd be a period without the NHL for more than 24 hours, I'd be worried. I'd worry about waking up a few days from now, grungy and unkempt in the Air Canada Centre's lobby and clutching a two-day old newspaper page with ECHL sports agate on it. (It's happened.)

This hockey 'break,' however, is only momentary. For, on Wednesday at 7 a.m. EST, Team Canada takes on the mighty Italians at the Olympics.

That, my friends, will be — dare I said it — joygasmic.

And, as with all large-scale events of this sort, the predictions are rolling in. Why, here's the venerable Jes Golbez's. And this week's edition of The Hockey News weighs in, too. So do many other sites and places which I've not taken the time to look up or read.

The point is — it's my turn.

But first, I've got a secret for you, my well-loved readers. Come now, lean in close and I'm going to tell you something no one else has about the men's Olympic hockey tournament. It's a deep, dark — and some would say unbelievable — secret.

You know that American team, the one most are predicting to finish near the bottom of the Group of 7? They're pretty good. Worthy-of-a-medal good.

Crazy talk?

Perhaps. But, then again, there were those who ridiculed me for putting the Hurricanes in the playoffs.


My picks

Goooooald! Cżêch Ŕepubļīc. Shades of Nagano? Yes. My country of residence writhing in pain? Most likely. Members of my profession speaking apocalyptically? Undoubtedly.

The Czechs are great in goal, stronger on the blue line than they've ever been (Kabërle x 2, Mãlik, Kûbinã, Zidlicky) and have the Jagr & friends factor working for them. That — and they want it bad. (Squiggly lines added for pronunciation and Golbez's benefit.)


Hi-hoooo Silver! Canada. Writhing? Check. Speaking apocalyptically? Check. A respectable finish? But of course.

My, my is Canada beat up on the blue line. I'm fully expecting an anvil to fall on Robyn Regehr's head in the team's game with Italy on Wednesday. Chris Pronger is going to be playing with a broken foot, which sounds like an ungood idea, and the team's down to its 7th and 8th stringers (which, if you've seen Dion Phaneuf play this season, you know are actually our 8th and 9th stringers). Canada's round robin games are a breeze, but there's nothing easy about who they'll face in the playoff rounds.


Bronze. The United States.

Dear America,
As I've foresaken my birthplace by predicting Canada may not win every international hockey tournament ever, I will henceforth need a new country in which to live. I hope that this token of my appreciation will be enough to secure my green card.
Sincerely,
Jimmy

I mentioned the Hurricanes earlier and, aside from Erik Cole and Bret Hedican, there are a few similarities between the Americans and Carolina. The most prominent of those? Pete Laviolette.

Laviolette will win the Jack Adams Trophy this year as the NHL's coach of the year, and he'll bring that same sort of work ethic in his approach to coaching an 'underdog' American team. In addition to their coach, the Yankees have more players having career years than any other Olympic team: Cole, Conroy, Gionta, Gomez, Knuble, Rolston and Liles.

The loss of Aaron Miller on the backend will hurt some, but while everyone is pointing to goal as the U.S.'s real weakness, do remember Bob Esche taking the Flyers to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals in 2004 (not to mention his 15-6-3 record this season). John Grahame has also played well recently.



4. Sweden. Finally, the Swedes have a world-class goaltender in Henrik Lundqvist and that should do wonders for the team's confidence. Salt Lake City was a nightmare for this team, and with Markus Naslund out and Peter Forsberg ailing, there are some concerns. Still, if Matty Norstrom is ready to go, that's a mighty nice defence core in front of one of the NHL's best goaltenders this year.

5. Slovakia. If you hear a commentator talking about the 'Big 6' countries in men's hockey, they're out to lunch. With a solid NHL netminder, the Slovaks are one of the best teams there. With Peter Budaj (or whoever), Slovakia is still a definite medal contender. This is the best group of blueliners I've ever seen this team put together.

6. Russia. The odd thing about the Russian team is how many non-NHLers they have on the roster (4). Of course, one of those is Evgeni Malkin, but even still, the number of Russian-born NHLers who still don't want to play for country is startling. This will be a fun team to watch, but I just don't think I can take a team led by GM Pavel Bure that seriously. Not yet, anyways.

7. Finland. The Fins always, always leave everything on the table in international competition. It's probably a stretch for them to fall this far, but for this team to medal with all of the injuries they've had seems improbable. The downgrade in goal alone will have Finland knocked out in the quarter-finals.

8. Germany. If an NHL team lost Jochen Hecht and Marco Sturm, it'd be more than a minor inconvenience. For Deutschland, it means 94 per cent of their offense won't be in Turin. Olaf Kolzig will feel like he's still playing in Washington. Without Alex Ovechkin.

9. Latvia. The return of Arturs Irbe.

Check that. The return of Arturs Irbe — at age 39. You've got to admit, that screams 'upset'.

10. Switzerland. Martin Gerber's the man here, and he's not a bad man to have. Unfortunately, they need more men. Men like him. (Where else can you get analysis like this?)

11. Kazakhstan. If Olympic teams had team names, they'd be the Kazakhstan Antropovs. Enough said.


12. Italy. Under five goals scored, 50-plus goals against and not another appearance in the Olympics this century. Sounds like a successful tournament to me.

5 Comments:

At 1:12 PM, February 13, 2006, Blogger Docciavelli said...

A couple of points:

1. I'm American and looking forward to backing my countrymen, but in all seriousness I don't see them medalling. A 5th place finish seems about right.

Bob Esche doesn't strike me as a solid-enough netminder, and I'm afraid our backline doesn't quite cut it (John-Michael Liles isn't exactly the old Brian Leech, and Derian Hatcher will look even slower on that big ice). Side note: I'd like to see what Cole with Gionta/Gomez could do.

2. I'm with Jez Golbez on Russia medalling. Nabokov may have had his struggles lately, but I think he'll be fine in Torino. Just like Cole/Gomez/Gionta, I'd like to see Kovalchuk/Yashin/Ovie. Their backline seems sold enough as well with guys who are well suited for the international game. Thank God they didn't choose Alexei Morozov.

3. My shocking upset game of the tournament? This Saturday Latvia beats Sweden 2-1, foreshadowing Sweden's early exit from the tournament (in the quarterfinals to Canada--they're not going to lose to Kazakhstan). You're right, Irbe just screams upset.

 
At 6:24 PM, February 13, 2006, Blogger Jes Gőlbez said...

Do these diacriticals (accents) indicate the butchered pronounciation of those names as well? It would make sense...

 
At 7:54 PM, February 13, 2006, Anonymous Shane Giroux said...

No offense but in that link you were horribly wrong on Dallas and San Jose. So do two strikes override your one hit? Which is probably a single at best since you had them pegged for 8th :)

 
At 9:05 PM, February 13, 2006, Blogger James Mirtle said...

Sigh... well, I suppose I can respond to that.

No one's picking an entire NHL season correctly — it's impossible. That said, I think my predictions are the probably as close as of the seven that are there in Mr. Golbez's link.

I picked Carolina, Buffalo, Los Angeles and Minnesota to be better than anyone else did, and those teams have all done reasonably well (and all have improved from the year before).

Dallas, the Rangers and San Jose are this season's big shockers, but I think missing those teams is more forgiving than having Pittsburgh, Chicago, Columbus, Florida and the Islanders in the playoffs (or Atlanta winning their division).

 
At 5:05 AM, February 16, 2006, Blogger Chris said...

Not to seem critical after the fact James but Team American just tied Latvia..with that as a preliminary indication I tend to think that a bronze medal is out of the question. From what I've seen so far I certainly like the Slovaks or the Swedes to finish third before the Americans. Although it likely will be Canada and the Czechs for gold. Though I'm confident that Canada will win as Gretzsky will give some sort of "give 'em one for the gipper speach" Canada will win a gold medal. Thereafter, everyone can collectively forget anyone Gretzsky ever knew so much as swore or littered and we can embrace the Sainted One.

 

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