There are four medal round elimination games at the Sochi Olympics on Wednesday, and all four of them pin underdogs vs. heavy favorites.
Let's start by looking at the true David vs. Goliath match up. Or should I say Ted vs. Goliath
In any single game elimination tournament like the medal round of the Olympics, is there any more dangerous team to face than a team that has nothing to lose and completely believes in itself?
That's exactly the position that Ted Nolan has Latvia in right now. Sure they are enormous underdogs against Canada. But with Nolan behind the Latvian bench, maybe it is Canada that should be concerned.
“He’s been a huge part of us," said former NHL player Kaspars Daugavins. "We never had a coach that actually believes in the players. It’s always been like army-style where everybody just has to work hard and you never get a tap on your shoulders, saying ‘Good job, buddy.’ He brings a different spirit on the team. He actually makes us believe that we’re actually a good team. I’ve been to a lot of world championships and an Olympics before and we never had a feeling that we can actually win something.”
Of course Ted Nolan is a Canadian. So he knows the enormous task ahead of him better than his players might. But he has a pretty simple plan of attack against the Canadians.
"You score one more goal than them and you have a pretty good chance to win."
There is a sense in Canada that Team Canada caught a bit of a break when Latvia upset Switzerland. There was some growing apprehension of the trapping Swiss team with their NHL star netminder, Jonas Hiller, giving Canada fits. After all, Switzerland in recent years has done exactly that to Canada.
Canada better not overlook the spunky Latvians. In addition to believing in themselves they play a tight defensive game with a hot goalie in Edgars Masalskis. They also have a potent powerplay.
Canada may not overlook Latvia but at the same time they are more focussed on themselves than their opponent. They are still trying to find forward line chemistry and master the big ice. The game against Latvia will hopefully show some progress.
Latvia has no recent Olympic history with Canada. The two nations have only met once - way back in 1936 before Latvia was assimilated into the USSR. Canada won that game 11-0, by the way.
Canada has been guilty of overlooking Latvia in recent years at the World Championships. Most notable was 1997 when the Latvians tied Canada 3-3. Ultimately it didn't matter much as Canada went on to win that World title.
Also on Wednesday:
Sweden vs. Slovenia - The surprising Slovenians have to go up against number one rank Sweden now. Anze Kopitar does kind of sound like Vladimir Kopat, but I doubt the Slovenians can pull off what Kopat and the Belarusians did in 2002.
USA vs. Czech Republic - The USA have steamrolled their competition so far in Sochi, while the Czech Republic have been mostly unimpressive so far. That being said, the Czechs traditionally have given the US trouble. In fact, in their last 8 World Championships/Olympic meetings the Czechs are 6-2 vs. USA.
Finland vs. Russia - This the most evenly matched game of the day, with no true underdog. The Finns do classify in that category due to injuries to their top 3 centers, but they traditionally give the Russians fits. They have the game plan and goaltending to get the job done. The Russians continue to look enigmatic. If the Finns frustrate the Russians early on, it could be a long day for the home town heroes.