February 22, 2014

Whoa Canada! Sochi Gold Medal Preview

Wait just a moment Canada.

Yes, Team Canada convincingly defeated the United States. And yes that very much felt as good as winning the gold medal.

But here's the thing - that was just the semi-final. Team Canada has not won the gold medal just yet. Even though it seems everyone is willing to crown them already.

That's the sense I get on Twitter and in conversation with other fans. Canada will beat Sweden no problem. It's in the bag. We will party on Sunday. 

But the problem is Sweden is not exactly going to cooperate

It's funny because prior to the USA game there was no sense of superiority and confidence. If anything there was a hidden sense that we would have concede victory to a very impressive USA squad.

As it turned out, however, that was not the day we had to do that. And that's the funny thing about single game elimination tournaments. A team is only as good as they are on that day - all the previous performances do not matter.

So don't count your gold medals just yet, Canada. Sweden likely will surprise you. They are the number one ranked seed for a reason. They have won every game and in regulation. They have quite potentially the most difficult goaltender for Team Canada's starved offense to solve yet. And they are masters of big ice hockey. And to them this gold medal game is more important than the Stanley Cup. 

Canada does look good heading into the gold medal game. But so does Sweden. And the gold medal isn't decided until 60 minutes after the puck drop. This is no easy task. 

What To Expect
  • A Slower Game. The Canada-USA game was played at an amazing pace, largely because the Americans kept trying to push the pace early. Canada obliged, but seemed to better understand the big ice on that day. Sweden appears to have the best adaptation to the big ice, and will hold that distinct advantage over Canada. Canada better expect a return to slower games that they struggled with prior to USA. Sweden will happily take their chances with a tight game because they have arguably the best goalie in the world.
  • Sweden's blue line is the only blue line that can challenge Canada. They have two set NHL pairs in Johnny Oduya/Niklas Hjarmalsson of Chicago and Niklas Kronwall/Jonathan Ericsson of Detroit. Granted they are both second pairing units but their built familiarity is a huge advantage. Their top pairing features Norris Trophy winner Erik Karlsson along side Alex Edler, a favorite of coach Per Marts. In fact they are so deep on the back end that Oliver Ekman-Larsson, who I consider to be Sweden's best defenseman other than Karlsson, did not take a single shift in the semifinal against Finland. Canada still has the advantage, but it's not nearly as significant as compared to everyone else they have faced.
  • The line of Daniel Sedin-Niklas Backstrom-Louie Eriksson was the stars of the semi-final win. Canada will have to keep them quiet. With Henrik Sedin and Henrik Zetterberg injured Canada needs to exploit their advantage down the middle. Crosby, Toews, Getzlaf and Duchene 
Enjoy the game everyone! Join me on Twitter @HockeyLegends for in-game commentary and features.

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