Finland, of all countries, may have spared Team USA. The Olympic hockey tournament is officially underway, and after three contests each, every team is capable of being scouted. By taking Canada to overtime today, Finland has made The United States the two seed and created a less difficult road to a medal for the NHL stars donning red, white and blue.
The team to watch that has not earned a bye (besides Russia, obviously) is Switzerland. The Swiss team is led by Jonas Hiller of the Anaheim Ducks in net, and he continues to stand on his head. Hiller has won both his starts and is yet to allow a goal on 47 shots, despite lacking plentiful NHL talent in front of him.
What Switzerland does have going for it is an excellent team identity, great discipline, and a knack for turning every game into a grind-it-out affair. If they advance past Latvia (they beat them 1-0 in pool play), they will look to burden Team Canada in the quarterfinals, sparing The U.S.
Rather, the U.S. will play the winner of Slovakia and The Czech Republic. Slovakia has been incredibly disappointing after nearly medaling four years ago in Vancouver. They are considered the 10th seed of 12 teams and have a 0-2-0-1 record, including a 7-1 throttling by the U.S. and a 3-1 upset by Slovenia, whose only NHL player is Anze Kopitar of the Los Angeles Kings.
The Czech Republic doesn’t appear to be much more formidable, as their only win in pool play was against lowly Latvia. Aside from that, they were blanked by Switzerland and lost 4-2 to Sweden, despite outshooting them. The consistency and chemistry a team needs to contend is not with the Czech team, and it has shown. The program is in transition and they will have their hands full with Slovakia, who played their best game today in a 1-0 shootout loss to Russia.
All in all, the U.S. got lucky. Finland is a good team, but Canada once again could not perform up to their lofty standards. As a result, Team USA’s road to a medal certainly became smoother. There are no cupcakes in this tournament, but so far, Team USA has certainly executed at the highest level. If they continue to do so, their showdown with Canada will not only happen, but the result will look a lot different than it did in 2010.
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