A primer for the men's hockey tournament
SOCHI, RUSSIA – The ice surface is bigger, the pay nonexistent and what used to mean bragging rights around the world in the days of dueling superpowers counts for less now that everyone wound up on the same side of capitalism. The trade-off is that you might see one, and as many four, hockey games better-played than anything in an entire season of National Hockey League contests. Here's a look at the upcoming Olympic men's hockey tournament:
Both of the United States' victories were earned on home ice, in 1960 and 1980, as was Canada's eighth and most recent. Nobody else has turned the trick. Russia never has played host to a Winter Games and hasn't been part of a gold-medal winner since the Unified Team in 1994 (and the Soviet Union dynasty before that). But nothing short of a title here is going to fly with generations reared on tales of the "Big Red Machine."
Canada takes back seat to no one
Arguments over where the game originated continue until today. But there's no question who owns the modern version. The Canadians won the first Olympic tournament in Chamonix, France — scoring 122 goals and allowing only three along the way — and have added seven since. The Soviet Union won seven, including a stretch of four consecutive (five if you count the Unified Team), followed by the United States and Sweden with two each.
Crosby vs. Ovechkin, or Magic vs. Bird, Part II
Canadian Sidney Crosby and Russian Alex Ovechkin were part of the same rookie class, two of the most-touted youngsters ever to arrive in the NHL. Hockey has been portraying their rivalry as the game's version of Magic vs. Bird ever since, but so far it's been all one-sided. Crosby has a Stanley Cup and scored the game-winner against the United States in overtime to lock up gold at Vancouver; he's also the game highest earner.
NHL's last dance?
As recently as last week, Philadelphia owner Ed Snider still was complaining about past and present NHL decisions shutting down league play for two-plus weeks to accommodate the Olympics, "It's ridiculous, the whole thing is ridiculous. I don't care if it was in Philadelphia, I wouldn't want to break up the league." The NHL first came in 1998 and so far, Commissioner Gary Bettman has been able to paper over differences among his owners to return. But the league has refused to commit beyond Sochi.