Michael Russo has covered the National Hockey League since 1995. He has covered the Minnesota Wild for the Star Tribune since 2005, after 10 years of covering the Florida Panthers for the Sun-Sentinel. He uses “Russo’s Rants” to feed a wide-ranging hockey-centric discussion with readers, and can be heard weekly on KFAN (100.3 FM) radio and seen weekly on Fox Sports North.
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Good evening from Vancouver, early morning back in the Cities. Coming to you from the building formerly known as the GM Place, where I just watched the Finns beat Germany 5-0 behind a 24-save effort from Niklas Backstrom.
It was Backstrom's first-ever Olympic appearance. He didn't dress in the 2006 Olympics in Turin. Backstrom's best saves were a suave glove stop on a Manuel Klinge first-period breakaway, a doormouth second-period shot by Sven Felski, a second-period breakaway stop on Marco Sturm and third-period point-blank chances by Kai Hospelt, Jochen Hecht and Thomas Greilinger.
Teemu Selanne, playing his fifth Olympics, got an assist on Kimmo Timonen's second goal and is now the all-time leading Olympic scorer in history (37, passing Vlastimil Bubnik of Czechoslovakia).
No points for Mikko Koivu or Antti Miettinen.
Most productive day I had at the Olympics thus far because I actually did some non-work stuff. Woke up bright and early and took a long walk around Richmond. Dropped off my laundry (although I have no clue when I'll be able to pick it up since I'm in the mountains all day Saturday and at hockey all day Sunday). Went to Zellers to buy new gloves since as usual, I lost one (I'd rather lose two) and then came to the rink and got here by 10:30 for puck.
Reported on, then wrote a column/feature, a last-second notebook on how the heck you pronounce Marek Zidlicky's last name (here's that story), wrote my Sunday advance on USA-Canada game and now I've just completed watching my third hockey game.
It's now 11 p.m.ish local, I've got about an hour's commute back to my hotel, a 4:30 a.m. wakeup call staring me in the face and a 6 a.m. bus up to Whistler, then another 45-minute to hour busride apparently to Whistler Olympic Park, where I'll take in ski jumping and hopefully write a good feature on the two Americans who advanced to the large hill first round.
Zidlicky had three assists tonight against Latvia. He now leads the tournament with four assists in two games. Remember, he led all defensemen in the '06 Olympics with four goals. Marty Havlat, as you can read in the notebook, did not play much as he seemed to take a back seat to Jaromir Jagr (10:10 of ice time for Havlat, and taken off the power play).
His parents, Slava and Hanna, apparently (I didn't see it) were also interviewed on the Jumbotron before the game.
"How, they speak no English?" said Havlat.
Through a translator, of course.
OK, I'm going to skip a day of hockey on Saturday and go up to the mountains again and cover that ski jumping, but I'll be back at the hockey rink for a huge Sunday featuring the last three Olympic finalists -- Sweden vs. Finland, Canada vs. U.S. and Czechs vs. Russia.
Lastly, if you read my story in Saturday's paper (here's the link) on just what type of rabid atmosphere has been at these games, this is a picture Nicklas Olofsson emailed me of he and his friends.
Fiona Alexander, Johan Lindell, Nicklas Olofsson and Jess Lucas
I've gotten a lot of emails asking how the rest of the men's hockey tournament is formatted. My answer?
Figure it out yourself because I killed the few brains cells I have left trying to figure it out. Basically, they don't re-seed and have made it as complicated as imaginable.
I'm reading it like there's really no benefit to finishing first in your group.
I do know this. If Canada beats the US Sunday, they get a bye into the quarterfinal. If the US loses in regulation, it would have to play a qualification game, I believe. If they lost in OT or shootout, it could still be possible for them to have a bye into the quarters. Four teams get byes.
Sweden's up 2-0 after 1 over Belarus, incidentally. Daniel Sedin and Daniel Alfredsson with goals thus far.
Big sigh of relief by the sea of red inside Canada Hockey Place tonight and throughout Canada after the Canadians survived a scare from Switzerland. Four years to the day after the Swiss upset Canada in Torino, it almost happened again. Switzerland rallied from a 2-0 deficit to force OT but succombed in the shootout.
Jonas Hiller was spectacular for the Swiss, and Marty Brodeur stopped all four shooters in the shootout. He'll get the nod vs. the U.S. on Sunday -- a question after Roberto Luongo's shutout vs. Norway.
After nobody scored in the first three rounds, things reset and per Olympic rules, Mike Babcock was able to pick shooters again or go with new ones. He picked Sidney Crosby again, and this time Crosby didn't pick. After a fourth Brodeur save, the Canadians won.
If they had lost, they would have beaten the Americans in regulation Sunday to guarantee a bye into the quarterfinals. If Canadians lose Sunday, they'd have to play a qualifying game I believe because they dropped a point tonight. If the Americans lose, they'd be 2-1 and then it would be up to which is the best 2-1 team based on goal differential, I believe.
Four teams get byes. Eight teams play in the qualifying round. Like I said, the caveat here is, "i believe." As Brian Burke joked earlier this week, he went to Harvard Law School and he doesn't understand the format.
Obviously, if the Swiss won tonight, it would have been an upset. Canada could fill three teams if they wanted. But the Swiss aren't some weakling. This is a big, fast, solid, quality defensive team. This wasn't Belarus or Latvia.
In the Olympics, by the way, unlike the NHL, goals count in the stats, so Crosby actually scored a goal tonight. And Hiller actually gave up three goals.
Just a great atmosphere in the rink today for all three games. Russia-Slovakia is about to take the ice.
U.S. played a terrible second period, but they were the better team in the first and third periods in their 6-1 win over Norway. I still think at the end of the day, it will be the defensemen that derails that team. Not impressed with the blue line.
Some funny stuff today from the Ron Wilson presser, as well as the joint Gary Bettman-Rene Fasel pressers. That stuff can be found in the paper or on the web site, maybe even right now.
Lastly, regarding Roman's blog here, Don Lucia might have been told that the quotes in the Cam Barker trade story were old quotes, but that is false.
I called Tommy Thompson after the trade Feb. 12, I reached him in Vienna and the quotes used were from that phone conversation Feb. 12. I've been a sportswriter since 1991. While it's true I've had conversations with Thompson about this subject before, I would never hold quotes from a previous interview and use them in an article on a completely different context without identifying that as such.
With that, I'm out of here. I'll be back at the hockey Friday, Saturday and Sunday. I'll also be covering another what I'm sure will be very fun event Saturday, too -- ski jumping.
Good morning (afternoon back there) from the building formerly known as GM Place. You know how some sportswriters refuse to plug corporations when they attend a game in one of their named arenas?
I do the opposite. This will always be GM Place in my heart.
Find myself exhausted this morning, not because I got back to my Richmond hotel at 1 a.m., but because of how downright fun it was to watch last night's Czech-Slovak game. As I said on last night's blog, unarguably the best game of the short tournament thus far. Don't even think about arguing. Don't argue.
First two periods, great hockey, and Jaromir Jagr's breakaway winner came mere seconds after Marian Hossa, alone in the slot, rung the post.
"Hossa scores there, different game," Branko Radivojevic said.
You're eyes aren't deceiving you. Branko Radivojevic said!
"Radio" -- KHL All-Star and former Wild great -- Branko Radivojevic is back in North America. All these people were making this huge deal about Jagr's first game back in Canada since 2008 yesterday. Gimme a break. Yesterday was the return of Branko Radivojevic.
In seriousness, had a nice chat with Radivojevic after last night's game and he talked about what it's like to be in the KHL. The last time Wild fans saw Radio, he tore his ACL in the Colorado playoff series in 2008.
I chatted with Marek Zidlicky last night after his one-assist effort. He took off his glove to show me his left hand. It's purple. Not kidding. But he says it's just "sore." He rung one off the post last night and was overall real good. So was Marty Havlat, who had an assist.
As for Jagr, he looked like he didn't miss a step. The first period he was just getting his feet wet again, getting used to the speed on the small rink. He also took a hit from behind on his second shift and said the stick jabbed him into his chest.
"The first period, I felt like a soldier in Iraq," Jagr said after the game. "I didn't know where the shots were coming from. It was tough. But I survived."
Jagr was as affable as I've ever seen him, and there's no doubt with his KHL deal expiring after this season that he'll be looking to make an NHL comeback. So while these Olympics are about getting a medal for Jagr, you can bet it's as much about auditioning for some NHL teams. Most are assuming that the Edmonton Oilers have the inside shot since they went after Jagr hard before he signed in the KHL. But if Jagr continues this tourney to show he's still got game, the Oilers may need to get in line.
OK, three games today -- USA vs. Norway, Canada trying to seek revenge on Switzerland from four years ago and in what should be a sensational game, Slovakia (if they still have legs after playing 24 hours before) vs. Russia.
Talk to you later.
Good early morning back in the Cities.
What a game, what an atmosphere here at Canada Hockey Place tonight. Sorry, Canada. Not even in the same area code as the Czech-Slovak fans that packed this join with banners, flags, face paint, whistling, and dancing tonight.
And Jaromir Jagr has not missed a beat. The 38-year-old's NHL comeback began tonight. Teams may line up at his door, although Edmonton, which pursued him before he signed his two-year KHL deal, is expected to have the inside track.
Jagr scored a breakaway goal and an assist in the Czech's 3-1 win. Martin Havlat and Marek Zidlicky had an assist each. Marian Gaborik scored for the Slovaks. Gaborik played with Jozef Stumpel and Ziggy Palffy. Seriously.
At even strength for the Czechs, Zidlicky played with Filip Kuba. Seriously. On the power play, Zidlicky played with Tomas Kaberle. Havlat lined with Tomas Plekanec and Patrik Elias, who each scored a goal.
Great game up until third, when the Czech sat back like nobody I've ever seen. They had one, maybe two shots in the period -- in the last minute.
Three games on tap for Thursday, and I'll be back for an 11 a.m. joint presser with NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and IIHF Prez Rene Fasel to discuss I'm sure partially the 2014 Olympics, which the NHL has made quite clear it's hesitant to commit to and the players have made quite clear they want to be included in.
Everybody's already getting ready for Sunday, when there's big huge rivalries -- US vs. Canada, Sweden vs. Finland, Czechs vs. Russia. US coach Ron Wilson said it might be the biggest day in international history.
Media's already preparing for the goalie controversy. Roberto or Marty? Who would you choose?
Martin Havlat before Czech-Slovak game
Marek Zidlicky before Czech-Slovak game
Sniper Marian Gaborik before Czech-Slovak game
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