Sorry, didn't get my men's ice hockey Olympic predictions in before the games actually started, but let me play a little catch up here on a few fronts.
Players I am Most Excited to See Play in the Olympics:
Jaromir Jagr, Sergei Fedorov, and Zigmund Palffy.
I miss all three of these former NHL stars and am enjoying seeing them play on the Olympic stage immensely. I miss Jagr's tremendous skill and oversized personality. I miss Fedorov's grace and still-breathtaking skating. And I miss Ziggy because he was a buddy of mine when I broadcasted for the Islanders, a guy with a great heart and sense of humor to go along with an underrated skill set offensively. Good to see all three of these players again.
Favorite Olympic Game, So Far: Slovakia 2, Russia 1.
I was tempted to go with Canada's 3-2 shootout win over Switzerland, a game in which Jonas Hiller nearly backstopped one of the biggest upsets in recent Olympic history. Instead I chose Slovakia's 2-1 shootout victory over Russia, a game in which the Slovaks played solid defense and received excellent goaltending from Jaroslav Halak to set the stage for the upset, which was cemented on Pavol Demitra's shootout score. Huge win for Slovakia, too, coming off tourny-opening loss to Czech Republic.
Most Anticipated Game to Come: Sweden vs. Finland (tomorrow).
Yes, of course I am looking forward to the United States-Canada matchup tomorrow night, and I fully expect it to be an intense tilt. But Sweden and Finland, great natural rivals just like USA-Canada, in a rematch of the 2006 Gold Medal Game should be the better contest. The Finns likely will bring out the best in Sweden, which looked sluggish in a 4-2 win yesterday over Belarus. Tell you what, great hockey day tomorrow all the way around: Russia-Czech Republic at 3:00, USA-Canada at 7:40, and Sweden-Finland at 12 midnight. Should be the best hockey day of the tournament.
Can the U.S. Win a Medal?
Yes, the United States can win a medal, but the better question is will they? So far I have seen a hard-working team with flashes of brilliance offensively (David Backes take a bow on both accounts) that has received tremendous goaltending so far from Ryan Miller. Sunday will be a huge test because Canada will be amped up to take out the US on home ice, and will have the extra motivation of trying to finish ahead of the United States in Group A's preliminary round. Add in to the mix that Canada feels the need to show they can play much better than they have done, so far. A US win tomorrow would go a long way to boosting the team's self confidence heading into the medal round. Still when it's said and done, I think the US is on the outside looking in at the medal ceremony. Miller is the one player who can change that, however.
Team That Could Spoil Russia-Canada Final: Finland.
OK, I am like most of you: I expect Russia and Canada---despite uneven starts to the Winter Games---to play for the Gold Medal a week from tomorrow. Sweden, the Czech Republic, the United States, even Slovakia are all capable of derailing that final depending upon equal amounts of good fortune and stellar play. But it is Finland that could be the most likely party poopers in the tourny. My reasoning--other than the Finns awesome goaltending, solid chemistry, and excellent talent level---has much to do with history. It seems each Olympics Finland is overlooked, and then when all is said and done, there they are on the medal stand. No gold just yet, but a silver and a bronze from the past three Winter Games. There's just something about the Finns.
Shameless Rangers Radio Plug: Interview with Craig Patrick.
If you remember exactly where you were when The Miracle on Ice happened---as I do---or you were not born yet and want to learn more about the amazing journey of the 1980 Gold Medal-winning US Olympic Hockey Team, then check out the fascinating interview Steve Gelbs and I did with one of the architects of that team ---assistant coach Craig Patrick--- on Rangers Radio this week.
Patrick---who went on to become the GM and Coach of two NHL clubs, the Rangers and Penguins, as well as a two-time Stanley Cup winner--- provides so much background insight and information into what is, arguably, the greatest sports story ever in the United States. Perhaps most interesting, Patrick tells us that there was no miracle involved, he believed this team would medal in Lake Placid.
"Don't forget that even though we didn't have NHL or professional players on that team at that time, we had a team full of players who would go on to play big roles in the National Hockey League after the Olympics," stated Patrick. "The talent was there, and we knew it."
Tune in. Patrick provides some really good stuff on this, the 30th, anniversary of The Miracle on Ice.