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February 26, 2010 2:41 PM

Winter Olympic Hockey: Heavy Medal Mania

This afternoon, the men's hockey semi-finals start. It's the Olympic version of the Frozen Four, and the first time since Sunday that a loser still has something to play for, as the losers of today's game faceoff tomorrow for the bronze medal.

In other words, just by making it here teams have a 75 percent chance of winning a medal. That is frankly probably good enough for Slovakia, but not for the other three teams.

This is Finland's last chance to get favourite son Teemu Selanne a gold medal. Team USA earned the top seed, so anything less than a silver will be a disappointment.

And of course, for Team Canada, anything less than a gold is devastating. An entire nation may go into depression for months.

(Then again, with only one gold medal in my lifetime, and even only one in the three previous Olympics in which professionals were allowed to play, they should be used to it. I know, that was mean, but you don't see the United States losing in the Olympics at our game, basketball...oh, wait, nevermind!)

Let's examine the quarterfinals to get a glimpse of where these teams are:4380763127_55a3698ed7.jpg

Switzerland-United States: Team USA ran into a wall Wednesday, and its name was Jonas Hiller. Hiller actually knocked the first goal in himself before the second period horn sounded, but replays clearly showed it had not crossed the line before the clock was all zeros, making this the first contest to be 0-0 through two periods.

Zach Parise managed a goal that stood in the third, then both teams appeared to score without a whistle in between. The Swiss put a shot past Ryan Miller that went off the post but in live speed appeared to cross the line. With play continuing, America then scored on the same shift, but was called for a penalty as the shot was en route to the net.

Goaltending was the story: Miller ended up with an 18-save shutout, and Hiller turned away 42 of the 43 shots he faced (Parise got an empty netter with 11 seconds left). A young Team USA never lost their composure or wight of their gameplan, and eventually overwhelmed their overachieving opponent.

Canada-Russia: I told you Russia was overrated (hey, I have so few things to brag about in this Olympic hockey tournament, so deal with it!). I never understood how a team that had third and fourth lines that couldn't even start in the NHL and a blueline that had only a couple guys who knew how to play defence (they seem to think the position is called "offenceman") got so much dap.

Oh, yeah, because everyone is enamoured with offence. But like I said, the medal games are played tightly and Canada had the defence to shut down Alexander Ovechkin's line, without which the depth-challenged Russians could not stay with Canada.

And it did not help that Evgeni Nabokov was off his game, or that he was left out there even after showing it in giving up four first period goals. At least he will get some rest before the San Jose Sharks need him.

Czech Republic-Finland: The highly-skilled offence of the Czechs could not put one shot past Miikka Kiprusoff, and the Finns scored just enough to put this one away.

Slovakia-Sweden: Henrik Lundqvist, who had not given up a goal in almost nine periods, yielded four goals in five shots at one point, allowing the tired Slovaks to earn their first trip to the final four, gritting out this win after a disappointing showing against a second-rate Norwegian squad.

Sweden's loss was a gift to Canada, who having played more games would have had a tough time against the true second-best team in the tournament. It was the third straight time that the previous gold medal winner was eliminated in the quarterfinals of the next Olympics.


Here is a look at today's matchups:

Finland-United States: America gets the slight edge in this one because we are considered the home team, giving us the last line change and faceoff advantage. However, the two teams are very even, with the Finns having a scoring edge and the Americans having the better defence. Both goaltenders are extraordinary.

Ultimately, Team USA has shown such an impressive work ethic and plays so well in its own end that I give them the edge...USA 3, Finland 2, OT.

Slovakia-Canada: The sleeping giant has awoken, and that does not bode well for the rest of the teams. The best hope for everyone else is that Canada gets overconfident or commits too many penalties against a much lesser Slovakian team. However, I am not projecting that, and even if it does happen, I think our northern neighbours have enough of an edge in all three units (forwards, defence, goaltending) to overwhelm the Slovaks...Canada 6, Slovakia 2.

You can also see MJ's work on Lambeau Leap of Faith, SportsScribes.net., Bleacher Report, PackerChatters.com, and Examiner.com.

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