The Olympics are over, and as the Sochi bear weeps one solitary, terrifying tear, I too weep for the ending of the greatest tournament of hockey, all due respect to the Stanley Cup Final. For the United States, it was a tournament of extremely high highs (TJ Oshie’s shootout; the women’s team’s 9-0 win over Switzerland) and extremely low lows (the tournament endings for both teams). I personally welcome the return of the NHL, if only so my sleep schedule can go back to it’s maladjusted awfulness, and look forward to having my daily average heart rate drop now that I’m not having heart attacks over hockey and figure skating. I’m hoping that some GM does something crazy in the next few days, like maybe they finally trade Ryan Miller and he goes to, I dunno, Chicago in exchange for Patrick Kane or something equally absurd, just so I can get back in the swing of being an NHL fan.
But without further ado, here are my winners and losers of the 2014 Sochi Olympics, once again decided arbitrarily based on what I found interesting.
Winners: Marie-Philip Poulin, Hilary Knight, and Amanda Kessel
The women’s tournament seemed, to my eye, to get a lot more attention and interest than it has in the past, and two of the women who grabbed the most attention were Amanda Kessel and Marie-Philip Poulin. Kessel is a bit of an obvious one — the sister of a well-known NHL player and an exceptionally good player herself, it seemed almost inevitable that she would become popular. Poulin, the hero of the 2010 gold medal game, cemented her status as a household name when she tied and then won the gold medal game in overtime.
Hilary Knight isn’t as big a name as either of them, but I think this Olympics were something of a coming out party for her. Certainly I know there seemed to be a great deal of affection for her in the media I was consuming. Part of it is her aggressive style of play and status as a power forward in women’s hockey. The other part of it is, I’m sure, her personality.
One of the things any sport needs is strong personalities to get behind. The rivalry between these three women should hopefully be great fuel for the, I’m sure, even more bitter Canada-USA women’s rivalry. Now Poulin has taken away two golds from Knight, and I’m sure Kessel and Knight are going to want revenge in 2018, not to mention in all the Worlds between now and then.
Loser: Alex Ovechkin
I really feel terrible for Ovechkin. He wanted so badly to be at these Olympics, going so far as to say he didn’t care if the NHL allowed the players to go, he would. He was the face of the Sochi Olympics and, almost inevitably, the face of Russia’s defeat.
It didn’t take long for Coach Zinetula to throw shade on Ovechkin’s performance, as though Ovechkin’s lack of goals was the team’s only problem. Ovechkin is an immensely talented player, but sometimes it just doesn’t happen for him. On top of that crushing defeat at the hands of Finland, Ovechkin’s father underwent heart surgery during the Olympics and the news was withheld from him until after Russia was knocked out of the tournament. Not a great couple of weeks for the Great 8.
It’ll be interesting to see how this plays out for Ovechkin once he returns to the NHL. The common (and easy) narrative for the downturn in Ovechkin’s play following the 2010 Olympics is that he was so emotionally defeated after the Canada-Russia quarterfinal which saw the Russian team torched 7-3. For the good of the game, I hope Ovechkin comes back furious and spitting nails and ready to put the Caps on his back and drag them through playoffs.
Winners: Team Japan
The happiest hockey team at the Olympics has probably been Japan’s women’s team. They were delight just to qualify, and they continued to smile as they went through the tournament. They may not have won a game, but they scored more than anyone expected them to and they became the favorite underdog story for many.
Favorite story: the gif of Japan celebrating their first goal in 16 years is famous, but why did they bow to each other after scoring?
And when [Coach] MacLeod struggled to figure out when it was appropriate in Japanese culture to bow, “it was so cute that it made us smile,” forward Yuri Adachi said.
“They thought it was funny, so they added it to their goal celebration,” MacLeod said. [x]
Those are the smiles of a team that didn’t expect to score.
Here’s hoping we see more of them in the future.
Winner: TJ Oshie
Because I’m super into Google Trends right now, here is the history of T.J. Oshie searches since his draft. Unsurprisingly, interest in him has spiked hugely, and that’s great.
We here at High Heels and High Sticks are unabashed fans of Oshie — Hannah did a Friday Flow post on him and he has been one of the few shining lights of my abysmal fantasy hockey team — and I was delighted to see him become something of an overnight celebrity during the shootout with Russia. The funny thing is, I’ve watched a number of Blues games but have never seen him take a shootout before and found his style incredibly stressful to watch.
They say a picture’s worth a thousand words, and this one tells a whole story.
It’s great especially because he’s on the Blues, a team that can’t be said to get the most attention in their own division, let alone in the NHL. I hope this brings them new fans and new attention even if America didn’t do so hot overall.
Losers: Team USA
Speaking of America not doing so hot…yeah. Let’s…not go into it.
I’m — I’m so sad. I’m so, so sad.
Okay, maybe we should. After both the men’s and women’s team came in hotly promoted, I think it was fair to say there were some high expectations, particularly after the blowouts both teams enjoyed (against greatly inferior competition, though of course people never really mention that). The women’s team at least got a medal; the men completely fell apart and the media jumped so hard off the bandwagon I’m pretty sure a few of them got run over by the guys running to get on Canada’s.
At least we got some puppies out of it.
God bless America.
Winners: Women’s Hockey Goalies
One of the truly great stories of the women’s tournament was the fantastic play of the goalies. The lowest sv% was Nana Fujimoto with .885% overall. And she did surprisingly well given the ability of the rest of her team. Gold medal-winning Shannon Szabados had a .954% and an average goal allowed below 1. The great goaltending was one of the equalizers in an event that, while evening out slowly, has its standout leaders.
Also they have great masks.
Loser/Winner: Julie Chu
Oh, Julie Chu. I love Julie Chu. I wanted a gold for her. So did the rest of her team. This was her fourth Olympics and the fourth time she failed to bring home a gold. The United States athletes honored her by voting her to carry their flag during the closing ceremonies. She was thrilled.
Thank you, Julie. (source)
Chu has said this is her last Olympics. At 31, she was the oldest member of the US Women’s team. She has played in Salt Lake City, Turin, Vancouver, and Sochi. She has won two Clarkson Cups, one with the Minnesota Whitecaps and again the next year as a Montreal Star. She plays both forward and defense, was the first Asian-American on the US Women’s team, and in her time at Harvard became the all-time lead career scorer in NCAA history with 284 points in her 129 games. She’s a legend and an inspiration and I’m sad to see her leave the US team. I hope she sticks around hockey for a few more years, but if she retires for good, I wish her all the best and hope to see her name in the Hall of Fame in the future.
Winner: Ted Nolan and Latvia
Maybe it’s that Ted Nolan, coach of the Buffalo Sabres, is used to lost causes, but he’s being credited with helping the Latvian teams believe in themselves. They beat reigning World silver medallists Switzerland to come up against Canada, which is where the real Cinderella story of Latvia caught the world.
If only Latvia had managed the upset.
In the quarterfinals between Canada and Latvia, goalie Kristers Gudlevskis blocked an astounding 55 of 57 shots, including one from every single member of Team Canada save goalie Carey Price. Just 21 years old, Gudlevskis has a memory to hold onto for the rest of his life even if his team didn’t manage the upset. Hilariously, before the game, Kaspars Daugavins was asked how to beat Canada and he replied:
“We’ll just tell our goalie to stop every shot,” smiled Daugavins. “Then you can’t lose, right? [x]
Latvia is a tiny country and they may never become a powerhouse of hockey, but I’m certainly hoping they become the perennial spoiler, showing up to steal games and make the rest of the world gape in surprise. It’s great to have the one team that shows up and shocks people. In a single elimination tournament like the Olympics, upsets are easier to come by, and make the narrative that much more entertaining.
Also, Latvia fans are the best.
Loser: Women’s Hockey
I’ve talked a little bit about the annoying dialogue that popped up about women’s hockey being too uneven and the complaints from people about it being boring or whatever, and frankly I find it all rather tiring. Maybe it’s that I went to a Division III school and would occasionally attend games where we’d blow out teams 15-0 or games where we played an actually team and get our asses handed to us, but I seem to have a lot more patience than other people do with uneven games. Hockey is still a fast-paced game, an engaging game, and to dismiss women’s hockey is the first way to ensure that it’ll never become as good as we all know it can be. That being said…
Winner: Women’s Hockey
It seems to me, though maybe it’s just the circles I run in, that there was a lot more attention paid to the women’s tournament this year than in the past. Gary Bettman was even asked about the possibility of the NHL sponsoring a women’s league (which he said was not viable at this time, though I have some counter-arguments and suggestions, which will probably have to come at a later point). The level of attention paid to the sport, even when it was concerning whether it should remain in the games, can only be a benefit. The more eyes we have on the sport, the better. As a reminder, the CWHL is around and tickets are only $10!
Loser: Whoever Benched PK Subban
It turns out Canada didn’t need him to win, but keeping the reigning Norris winner and one of the best offensive-defensemen around benched is one of the more baffling decisions of the Olympics. Subban is a blessing to hockey, a delightful personality encase in the body of a hard-hitting defenseman. Without him, we would not have this amazing video taken right after the medal ceremony:
Which, I must point out, he put up in record time. I don’t know what I love more: Sidney Crosby just grinning and saying “Sup?”, Marty St. Louis being Marty St. Louis, Carey Price’s “Whaaaaat” or Roberto Luongo’s slightly confused expression. Also, the split second of PK cracking up at the announcer’s pronunciation of Luongo’s game is absolutely the highlight of the medal ceremony for me. If anyone finds a clip or gif of that, I would be eternally grateful.
Winner: Teemu Selanne
The man. The myth. The legend. The ageless wonder that is Teemu Selänne not only won his fourth medal, becoming at 43 the oldest person to ever win a hockey medal at the Olympics, but was also named tournament MVP forward, was a point per game player, and finished with a +3 rating. He was also named to the tournament all-star team.
I imagine he’s point up into the stands at the physical incarnation of the deity who infused him with unnatural youth.
Selänne is an Olympic legend, having played for his country six times (six!!) the first in ’92, two years before teammate Olli Määttä and three years before Aleksander Barkov were born. It would have been nice to get Selänne a gold at his last Olympics, where he was named captain the absence of the Koivus, but he seemed just as happy to get another bronze.
If anyone had to steal away USA’s last chance at a medal, I’m glad it was the Finns. Selänne has said he’s going to retire at the end of this year (for real this time…) and it’s great that he got to do this one last time. #TeemuForever
Loser: The Rest of the World Not Called Canada
Look, I really like Canada. It’s a beautiful country, they’re pretty nice up there, and they have very good hockey players. I even like a lot of their players! Sidney Crosby is the captain of the NHL team I root for! But if I have to hear “Hockey is Our Game” over and over again from people who mean it in a “no one else should be allowed to be good at this sport” kind of way rather than the way I think it’s meant to be taken i.e. “we’re proud of inventing this sport and we like to be good at it”, I will burn down Canada’s maple reserve.
Canada did themselves proud at this Olympics, there is no denying it. Two golds, once again, to men and women, and as much as it hurt to watch the US women and the Swedish men cry, seeing the pure elation on Team Canada’s faces was certainly something.
Marie-Philip Poulin is the nightmare we tell our hockey-playing daughters about.
Yes, that is Marty St. Louis atop the shoulders of Mike Smith. You’re welcome.
Congratulations, Canada. May you fight valiantly in Pyeongchang and then fall to the eagles of American freedom.