Friday, February 21, 2014

USA women's hockey falls short in golden classic

I never would have thought I would be writing a blog about women's hockey. But here I am. Thursday, the United States and Canada met in the gold medal game at the Sochi Olympics, to the surprise of not many, I'm sure.

For the fourth consecutive Olympics, the Canadian women won the gold, with a 3-2 overtime victory over the USA women. The hardware didn't come without some late-game heroics and nail-biting excitement, however.

Since I was at the office while it seemed the rest of the continent was watching the game, I followed along via Twitter. You pretty much know exactly what's going on if you follow enough of the right people.

Comfortable lead? Not exactly
The teams were scoreless through the first period. Team USA took a 1-0 lead in the second, and then a 2-0 lead in the third. I watched a replay of the game later and saw USA kick back slightly with that two-goal cushion. Just as I thought that, TV analyst Pierre McGuire commented, "Don't sit back," with 12 minutes left in regulation, adding that you don't want to be in the habit of just defending.

It's the old, trying-not-to-lose way of finishing out a game, rather than trying to win. That bug hit USA.

The game was a good one, to be sure. The players skated hard and it was actually a pretty physical game. I was pleasantly surprised. I haven't made it a secret that I hold boys/men's hockey to a better standard than girls/women. It's just not the same level to me. However, Thursday's game showed me the level was pretty close to even, at least for that contest.

The final 3:26 changed the tide
Canada struck with 3:26 left in regulation. Though it may be stating the obvious, a 2-1 game is much different than 2-0. That insurance goal is huge. It only took that one goal to give Canada a chance to grab hold of the momentum. It pulled the goalie with 1:35 left.

One of the daggers for USA came 13 seconds later. From their own blue line, they shot the puck toward the empty net. It hit the pipe. That goal would have likely put the gold medals around the necks of the USA players.

In the final minute scramble, Canada made it a tie game with 54 ticks left. Just 54 seconds separated USA from striking gold.

By the way, there are so many references to the "Mighty Ducks" movies I could throw out here that correlate to this game. A few of them showed up on Twitter.

All of a sudden, here's overtime
Overtime got interesting. USA must have regrouped well enough during the intermission, because it had a few good scoring chances early. Canada took a penalty, giving USA a short-lived power play. That's because six seconds later, the refs called an absolute textbook "even-up" penalty on USA. "Even-up" is commonly referred to by hockey fans when one team is on the power play, and then that team gets penalized, to even the number of skaters again. Usually, the validity of these calls is questionable.

The player barely lifted her stick to poke at the puck in the Canadian goalie's pads, a play that is pretty typical and has been done much more aggressively. I guess that was deemed a slash.

Anyway, a minute later, USA went to the box again, for a crosscheck which arguably could have been a penalty shot in Canada's favor. It was that 5-on-3 advantage, where Canada was set up in the offensive zone, that it scored the golden goal with 11:50 left in the extra session.

Joy for our neighbors to the north, disappointment for us.

I must say, I loved how so many people were hockey fans Thursday and throughout the Olympics. I just wish we could get more fans of the game all the time. Not just every four years.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Give the winter Olympics a try - with your remote

The Olympics have returned. The winter games kicked off last week in Sochi, Russia. I know many people knock the winter Olympics for being boring or showcasing sports no one watches or cares about, except only every four years.

I must say that I prefer the summer games to winter. Then again, I also rank those seasons in that order. Winter just means bitter cold, lots of snow and days where the light disappears. But that doesn't mean I haven't been tuning into the coverage when I have the chance.

Bring on the hockey
Being a hockey fan, I of course enjoy that sport the most when it comes to the Olympics. Give me the guys over the gals any day, however. I'm not much of a fan of women's hockey anyway. In the Olympics, they should just have Canada and the United States play each other for the gold and silver medals and be done with it. That's what the rest of the competition, or lack thereof, is like.

As excited as I am for hockey, I still think I'll be a little disappointed. It will be really hard to top the 2010 gold medal game between USA and Canada in Vancouver. Minnesota's own Zach Parise tied the game at two with under 25 seconds left in regulation. Then it was NHL superstar Sidney Crosby who scored the gold-winner in overtime to give the game to Canada.

Amazing game.

The Minnesota Wild have four Olympians this year: Parise will captain the USA team, and he'll be joined by Ryan Suter. Nino Niederreiter plays for the Swiss, and Mikael Granlund for Finland. Mikko Koivu was supposed to captain Finland's team, but he had to drop out of the games due to a nagging ankle injury.

Skating and boarding, too
Keeping with the ice theme, I'd have to say the figure skating competitions are my second-favorite to watch. This year, they added a team competition, which I think is good. It gives the viewers more skating to watch, and it just makes sense. It's like individual and team competitions in gymnastics.

I've also watched some ski jumping, alpine skiing, luge and snowboarding. New this year to snowboarding is the slope style. It's a run down the mountain with a chance for rail tricks and three jumps where riders can get huge air. I've found that I prefer this to the half pipe competition.

America's golden boy on the board, Shaun White, finished fourth in the half pipe. This was after he pulled out of slop style so he could focus on half pipe, where he's won gold the past two Olympics. He's being called a veteran of the sport now, and many wonder if he'll be at another games. Frankly, I'll be glad when they stop talking about him. He lost; move on.

Look at me talking about snowboarding like I know what I'm talking about. I really don't follow it.

Oh, and despite some more of the coverage and hype with curling, I still haven't been able to make myself actually sit down and watch it.

Ignorance is bliss
Sure, many of us don't know tons about the sports at the Olympics, like all the details with scoring, timing or technique. But that's why they have the color experts on the broadcasts.

For the most part, you don't have to be an expert to know what's going on or what the object is. Graphics and announcers keep you informed. In a lot of these sports, where scoring is subjective, it's a pretty safe bet that a fall is not a good thing and will result in lower scores.

So really, all you need to do is just sit back and watch. Marvel at how these athletes are so unbelievably strong that you have no idea how they are pulling off these sports they make look easy. Even if you don't enjoy winter sports, or prefer the summer games, you should still tune in (even if you're spoiled by the internet or social media).

It's just fun.