Now that I’ve filed my column for tomorrow, I have time for a few other notes from today:
1. Wish you all could have been here for USA-Canada. Nothing like being inside the building of a big international game. As some of you know, I did cover the 1980 Miracle On Ice game and nothing will top that. But for the USA to beat Canada on Canadian home ice at the Olympics with at least 90% of the building rooting for Canada . . . pretty damn cool. Unless you were a Canadian player.
2. Evgeni Nabokov looked great in Russia’s victory over the Czech Republic this morning. He had to make just 23 saves but some were spectacular. One of the goals he gave up was a 5-on-3 and he was screened on the other. After the game when his teammates came out to congratulate him, a few even gave him big hugs, something I’ve never seen after a NHL game. After the game in the dreaded “mixed zone” where reporters fight to talk to players, I had to fight with all the Russian-language reporters to get just one question asked in English but this is what Nabby told me when I asked him to assess the Russian team at this point, which has won two of its three games with one overtime shootout loss (with Ily Bryzgalov in goal for that one, not Nabokov):
“It’s too early to make any decisions, any conclusions. We’ve got to put together another good game next time. But it’s been a good start for us.”
3. At the time we spoke, Nabby didn’t know about what I consider to be the biggest bummer of the Canadian loss to the USA. Because of the convoluted way the tournament works, it very much appears that Canada will now meet Russia in a quarterfinal game. THat means one of those teams will not advance to the semifinals, which means one of them is guaranteed of not winning a medal. Canada has only itself to blame but something is still wrong with a format that will eliminate one of the best four or five teams in the round of 16.
4. Milan Michalek, the former Shark, is having a good tournament for the Czech Republic–he had a goal Sunday against Russia– and has been watching all the tournament games either in person or on television. I agree with his assessment: “It’s a short tournament and anybody can beat anybody if their goalie can be hot that day. Coming here, I thought there were four teams that could win it all. Now I think there are five or six.”
5. Yes, that hit by Ovechkin on Jagr was a crusher and a real turning point when Russia scored a few seconds later. I think Jagr still must be seeing stars. But I liked his quote about it when asked how it felt: “I don’t really care how I feel. If I get hurt, it always heals. It just doesn’t look good.” But as Michalek said: “The biggest turning point is when they scored after it.”
6. I’m not going into a lot of Canada-USA stuff because I wrote about it for my column in tomorrow morning’s paper (although I wish I’d had more time; I only had an hour to do interviews and then write it — but no whining on this bus). I’m also going to save thoughts about the four Canadian Shark players for a future column. So stay tuned to MercuryNews.com. But let me just say I would not have wanted to be Marleau, Thornton, Heatley or Boyle heading out onto the streets of Vancouver on Sunday night. The whole city/country was so jacked up about this game. I envision young Canadian children crying over the defeat. Seriously.
7. I’m now watching Sweden beating Norway, 3-0, in the third period. I want to stick around and talk to Douglas Murray afterward. He’s playing about four or five shifts per period, steady as she goes. This is a big victory for his team, though, because it gives them the second seed in the tournament — although the way I figure it (this format is so complicated), Finland will also now get a bye as the fourth seed. By my reckoning, assuming this score holds up and Sweden doesn’t score three more goals to overtake the USA in a tiebreaker, the qualification round matchups for Tuesday will look like this though I’d still wait for it to be confirmed by Olympic honchos:
Czech Republic vs. Latvia (winner will play Finland in the quarterfinals)
Canada vs. Germany (winner will play Russia in the quarterfinals)
Slovakia vs. Norway (winner will play Sweden in the quarterfinals)
Switzerland vs. Belarus (winner will play USA in the quarterfinals)
If you really want to go all out and project way too far, we could be looking at a USA-Finland semifinal and a Sweden vs. Canada/Russia semifinal. Wow, now I am beginning to realize just how big Sunday’s victory was. I didn’t realize it when I was writing my column because (A) Sweden had not played Finland yet tonight and (B) I didn’t have time to really figure out all the possibilites.
And while I disdain jingoism, let me just say: Every kid in the USA who plays hockey ought to be proud tonight.