If you haven’t joined an Olympic hockey pool yet or you just want to look smart in front of your hockey buddies, look no further. This is the blog that will lend you instant credibility and will make you look wiser the Shaq in front of lockerroom of reporters. Here’s my look at some of the top and most underrated players to watch during the Men’s Olympic Ice Hockey Tournament in Vancouver.
Jaromir Jagr (CZE) – Jaromir Jagr was one of the most dominant hockey players in recent memory – when he wanted to be. He’s the highest scoring European-born player (goals, assists and points) in NHL history and is very highly regarded by his younger teammates. His skill was never in question, but his motivation and desire usually was. At 38, it’s safe to say that this will likely be Jagr’s final shot at Olympic gold, so I’m sure motivation won’t be a problem for the Czech flagbearer over the next two weeks. I’d love to see one last flash of glory for the player whose long, curly hair captured the hearts of so many hockey mom’s in the 90’s.
Aleksey Morozov (RUS) – One of the reasons why I think many Canadian hockey fans are underrating the Russian team is Aleksey Morozov. He didn’t quite pan out as the Pittsburgh Penguins had hoped, where his best season saw him score 50 points in 74 games. Still, since returning to play in Russia, his game has dramatically improved to a point where he’s the best player in the world not playing in the NHL and has been for some time. Last season in the KHL, he scored 32 goals and 74 points in 49 games. I know it’s only the KHL, but Russia’s captain is much better than most give him credit for. Hypothetically, I bet if he were to join the NHL next year, he would easily be the most sought-after player on the free agent market this summer.
Ryan Getzlaf (CAN) – The big focus for Canada over the past 72 hours has been if Ryan Getzlaf will be in or out of the Canadian lineup. Well, he’s definitely in – for now. He stepped up to answer questions about the strength of his injured ankle Sunday night by scoring 4 points and guiding Anaheim to victory in his final tune-up game before the Olympics. If he can stay healthy, he adds a much more physical and dynamic presence to Canada – far moreso than a player like Jeff Carter. He also makes teammate (and probable linemate) Corey Perry immediately more effective, which will be big on that 2nd line.
Tomas Vokoun (CZE) – Tomas Vokoun had a bit of a lackluster season last year with Florida and this year has been so-so at best. But make no mistake about it – Tomas Vokoun is a very good goalie. He lead the Czech’s to a gold medal in the 2005 World Championships and a bronze medal 4 years ago in Turin. Anybody scoffing at that should think back to how Canada did in that same tournament. He could steal a few games for the Czech’s and that definitely makes the Czech Republic a dark horse in this tournament.
Patrice Bergeron (CAN) – Many were surprised to see Bergeron included in the Summer evaluation camp, and even though his name was buzzed about during the season, many more were surprised when Patrice was actually named to the Canadian Olympic team. The reason he made this team is because he’s a very useful and versatile player. If you’re surprised to see him on the top line with Sidney Crosby, don’t be. Think back to the NHL lock out year where he and Crosby played on Canada’s top line at the WJC. In fact, it was Bergeron who lit up the score sheet and won the tournament MVP award. With Crosby and Nash as linemates, Bergeron looks set to pile up the points.
Jonas Hiller (SWI) – Everyone is on the same page when it comes to the Swiss team – they are a dangerous team but they aren’t true medal contenders. It would be the shock of the Games if they finished on the medal podium. But having said that, I think the Anaheim Ducks management team will be watching Switzerland closely to find out if they chose the right goalie for their future. This tournament will really expose Hiller and we’ll find out soon enough just how good he really is. This tournament could be a big breakout party for Hiller and like Ray Ferraro said on Tuesday, I wouldn’t want to face Switzerland in a quarterfinal elimination game.
Evgeni Nabokov (RUS) – Burgundy says Russia’s great up front, but not so good on the defense and goaltending positions. I disagree and it’s time for ‘Nabby’ to put his money where his mouth is. A strong performance in this tournament would do a lot to elevate San Jose’s playoff prospects, as well as his UFA status this summer. So clearly, the motivation is there. But the big thing with Nabokov is that he doesn’t need to necessarily steal games for Russia, he just needs to hold them in the game if Russia’s offense stalls. Think Grant Fuhr in Edmonton’s glory days.
Peter Forsberg (SWE) – We’re all getting a little sick of Peter Forsberg aren’t we? He’s probably the only person in history who’s staged more career comebacks than Brett Favre. We’re constantly hearing about his annual comeback attempt to the NHL yet, he’s still a player to watch because this is only a two week tournament. Anyone who can miss an entire NHL season, return in the playoffs and flat-out dominate the way he did in Colorado in 2001-2002 is worth keeping on eye on.
Here’s to a great tournament. Let the best team win and for the aforementioned players to make me look good!
Your Reporter in the Field,