Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Hockey Heaven

It's the Olympic Hockey tournaments version of March Madness, as four quarter final games in one day will set the stage for mad dash for Gold at Torino.

The preliminary matches are forgotten history now, meaningless games that served only to pad some scoring stats shake out any travel cramps and in Canada's case give cause for some serious second guessing, something that seems to be a national sport in Canada when it comes to hockey.

But now, it's the games that matter! Four match ups each with a bit of intensity to them, four teams move on, four teams go home as the quest for Gold increases in drama.

The day of hockey heaven begins at 10:30 am EST/7:30 AM PST (CBC), as the Swedes take on the Swiss, the Swiss have been the surpris squad of the tournament thus far. Knocking of some pretty impressive names (including Canada) on their way to second place in their pool. The first match up of the day also has the added bit of spice of the Swedish coach, who more or less suggested yesterday that he would prefer to play the Swiss as he feels his team would have a good chance of defeating. It may be the truth, but it's the kind of thing that makes it to a bulletin board of a team that has already surprised more than one team in Torino.

Game number two on elimination Wedensday features the USA and the powerful Finnish team, the Americans have not had their best games this year on the ice of Torino. They've struggled to score over the early games and now face a team solid in the nets and on offence and defence. They take to the ice at 11:30 EST/8:30 PST (TSN).

The third match up of the day is one that has no shortage of history to it. At 2:30 PM EST/11:30 AM PST (CBC) Canada and Russia will renew their acquaintances once again in a most anticipated game. Canada has had their troubles scoring in the last few games, a situation that hasn't been something the Russians have had to worry about. How Canada comes out in the first ten minutes could set the stage for perhaps the most entertaining of the four matches of the day. Canada will need to play a more physical game than they have of the last few games, but with that they'll have to avoid needless penalties. It's a fine line to skate in International hockey, but if they don't play the body they'll find themselves in trouble in short order. Stopping the Russians in their own end before they can set up, could go a long ways towards making sure that Canada skates on to the next round by the end of the game.

The final quarterfinal of the day goes at 3:35 EST/12:35 PST (TBA) as Slovakia and the Czech Republic renew what can only be described as a rather intense family feud. Once these players may very well have appeared on the same roster, but when Slovakia and the Czech Republic went their seperate ways the world gained two rather impressive hockey nations. It's taken a few years for both teams to build their programs back up, but as the Czechs have shown in the past they can play the game fine thank you very much. Same can be said for the Slovaks who showed a lot of determination in the preliminary round. This could be the most emotional of the four games in Torino, it's a different dynamic than a Canada Russia match up, but it certainly is one that will have the same feeling to it.

Four games steeped in drama, it's the best that hockey can probably offer outside of the Gold medal match in a few days. For the record HockeyNation sees the following teams moving on by the end of Wednesday's bounty of hockey.

Sweden will defeat the Swiss

Finland will send the USA back home with no medals this year

Canada will edge out the Russians

Slovakia will top the Czech Republic

Park yourself in a corner seat at the bar, or firmly in your favourite chairs at home, there's lots of hockey to be watching, let the games begin!

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