With NHL labour strife looming, the World Cup of Hockey is an excellent distraction for fans that are sick and tired of the two sides whining and bitching. But who are the contenders and the pretenders for the crown of international ice hockey supremacy? Each side has their aces to build their case, but with the round robin and quarterfinal stages now complete, whose stick work will reign supreme?
North American Pool
With the Olympic gold medal from Salt Lake City 2002 in tow, Canada now looks to add the World Cup to its trophy case.
And Canada lived up to their status as Olympic champions, defeating Slovakia 5-0. Once again Canada brushes off a challenge with a dominant performance in front of their home crowd in Toronto. They are now to face the Czech Republic in a semi-final, also at home. Home ice will provide a huge edge for them, but the Czechs will be tough to beat anyway.
After slugging their way through the round robin games, the Americans finally flickered to life on Tuesday night. However, most of their scoring came from Keith Tkachuk, who netted a four-pack in a 5-3 win over the Russians. As they advance to the next round to face a strong Finnish team, other snipers like Bill Guerin and Scott Gomez must stop firing blanks if they want have any hope of moving on. Then again, who wants to see the Americans defending their title? Not me!
Long live the great Soviet bear. After beating the Americans 3-1 in the round robin when it didn't count, the Russians were outplayed by a rejuvenated Team USA in their home crib at St. Paul's Xcel Energy Centre. While they boasted a younger lineup than the Americans, with names like Ilya Kovalchuk and Pavel Datsyuk, it may be the inexperience that cost the Soviets... er... I mean the Russians the game. Oh well, better luck next time!
Slovakia is definitely the underdog in the North American pool. Their loss to Canada is proof to this point. While they have defeated the Canadians in tournaments on the larger international ice surface, it seems the smaller North American-sized rink just isn't a Slovakian cup of tea. And in front of a hostile crowd in Toronto, it was a tough ask that the Slovaks couldn't execute. Nice try, though.
Anchored by local hero Miikka Kiprusoff, Finland is looking like a team of world-beaters. But Germany almost brought the Finnish back to earth in a close 2-1 Finland win. Maybe the hockey gods were angry at something the Finns did and they wanted to teach them a little lesson? Their only saving grace in that game was that the Germans had a tough time finishing chances! Regardless, they are now off to St. Paul to face the Americans. This time, the Finns will need their A-game.
After winning Olympic gold in the Nagano with the goaltending of Dominik Hasek, the Czechs have really fallen from the top of the pedestal. While they sucked during the round robin games, they showed that they could win when it counts by defeating Sweden on enemy territory 6-1. The Czechs brought their A-game with Milan Hedjuk and Martin Havlat amongst others firing while the Swedes slept their way through it. Now, they move on to meet Canada. Beware the Czechs.
Well, what do you know? In a draft, I said that the Swedes wouldn't sink like the Vasa. And guess what? They sank like the Vasa. Even with a weakened Czech team that is Dominator-less, coupled with the fact that they had dangerous snipers like Mats Sundin, Fredrik Modin and even the Sedin twins, they still sucked! So with their hopes for a World Cup in 2004 sitting at the bottom of Stockholm harbour, the Swedes better take a long hard look at what happened. This wasn't a freak accident!
Maybe we were all wrong about the Germans after all! After coming close to upsetting European Pool leader Finland in their quarterfinal game, they can come away with the satisfaction that they had come close. Now, they must build on this and move forward. However, the chances of them actually beating one of the powerhouses still remains to be seen. Can they? Only time will tell. For now, it's goodbye to the Germans, but they'll be back.