U-S-A! U-S-A! Top of the Olympic table

Except for the rather lopsided Finland-Sweden finale, which literally put me to sleep (the timeslot had a lot to do with that), Sunday's "rivalry day" in Olympic hockey delivered. The Russians beat the Czechs with some outstanding displays from their biggest stars (Ovechkin and Malkin, yes, but also Pavel Datsyuk's defensive acumen and ref-baiting fakery), and the U.S. beat Canada the surest way they know how: Through outstanding goaltending and relentless skating.

Hilariously Martin Brodeur, egged on by the lack of a trapezoid and the fawning media hyping up his puckhandling skills, tried to do too much with the puck and got burned. Cue navel-gazing in Canadian media, the most reactionary of which are all too eager to stoke fan insecurities even though what happened was entirely conceivable in a short tournament with several elite rosters and little preparation: One stacked roster of NHLers beat another even more stacked roster of NHLers with the help of an outstanding goaltender and good special teams. Thrilling, but hardly surprising.

The score was close -- 5-3 with an empty-netter: The only conclusion, apparently, is the apocalypse is near. Oh, and Canada is incapable of developing faster players, apparently. I half expect another melodramatic Gretzky (or Yzerman) "tired of people taking shots at Canadian hockey" speech, followed by a suddenly contrite media lapping it up and saying the speech saved the tournament.

Of course, U.S. media is hardly innocent at the other extreme: On MSNBC's post-game coverage (yes, I just wrote "MSNBC post-game"), the host seriously said, "And we're already hearing biggest Olympic upset since 1980," which tells me either the producers have never watched hockey (Tommy Salo says hello, as do several NHL-heavy Olympic rosters) or they just don't care about reality; it's more important for ratings to blow every match up into something it's not, rather than explain: Deep rosters, short tourney, little preparation time -- it's wide open, speech or no speech. So how about we just enjoy the show?

After the jump, the final single-table Olympic hockey standings, plus a look at the single-elimination bracket as listed by Dirk Hoag at On the Forecheck. Things look nice for top-seed and table-running Team USA, but lone Islander representative Mark Streit's physical Swiss squad may have something to say about that.

Olympic Hockey Standings


Final 2010 Olympic Hockey Preliminary Round Standings

GP W L OW OL PT GF GA GD
1. USA* 3
3
0
0
0
9
14
5
9
2. Sweden* 3
3
0
0
0
9
9
2
7
3. Russia* 3 2
0
0 1 7
13
6
7
4. Finland 3 2
1
0 0 6
10
4
6
5. Czech Republic
3
2 1 0
0
6
10
7 3
6. Canada 3 1
1
1
0
5
14
7
7
7. Slovakia 3 1
1
1
0
5
9
4
5
8. Switzerland 3 0
1
1
1
3
8
10
-2
9. Belarus 3 1
2
0
0
3
8
12
-4
10. Norway 3 0
2 0
1
1
5
19
-14
11. Germany 3 0 3
0 0
0 3
12
-9
12. Latvia 3 0 3 0
0 0 4 19 -15

(Final preliminary round results. *denotes group winner)



The Olympic Hockey Elimination Bracket

And for a look at who meets whom, I've stolen this handy chart from Dirk at the Predators- and stats-focused SBN site On the Forecheck:

2010 Olympic Mens Hockey Bracket
 Playoff Qualifier 1 Quarter-Final 1
 #8 Switzerland  #1 USA
 #9 Belarus  PQ1 Winner Semi-Final 1
 Playoff Qualifier 2 Quarter-Final 2 QF1 Winner Gold Medal
 #5 Czech Republic
 #4 Finland
QF2 Winner SF1 Winner
 #12 Latvia  PQ2 Winner SF2 Winner
 Playoff Qualifier 3 Quarter-Final 3
 #7 Slovakia  #2 Sweden
Bronze Medal
 #10 Norway  PQ3 Winner Semi-Final 2 SF1 Loser
 Playoff Qualifier 4 Quarter-Final 4 QF3 Winner SF2 Loser
 #6 Canada  #3 Russia
QF4 Winner
 #11 Germany  PQ4 Winner

The U.S. team owes Canadian media an apology for preventing their "dream final" of Russia vs. Canada (although wouldn't your dream final really be against the team who stole the group from you in the preliminary round?). However, assuming Canada gets past Germany, Canada will get it's desired match against Russia after all -- with even bigger stakes: The loser gets no medal at all.

Meanwhile, the other rivals are all split, too: The Czechs and Slovaks, the Czechs and Russia, and Sweden and Finland all are on opposite sides of the bracket, meaning they can only knock each other out if they both make it to ... a dream final.

*  *  *

Any predictions or partisan wishes? The play-in round is Tuesday, followed by all quarterfinal games Wednesday. Semifinals are Friday, with the losers vying for bronze on Saturday and the winners battling for gold on Sunday.

My hardly ground-breaking prediction: Due to the potential humiliation at stake and the ridiculous cultural pressure over what is, after all, just a game, Canada-Russia becomes the quarterfinal of the tournament. Meanwhile, as with Mike Richter in 1996, with Ryan Miller in goal anything is possible.

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