So far since the Olympic athletes have been arriving, its been a slim trickle of identifiable faces & a lot of "I think they might be an athlete" blank stares from us.
But Sunday, the party really started up for the majority of the hounds. A group of generally 5-8 of us that had been out all week for other athletes, were suddenly dwarfed by the never less than 15 and as many as 70 fans, lookie-loos & just arriving hounds from other locales. They were all there because the glut of NHL players were coming for the Olympic games came thru Vancouver's YVR airport.
The media was there. There was lots of Canadian, American, Swedish, Finnish & even a couple Asian media personnel around.
Things really started for us, Saturday late night when Peter Forsberg & various other European based Team Sweden players & the Belarus team came in. Foppa was an incredibly willing signer, very talkative & quite personable. For those hounds (myself not being 1, I was on a different mission at the time) that were there from the time he got into the publics sight, reports of 5 & 6 autographs per person were boasted. Even for my friends & I, who showed up to the party very late (literaly as he was heading out the door to the security area that you cant get them in) we managed 2 each. It was then off to rest up for Sunday.
Sunday morning I slept in, and missed a terrific signing session by Finnish star Miikka Kiprusoff. One of the locals pulled 10 items out of the scrum. Team Canada superstar Jarome Iginla was less receptive to signing and did maybe 10 total from all reports I heard for the crowd of about 20 people at the time. Jeff Carter, who came as a hopeful replacement signed for the hounds before getting the punt by Team Canada the next day.
By the time I arrived in the early afternoon more than a dozen players had come thru, some signing, some being rushed thru the protected Olympics only doors to awaiting vehicles well away from the public. When I arrived everyone was getting prepped for Alex Ovechkin, probably the greatest hockey player there is currently playing. A couple guys came out before him like Thomas Greiss & Joe Pavelski from the Sharks, then came the Washington Capitals posse. Nick Backstrom came over and signed quite a few, most people leaving with more than 1 item, while the other Alex, Alexander Semin ignored the crowd, along with Semyon Varlamov. Alex Ovechkin however did sign, barely. A crowd of 50 or so waiting fans & lookie-loos anxiously begged him to sign, and he scribbled his rushed minimal effort autograph on 4-5 items, I was lucky enough to get one. Sure it looks like crap, but I still value a BAD Ovi at $50. Which last time I looked is better than NO Ovi at $0
After that scrum we hurried over to the domestic arrivals to grab a flight with a couple Bruins on it. David Krejci, who signed only 1 per person got the crowd of 20-30 people warmed up. Then Patrice Bergeron, Team Canada member, came thru & the crowd seemed to double out of nowhere. I was watching for Marco Sturm who saw the crowd swarm his NHL team mate & he took the chance to try & leave. I went over for him & got 2, only 2 other people got him before he slipped out the door. As I got him I jokingly said "waited for Patrice to go before you made your move eh?" which he replied with a smirk "hehe, yeah". The crowd around Patrice was so thick I had time to get over to him & snag an autograph before he was rushed out by security & overzealous volunteers who pushed people around. It then was noted Eric Staal was trying to sneak away as well, but was nabbed by a few from the crowd before his handler declared he was done & shooed him away.
A couple small scrums for guys like Dan Boyle for Team Canada and Jonathan Quick for Team USA filled the dull hours in between, but for the mostpart, the mid-evening was slow.
Reports that Martin Brodeur & other Devils had slipped in nearly undetected surfaced which was met with disappointment by some & acceptance by others more experienced in hounding large events where you understand you cant be everywhere at once.
Next was Pavel Datsuk who was greeted by a pile of collectors, dealers & fans on the international side. Myself & a couple others who were late in reacting only got 1, while most got 2 or 3. While the crowd followed him outside hoping to crack him on signing again, we noticed other players coming out in the security area. We rushed over to the fence, which for some reason had been moved up maybe 75-100 feet on Sunday, making access to them more possible. Valtteri Filppula and others came out, came over to do interviews for Finnish TV & then signed willingly. I got 4 from Valtteri, before collecting my things & moving on to look for more. A handful of other Finnish guys including Joni Pitkanen, Jere Lehtinen & Tuomo Ruutu also came in around that time as well. My luck wasnt as good with them. Mainly because looking for items when your carrying 1500+ items can be time consuming. It certainly cost me more than a few times. Pitkanen & Lehtinen both signed but I didnt have the time to get into my stuff, get back into the moshpit of hounds & get them.
A series of bad decisions lead to me being shut out for a couple hours, even with players coming in. I chose to sit on Russian goalie Evgeni Nabokov for awhile thinking with only a couple of us still waiting, he would surely sign. But after 45 mins of him sitting talking to a fairly fat puckbunny, he ignored all autograph requests & left. While I was there getting kicked in the balls by Nabby, Team Anaheim came in (minus the Canadian guys). Selanne signed a few, Koivu signed some & the others got away either without being asked, or with Team USA personnel wooshing them thru the crowd.
A late night flight with a handful of Boston Bruins came in & I thought afterwards my luck was turning around....but I again made a foolish choice it seemed. I got in & nabbed 3 Zdeno Chara autographs, 2 Tim Thomas along with 2 Miroslav Satan autographs. Generally getting 5 autographs from the most recent major trophy winners liek Chara (Norris) & Thomas (Vezina) would seem like a great score, but they came at the price of missing more Red Wings players in Lidstrom & Zetterberg. At least I got SOMETHING this time, but I still felt a bit disappointed that the 2 Miro Satan autographs I waited an extra 5-8 mins to get might have cost me the 2 Wings stars.
There was 1 final group of the night. A large group that included a lot fo east coast guys. On the flight were New York Rangers stars Henrik Lundqvist & Marian Gaborik. Along with New York Islanders Swiss star Mark Streit, a few other various guys from the Tampa Lightning & other Rangers All in all, about 8 to 10 players. I came out of the whole debacle with 2 Marian Gaborik autographs and 2 Mark Streit autographs. Most of them didnt even come over, and Lundqvist signed maybe 4 autographs for the 20 or so people waiting at 1 AM before walking back to the vehicle that was picking him up & leaving.
That was the end of the NHL arrival main day. A small handful of guys arrived early Monday morning, most notably Daniel Alfredsson. He signed willingly for the fans that went out.
A lot of the Canadian Olympians did not come thru because private charters were picking them up at meeting locations & taking them in to our smaller airport in Abbotsford (about an hour away) along with a few other non-Canadian Olympic team guys. With no decent access, and lots of uncertainty on who exactly would be on them, we never took the gamble to head out there..which probably was for the best, but we'll never know. With a star studded line up that came thru including the likes of Crosby, Fleury, Malkin, Getzlaf, Perry, Kane, Toews, Seabrook, Keith, Nash and many more on them, it might have been worth the gamble to go out & try. But the uncertainty deterred anyone from trying.
Today was MY official start of the Olympics as far as competitions go. Today was the day hockey started playing competitive games. The women took to the ice today for the first ever womens Olympic hockey games to be played in the country that nearly singlehandedly built the sport, Canada.
An early day game between strong medal contender & 2006 Silver medal winners, Sweden & the top ranked country not in the commonly perceived "big 4" (Canada, USA, Sweden & Finland) Switzerland which is the 5th ranked IIHF team, ended with the Swedes winning 3-0 on the back of a Kim Martin shutout. The #3 & #5 ranked teams played a competitive game. Florence Schelling, the goalie for Switzerland kept them close, despite facing more than double the shots of her counterpart Martin. Sweden goals by Danijela Rundqvist (1st goal of the Olympics), Tina Enstrom & Erica Uden Johansson paved the way for the 3-0 victory. Sweden starts off with a respectable 3-0 victory, and Switzerland shows they can be taken seriously. It was a good result for both sides.
In the later game, the Canadian womens team (2 the defending time Olympic Gold medalists) took on the IIHF 15th ranked (only 8 teams in the tournament remember) team from Slovakia. The final score was 18-0. The haters of Womens hockey had lots of fuel for their fire with this result. The argument that womens hockey isnt competitive to have a tournmanet always rings out when Canada faces the bottom seeded teams. A score of 16-0 vs Italy last Olympics had people crying "why bother, its just going to be Canada vs USA as usual, theres no one else.", they claimed its not a fair sport to have an Olympic medal in because no one outside of 2 countries has a chance. Demands to have it taken out of the games were even suggested....of course, the fact that Sweden shocked the world & stole the silver medal was ignored by the "experts" who had openly criticized the sport as being a 2 team competition.
These same critics plead utter ignorance when you point out that mens hockey had the very same (in fact worse) hiccups on its road to respectability. No one talks about the combined 132-3 that Canada won the 1924 Olympic gold medal with. Nor the scores of 33-0 over Switzerland & 30-0 over Czechoslovakia. Canada even beat Sweden 22-0 in that tournament. The silver medalists USA won games by 22-0 & 19-0, ontop of their defeat of Sweden by a score of 20-0 in the medal rounds. EVERY country that lost by these absurd scores, with the exception of Belgium, has won Olympic medals since then, including gold medals for Sweden & the Czech Republic. Would those countries have ever won anything if the same naysayers now existed then whining that it wasnt a fair competition?? Perhaps. But more likely, no. You do infact learn from defeats like that. If for no other reason than to make sure you never lose that bad again, you become better. Eventually, you become competitive, and eventually, you become Olympic champions. I wont suggest Slovakia WILL win a gold medal ever, but they are on the right road to
Since the last Olympics theres been a few mild upsets, Finland beating the U.S. a couple times here & there, including a game just this past summer here in Vancouver at a prep tournament for the Olympics. Sweden beat Canada in a game. Is it LIKELY the U.S.A. & Canada will meet in the finals here in Vancouver? YES, very likely. No one will dispute that in the womens hockey world, not even the Swedes and Finns. They know they will need their A games to topple either of the powerhouses. That being said, history has shown it can happen, and it is happening a little more often now.
Sure, 18-0 is not a fun game to watch if you arent a fan of the team winning. Right now, the Slovak girls probably feel a bit gutted, but that feeling will pass. But they also now know what it takes to be the best. They now have a barometer to gauge their development level on. They have never had that level of competition before. They can now tell the rest of the world that they have played in the Olympics. They can tell the rest of the world they have competed against Olympic champions. Odds are, most of you that will read this will never be able to say that. I am quite positive if you polled the 21 girls on the Slovak team on whether or not they would do it again knowing the outcome, it would be an overwhelming 21-0 vote in favour of taking that chance again. For most or all of them, they might never get to face the greatest womens hockey players again, they may not get to the Olympics again. I'm pretty confident they will take an 18-0 loss to a powerhouse elite defending Olympic champion squad for no other reason than to say "we played the best there is. We might not of won, but we at least got to compete against them. " Its more than a lot of other countries can say at this point.
And isnt that really what the Olympics is about? Experiences?
If Sweden plans on repeating as silver medalists, Maria Rooth will be part of that. As a two time Olympic medalist. She is one of Swedens most experienced International players.
Already a silver & bronze medalist at the Olympics, Rooth will be aiming to try & help Sweden get somewhere they never have been in a tournament featuring the U.S. & Canada, the top.
A former star member of NCAA hockey power University of Minnesota-Duluth, Rooth now showcases her skills for a womens team IN Sweden AIK Solna, where several other Swedish Olympians play. They have helped the club team become a powerful force over there, winning last seasons Swedish womens championship, as well as having 3 straight European championships. Much of this success is because of Rooth.
In international play Rooth is one of the best. At the 2006 Olympics she was the top scorer outside of Canada in the tournament with 9 points in 5 games. This helped her make the tournament all-star team.
In Vancouver Sweden will be expecting a medal, and will be hoping to become the first country outside of North America to win a gold. The odds are slim of such a feat, but the same odds were placed on them in 2006 of finishing 2nd. Which they did, thanks in part to Maria Rooth.
The goalie for Sweden in Vancouver at the 2010 Olympics will be Kim Martin. Really, can you blame them?
Kim is the goalie who helped the Swedes win a silver medal in 2006 at the Torino Olympics. With a silver & bronze medal on her Olympic resume, she certainly will be looked at by her country to bring them another medal this Olympics.
After a couple years of sluggish play after & even during a knee injury that kept her out for the 2009 Worlds, Martin seems to finally be getting her game back on track. She backstopped her country to a bronze at the last big tournament before the Olympics in the 4 Nations Cup over in Finland.
Often discussed as the "best womens goaltender" by those who follow the sport, Martin is starting to live back up to the hype that followed her before her injury. The hype that started with a 2002 Olympic bronze medal, the hype that snowballed after the world saw her help her team steal a silver in 2006 & lead University of Minnesota-Duluth to the 2008 NCAA championship.
For Kim the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver will probably feel like its own reward after being on the shelp not too long ago. But she wont be happy unless there is a medal around her neck. She likely wont be really happy unless its silver or higher.
If womens hockey is looking to showcase the game & get the attention of the men, maybe Sweden can play Valentina Lizana a bit more?
Sweden at the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver will rely on Kim Martin to carry the load. Understandably, she is clearly one of the top goalies in womens hockey, if not the best. But the Swedes have another pretty decent goalie in Valentina backing up. With a resume that sports multiple European Womens championships, Swedish womens league championships & over 30 National team games, including 4 shutouts, Lizana has a pretty nice resume of her own...and shes still only 19.
What garners her more attention however is off the ice, her looks. The 5'7 dark brunette beauty looks more like a model than an elite athlete. The sport of womens hockey is always looking to market itself to get into the mainstream, this girl could be the answer for hockey that Anna Kournikova was for tennis. She has the looks, and talent.
Last year, while Kim Martin was recovering from an inury, it was Lizana that backstopped the Swedes. With an impressive .933 SPCT & a 1.25 GAVE, it was certainly cant be blamed on her they limped into a 4th place finish.
I got to see first hand this unknown gem in Vancouver this summer. In the game I watched she played against the powerhouse U.S. team. In the end, the result was an unflattering 7-0 defeat, but her play, especially in the 1st period where it could have easily been a romp already, was nothing short of stellar.
Sweden right now has their saviour Kim Martin. But the future might already be here in Valentina Lizana.
Can you guess the current NHL scoring leader this season? If you said Henrik Sedin, you are right. Vancouver Canucks fans have known for awhile how special the #2 & #3 overall picks in the 1999 entry draft are, now the rest of the league is noticing.
An injury earlier this season put twin brother Daniel on the shelf, or else its quite concievable that the wonder-twins could be 1st & 2nd in league scoring right now. With Henrik leading the way, Daniel is 21st in league scoring. Considering he missed 18 games, thats pretty impressive. Just how incredible is it? He is the only player in the top 120 in league scoring to have played less than 40 games so far this season, it truly tells you how amazing these two are.
They are a lethal 1-2 punch that make plays happen by wearing down defenders with an incredible puck cycling gameplan that leaves defenders running around never sure where they should be. When they are teamed with a go to the net & wait type player, they are even more lethal. Their ability to make plays in tight quarters thru seemingly impossible spaces has made mediocre scorers into snipers simply by being on the ice with them.
Already with an Olympic Gold each in 2006 primarily as support players, Daniel & Henrik are looking to repeat on their adopted home turf of Vancouver where they play for the NHL club team the Canucks. Now seen as probably 2/3 of the 1st line for the Swedes Dan & Hank will be expected to perform at a higher level than last Olympics that saw them both get only 4 pts each in 8 gp each.
Although Daniel is primarily the goal scorer of the two, its recently been noted that Henrilk can score himself, as he currently is tied for the lead on his team in goals this season in the absence of his brother for part of it.
If Team Sweden wins any type of medal, the Sedin twins will definitely need to step up and deliver. If this season is any sign, they are certainly ready to do that.