When the 2010 Winter Olympics open up next month here in Vancouver, BC, Canada, Clara Hughes will create a little more history to put on her already impressive resume. Flag Bearer...finally.
The path from her troubled childhood to multiple time Olympic medallist and flag bearer for a hosting Olympic nation might not be what you expect, and certainly isnt the norm. But it has worked for her & now she is set to put another notch on her already amazing resume when she becomes the flag bearer for Canada in an Olympics on her home soil.
Clara will be trying to keep a couple impressive streaks alive for Canada as the flag bearer in the winter games. The last two flag bearers, Danielle Goyette (hockey 2006) & Catriona Le May Doan (speed skating 2002) both won Gold in their respective events. In fact, of the 5 females prior to Hughes to be selected, all of them won a medal in the games they were flag bearers. Goyette & Lemay Doan, Sylvie Daigle in 1992 won Gold in speed skating, Karen Magnuson with silver in 1972 figure skating & Nancy Greene in 1968 with a Gold and Silver in skiing. The men of recent years have not had the same luck when being chosen.
For Hughes, this will be her 3rd Winter Olympic games, and 5th Olympic games in total. Already a winner of 5 Olympic medals, the 2nd most in Canadian Olympics history to Cindy Klassen with 6, Hughes is also the only Canadian man or woman to win medals in the Summer and Winter games. Ontop of her Gold, Silver & Bronze medals in speed skating, she is also a 2 time bronze medalist in Cycling in 1996. Clara is one of only 4 Olympians ever to accomplish the feat of a medal in both winter & summer games.
Being flag bearer is something that Clara in the past was not wanting to do. She stated she did not want the honour for the 2006 games. She went out in those games & won 2 medals, which along with her bronze in 2002, gave her 1 of each colour. Now 37 years old, Hughes, a native of Winnipeg, Manitoba is ready for that responsibility.
A former World record holder in the 10000 metres, Hughes is one of the best there is in long track speed skating. On top of her Olympic medals, Clara has some top World Cup gold medals as well in the 3000 & 5000 metre events. These are the events she will be competing in when she comes to Vancouver, the 3000 & 5000, since there is no 10000M event for women.
Her bicycling career is nothing short of amazing either, with 18 National championships, 8 Pan American medals, 1 World championship silver and a glut of other accolades, her cycling career would be enough to make her one of the greatest Canadian female athletes in history already. When you add in her speed skating legacy, she could arguably be the greatest female athlete in Canadian history.
This career started out quite differently than most great Olympic athletes. It was not till she was 16, watching the 1988 Winter Olympics & seeing a bio on Gaetan Boucher winning gold for Canada in 1984 that she got the itch to be a speed skater, let alone an athlete of any type. She was a party girl in her early days, stemming from the split of her parents, she was seemingly headed for a wasted life. Bad grades, running away from home multiple times, no motivation to be something great, experimenting with drugs & drinking. This was the life Clara had early on. Its unlikely anyone at that point saw a great Olympic athlete in their midst. Then came the '88 Olympics & something clicked. Shortly thereafter her mother got her in a speed skating program & after a couple small bumps along the way, shes never looked back.
In Vancouver next month, Clara Hughes will look to try & tie or surpass Cindy Klassen as the most decorated Canadian athlete of all time (Klassen has 1 even at the 2010 games herself). She is afterall still a legitimate threat for a medal in the 5000 metres, as well as a possible medallist in the 3000 metres. If there is 1 thing her career & career path has taught us, its this, dont doubt anything Clara Hughes sets her mind to. If she is standing on the medal podium again these Olympics, no one should be surprised.
Ole Kristian Tollefsen is not the normal hockey Olympian. In the NHL Ole is often seen as a fighter, a role not commonly seen in the international game. In fact its a role that will get you kicked out of the Olympics if you were to engage in it.
But for a country like Norway, where talent is limited, Ole gets a chance to show that his game actually consists of things other than fighting. The Olympics are a chance for Tollefsen to display some non-pugilist skills to the hockey world & maybe give his NHL club the Philadelphia Flyers reason to trust him for things other than fighting.
I believe the 2010 Olympics will be Tollefsens first foray into senior international competition for his country. Whether or not the relief of not having to worry about dropping the gloves will help Ole or not remains to be seen. His NHL career has seen him used only sparingly by his teams, his most games palyed in a season is 70. To the NHL teams, hes nothing but a fighter. But Norway will expect more out of him than that & this chance might help him launch a career that will not require him to fight to work.
The Norwegian team is probably not thinking medals in Vancouver. They are just there looking to improve their overall status in the IIHF rankings. Just like how Ole Kristian Tollefsen will be looking to improve his status in the hockey world from "fighter" to "defenseman".
At just 20 years of age, Drew Doughty is the youngest player on Team Canada at the 2010 Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver, Canada. More than a year & 1/2 younger than the next youngest, Jonathan Toews. This feat is more amazing when you discover Drew is a defenseman. A job that usually takes years of development to become really good at, and certainly a job you would expect to be filled by experienced veterans at the major international level. In fact, he is over 4 years younger than the next youngest defenseman on the team, Shea Weber.
But Drew has certainly earned his spot on the club. The 2nd overall pick of the L.A. Kings in the 2008 NHL entry draft has lived up to his hype since being selected. Now in his 2nd full season with the club, Drew has already cemented himself as one of the teams top defensemen, playing power play, even strength & short handed situations.
Currently 5th in league scoring amongst NHL defensemen, Drew shows no shortage of offensive skill in his game. Logging the 14th most minutes of any NHL defenseman this season is notable too, as it shows the team relies on him in all types of scenarios. Not just for his offense.
Drew brings in some international experience to the 2010 games. He has played both in the World Juniors & the World championships. Winning a gold at the WJHC & a silver at the WHC.
Its clear to anyone watching this kid that he is special & has done everything needed to make this team. Drew Doughty likely will be a force for Canada for years to come, and in 2010, this could be his coming out party, and with his only 2 international tournaments garnering medals, I am sure he plans to make it a hat trick in Vancouver.
Montreal Canadiens fans surely know that Jaroslav Halak is a very capable goalie. Slovakian hockey fans will find that out in February if they did not already know.
Since winning a Gold medal in the 2003 World championships, Slovakia has struggled to get anywhere near that point again. A large part of that has been because they just havent produced any elite goaltenders compared to the elite forwards & defensemen they have brought.
Cue Jaroslav Halak. Currently in the top 10 in save percentage in the NHL, it wasnt that long ago that he was in the top 3 in the NHL in SPCT amongst goalies with at least 20 games played, Halak has become the possible answer to Slovakias goalie wasteland. With the exceptions of Jan Lasak and Peter Budaj and Rostislav Stana, a trio that has hardly been NHL legends, no other Slovak goalie has ever played in the NHL, only Budaj has played more than Halak.
Halak has a couple World Championship appearances already under his belt. He also has a Calder Cup championship (albeit as the back up, but his regular season efforts are what got the team where they got to) with the Hamilton Bulldogs of the AHL. So he is familiar with international play and championship play.
Will he vault Slovakia into a Gold medal, like the miracle 2003 WHC Gold the country obtained? Probably not. But his solid play this season for his club team the Montreal Canadiens shows he can certainly steal games. In a single game knock out tourney, if he does it a couple times, the Slovaks could be a cinderella pick for a medal. At the least, he will probably bring some stability to a nations hockey program thats been free falling in the past few years.
Karlis Skrastins isnt exactly a household name to most NHL fans, even though he holds an NHL record for most consecutive games played by a defenseman. However to Latvian hockey fans he certainly is. Skrastins has over 700 NHL games, mostly as a depth defenseman on forgetable non-playoff clubs. So its easy to be unaware of him despite his 700+ NHL games.
In Latvia, he is one of the most successful players they have ever developed. Only Arturs Irbe and Sandis Ozolinsh can lay claim to being unquestionably better. Because of this, Skrastins will be relied upon heavily in Vancouver for the 2010 Olympics, especially since the previously mentioned duo or Irbe & Ozolinsh are not there.
Currently with the Dallas Stars of the NHL. Karlis has generally been a consistent piece to most of the teams hes played on. Not a flashy puck mover, Karlis relies on strong defensive play to maintain his career. Its a skill that will come in handy with a Latvian team that might see the puck in their end often on some nights against the more dangerous teams.
With over 70 international appearances for Latvia under his belt, Karlis is very experienced at playing for his country. This will be his 3rd appearance for Latvia in the Olympics. That experience will go a long way in helping the team survive a tournament that they go into, not with medal hopes, but with improving ther IIHF rankings hopes.
Karlis Skrastins wont neccesarily be in Vancouver thinking of a medal, he will be in Vancouver hoping to help get Latvia some recognition in the hockey world. If he achieves that & they manage an upset or two, this will probably be like winning a medal for him.
Does Jaromir Jagr have anything left to prove? Perhaps not. Certainly not to Czech hockey fans. That said, he comes into the 2010 Olympics probably looking to show the hockey world that he is not irrelevant just yet.
Jagr has done practically everything imaginable in hockey. Olympic Gold, World Championship Gold, 2X Stanley Cup Winner, 5X Art Ross winner, 3X Lester Pearson winner, 1X Hart Trophy winner, 10th all time on the NHL scoring list. Oh, and at the age of 36 he decided to head to Russia to help the upstart KHL get going where he lead his club team Avangard Omsk in scoring & finished in the top 10 in league points.
Jaromir really has nothing to prove. But he probably doesnt see it that way. The NHL world (namely the fans & media) has essentially cast him aside as washed up. His last NHL season was very unspectacular by Jagr (71 points in 82 GP) standards & many thought he was losing a step. So he headed to Russia & played very well there, but many in North America still dont take the KHL all too seriously. So he is for the mostpart seen as "washed up". But thats hardly the case.
JJ will be in Vancouver showing the world he still has "it" & that the NHL is missing "it". His KHL contract is up at the end of this season & its widely speculated he will be using the Olympics as his audition for an NHL job next season. So yes, Jagr has lots to prove.
The Czech Republic is hardly a medal "favorite" by anyones rankings this Olympics, but with Jaromir Jagr on the team those odds get better, and with him wanting to go out & prove he is still a force in the game he was dominant at for more than a decade, a medal suddenly seems very possible for the Czechs.
If you live in Canada, you know the name Sidney Crosby. There isnt a single Canadian who is unfamiliar with the name. Maybe they cant tell you what team he is with, or what position he plays, but they know his name as well as Wayne Gretzky or Tim Hortons.
Sid "The Kid" is starting to become Sid "The Man" & is not disappointing his club team the Pittsburgh Penguins in using their 1st overall pick in the NHL Draft on him in 2005.
At 22 years of age Sid has literally done it all. His trophy case looks more like the Hockey Hall Of Fame display case. 1 World Junior Gold Medal, 1 Stanley Cup, 1 Hart, 1 Pearson, 3X NHL all-star. CHL Rookie of the year, 2X CHL player of the year, scoring champion, QMJHL Rookie of the year, top scorer, playoff MVP, not to mention 2X winner of the Lou Marsh Award as top athlete in Canada. All of that (minus the 2nd Marsh award) accomplished before his 22nd birthday. He is also the youngest team captain of a Stanley Cup winner in history.
As the centre piece of the Canadian offense, Sid will be relied on heavily to perform & produce. No one doubts he will do it either. On a team filled with superstars, Sidney will still very likely outshine them all by miles. Its something hes been doing since a young age, and still does even today in the best hockey league in the world, the NHL.
The Olympics is 1 goal Sidney has yet to conquer. Only being 18 the last time the Olympics were played, Sid was not chosen to the team, even though some fans suggested he should of been even then. 2010 is Sidneys coming out party for the Olympics, and most people will expect him to shine bright.
After a sluggish start to this year, Sid is on a roll now. With 57 points, 30 of them goals, Sid is currently sitting 4th in the NHL scoring race, and 2nd in the goals race. He seems to be finally finding his groove, and for Canadian hockey fans, it couldnt come at a better time with the Olympics less than a month away.
Expect big things at the 2010 Winter Olympic games from Sid the Kid...err the Man.
Germany has struggled internationally the past few years. But Christian Ehrhoff, the star defenseman for the Vancouver Canucks has not.
Christian has been one of the few shining lights for Germany in recent years. With nearly 60 internatonal games for the Germans, including 2 Olympic appearances Christian is the most experienced international competitor for the German team.
Ehrhoff doesnt have a notable award to his credit, but he is certainly a defender most NHL teams take note of when he is on the ice, especially on the power play. His ability to quarterback a power play & distribute the puck to the proper people is near the top of the league & one of the reasons the Canucks are in a playoff spot right now. It is this skill that makes him invaluable to Germany.
Germany is not a likely threat to win a medal. They are going to Vancouver to try & improve on their current 12th place ranking in the IIHF. If they are to make any steps in doing that, a great performance by their notablres, such as Christian Ehrhoff will be needed.
Belarus 8 years ago finished 4th in the Olympics. After a monumental upset of Sweden, Andrei Mezin was a national hero.
Fast forward to now & Mezin, now 35, is still the star goalie of the Belarussian national team. Now starring in the KHL for Dynamo Minsk, a team that has 7 members of Team Belarus on it, Mezin has given fans of Belarus some hope. Just last WHC Mezin put up an incredible 1.72 GAVE & a .947 SPCT, both of which were the 2nd best in the tournament. It was mainly because of his incredible play Belarus finished 8th at the tournament, and not lower.
With more than 30 international games played for Belarus at World Championships and Olympics, Mezin is one of the more veteran players for Belarus at the 2010 Olympics. He is a 2 time WHC all-star team member and the only Belarussian to ever do it.
Can Belarus perform another miracle upset? Probably not. But with Andrei Mezin in goal, anything is possible. Just ask Sweden.
If you want to know how strong Finnish goaltending is. Just ask anyone in the Nortwest Division of the NHL. Whether you are the Oilers, Canucks or Avalanche you see it almost every time you play one of the other two division rivals. In Minnesota there is Niklas Backstrom. In Calgary there is Miikka Kiprusoff.
The man affectionally known as "Kipper" to his fans will be relied on heavily by Finland at the 2010 Olympics to carry them to the podium. He put the pressure on himself by stating he wont go if he cant be the starter. So he has put the pressure squarely on his back. Luckily for Finnish fans, hes been under major pressure before and done quite well.
If Kipper struggles, Niklas Backstrom will jump in & the Finns will be just as confident in his play. He didnt make a big spectacle about wanting to be starter, he just took whatever was given to him. If its the back up spot, he'll do it. If he is called upon to be the starter, he'll do that too. Much like how he has handled goaltending controversies with his club team, the Minnesota Wild, where he has been the back up and the starter.
Finland certainly has strong goaltending with Kiprusoff & Backstrom at the helm. But they lack scoring depth. Sure they have NHL capable scorers, just not a lot of them & not overly lethal ones. So goaltending will need to be strong. Luckily for them, it is.
Kiprusoff has a Vezina trophy in his trophy case. With 3 silver medals in international play (2 World Championships & 1 World Cup) he is hungry to add a Gold to that total. Something his counterpart Backstrom sports, albeit at the World Junior level. Something else Backstrom has that Kiprusoff does not, an Olympic medal. A silver in 2006. Niklas also sports a Jennings trophy for top goals against average in the NHL by a team. He is a Vezina trophy runner up. Both goalies have something to prove. Whether its Niklas trying to prove he is really better than Kipper, or Miikka proving he desrves to be the #1.
Finland isnt going in with a lot of people picking them as medalists because of their scoring. But with goalies like Miikka Kiprusoff & Niklas Backstrom, you could theoretically only need to score 1 to win. A medal is not unrealistic for them, a gold is even possible if either of these two is in the zone.
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