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.
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.
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.
With Joe Sakic officially retired, Jarome has become "the man" the offense looks to for leadership. Once seen as the up & coming potential leader for Canada, Jarome now IS that leader. As a captain on his club team, the Calgary Flames, Jarome has taken his team to a Stanley Cup final. He has won 2 Richard Trophies for top goal scorer in the league. 1 Art Ross for points leader, and 1 Pearson for league MVP as voted on by players.
On the international scene he has just as impressive of a resume as ayone. He has a gold at every level. World Junior champion, World Cup champion, World Championships champion, Olympic Champion. There is nothing he hasnt accomplished for his country yet. Add to that 2 Memorial Cup trophies with the Kamloops Blazers and its clear he has done it all at practically every level.
A 2 time 50 goal scorer in the NHL, Jarome will be heavily relied upon to score goals in Vancouver during the 2010 Olympics. His tough, go to the net style makes him good for popping in opportunistic rebounds, and he can carry the puck just as well too.
Team Canada might have a captain in Scott Niedermayer who has done it all, but he will probably share the leadership role with Jarome Iginla. Someone that on the international ice, has done it all as well.
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.