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Monday, February 22, 2010

The nightmare scenario

Today was an absolutely great day in Olympic hockey, and was particularly wonderful if, like me, you were cheering for Team Russia and Team USA. It was also great day for fans of the Capitals, as Ovechkin had a great game (and leveled Jagr--a player most Caps fans loathe--mid-ice, which led to Russia's third goal of the game), as did Backstrom, who had a hand in all three of Sweden's goals, with a goal and two assists. But then I started thinking about the elimination bracket and how that would play out through the rest of this tournament. And then I wasn't quite as excited as I had been.

Russia and the USA won important and dramatic victories today: Russia against the Czech Republic, and the US against Canada. Both teams secured byes in the next round of play and will go directly to the quarterfinals. All was wonderful until I realized that as the number 3 seed, Russia will face the winner of the Canada-Germany match in the quarterfinals. Germany is a pretty weak team, so unless Canada completely collapses, that means that either Russia or Canada will not make it out of the quarterfinals. A lot of people thought that Russia-Canada would be the gold medal match, and Russia will certainly be facing the toughest opponent in the quarterfinals.

However, even if Russia wins, they then face the winner of the Sweden vs. the winner of Slovakia vs. Norway. My guess is that Sweden will face and defeat Slovakia. If Sweden doesn't manage to win, I can't imagine Russia will fold to Slovakia twice in this tournament. But if Sweden does advance--which I strongly suspect they will--Russia will have to face the *other* most dangerous team in the tournament. That would mean that before making it to the gold medal round, Russia will have to face the two teams everyone thought would be their most difficult competition.

And then even if they do win, they could very well be facing Team USA in the gold medal match. I have been talking about cheering for Team Russia in the Olympics for over a year, but now that the games are here, I feel guilty cheering against Team USA. I would rather avoid having to deal with conflicting loyalties in a gold medal match.

Interestingly, the Czech Republic, the team that Russia beat today to earn the bye, has what is probably an easier road to the finals. They will have to face Latvia in the next round, which is as close to a free pass as a team could have hoped for, and they will then play against Finland (not an easy match by any means, but I would rather play against Finland than Canada), and then the winner of the US vs. the winner of Switzerland and Belarus (in other words, the US). Not a bad road at all.

Among the top four seeds, Russia certainly seems to have the most difficult road ahead of them. The US has a far easier path. They should be able to handle the winner of the Switzerland-Belarus match with relative ease. After that, they will compete against the winner of the Finland-Czech Republic match (to be precise, I should say the winner of the match between Finland and whoever wins the Czech Republic-Latvia match, but that's just not one I have any question in my mind about). That will give the US a lot of trouble, and if I were a betting woman, I would bet against the US in that situation, although I wouldn't be surprised if they did win. But it is still a more favorable scenario than facing Sweden, Canada or Russia. But I guess the number one seed having the easiest road is way it should be.

The rest of the hockey in this Olympics should be very interesting. An update on the rest of my Olympic Sunday coming up soon.

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