The men's Olympic hockey tournament finally (finally!) kicked off today while the Canadian and American women had a game that, though short on line brawls, had plenty to talk about.
A quick primer on how the men's tournament works - all 12 teams advance to the single-elimination round, but the top four teams from the three groups will receive a bye directly into the quarterfinals. So these games are all about seeding for either those or the elimination round that will take place before.
In the game that featured a pair of medal contenders, though to be fair, the Czechs are a bit of a long-shot, it was Team Sweden that rolled out to a 4-0 lead. While the Czechs put forth a valiant effort to come back, they couldn't take advantage of a 15-5 shot advantage in the third period and eventually fell 4-2.
Erik Karlsson had two goals for Tre Kronor while Patrik Berglund and Henrik Zetterberg each had one. Marek Zidlicky and Jaromir Jagr had the second-period goals for the Czechs. Of the former Stars in this game, Jagr had one goal and was a plus-one with three shots while Loui Eriksson was a minus-one and had two shots.
And just for comedy, Petr Nedved (yes, that Petr Nedved) had an assist on the Jagr goal because it only stands to reason that the person who can read the mind of the 40-something Jagr is the older 40-something Nedved. The Czechs were hurt by goaltending that was not very good - indeed, they replaced Jakub Kovar with Alexander Salak after Kovar gave up three goals on 10 shots - so we'll see if they can get that sorted out once Ondrej Pavelec finishes getting over his jet lag.
I would argue the better game, and unarguably the more competitive game, was the Latvians versus the Swiss, which dug out a 1-0 win in the final 10 seconds. The Swiss had the majority of the scoring chances, particularly after the Latvians took some penalties late in the third period, but the Latvians hung on by their fingernails, and some great saves from goalie Edgars Masalskis, to very nearly take the game to overtime.
But Nino Niederreiter became the Swiss hero with 7.9 seconds left as he forced defender Georgijs Pujacs to deflect a centering pass from Simon Moser into his own net. The goal meant the Swiss avoided the first Olympic 0-0 game through 60 minutes since 1940.
Poor Latvia. So close, yet way too far. The Swiss did outshoot the Latvians 39-21, but I'm still on Team Skrastins over here.
In the main event of the day, there was quite a bit of controversy when an apparent early whistle from the referee was ignored, allowing the tie-breaking goal to stand for the Canadians. Canada made the game 3-1 before the United States cut the lead to one in the third, but it would finish up 3-2.
The game means the Canadians are the one seed and the United States the two seed, but both automatically advance to the semifinals. The United States will play the winner of the quarterfinal featuring Finland with the Canadians will host the winner of the quarterfinal featuring Switzerland. The other two quarterfinal teams will be Sweden and Russia, but who they will face won't be determined until tomorrow.
The rest of the big guns on the men's side - Russia, Canada and the United States - start tomorrow. Set those alarms early.