Thursday, December 22, 2005

For Whom The Bell Tolls

It was a big week for International Hockey this week with the naming of each Olympic team. All 12 of the nations have brought in the best of the best to compete in these games, in what could turn out to be a two horse race in the end of things. Granted, we're about two months away from the actual games themselves, but why not go ahead and speculate what the rosters could shape up to be in the grand scheme of things. So, come with me on a trip of speculation and other fun stuff, won't you??

Team Canada: Defending Gold Medalist

Like always, it is who doesn't make the team, rather than who does make the team that is the topic of debate. With Canada, however, it is always a good thing to have too much talent. With three internationally solid goalies in net, the Canadians should be good to go. With a well-rounded defensive core who can contribute at both ends of the ice, there will be much needed help for the goalies. Upfront, the Canadians have a balanced attack of scorers and grinders. A good mix of youth and experience should make the Canadians a force to be reckoned with in the years to come.

Team USA: Defending Silver Medalist

It will be interesting to see how the USA will fair in these Olympic games and many seem to believe that this will be a bad year for the USA Hockey Program. In net, they will not have a goalie who has had Olympic experience, however, two of the three have played in some kind of international competition. Both the defense and forwards for the Americans are a great mix of youth and experience. With many of these players having past Olympic experience, it will give the younger players a chance to learn and grow with these games. As this seems to be the transistion period for USA Hockey, the fact of the matter is that they will be better for putting younger guys on their roster and easing the rough patchs, should they arise.

Team Russia: Defending Bronze Medalist

Though they were the last to announce their team, the Russians will certainly not disappoint. Their goaltending is strong on the international level and should help them out in the long run of things. The defense is a little suspect. With many of them not having great seasons in the NHL, it could cause the Russian Federation some kind of panic, but if they can find their stride, it should soften the blow a little. However, if they do get scored upon a lot, they will score a lot as well. The Russians could have the most potent offense in the tournament with plenty of proven scorers and plenty of young talent to remind other countries they'll be around for a while.

Team Italy: Host Nation

The most interesting part of the Italian team is that nine players are Canadians and some have actually seen some time in the NHL. Goaltending is relatively unknown, but should keep the scoring low. The defense will probably try to keep as many shot away from the goal as possible. The forwards will more than likely help play a trap system and try to get their points on slowing the game down and jumping on chance created by the oppositions mistakes. If they can keep the scoring low, the Italians could pull off some upsets.

Team Czech Republic

The Czechs may not be the most of flashiest teams, but they can get the job done if need be. In Salt Lake City, the lost a hard fought battle to the Russians in the Quarter-Finals. They look to rebound and regain a medal in these Olympiad. Their goaltending includes experience and growing talent. It shouldn't be a problem for them to keep pucks out of the net. Defensively it's hit or miss. The Czech will need to get two-way play out of their forwards in order to be successful. It should be no problem to get some kind of scoring for the Czechs, but the transistion game will be the big thing for the Czechs. If they can accomplish it perfectly, then they should be able to be very successful.

Team Slovokia

Though there are some familar names in the line-up, the Slovaks will have an uphill climb infront of them. Their goaltending is very young and could be the weak spot for the Slovaks in the end. Their defense will be a big, and I mean big, presence. Not only can they lower the boom, but they can also put some puck into the oppositions net. The forwards combine old and new, but it will be up to the younger guys to lead the way. They will get some help from the veterans, but the youngster will have to take the reins and be the leaders on the scoresheet.

Team Sweden

The Swede will be a very powerful team, but their past performances in the Olympics (right, Tommy Salo) and in other International competitions would make many people skeptical. However, under the new reign of Bengt-Ake Gustafsson, it could turn the team around for the better. Their goaltending could be the youngest of all the nations in the tournament. However, even though they are young, they are very sound experience wise. The defense can move the puck and could have great vision, especially when it comes to the bigger ice surface. The forward can dangle and should benefit with the bigger surface, which could make them very dangerous, should they reach the quarter-finals.

Team Finland

The Finns took a big hit once their roster was announced with Miikka Kiprusoff withdrew from the team to take time off to nurse a hip injury. The Finns will have to some how counteract this lose, but they will be hard-pressed to find another goalie the caliber of Kipper. On defense, the Finns are much like the Swedes in that their defense will have great command of vision on the ice. The forwards will be a combo of finesse and grit as they will have a good amount of grinders on their team to balance their scoring threats. They should be able to steal some games, but losing a top caliber goalie like Kipper will hurt them in the long-run.

Team Germany

It would seem that the Germans could be a big sleeper in these Olympics. They have plenty of current and former Sharks prospects who have been able to gel in the minors and up in the NHL, plus they have a goalie who can take a lot of shots and steal games here and there. Their defense is young, but they are a very sound team and not irresponsible on the blue line. Their forwards have a great two-way capability and will be able to help out in their own zone should the defense jump up in the play. If there is one team to watch out for-- it's the Germans.

Team Latvia

Lativa is one of the teams who have some good talent, but lack the NHL power. The Latvians will have two NHLers on their team, one former NHLer, and one ECHLer. However, that former NHL could be the dealbreaker. Arturs Irbe didn't get a chance to play for Latvia in 2002 and will be looking to make his mark in this Olympics. Their defense could be very well off with Sandis Ozolinsh leading the way. The forwards could be the big thing that will be lacking for the Latvians. With not a big name player on the front line, the Latvians could play a trap game and hope to take advantage of slip-ups by the opponents.

Team Kazakhstan

Kazakhstan could be a team which will come out of nowhere to surprise some people. With not many scouts knowing what any of these players could do, they could shock the world like they did not too long ago. Look for them to be the Belarus of these games. Again, the Kazaks will have only two NHLers, but with their unknown team, they could be very potent with many of the players playing on the same club team in Kazakhstan.

Team Switzerland

With the Swiss being neutral in nature, they could play a neutral zone trap-- bad pun, but it's the truth. The goaltending could be the backbone to the team. Martin Gerber will be the starter and finisher for the Swiss. They defense has been overlook in the past, but they should make some noise this tournament by playing tight defense and keeping as many pucks away from the net as humanly possible. The forward line for the Swiss will be something that will need to wait and see about, but should be able to put some goals in the net, if they can keep the play in their attacking zone.

It should be a very interesting Olympics, to say the least. You never know if or who could be the surprise team and what could happen at any given moment. Now, it's just a wait and see approach to the whole thing since there won't be much to watch other than the Olympic hockey, unless you live in a minor league market, in which case, have a ball. For more information about the teams and schedule, check out the IIHF website.

This has been ScottyWazz. Take care of yourself and someone else. PEACE!!

Friday, December 09, 2005

Oh Roberto, Where Art Thou

It's hard to believe that as recent as last season, Florida Panthers' goalie Roberto Luongo was in the running for the Vezina Trophy, given to the top goaltender. What a difference a year off and turmoil off the ice can do to you. Now, it seems that everytime a goalie is called up from the minors, that team is going to be sending their number one to Florida to get Luongo. You usually don't hear about that when it comes to definitive number one goalies, but it seems to be more and more prevelent as the season wears on.

It's hard not to cheer for Luongo either. He's a great goalie who has a lot of skill and upside to his game. The troubling part of this whole ordeal is the fact that he has not be on the greatest of teams. Luongo has never been on a winning NHL team, but is always considered a candidate for the Vezina. How many subpar goalies can say that, right Kevin Weekes?? Luongo's numbers have always been consistent and has kept the Panthers in many games. Up until this year that is.

The beginning of the season wasn't good from the get-go. First, the Panthers took Luongo to arbitration claiming he didn't deserve the money he was getting because he was on a losing team and it didn't seem to get better. Luongo and his agent claimed if it was not for Luongo, the Panthers wouldn't have won the games they did. The Panthers won that battle, and so the bitterness between the Panthers and Luongo begun. Add that to the fact that they defense of the Panthers leaves something to be desired and you're asking for disaster. In a new game where everyone is getting better on both sides of the ice, you're asking for trouble when you don't bolster either in the off-season. But, so goes the Panthers onto their way against the SouthLeast Division.

It started good for Luongo, getting two shutouts to start the season, but then the slide began. It only has gotten worse as Luongo has been pulled in his last two starts and was sat during a recent game against San Jose. However, you can't really pin the woes of the Panthers strictly on the trials and tribulations on Luongo. If anything, it would be much, much worse if they didn't have him, surprisingly enough.

When you look at the goalie stats, Luongo may not have the wins or GAA, but he does have a lot of the intangibles that you wouldn't expect to have from other. Luongo is second behind Miikka Kiprusoff in minutes played (1,460m 02s), in first by far in saves (796), and has faced the most shots (877) and is well in front of second-place Rick DiPietro (706 shots against). It's not his fault that his team can't put the biscuit in the basket.

In the grand scheme of things, you almost hope for a guy like Roberto Luongo to get traded to a better team. If you look some of the recent big names who have been traded to new places, it seems to have worked out. Dany Heatley is one of the key players of the Senators and their big run this year and since Joe Thornton found his way to San Jose (bad, I know), Thornton and the Sharks have been tearing up the competition with no signs of letting up.

Luongo is one of the good guys in hockey. Even after the whole debacle with GM Mike Keenan and the arbitration deal, Luongo went about it in a professional way and tried to play through it. He's a great player for the game and a great model of how larger goalies should play the game. It's just a shame that the Panthers don't value him enough to make him happy or give him any support. However, if Luongo does get traded-- it's Florida's loss and the other team's huge gain.

This has been ScottyWazz. Take care of yourself and someone else. PEACE!!