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Heard around the Olympics

by Greg Inglis
Here is a daily look at what's being said about the 2010 Olympic hockey tournament.

* A statistical note after Day 1: Individual ice time figures are far below what we would see in a typical NHL game. According to stats at the IIHF website, only one Russian player hit 17 minutes (Konstantin Korneyev, 17:00), leading U.S. player was Erik Johnson (19:23), the leading Canadian player was Dan Boyle (20:12). There are 129 players averaging 20:12 or more in the NHL this season.

* Kevin Allen blog in USA Today includes this: "The USA-Switzerland game ended in controversy as St. Louis Blues forward David Backes, the Americans' hero in the game, had to defend himself against allegations that he made a serious threat to Swiss player Julien Sprunger. In last spring's World Championships, Backes laid a hit on Sprunger, causing a major neck injury that required surgery. After Tuesday's USA-Switzerland game, Sprunger told writer Pierre Lebrun that during the game Backes essentially threatened to do it again. Backes denied saying that. "I think I told him to keep his head up when he was running around a little bit," Backes said. Asked if he made reference to the neck injury, Backes said: "No, I was pretty distraught that it happened the first time. You don't want to hurt anybody. It was a hard finished check." Backes added: "I would not stoop that low to dig my fingers and put salt in the wound."

* After his series of bouts with Team Canada players before the Olympics and his star performance Tuesday in Team USA's opening win, Backes has a new nickname. From Sports Illustrated's Michael Farber: "After a swell save by goalie Ryan Miller, a bullish center named David Backes gathered the puck just a foot or two from the blue paint and started lugging it up the left boards. He was not about to set a land-speed record, but he is 6-foot-3, 225 pounds and fearless, two of the reasons he recently has been tagged with the nickname of 'Inglorious Backes,' in a nod to Quentin Tarantino."

* Michael Russo wrote a nice piece on Erik Johnson in today's Minneapolis Star-Tribune: "I texted Erik just a week ago and I said, 'Oh my God, it just sunk into me, you're an Olympic athlete,'" said Peggy Johnson, Erik's mother, as she cheered for her son during warm-ups Tuesday. "And he texted back, 'Yeah, I know, Mom.' "And then this week, he texted me, 'Mom, it's sinking in, too, this is ... a ... big ... deal.'" Fulfilling his Olympic dream is especially satisfying for Johnson because of where he was 15 months ago, after he tore his right ACL and MCL during a golf-cart accident at a team outing."

"Very nervous for first game. Swiss played a different style than the NHL. Really tried to trap. Great atmosphere in the rink a lot of noise for the U.S., surprisingly." -- Zach Parise

* Zach Parise's daily commentary to the Bergen Record's Tom Gulitti: "Very nervous for first game. Swiss played a different style than the NHL. Really tried to trap. Great atmosphere in the rink a lot of noise for the U.S., surprisingly. Our line (Parise/Kane/Stastny) wasn't that great. We need to better from now on. We didn't get much going. (Goaltender Ryan) Miller was really good and made a lot of good saves for us when we made mistakes. Day off tomorrow.

* Newsday's Arthur Staple writes that Team USA's opening win was a vindication for the selection of Rangers forwards Chris Drury and Ryan Callahan: "Though the smaller, more skilled American forwards were finding very little room to work with against the trapping, physical Swiss team, the pluggers (Brian) Burke rounded out the American roster with were going in hard on the forecheck and creating chances. Drury was a force Tuesday, throwing his body around and being responsible defensively. Same for Callahan, who provided energy and had a couple of good scoring chances. The creative young forwards had some good moments too - the Zach Parise-Paul Stastny-Patrick Kane line is clearly the one for offense - but will that small, fast line be able to find room against Canada's big defensemen?"

* Detroit Free Press focuses on the "elder statesman" status of Red Wings defenseman Brian Rafalski for Team USA: "The self-proclaimed 'old guy' on the U.S. hockey team likes the youthful 2010 group more each day. Red Wings defenseman Brian Rafalski, one of three Team USA players with Olympic experience, praised his counterparts as they fought their way to a 3-1 win over Switzerland on Tuesday. ... In Team USA's Olympic opener four years ago in Torino, the United States tied Latvia, 3-3, and finished the tournament in eighth place. Rafalski is a veteran of that team and the 2002 group that won a silver medal in Salt Lake City. The team's average age is just above 26; Rafalski is 36."

* Most discussion from Canada's win focuses on Jarome Iginla. From the Toronto Star's Paul Hunter: "Creating a more intriguing storyline Tuesday was Calgary star Jarome Iginla, who was initially cast as an underachieving fourth liner in need of a wake-up call. ... That didn't last long. Iginla saw to that by stealing the spotlight, scoring three goals and exerting himself as a physical presence all night. The 32-year-old, born appropriately enough on Canada Day, was arguably the best player on the ice and was soon entrenched with Crosby and Rick Nash, bumping Patrice Bergeron in the process. It is part of coach Mike Babcock's grander scheme to create internal competition within the ranks in order to extract the maximum from his charges in what is a short sprint to glory. Even the world's best players need a little nudge once in a while. 'I think it's real important to have a lineup of hungry players here,' said Babcock. 'It's interesting how the guys that are hungry played so well. I talked to (Iginla) at the start and told him we need him to be a physical presence for us. He has to be hard to play against. He doesn't have to score to help us.'"

* Iginla on the standings tie-breaker: "It came up before the game. It came up between periods, because the goal differential may be a big part of this. We tried to stay focused as the game went on, for every line to keep pushing. Get a power play. We need those goals."

* Bob McKenzie loved Shea Weber's performance: "While veteran blueliner Dan Boyle led all Canadian blueliners in minutes played, Shea Weber was right behind him with over 19 minutes of ice time. He was absolutely a Tower of Power on defense. At the end of the day, there were some players who did some spectacular things on offence and defense. But Shea Weber was used in every situation and he was absolutely terrific. Weber played an understated game, but he was counted on in all sorts of situations."

* McKenzie on the Canada goaltending situation: "Roberto Luongo got the start against Norway Tuesday and we know that Martin Brodeur will get the nod on Thursday against Switzerland. If Brodeur does what's expected of him in that game - play well in a victory for Canada - I believe that he'll be the guy in goal against the Americans. But you have to let Thursday's game unfold first and let it come to you."

* Drew Doughty, to the Los Angeles Times, on his first practice with Team Canada Monday: "I was a little in awe. Passing the puck to guys like Joe Thornton and Sidney Crosby was a little weird. I really didn't know what to think. I didn't want to make a mistake."

Olympic Gear * Prominent piece in today's New York Times on the Czech-Slovak rivalry, which extends far beyond hockey: "The biggest game on the Olympic hockey schedule Wednesday is the men's matchup between the Czech Republic and Slovakia, a clash of neighboring countries with a common history, languages so close that they are mutually understandable without translation and national characters that are infused with hockey."

* RDS reports the following line combinations for Sweden's game Wednesday vs. Germany: D.Sedin-H.Sedin-Weinhandl / Forsberg-Zetterberg-Hornqvist / Backstrom-Alfredsson-Eriksson / Franzen-Pahlsson-Modin. Defense pairings are Ohlund-Enstrom / Lidstrom-Kronwall / Tallinder-Johansson / Murray-Oduya. Lundqvist in net.

* Michael Russo reports that Niklas Backstrom will start Friday's Finland game vs. Germany. Mikko Koivu is on the Finns' first line with Valteri Filppula and Tuomo Ruutu. Antti Miettinen is on the right side of Niklas Hagman and Olli Jokinen.

* Norwegian defenseman Ole-Kristian Tollefsen missed the team's Olympic hockey opener against Canada, arriving in Vancouver late because of an illness in his family. Team spokesman Lars Otto Bjornland said Tollefsen is expected to play Thursday when Norway plays the United States.
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