by Sam RosenCourtesy of www.msgnetwork.com
Olympic hockey is in full swing and there is some pretty exciting action flying around Salt Lake City. And, of course, in the midst of it all are some Rangers who are making some noise for their respective countries. Let's take a look at how the Blueshirts should fare under the national spotlight: UNITED STATESMike Richter:
Everybody knows Richter has great international and big-game experience, and that is what Team USA is counting on. Coach Herb Brooks rested him in the first game against Finland, an attempt to get Richter prepared for the showdown against Russia.
Backup Mike Dunham certainly made a statement for the USA in the first game, but Richter has been successful in winning the World Cup and the Stanley Cup, not to mention this is his third trip to the Olympics. So Mike knows the scene and how to deal with it. He'll be very well prepared and has proven during the course of this season that he is healthy enough to withstand the rigors. Richter is ready to go. Brian Leetch:
Leetch is a proven leader. He is experienced and well-suited for the Olympic style of play. There are no two-line passes on this ice surface, and that allows for some long passes in the transition game that Leetch will benefit from.
His experience is invaluable to the United States. He is a three-time Olympian and he carries himself with tremendous pride. Brian is one of the leaders on the team and has been a captain in the past. He understands what goes into representing your country on the ice and wants to do well in what is most likely his last Winter Games. Brooks wanted a mobile, quick-thinking, quick-acting defense -- Brian fits that mold perfectly.Mike York:
In his first Olympic experience, Mike did a nice job in game one against Finland. He was very active and played his type of game, which caught the attention of the management and coaching staff during the course of the season. He hustles, is quick to the puck and is a smart decision maker. He provides the team with a good role player.
York can thrive in any area asked of him. He doesn't seem in awe of the surroundings and fits right in. His speed and smarts will be on full display in Salt Lake.USA score:
Their success starts with the pride of representing the country and looking to reverse the disappointment and embarrassment sustained at Nagano in 1998. There are a lot of guys back from that team, but they are back on their home soil and have the support of the home crowd, which should help lead them in the right direction. I fully expect Team USA to be a medal winner. I can't say if they'll win a gold because that's difficult to predict, but certainly the fan support is going to be a factor in close games and the clutch, medal round games. They certainly have the possibility and capability of winning a gold.CANADATheo Fleury:
Theo started out the action against Sweden on a checking-type line and played very well. Playing his style, Fleury had a productive game. His line created chances and did a nice job for Canada, but unfortunately they were caught standing still against Sweden. Wayne Gretzky stated before the Games that he expected Fleury to be a major contributor, and Theo answered with an aggressive forecheck throughout. He ended up playing with Eric Lindros and, of course, they clicked immediatelyEric Lindros:
Eric was OK in the loss to Sweden. Certainly, Pat Quinn and company are expecting more from him. But he looked good in bumping people and was used in various roles. He is an importance part of this team's success. When he gets hot and starts to feel out the ice, others will follow and good things should happen. Canada score:
They are a very dangerous team but showed some vulnerability against Sweden. They are susceptible to speed on the backline, but they have a great lineup of forwards -- once they get going, they could really be devastating.
Team Canada has a lot determination to bring home a medal. Anything less than a gold is not successful, and since they haven't won a gold since 1952, there is a ton of drive in their hearts to win under Gretzky. Maybe a little bit of tweaking is needed, but not too much. There is an awesome array of stars on this team, but they need to step it up.CZECH REPUBLIC Radek Dvorak:
This is a good tournament for Dvorak. There is a lot of ice in the Olympics and he can utilize his great speed to create some exciting scoring chances. Using that speed, you'll see him breaking in a lot, creating excitement. He has a great transitional game and should fly around the open ice.Czech Republic score:
They are the defending gold medalists and have a great array of talent as well. It starts with the ultimate man in goal: Dominik Hasek. Four years ago, he virtually single-handedly won the gold for the Czech Republic. It was great to see Jaromir Jagr get off to a great start Friday and that will pump him up to have a great tournament. Jagr would love that after a disappointing first half with the Caps.
Certainly the Czechs have a very good chance to medal, predominately because of Hasek. In an open style of hockey like this, great goaltending is needed, and they have one of the best men between the pipes. He's the man -- the team's success starts with him. The Czech Republic knows the European style. If they get a lead, watch out. They have a good chance to repeat as gold medalists.RUSSIA Vladimir Malakhov:
He is probably the best defenseman on the Russian team. He is the full package. He can carry the puck, pass and shoot effectively. Malakhov is the key man on the blueline because he can go against the bigger guys on teams like Canada, if and when they match up. Russia score:
I like this team a lot. Their lineup is just awesome. They are a very impressive team with a strong goaltender in Nikolai Khabibulin. This team will be scary. The only weakness is their defense, but if Khabibulin can cover up for the defense with some big saves, the Russians have a good chance to medal. They have to be rated as one of the favorites to win gold.ICE IS NICE!
When I first showed up here at the Olympics, I didn't know how I'd feel about the wider ice surface. But once I witnessed the action it creates, I became a fan. I love the quickness of the game.
People in the NHL will say the Olympic-style is impressive because each country has their best competing, and that's not the case in the NHL. But the larger ice surface is something the league should consider. Those opposed to the bigger surface feel the defensive or trapping systems will only back up further and clog up the entry into the offensive zones. But with quick transitions and passing skills, it'll make for exciting hockey.
There's a lot of anticipation on the open ice, but as soon as the defensemen get control of the puck, they won't hesitate to send that long pass down. And if they connect -- bingo! -- you have odd-man rushes and breakaways. That's certainly always fun to watch.Sam Rosen has served as the Rangers play-by-play voice on MSG Network since 1984-85.