Hockey world turned upside down
Alex Kovalev and Andrei Markov celebrate what they hope is only the beginning of Russia's march to the podium in Turin.
MONTREAL - Expect the unexpected. That's the only sure thing coming out of the men's draw at the Olympics in Turin these days and the Canadiens' Olympians are reaping all the benefits.
On the flipside of Team Canada's well-documented early struggles in Turin, is the emergence of other nations that have happily picked up the slack.
Led by Habs blueliner Mark Streit, Switzerland orchestrated upset wins over both Canada and the Czech Republic - who also happen to be the last two nations to win Olympic gold. Through the round robin portion of the tournament, Streit may only have two points in five games, but they could not have come at a better time for the Swiss captain, who scored the winner against the Czech Republic and picked up an assist in Switzerland's historic 2-0 victory over Canada on Saturday.
While the Swiss have been busy grabbing headlines, Slovakia has been quietly going about its business in Group B. Richard Zednik and the upstart Slovaks are a surprising 5-0 heading into the quarterfinals, with the Canadiens forward having chipped in with a goal in a 6-3 win over Latvia.
After pushing Team Canada to the limit in the final of the 2004 World Cup of Hockey, Finland has carried that momentum into Turin. Team captain Saku Koivu has led the charge along side his usual Finnish sidekicks Teemu Selanne and Jere Lehtinen. The line has piled up a combined 26 points in five games, including two goals and seven assists from Koivu. The Finns, who ended the round robin with a perfect 5-0 record, are looking for their first-ever Olympic gold medal after being led to a bronze medal by Koivu in both 1994 and 1998.
With Mark Streit helping lead the way, Switzerland shocked the world by defeating the heavily favored Canadians on their way to a second-place finish in Group A.
Flying under the radar are the Russians, who may just be warming up for the medal round. In his third Olympic appearance, Russian captain Alex Kovalev has three goals and a pair of assists so far, while fellow Canadien Andrei Markov has one goal and an assist in the early goings of his Olympic debut. The Canadiens duo will be looking to deliver Russia their first goal medal since Kovalev himself helped his homeland reach the top of the podium in Albertville in 1992.
The string of hard luck that has befallen the Czech Republic has certainly put a damper on Jan Bulis' international debut. From Dominik Hasek heading back to Ottawa after suffering a leg injury in the opening moments of the Czech's first game of the tournament, to Jaromir Jagr being slowed by an elbow from Finland's Jarkko Ruutu, nothing has gone according to plan for the Czechs, who finished a disappointing fourth in Group A.
With the round robin portion now in the books, the real fun begins with the quarterfinals set to get underway on Wednesday. Time will tell whether the upset bug has died or if pre-Olympic favorites like Canada should keep some Pepto-Bismol handy just in case.
Manny Almela is a writer for canadiens.com