On the eve of the first Men’s Olympic Hockey game, avid hockey fan, Andy Verderosa, answers questions from Aaron Weiss, someone who doesn’t really know hockey all that well but wants to engage in a once-every-four-years patriotic event.
Aaron: Are there any teams to care about besides the US, Canada and Russia?
Andy: Oh, you betcha. Sweden took home the gold in 2006, and always seem to come out playing like a fully polished team. Finland has by far the deepest goaltending group, and somehow always manage to stick around pretty long. I love the Czech team because they have practically all the same guys they always have; which is to say, they are pretty old. All these teams are comprised entirely if not mostly of NHL players, meaning that they all have a chance to win.
Aaron: What players on team USA should I pretend to know if asked?
Andy: Well there’s the captain, Zach Parise. He’s the pretty one you’ll see in the commercials if they win. There’s also Patrick Kane, who is probably the only forward on team USA who would even make team Canada. I think you’d recognize him. If the US does well, you’ll also probably hear a lot about Jonathan Quick. He’s the goalie from the Los Angeles Kings. Lastly, Phil Kessel overcame cancer to become one of the top players in the NHL, and his sister is on the women’s team.
Oh, and you should also know Joe Pavelski too because he’s my favorite, assuming I’m the one you’re pretending for.
Aaron: Why is it called hockey?
Andy: It was named after an old Canadian fish farmer named Gordon. Gordon Hockey.
Aaron: Who is the most beautiful female hockey player? What do female hockey players do during the off season?
Andy: I’m not going to break my rule of never going to Bleacherreport.com in order to answer your first question, but in terms of the second one, it’s similar to the US women’s soccer team. Only the best group make it to the national team after (or during) college. For those few, the season is never really over; its mostly training for the next tournament.
Aaron: Isn’t it the middle of the NHL season? Do they just stop playing pro hockey for a while?
Andy: Yeah, its pretty ridiculous, but what are we supposed to do? The NHL has been sending their players to the olympics since 1998 in Nagano. It’s a long 19-day break, but for many it’s much needed. As you can imagine, it’s about the worst thing in the world for NHL GMs who have to sit watching as their million dollar investments take a break from work to put their bodies in harms way for two weeks.
Aaron: Are there any olympics-specific story lines worth following?
Andy: I suppose the best one is simply team Russia defending home ice. Of course there are going to be a ton of players playing against their teammates and with their bitter rivals, but I think the most interesting storyline is the pressure that is on Ovechkin, Malkin, and Datsyuk to bring gold for mother Russia and achieve glory for nation.
Aaron: Are there any differences between NHL hockey and olympic hockey?
Andy: There are a few, but the biggest difference is the size of the ice. European rinks are wider and longer, which is why the olympic selection committees usually opt for younger, faster players who can take advantage of the extra room.
Aaron: How good is Canada?
Andy: Sooooo good.
Aaron: How much do the players care about winning the gold?
Andy: I think it’s pretty similar to the way soccer works. Your club is your club, but your country is your country. No one turns down a chance to play for and potentially win for their flag. It means a lot for them to win gold. It’s no Stanley Cup because its just a two week tournament, but it’s pretty close.