The game of chess is revered by Russians, but it has no place in hockey.
That’s the mind-numbing impression you’re left with after watching the Olympic men’s hockey tournament.
It’s not entirely the Russians’ fault, but they are hosting the Sochi Games, so let the blame fall at their feet.
They’ll see it down there too, particularly the members of Team Russia who just might hang their heads until spring.
The downcast moping is well-deserved after the host team, medal favourites, were rightly bounced by the hated Finns. Team Russian was loaded with NHL stars – who played the same number of minutes as their sluggish KHL teammates – but they typically played as individuals while the Finns play as a team.
The most telling image of the Russian’s attitude came late in the third period. Trailing 3-1, “the great forward” Yevgeni Malkin was knocked down at centre ice and remained there on hands on knees.
I thought he was really hurt, but he slowly got back up, but then he didn’t return to the bench! Nope, he skated back into the play as if someone had hitched a piano to his pants.
Team play was the difference on Wednesday, but the fact remains: It’s been a dullsville tournament because more than half the teams embrace a chess/soccer defensive strategy based on the premise, “Don’t $#!* up and maybe we’ll score on a deflection off Ollie’s huge forehead.”
The most offensive part of this hockey tournament isn’t the goal scorers, but the BO wafting from the changerooms. And that’s unfortunate given the level of talent at the Olympics.
Team Canada has demonstrated a supremely deft passing game – something the Russians used to be good at – but rarely have these tape-to-tape passing plays resulted in highlight reel goals.
Instead, each offensive push is met by three or four opponents falling over each other in front of the net – like watching an awkward version of Twister.
It was getting a little frustrating in the quarter-final against Latvia. At one point I blurted out to my editorial colleagues, “In the old days they would’ve fired the puck at the other guy’s head if he’s going throw himself in front of the net!”
Today, that sort of play is frowned upon, but one Latvian defender did gimp off the ice after being struck in the leg by a Shea Webber bullet.
It wasn’t a short gimp either given the enormous size of the Olympic ice surface and that’s the biggest problem.
On this side of the pond we’re used to seeing hockey on a smaller rink where play is definitely quicker. As well, you rarely see players lining up like pawns waiting to be shot down. Sure, there’s lots of shot-blocking in the NHL, but there’s still loads more offence.
Now that I’ve got that off my mind, I’m hoping the Canadian gals are enjoying their gold medals and…let’s go boys!