Sochi, Chi-Town Style


So if you’re a Chicago denizen, you’ve probably just finished shoveling out your car and/or walkway from 8+ inches of snow because the temperature finally returned to the double digits. Funny thing about snow, before the holidays, beautiful and magical; after the holidays, cold and irritating when you realize it’s sticking around for another three months. However this year is different because of two words and a number in no particular order: 2014 Winter Olympics. And for ten of our beloved Chicago Blackhawks, this Winter Olympics is more magical than pre-holiday snow.

Last time around, in the 2010 Winter Olympics, the Hawks were honored to have six players selected to represent their respective countries (Patrick Kane: USA; Brent Seabrook, Duncan Keith, and Jonathan Toews: Canada; Marian Hossa and Tomas Kopecky: Slovakia). In 2014 however, Chicago will send an unprecedented ten players to Sochi, Russia (a city you knew existed before it was selected to host the Olympics) to compete for the gold (Patrick Kane: USA; Patrick Sharp, Duncan Keith, and Jonathan Toews: Canada; Marian Hossa and Michal Handzus: Slovakia; Niklas Hjalmarsson, Johnny Odyua, and Marcus Kruger: Sweden; Michal Rozsival: Czech Republic).

Any Blackhawks fan should be mighty proud our roster was tapped so heavily for the Olympics, and as a Hawks fan, I certainly do have great deal of pride knowing so much of our team has Olympic-caliber talent. However, as you probably know by now, I always like to look at the other side of things with the Blackhawks, because with a sport as dynamic hockey, any development has multiple ramifications.

First and foremost, I am stoked that in addition to my native U S of A team, I have four other Olympic hockey teams I can justify rooting for because of the Blackhawks connection. However, anyone who has watched the Olympics before knows that even though there will be top tier NHL talent, this tournament is no NHL All Star Game. These teams are out for glory, not to put on a show, and the fact this opportunity only comes around every four years isn’t lost on anyone. That being said, these games have a tendency to get gritty and even grizzly, making injuries inevitable. In 2010 this wasn’t such a big deal, but with ten Chicago Blackhawks competing in the Olympics this time around, knock on wood, that doesn’t bode so well from a law of averages standpoint.

I’m reminded somewhat of that famous Simpsons episode where Mr. Burns tries to win the company softball team by hiring nine Major League Baseball players for the nuclear plant so they can play, only to have all but one of them miss the game due to eight separate, unrelated incidents. Again knock on wood, our Hawks players won’t suffer the same fate in Sochi (as long as Kane trims his sideburns – if you don’t get this reference because you haven’t seen the aforementioned Simpsons episode, shame on you) but I know I’ll be wincing a bit more often after big hits than I did in 2010, given there’s a better chance there might be a Blackhawk involved in 2014.

Speaking of 2010, the last time the Blackhawks had a good chuck of players playing in the Winter Olympics, four of them came home with medals, and all six of the Blackhawks’ Olympians went on to win the Stanley Cup. So does the amount of players a team sends to the Olympics affect its chances of winning the Stanley Cup? I’m may be going out on a limb here (though I’m  probably not), and say no. Obviously Olympic teams select the elite of elite from the NHL who will give them the best chance, so with ten Hawks going to Russia to play for gold, it’s quite a compliment that the Hawks have ten players making the trip, but it’s certainly no guarantee. Let’s not forget in 2010 the Vancouver Canucks (spitting sound) had seven players compete in the Olympics, and we all know how that year’s season ended for them.

So I feel the Olympics further augments the fact that in hockey, you can have all the talent in the world, but if you don’t have great team chemistry and leadership, you’re only going to get so far. However, as anyone who’s played any sport competitively enough knows to play in a tourney with players who aren’t from your usual team is great experience win or lose. Not to say the Hawks are lacking in the experience department, but it certainly never hurts to build more team character.

Finally, with ten Blackhawks players traveling to Sochi in February, it’s hard to complain about the Hawks that got snubbed, but I will anyway. Brent Seabrook was on the Canadian Olympic team in 2010, this year he isn’t; just more evidence Seabs is getting no respect this year. Corey Crawford was in contention earlier this year to play for Canada, but his injury botched his chances. Although Crawford is understandably disappointed, I think it’s a mixed blessing. Crow definitely would have benefited from going to Sochi, but he needs time to get back to 110%, and the Olympics wouldn’t have made that easy. Furthermore, perhaps failing to make the cut will light a bit of a fire under Crawford, and his already sharp game will become even more motivated, here’s hoping. Lastly, the one Hawks player that would have perhaps benefited most from going to Sochi is Brandon Saad. He’s already having a dynamite year, and playing on the international, Olympic stage would have filled him out even further as a player. But Saad’s young, and he’ll certainly have his day.

Before the Olympics however, the Blackhawks need to finish out their January schedule strong, especially after Wednesday’s hiccup against the New York Rangers. First stop Montreal, to play the Canadiens tomorrow night.