With every high profile event comes the good, and the downright bad. The good saw some great storylines in Sochi, such as Teemu Selanne scoring two goals on route to a bronze medal in his final Olympic games, Kristers Gudlevskis, a virtually unknown goaltender making 55 saves and almost leading Latvia to a shocking upset over the Canadians, and as well, Canada’s tremendous ability to defend on big ice leading them to a dominant gold medal victory in the 2014 Olympics. An incredible amount of good came out of this tournament for many countries, but unfortunately not all of them. This top 10 list will highlight the nations who found themselves on the opposite side of the spectrum; countries such as the host nation Russia, the powerhouse US team, and the oddly selected Czech Republic team. What went particularly wrong for these teams slated to finish at least in a top 4 spot? This list will highlight the specific disappointments these teams encountered on route to their failed finishes.
Lets us now begin with number 10 on this upsetting list with the odd selection of Petr Nedved on the Czech team; did it pay off? If you watched the Czech’s play, absolutely not.
10. The 42-year-old Petr Nedved Experiment Fails
Total failure for the Czechs. They never really seemed to have an identity throughout the tournament. To make matters worse, their controversial selections did absolutely nothing to aid the cause. Petr Nedved finished the tournament with one mere assist. At the age of 42, the Czech Republic selection staff picked him because of his “experience,” leaving out Jiri Hudler, who has pertinent game experience. Hudler won a Stanley Cup with the Red Wings and has been the Calgary Flames’ best player this season leading the team in assists and points, not to mention being one of only 3 regulars to be in the plus column. Vrbata and Fleischman were other notable omissions to the team upfront, along with Martin Hanzal, inexplicably being a healthy scratch in the Czechs’ first game loss against the Swedes. Players such as Nedved, Jiri Novotny and Martin Erat, who has one goal this season, where chosen over these omitted players. Bottom line: the Czech experiment relying on veteran presence failed miserably in Russia.
9. Where was Dustin Brown?
Brown is a player who can usually be easily spotted in every NHL game. He is a high intensity player that can hit, agitate and score goals as well. Unfortunately, his tournament experience was a disaster, with Brown scoring 2 goals in meaningless victories for the US. His line with Backes and Callahan failed to create any kind of chemistry throughout the entire tournament. In the big games, Brown was non-existent, playing 9:42 against the Russians, 8:11 with a minus-one rating against Canada and 4:48 with a minus-2 rating in the bronze medal match against Finland. Brown was pretty much benched the entire game after Finland scored twice against his line, while his line mates Backes and Callahan still managed to play almost 15 minutes in the game. Needless to say, it was a horrible Olympic tournament in Sochi for the Kings’ captain.
8. Ondrej Pavelec’s Opportunity to Shine Wasted
The opportunity was finally set for Pavelec to shine on a big stage. The Czech goaltender was given the start in game 2 against Latvia, where he picked up the victory for his team. Following a 1-0 defeat to the Swiss and a victory against Slovakia, the occasion was perfect for Pavelec to finally make his mark as an elite goaltender against the United States in the quarterfinal matchup. Things didn’t go as planned for 26-year-old Jets’ goalie, it was a devastating ending that saw him allow 4 goals in a mere 12 shots from the Americans before being pulled in the second period. Ondrej’s time to shine turned out to be a massive disappointment not only for himself, but his for his country, which is still looking for that saviour in nets since the retirement of the great Dominik Hasek.
7. Phil Kessel’s Power Outage
Don’t get me wrong here, Phil had a great tournament and is arguably the NHL’s hottest player. Kessel finished the Olymipcs leading the way in points with 8 and leading the tournament in goals with 5. Though despite this effort, the coach of team Canada Mike Babcock said it best, “They won’t remember who finished with the most points, all they will remember is who won.” For Phil, this was the opportunity to show the world his capabilities and put his stamp of authority on a massive game against the rival Canadians. Unfortunately, Phil and his entire team were decimated by Canada’s tremendous defensive posture leading to no goals in their semi-final tilt against Canada, and another goalless performance in the Bronze medal match against Finland. In the biggest games of the tournament against Russia, Canada and Finalnd, Kessel had a power outage in goals, a missed opportunity for him to solidify himself as one of the world’s best.
6. Jagr’s Last Chance
Although the 42-year-old legend probably won’t admit it, this was likely his final chance at an Olympic medal. Despite having a decent tournament, Jagr was held pointless in the 5-2 loss against the Americans, ending his hope of getting a medal in what will likely be his final Olympics. Opposite to Selanne, who ended his Olympic career on a high note winning the bronze medal and scoring two goals in the process, Jagr had to deal with a bitter defeat on a team that never really seemed to build an identity throughout the entire tournament. If this is it for Jagr, it is a big disappointment to leave the international stage on such a low. But then again, who knows? When asked how he is dealing with his age, Jagr told reporters, “What age? I’m in the best shape of my life”, so never say never for Jagr, who knows what the future holds for this legend who is showing no signs of slowing down.
5. Where Was the US Captain When it Mattered?
Leaders are known to step up when the time is right. Look at Canada’s success in the finals, goals by their team leaders Toews and Crosby, all around the league we see examples of leaders stepping up when needed. Unfortunately for Zach Parise, this time never came. The Americans wished Parise’s clutch game-tying goal against Canada, with 24 seconds left in the final would repeat itself, but unfortunately it didn’t. Parise was a big non-factor this time around. Zach scored one goal in the tournament against the Czech’s but was completely shutout in the following two. Much more was expected from the US captain in this tournament, especially when it mattered the most.
4. Patrick Kane Falters on the Big Stage
Coming off one of the best seasons of his career, with a Stanley Cup and a Conn Smythe Trophy for the MVP of the playoffs, no player had more pressure on his shoulders than Patrick Kane did. This guy is one the league’s biggest superstars and seemingly only getting better, year after year. The predictions were in for Kane to make an impact on the big ice in Sochi, though unfortunately this was not the case. Kane admitted to his poor performance head on, “I wasn’t good enough, I was expected to do a lot more, anytime you come over here and put up zero goals and four assists in six games, it’s definitely disappointing”. Both the fans, and Kane himself agree this was not a good tournament for the young superstar in Sochi.
3. The Curious Case of Nicklas Backstrom
No matter what country you support, you have got to feel bad for Nicklas Backstrom. With injuries to team captain Henrik Zetterberg and with forward Henrik Sedin already out, Sweden looked for Backstrom to take the lead at the center position. Unfortunately, due to a banned substance found in his system, Nicklas was not able to play in what was to be one of the biggest games of his career. The team’s General Manager, Tommy Boustedt claimed “the IOC has destroyed one of the greatest hockey days in Swedish history”. Catching a cheater with a banned substance is certainly beneficial when it comes to testing, but banning a player like Backstrom for taking an allergy medicine is just awful and is a mega disappointment of the tournament, depriving a great player from playing in a gold medal game.
2. Ovie and Malkin Waste Once-in-a-Lifetime Chance at Greatness
There cannot be two hockey players in the world more disappointed with their respective performances than Evgeni Malkin and Alex Ovechkin. At the end of the day, these two Russian superstars were labelled to be the most important players on the team, however they went, the team would go. It’s almost impossible to believe that they didn’t go. Aside from their first game of the tournament versus Slovakia, Malkin and Ovechkin were held pointless in the following 4 games including the elimination quarterfinal matchup against Finland. The timing and location were perfect and no players were more excited than these two guys, but what it comes down to is that they failed to deliver on a stage that was set for them to succeed. Ovechkin and Malkin will be remembered as one of the biggest disappointments in the 2014 winter games.
1. The Zinetula Bilyaletdinov Coaching Disaster
After the humiliating quarterfinal elimination loss to Finland, Bilyaletdinov looked at the media after the game and simply said, “Eat me alive right now”. The Russian media described the performance as a catastrophe, a collapse and most importantly, one of the biggest disappointments in Russian hockey history. One of the most prevalent problems stemmed from the coaching; a reluctance to make changes when changes were needed, causing a potential fairy-tale ending to end in a nightmare. Playing with a bizarre 5-man unit and having no interest in changing any lines was part of this collapse. Ovechkin and Malkin failed to generate anything and were kept together the entire tournament, despite the embarrassment of offensive riches on the other lines.
Simply placing Dastyuk in the middle of Ovechkin and Semin, and placing Malkin in the middle of Kovalchuk and Radulov could have been an easy and quick solution to change the momentum of these superstar players. Team Canada at the Vancouver Olympics was an example of this, as they changed the lines early in the tournament in order to have the proper chemistry, and they did again this year, changing the trios and finding a line combination which arguably dominated the tournament in Benn, Getzlaf and Perry. Coach “Bill” failed miserably in an attempt to change the momentum of his Russian team when needed, leading to a complete failure and one that will not be soon forgotten in the hearts of many Russian hockey fans.