The Olympics that no one wants

Freestyle Skiing - Winter Olympics Day 13

Why world-class cities opt out of hosting

By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor
Formerly published in The Other Press. October 21, 2014

And then there were two: Almaty, Kazakhstan and Beijing, People’s Republic of China. How on Earth did this happen? Is it because hosting an Olympic event is such a drain on a country’s economy, or is it because people just don’t care about the Winter Olympics?

When Oslo, Norway—the frontrunner to host the 2022 Olympics—withdrew its bid on October 1, many fans, organizers, and athletes awoke to a realization: the Winter Olympics was just not worth the trouble. For too long, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) had been the popular girl at prom, but now she might have a profile on Plenty of Fish.

The problem is not necessarily the Olympics’ attractiveness, but rather its high standards. The IOC is demanding, and that was the greatest turn-off for the Norwegians. After all, the committee did send over a 7,000-page handbook and requested alterations of traffic and airport customs just for the officials, in addition to a cocktail party with the Norwegian royal family. Such pompous demands say a lot about the organization’s culture. And it’s not too surprising to see that Norway wanted nothing to do with it.

With that being said, there is prestige from hosting the two-week event. Just look at the result of the 2010 Winter Olympics here in Vancouver, and you’ll see that the event elevated the city into the world-class standard. It put us centre stage and we astounded the world, in addition to proving many skeptics wrong. We can all agree that Vancouver’s infrastructure, traffic, and tourism economy has taken a step in a positive direction since.

The global situation is that not many cities are capable of becoming world-class cities. Sochi, for example, struggled with the event to the very last moment, and tourism is not exactly flourishing there now. Recessions across many European countries also make the opportunity to host risky.

The most likely event now is that the IOC will select Beijing as the host of the 2022 Olympics—it’s the most reasonable choice. The second possibility is that the committee will offer the opportunity to a country that has proven experience hosting recent large-scale events. What the committee needs to establish is six to 10 world-class cities across the globe that can host the Olympics should a newcomer fail to meet the exceptionally high standards. The United States, the United Kingdom, Japan, Canada, South Korea, Italy, France, Russia, and whoever else the IOC deems suitable should be added to their little black book.

No doubt having a list of suitable candidates will reduce the status of the IOC, but is that such a bad thing? What’s the alternative? Waiting by the telephone, hoping that a rich country will call? The IOC should know better: the Winter Olympics is not to be compared with the World Cup or the Summer Olympics. People just don’t need it as much.

The 2014-15 fantasy hockey picks

SidneyCrosby2012

Top 16 players in the NHL

By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor
Formerly published in The Other Press. October 7, 2014

The NHL season has officially arrived, and fantasy pools are filling up fast. If you haven’t joined one yet, I highly recommend it: it’s a fun way to get distracted from homework, work, or anything else that is totally bumming you out—there, I’ve convinced you. Now with that being said, there’s no time to be wasted, so here are the top 16 players (four from each forward position and four defencemen, goalies omitted) you should do anything you can to acquire:

1) Sidney Crosby, Centre: Since his concussion, I’ve been hesitant to select him first. Needless to say, every year that I don’t pick him, I ended up regretting it. He is the best player in the league, there is no point arguing.

2) John Tavares, Centre: The last few years showed Tavares coming into full form. I’m convinced he’ll have another 90-point season.

3) Steven Stamkos, Centre: There is just something about Canadian centres. Many will argue that Stamkos should in fact be the second pick behind Crosby, but I say, it really doesn’t matter. You can’t go wrong with either of the top three.

4) Anze Kopitar, Centre: And the fourth is not too shabby either. Coming off of a Stanley Cup victory, Kopitar is finally stepping into the spotlight as one of the league’s most dominant players.

5) Patrick Kane, Right Wing: With the memories of the Western Conference Finals loss to LA still fresh in Kane’s mind, I foresee a more determined Chicago squad.

6) Corey Perry, Right Wing: Always a sound player alongside his line-mate, Ryan Getzlaf, Perry can realistically reach the 40-goal mark again.

7) Alex Ovechkin, Right Wing: Once the titan contending for number one spot, now a potential candidate to fly under the radar. Ovechkin is still a prized choice regardless.

8) Martin St. Louis, Right Wing: An inspiration to his team and a 30-goal scorer last season. St. Louis was a slow starter when he was traded to the Rangers, but with eight goals in the playoffs, things look promising.

9) Gabriel Landeskog, Left Wing: The captain of a young Avalanche team has done nothing but impress. This season will surely prove that Landeskog and Colorado’s success was not a fluke.

10) Zach Parise, Left Wing: Always consistent and clutch. That’s how every sniper wants to be described.

11) Jamie Benn, Left Wing: Benn would not likely be your first pick, but if he is still an option in your second or third, don’t hesitate—he was one point away from the 80-point mark last season.

12) Taylor Hall, Left Wing: There is so much potential and hype. Could this be the year that Hall takes it to the next level? He’s a gamble that might pay in dividends.

13) Erik Karlsson, Defenceman: No argument. Karlsson is the best offensive defenceman in the league.

14) PK Subban, Defenceman: He has finally found his style and a new contract. This season will determine what type of player he’ll be going forward, and I predict he’ll be excellent.

15) Shea Weber, Defenceman: Weber’s big shot from the blue-line is just one asset you’ll gain if you select him. I won’t bother mentioning the others.

16) Zdeno Chara, Defenceman: The veteran with still much to prove.

So there are my top 16 picks. If you can get at least one player in each position onto your fantasy lineup, I can almost guarantee success—but I won’t, because I know this season is going to be full of surprises.

New-look: Canucks can do no worse

Sports_Jim Benning (GM for Canucks)

Expectations are low to open 2014-15 season

By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor
Formerly published in The Other Press. Sept. 23, 2014

With no time for reminiscing, the Vancouver Canucks are looking optimistically to the future and hoping to regain some prowess within the Western Conference. It was easy to cheer for Roberto Luongo, Ryan Kesler, and John Tortorella when things were going well, but ultimately they—as key leaders within the team—were to blame for the 2013-14 farce of a hockey season.

For once in a long while, fans and ownership agreed that change was the only route going forward. Bringing back Trevor Linden was undoubtedly a morale boost that will change the characteristics of the whole organization. The hiring of Jim Benning as general manager officially marked the next era for the Canucks, and after the abusive relationship with former GM Mike Gillis the players can breathe a sigh of relief, knowing that their requests wouldn’t turn into a melodramatic affair. And finally, Willie Desjardins will take over behind the bench. The man has won at every level except for the NHL, and although that doesn’t mean much in the short-term, it’s better than acquiring another has-been head coach.

As disappointing as the Canucks’ season was last year, the same can be said about Ryan Miller’s whole career. The 34-year-old American goaltender’s highlights include backstopping the underachieving Buffalo Sabres for more than a decade and losing the gold medal in the blockbuster 2010 Olympics. However, the St. Louis Blues expected him to be the saviour in the playoffs last year. He was not. It seems fitting that Miller has found his way to the goalie graveyard at the latter part of his career. But it might not be the end yet! He is a terrific, outspoken goalie. Perhaps now, it’s Miller time in Vancouver.

While the core—the Sedin twins, Kevin Bieksa, and Dan Hamhuis—will maintain some stability within the team, the microscope will be on wily sniper, Radim Vrbata, resident tough guy, Derek Dorsett, and skillful, yet unproven centre, Nick Bonino. All three of them were brought in for a specific reason, and if they can’t perform the task, it’ll be a bust for sure.

For the past decade or so, the Canucks’ image within the league is that the team is full of whiners, incapable of standing up for themselves. They are highly skilled but are always pleading to the referees for favours. Benning has made the necessary moves to change the attitude, and only time will tell whether Desjardins’ game plan will measure up to the competition.

The juggernauts from California continue to be Vancouver’s most challenging oppositions, while Chicago games will no doubt gather a crowd. But the most important thing for Canucks to do this season is to win the games within the Canadian border. Beating down the Oilers, Flames, and Jets will go a long way to winning the Stanley Cup, but at the moment those are the only freebies. They need to take it.

The Canucks, at best, are a bubble team, destined to finish between 10th and seventh within the conference. They could either have another valiant run in the playoffs or be incredibly disappointed. Fans are excited to see the new look, but they aren’t getting their hopes up. After such a humbling season, the organization will benefit from anything positive. We must remember that the Canucks are in a rebuild. The slogan “Change is coming” speaks volumes, but it doesn’t inspire much optimism.

The report card: Racist team names

By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor
Formerly published in The Other Press. July 3, 2014

North American sporting heritage has always found inspiration in the indigenous people. It makes sense. After all, they are proud people who essentially lost everything during colonialism—so why not give them some consolation by rooting for them in athletic endeavours? What perhaps began as an attempt to pay homage to noble aboriginals now looks a lot like racism, and who can blame them for being angry? While some names are vague (e.g. Chief, Braves, Warriors), others are blunt and offensive (e.g. Indians, Eskimos).

So what should be considered racism in the realm of team names?

Pass: Seattle Seahawks

Far from creative brilliance, the Seattle Seahawks have done an excellent job with naming their team, by paying tribute to both the native culture and the geographical splendour of the West Coast. It does not label or condemn a class of people; instead, it’s unique.

Those who have seen the Seahawks logo will know that it’s native art with a bit of modern flair. To address my point, I shall use an example: the Chicago Blackhawks—the hockey team, which many believe has the most beautiful jersey in the sport—is based off of an American army division during World War I. The logo itself is a native man’s head, inspired by the Sauk and Fox aboriginal leader for whom the army division was named. I don’t understand why it has such acclaim and prestige. It’s a downright offensive logo that mocks a group of people who had their identity stolen from them.

The Seahawks, on the other hand, stems from fiction, even though it’s rooted in tradition—and that is how a quality team name should find its characteristics. It should take on a form of its own. It should be organic, not superimposed.

Fail: Washington Redskins

Few sport teams are as blatantly racist as the Washington Redskins. Sure, if there were teams that were called the Yellowskins, the Blackskins, the Brownskins, the Whiteskins, the Squintyeyes, the Biglips, the Longnose, etc. then there wouldn’t be a problem. We have already marked the line, and to continue singling out natives—even though the whole concept of “redskin” is a racist classification—is a great disservice to our liberating society and the whole concept of team unity that is nurtured by sports.

Ask a native person, and they would likely be hesitant about saying that their skin is actually red. Yet the Redskins’ logo is so clearly one of an aboriginal man, not unlike the Blackhawks’. Ask a native person, and they would be hesitant to say that these representations are actually natives. Nevertheless, you look at the logo for the Cleveland Indians and you will see a happy cartoon native face. If you don’t feel shame for cheering for those teams, it’s probably because you are a sports fanatic and you are blinded by your pride, but in reality, you are not native and you have been brainwashed to oppress a whole race of people.

Some might say that it is an honour to have a sports team named after them, but that’s not their name. No other race of people is presented in such a demeaning fashion. To boo the Redskins may be to boo their poor defensive play, but subliminally it’s also booing a group of people not even involved in the game.

Native Americans have been asking the Redskins franchise to change their names for decades now, and it seems their argument is valid. They are offended. They have asked nicely. They have asked not so nicely. Yet nothing has changed yet. If it wasn’t an insult before, it sure is now.

South American teams shine in Brazil, but will they overshadow the host?

WorldCupDraw

By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor

Originally published by the Other Press. Jun 3, 2014
See Sports Editor, Eric Wilkins’ picks here.

The overwhelming support and pressure for and on Brazil will ultimately lead to a national disappointment for the host team in 2014. Enough has been written about the Brazilian team to convince anyone—including myself—that they are the rightful champion, but in a tournament such as the World Cup, nothing is awarded for achievements on paper; the competition is won with actual merit and a lot of luck.

Ecuador: My dark horse pick is based around a resilient team emerging from the wakes of a tragedy. Christian Benitez, a 27-year-old striker died in July 2013 from a heart attack playing for his club team, Qatar. Pitted against the other five South American teams, Ecuador may seem like the most inexperienced. Antonio Valencia of Manchester United will have to be the electrifying player he is and score some goals, while the midfield will need to support each other in order to get through Group E, which includes the Swiss, the French, and the Hondurans.

Belgium: A team with nothing to lose, but everything to prove is a dangerous team, and I think Belgium epitomizes that statement the best in this year’s World Cup. Placed with Algeria, Russia, and the Korean Republic in Group H, Belgium is the young up-and-coming team that can give the likes of Brazil, Argentina, Germany, and Spain a run for their money. No team will take Belgium lightly, but if Romelu Lukaku and their youthful stars can come up big with some timely goals, there is an exceptional chance that the country known for its chocolate can finally be famous for football as well.

Netherlands: Spain versus Netherlands on day two will truly kick off the tournament—no disrespect to Croatia and Brazil of course. They’ve pulled consistently good numbers in the last several World Cup tournaments, and I don’t see any reason they can’t make a legitimate run again this year. Superstars Robin van Persie, Arjen Robben, Rafael van der Vaart, and Wesley Sneijder will play significant roles on the team, and if they are able to reach their elite level in the month-long tournament they will have great success. The Netherlands has the talent and momentum is on their side.

Colombia: If Monaco’s striker, Radamel Falcao can return in time from his ruptured cruciate ligament, then Colombia’s chances may be amped up even more. But the national squad has played without him and is very capable of winning games on their own. Colombia often lurks in the shadow of Brazil and Argentina—even Uruguay and Chile—but the future looks bright for the Colombians and their no.5 FIFA ranking.

Argentina: I’m a strong believer in legacies; I think great players on great teams must perform at key times in order to earn the title of legendary. Lionel Messi is, of course, en route to earning that honour, at least in my books. All he needs is to win the World Cup in 2014. No big deal. Yet recent historical records have not favoured the Argentineans; after all, they have not won since 1986. But the hopes are high, the conditions are familiar in Brazil, and their offence is as capable as the other favourites. Argentina will come up big when it counts and prove many critics wrong in this year’s World Cup, thus earning Messi the recognition on the world stage he deserves.

The Report Card: Sport spectators

Opinions_Watching-Sports

By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor
Formerly published in The Other Press. Feb. 17, 2014

When it comes to our favourite teams and athletes, no matter how poorly they do, we must stick by them, because that’s what a good fan does. But sporting events are polarizing experiences: whatever happens, 50 per cent of the spectators will inevitably be disappointed. So, what is the most enjoyable way to view a game, an event, and a championship tournament and still get your money’s worth?

Pass: The comfort of a home/bar

For the price of admission, you can throw yourself and your fellow sports fanatics one hell of a house party. Not that you need an excuse, but game nights are the perfect reason to get a good group of friends together. Win or lose, at least you got to spend some quality time with people who share a common interest with you.

I believe that each sport is an art form, but unlike a concert, a theatre performance, or a slam poetry reading, you don’t have to be there in person to enjoy it. That is why there are channels dedicated to sport highlights, yet none dedicated to live Shakespearean productions. The same way music can be a backdrop to a party, so too can a sporting event. It might even give you a reason to cheer at the end.

If finances are a problem (they’re always a problem), then home viewing may just be the obvious choice, but it doesn’t make for any less of a spectacle. Bars are also accommodating alternatives. Some even offer incentives on game night: for each goal scored, you’ll get a free drink or an opportunity to win a prize at the end of the night. If the odds are with you, your team might not be the only winners.

Fail: Live from the nosebleed section

Who wouldn’t want to be there live during a game seven or an Olympic gold medal game? The pandemonium of victory is an exhilarating feeling that cannot be recreated in any other form. There’s nothing like 30,000 people cheering for the same reason. But is the frenzy worth it? Personally, I don’t think so.

Live games have become a supply-and-demand market, and the price for key games are often raised to an unreasonable price. Just for an example, the price for the Heritage Classic, a regular season game between the Canucks and the Senators played in an outdoor rink at BC Place, start at $104.20 and goes as high as $324.70. It’s an once-in-a-lifetime experience, it’s a moment you’ll remember forever, but mostly it’s a publicity stunt—an obvious gimmick—and it’s a successful one.

Fans take pride in being diehards, and in order to be considered a diehard, one must buy season tickets and attend every game religiously, decked out in authentic apparel. A diehard must be succumbed by the capitalistic culture of the sport, right?

No! Sport is not scientology; if you have more money, that doesn’t make you holier or your team better. Sure, the only way to keep the team afloat is to attend the games, thus paying the athletes and their luxurious lifestyle, but that’s not something the fans should worry about—the fans aren’t the marketing team. The fans’ only job is to cheer wholeheartedly, and they can do that with the money in their pocket, at home, with a moderately priced beer in their hands.

Be a sport

 

Will motor/virtual sports ever be Olympic events?

By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor
Formerly published in The Other Press. Feb 18, 2014

Opinions_Olympics-for-gamers

Competitiveness, athleticism, and focus, I believe those are three necessary requirements of a sport. Other people will have a different definition for it, but generally we can agree what is a sport and what isn’t.

Running is a sport, Temple Run is a mobile game, and sleep running is a disorder; but jokes aside, I believe that like technology, sports are changing, and athletes can be nerds, gear heads, and jocks.

In the 1900 Olympics, auto racing was a demonstration sport showcasing its appeal to the world. But like floor hockey, American football, and korfball, the International Olympics Committee rejected it as an official event. It’s hard to say how the committee decides which sports to include and which to forgo. It’s definitely not about appeal, since motorsports have a large following in North America, Europe, and Asia.

A common argument against motorsport as an Olympic event is that driving is not an athletic feat, and that the cars and the mechanics who built them are actually doing most of the work, not the drivers. For those who have never tried to maneuver around another vehicle going 200 miles per hour, they wouldn’t understand the control and concentration a driver must have. Ever avoid a collision in traffic and felt your heartbeat? The experience is not so different from letting in a last-minute goal or running the last leg of a marathon.

Driving comes with a huge learning curve, and it takes years for one to master; the same is true for tennis, hockey, and javelin. Motorsports are not just an achievement in modern engineering. They’re also respectable sports, sports of maturity.

Virtual sports are harder to advocate for, because globally there is still this notion that any sport played on a computer chair or a couch is not a sport. Honestly, I feel that physical exertion can come in many positions. The type of strain a virtual athlete goes through is not in the form of sprinting or rowing, but rather through rapid reflexes and precision. Like archery, video games take an insane amount of focus in order to succeed at an elite level. Also, video games aren’t always brief; they can last for hours and require endurance, in addition to concentration.

Virtual sports’ popularity is undeniable, even if the athletic community shuns it. Spectators gather from all around the world to watch professionals play a game that anybody can play, but few achieve superiority. Like the World Cup, Olympics, and the Super Bowl, virtual sporting events attract a large and passionate demographic. As technology advances and new physical interactions are enabled, such as the Xbox Kinect, I foresee a stronger group of gamers petitioning for respect in the sporting world, which can often feel like the gym class in high school.

Don’t worry gamers and gear heads, I’ve got your back, you won’t be picked last forever—after all, nerds and white-collar professionals are the new popular kids. Don’t be surprised to see an Olympic gold medalist in StarCraft, Street Fighter, and drag racing in the not too distant future.

Fallen Leafs up in Flames

 Brian-Burke

Brian Burke to be blamed for Maple Leafs’ struggles

By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor

Formerly published in The Other Press. Jan. 21, 2014

The decisions of a general manager have lasting effects on a hockey team, even after the executive has moved on. In the case of former Toronto Maple Leafs’ GM, Brian Burke, the choices he made in his tenure will undoubtedly make ripples for many years to come. But how much blame or praise should one man take for the achievement or failure of a team? My answer: a lot.

Ask any skilled Monopoly player and they will tell you that luck has very little to do with their success. Sure, once in a while a bad roll of the dice and an unlucky trip to jail decides the game; but negotiation and anticipation, being able to see the possibilities around the bend, all of that is what makes those players so skilled. If Burke was to sit down for a game of Monopoly, I believe he would be the wheelbarrow—and also a very proficient player.

It seems that for every good decision Burke has made, he’s made two bad ones. Thank God he traded up to draft the Sedin twins in 1999 when he was the GM for the Canucks, but why did he trade away the draft pick that could have been Tyler Seguin for Phil Kessel when he was the GM for the Leafs? Why did he renew Leafs’ head coach Ron Wilson’s contract in 2011, despite a three-year losing record? Why did he go and criticize Anaheim Ducks’ Bobby Ryan in such a shameful manner when Ryan wasn’t selected to be on the United States’ Olympic team? Perhaps he did it all to turn up the heat in Calgary.

As president of Hockey Operations and interim GM for the Flames, Burke is hoping to return to his prowess. The man is obviously fearless when it comes to making choices, whether good or bad. If he does end up taking the helm in Calgary, I foresee a different-looking team sooner rather than later—and that is the same reason Toronto no longer wants Burke’s services.

He jumped the gun when he arrived in Toronto and built a subpar team, unlike the one in Anaheim. He was trying to recreate what he did in California and ultimately failed. Toronto was in a rebuilding state and instead of taking time to develop prospects, he traded them. The Maple Leafs’ minor successes are just that: minor. But at the moment, the Flames are just hoping for some fuel, so Burke is greatly welcomed.

The Flames have had a dismal 2013-14 season with 38 points in 48 games. Needless to say, whatever Burke does, things can’t get much worse—so no pressure. That was also the case when Burke took over in Vancouver, Anaheim, and Toronto. Burke seems to have a liking for taking a team going nowhere and giving them some direction. If you trace the history books, you can still see Burke’s fingerprints on all his former teams. So, should Burke be blamed for his teams’ successes and failures? Absolutely, and he wouldn’t have it any other way.

Danger and violence is a part of growing up

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Parents’ safety concerns shouldn’t determine child’s athletic aspirations

By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor

Formerly published in the Other Press. Dec. 2013

From an early age, we teach children to behave nicely and to play safe, but overprotectiveness can be more damaging than kicks, punches, and scrapes against pavement. Protecting children is one thing, but activities that test endurance such as hockey, mixed martial arts (MMA), and other sports requiring a helmet can offer valuable lessons—ones that children cannot get from their caring parents.

Although many still consider MMA to be a barbaric sport, it’s incredibly popular amongst the younger generation. Parents are more inclined today to enrol their children in lessons and cheer on their sons and daughters as they duke it out. That being said, it only takes a few seconds of viewing a child “ground and pound” an opponent before we recognize what is really happening. We shoot some judgmental glances at the parents and wonder how they could have let such a monstrosity happen.

Give me a break. I feel those parents should be commended for believing in their children, despite their child’s loss. Sure the child got hurt in the process—let that be the worst thing to happen in that child’s life. Sports are inherently dangerous; it doesn’t matter if you sprain your MCL playing badminton or get concussed from a roundhouse kick. Competition hurts and so does life. Spoiling children and keeping them in the house playing video games is more crippling than a few bruises.

The reason why I believe after-school and weekend sports enrolment for children is so important is that I didn’t have any when I was growing up. I had overprotective parents who wanted me to pursue academic and artistic endeavours and avoid the tremulous world of athletics. I believe the inability to cope with losing set me back a bit as I aged. I was afraid to fall and take chances, until one day I decided to purchase a skateboard with my own money and prove my durability. I remember returning home with blood dripping down my leg, proud. I had fallen and I survived.

Competition is a part of life, and the earlier we teach our children this concept the more competent they’ll be, whether in academic, professional, or athletics goals. Learning to lose is as important as learning to win. Those who are successful will tell you that there is not one without the other. If the child has a passion and is willing the pursue it, parents should support them regardless of the concrete floor, opposing teams, or headlocks.

Some may call certain sports violent, and therefore worth banning children from. Certain children are also naturally more violent than others, and the combination sounds like a recipe for disaster. But sports allow children to focus their intensity by giving them motivation in a controlled environment. Kids who act out in classrooms will often find sports not only help build physical stamina, but mental stamina as well.

Scars are not signs of mom and dad’s inept parenting—they’re badges of honour for the children.

Spotlight in Sochi

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International hockey teams look for key players to help win gold in Russia

By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor

Formerly published in The Other Press. Nov. 2013

The Olympics bring out the hockey nations’ most elite players, but when stars in club teams join international teams, not every player will get the spotlight—many accustomed to being leaders in the NHL will have to take on secondary or defensive roles. Players recognized for highlight reel plays might not get the opportunity to showcase their skills on the international stage, but that doesn’t mean they’re a liability—in fact, the unsung players are often those that contribute most to gold medal teams. Without further ado, here’s a quick preview of the top contenders.

Canada: Who is going to get Sidney Crosby the puck? It might not be Steven Stamkos, even though he was a projected line mate before the top goal scorer in the NHL went down with a leg injury. In 2010, Jarome Iginla set up the golden goal, but due to his rise in age and decline in stock, he might be dismissed, making room for an up-and-comer. So who will be the key figure in 2014 flying under the radar? Consider Crosby’s set-up man on the Pittsburgh Penguins, Chris Kunitz. Team Canada often tries to be fancy, but I believe team chemistry is more important than talent alone. Head coach Mike Babcock may consider trying out many players with Crosby, but with 27 points in 28 games this season, Kunitz is as good as any Canadian to set up a game winner.

Russia: With home ice advantage and a team known for its firepower, Team Russia is going to do everything they can to reverse their Olympic fortunes. It’s true, the Red Army has been intimidating on paper for many years, but if the Alexander Ovechkins and Evgeni Malkins can’t win games, who can they count on? We might have forgotten about him in the NHL, but Ilya Kovalchuk is still a game changer (when he wants to be), with 30 points in 26 games in the KHL with league-leading St. Petersburg SKA. With Kovalchuk, Russia may be the favourite to upset the two North American teams.

USA: Tasting silver in 2010 was a bitter experience for the Americans even though they arrived in Vancouver as the underdogs. They failed to score the last goal four years ago, but that was not because of their forwards—it was because of their defence. Without Ryan Miller playing at top form there wouldn’t even be silver. But with Miller’s confidence crippled by a horrible Buffalo Sabres team, who can the US count on to stop the opposition? Why not Jack Johnson from the Columbus Blue Jackets? He had been sitting, waiting, wishing for a second chance at gold and this time with healthy experience on a defensively sound Blue Jacket team, he might just be the consistent blue liner to get the USA to the next level.

Sweden: The 2006 champions will not have an easy trip to the podium in 2014. Team Sweden will need both their veterans and youngsters to be at their best for the two-week tournament. Any stalled play will definitely go against their favour and may be impossible to recover. Look for the Colorado Avalanche’s captain Gabriel Landeskog to play a larger role on the international team after turning the Avalanche’s productivity around this year with an impressive 17-5-0 start to the NHL season.

Whether it’s blocking a shot or making a key pass in a tight situation, Olympic hockey is all about talented players doing the little things to win. These players may have smaller roles, but they are far from small players.