There is an ice hockey Cold War brewing in Sochi. A plastic pin has fired the first shot, it was not an invasion, a wall, or an airlift that provoked chilly relations between Russia and the States this time round. It was a piece of plastic, about five inches long, that deprived the Russians from taking the lead from the Americans in the closing stages of the third period in their round robin game. The plastic pin, designed to keep the hockey net in place, flexed and allowed the net to slide off its mooring just before the Russian’s scored the goal, which meant it was disallowed.
The game in question was not a knockout game, it was part of the round robin tournament that determined rankings for the next phase, so reaction to the incident should have been muted. Not a chance! This is the Olympics, this is ice hockey, this is Russia, and this is Russia being beaten by their nemesis, the United States of America, in their own rink. The horror!
The “scandal” that ensued painted a clear picture of expectations. While Russian President, Vladimir Putin, who was in attendance, eloquently stated, “Even if the judge was wrong, we mustn’t stick labels on anybody. We can’t forget that sport takes courage, but also luck.”
Meanwhile a squad of protesters shouting, “Make soap out of the ref,” marched on the US Embassy in Moscow in reaction to the American referee’s call. To add drama to their plight they grated soap into buckets. The protests did not stop there. Komsomolskaya Pravda, a daily Russian tabloid, pasted a picture of American goalie, Jonathan Quick, with his hand on the post, and stated, “An American referee and the puppet international federation deprived us of a deserved victory.”
The Russians in Sochi are upset. Why? Well, because it is ice hockey of course, and in the minds of many hockey determines an Olympic outcome. If a nation takes the gold in men’s hockey, then it has been a good Olympics. If they do not, they fall back on their medal count, a position many equate to taking home the silver in the big picture. In Vancouver in 2010, Canada poured it on in the medal count, but even so, it all came down to a hockey game on the last day between the States and Canada for gold. The fact that Canada won the gold sealed the deal, it was the greatest feat for a humble nation. It gave them the opportunity to beat their chests and relax for four years with the knowledge that they were the best in the world.
Four years have passed, national pride is on the line again. This time Russia is the one defending her honor. The ice hockey Cold War in Sochi is shaping up nicely. Canada is off to a slow start, as usual. Sweden is top of the standings. Finland is digging in, and the Russians lost to the States in a shootout. As the medal rounds approach the tension is ratcheting up nicely, and the world watches like movie goers during a good suspense thriller.
Who will take home the gold? If the Cold War is to continue the Russians will need to win their next three games, and the Americans their next two. Five games between them, does not sound complicated, until you look at the competition. The Russians will potentially have to deal with Finland, then Sweden, but of course Austria, Slovenia, or Norway could be the jokers in the deck. For the American’s part, barring a major upset, they are going to have to go through Canada to reach the finals. The Americans are no doubt on a roll, but the Canadians are not going to roll over either. The plot thickens.
Will the ice hockey Cold War continue in Sochi? Maybe, maybe not, but if the Americans and Russians do end up in the final, hopefully it will not be a plastic pin that decides the outcome, that could lead to more then protests and grated soap. Siberia is still on the map.
Editorial by Scott Wilson