As of this morning, there are two days until the start of the Winter Olympics in Beijing. They officially run from February 4th to the 20th, and while many people may not be much interested in this year’s games due to the NHL not going and the late times of games, it should still be fun for hockey fans — for two reasons.
First, the women’s hockey should be a lot of fun. It’s always a big draw at the Olympics, but if you haven’t been following this year there has also been an entertaining set of games during the Rivalry Series between the Canadian and American teams. They’ve played six games from October to late December. Three of the games went to overtime, and there were no wins bigger than two goals. Canada won four of the games to the Americans’ two.
And while Canada and USA always get the coverage, there are other countries that have been up and coming and could make some noise that are worth watching. Finland has often been the 3rd or 4th place finishers in past Olympics and World Championships, and even had a silver place in the 2019 Worlds. Japan are the plucky squad who seem like they are poised for a breakout eventually. They won the 2020 Youth Olympic Games, the first Asian country to win a gold in any Olympic ice hockey tournament — men or women. If you want to cheer for an underdog to make a surprise run, they’re a fun story.
And for Leafs’ fans, there will be some relevant viewings for the men’s ice hockey as well. There is a mix of legit prospects and more ‘veteran’ prospects with some connections to the Leafs who will be playing for their respective countries.
Matthew Knies will be the most exciting to watch. He’s been a revelation in the NCAA for his freshman season, and after missing out on the World Juniors due to COVID he’ll get another chance to play on an even bigger stage for his country. He’s a big, power winger with a lot more skill than he showed in his draft season.
Nick Abruzzese is an older prospect (22), in his third NCAA season after not joining until after his D+2 season. But since joining Harvard he’s been one of the top point producers in the entire college circuit.
Matthew Knies (back, middle) and Nick Abruzzese (front, left) sporting some Team USA Olympic swag.#LeafsForever pic.twitter.com/Tj9BD8M2Yg— Nick Richard (@_NickRichard) February 1, 2022
On the Canadian side, the Leafs’ organization will be represented by Joshua Ho-Sang. He’s only on an AHL contract, so he’s not technically a Maple Leaf, but after his career was in jeopardy following his tumultuous time and departure from the Isles organization, he’s had a bit of a resurgence with the Marlies. He’ll be one of the few ‘peak aged’ players for Canada who may be good enough to play on an NHL roster.
Pontus Holmberg has been one of the better players in the Swedish pro league for the past two years, and seems likely to make the jump to North America after this season. He’s won the SHL championship, playoff MVP, and gotten to represent Sweden in the World Juniors and recent (smaller) international tournaments.
We can technically include two others who still have connections to the Leafs. The first is Denis Malgin, a smaller winger who the Leafs got for Mason Marchment in a deal with Florida. He’s never been able to crack the Leafs’ roster, which is why he chose to play the last two seasons in his home country where he’s been a top ten point producer. No telling if he’ll ever try coming back to the Leafs, but hey if you like rooting for long shots...
And the other guy is a blast from the blast. The myth, the legend, the one and only Fabrice Herzog. Drafted in 2013 in the 5th round, now 27 years old, the Leafs somehow still have his rights as a prospect after all this time.
Aside from them, there are a mix of former Leafs who will be playing in the Olympics. There’s your former European free agent signings who were flashes in the pan here in North America like MIkko Lehtonen and Kirill Semyonov. There’s older former-Leafs like Leo Komarov, Daniel Winnik and Korbinian Holzer. Other than that, you have a bunch of miscellaneous connections: Mārtiņš Dzierkals, who made PPP lose their minds in past T25U25 years, will join Latvia. Adam Cracknell, Kristián Pospíšil, Kenny Agostino and Miro Aaltonen are all former Marlies as well.
But headlining the lot will assuredly be Mar Mar Superstar, the legendary Martin Marincin.
So hey, if you like the novelty of watching some semi-good hockey at least in part so you can say “oh yeah...” every time you recognize some older names.
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OTHER HOCKEY LINKS
Michigan hockey under investigation | by The Michigan Daily
The No. 3 Michigan hockey team is under investigation for a combination of Title IX violations, workplace culture complaints and COVID-19 misconduct.
Specifically, the investigation by law firm WilmerHale involves accusations that Michigan coach Mel Pearson allegedly told players to lie on COVID-19 contact tracing forms before the 2021 NCAA Tournament, that Pearson and director of hockey operations Rick Bancroft allegedly created a toxic work environment for female staff and that Pearson allegedly retaliated against a player for voicing issues within the Wolverines’ program.
In other international hockey news, it sounds like the IIHF plans on re-attempting to hold the World Juniors in August. So too late for teams to way overrate or underrate prospects at the draft based on how they play in the WJC! Now we wait to find out if they also re-attempt to hold any of the women’s tournaments as well.
World Juniors in August, as per IIHF President Luc Tardif, via Russian outlet RIA Novosti. https://t.co/wZlQhB85w4— Szymon Szemberg (@Sz1909_Szemberg) February 1, 2022
Have a great Wednesday everyone!
Our leader, our captain, our flag bearer for #Beijing2022. 🙌🇨🇦— Hockey Canada (@HockeyCanada) February 2, 2022
@pou29 will lead #TeamCanada into the Opening Ceremony on Friday.
Charles Hamelin will be the other flag bearer.