Who Should I Back? Your Guide to Choosing an Olympic Hockey Nation
You guys were polled to find out which country you’re adopting as your Olympic hockey team of choice, and frankly, I’m disappointed. More than 50% of you said you’d be pulling for a North American team, which is ridiculous. Why, if you had the choice to root for anyone in the world, would you go with a plain vanilla all-star squad like Canada or the USA? Get creative, UK fans! Indulge in a scoop of rocky road and back a real underdog, or at least savor the delicious minty goodness of a Scandanavian power. As an American I’m pretty much stuck rooting for the stars and stripes, but you have a world of (12) options.
To help you make an informed selection, here are the pros and cons of each available team:
Why you should back Austria: Thomas “Sisyphus” Vanek really deserves a break.
Why you should stay away: A singing nun killed your dog. You’re allergic to edelweiss. You want to back a team that has a chance.
Big name: Vanek.
Fun name: Gerhard Unterluggauer.
Why you should back Canada: You’re a front-runner.
Why you should stay away: Low risk means low reward. It’s pretty much impossible for this team to exceed expectations, so you have nowhere to go but down. Also, Crosby just bugs you. No real reason, but you often fantasize about punching that guy in the face.
Big name: All of them.
Fun name: None of them.
Why you should back the Czech Republic: If Dominik Hasek decided to come out of retirement to play in these Olympics, he wouldn’t alter the average age of the team. Do it, Dom! Do it!
Why you should stay away: You hate the New Jersey Devils, which for some reason are wildly over-represented on this team.
Big name: Jaromir Jagr.
Fun name: Jaromir Jagr.
Old name: Petr Nedved. This guy last played in the Olympics in 1994, but apparently has decided that 20 years is enough of a breather, so he’s back. Oh, and he’s playing for a different country now. It’s been well-documented, but no matter how many times you hear the story it never gets any less weird.
Why you should back Finland: Teemu forever!
Why you should stay away: Can’t think of a single reason. Teemu forever!
Big name: Teemu!
Fun names: Every single one. There are few things in this world more fun than Finnish names.
Why you should back Latvia: Latvia is a hockey-crazed nation that would positively explode with joy if their team managed even one win over a team with an actual chance to medal.
Why you should stay away: Latvia is a hockey-crazed nation that will be endlessly enthusiastic even while watching their team get clobbered over and over again. It’s like watching a puppy that always, without fail, chases the ball you pretend to throw but actually keep in your hand. It’s tragically adorable.
Big names: Sandis Ozolins, Zemgus Girgensons.
Fun name: Are you blind? It’s Zemgus Girgensons.
Why you should back Norway: Norway is the all-time leader in Winter Olympic medals, so they must be doing something right.
Why you should stay away: They’re actually doing a lot of things right, but hockey isn’t among them.
Big names: Nope.
Fun names: Henrik Odegaard, who sounds like he should be wielding a mighty hammer in a shimmering ice kingdom but who actually plays professional hockey for the Missouri Mavericks of the WTFHL.
Why you should back Russia: It seems possible, if not likely, that Vladimir Putin will have the entire team exiled to Siberia if Russia doesn’t win gold, and then we’d have to watch an NHL with no Pavel Datsyuk.
Why you should stay away: This team features some decidedly un-cuddly players (Semyon Varlamov, Ilya Kovalchuk) representing a country that flaunts its human rights violations. Also, Russian gold would make Putin happy, and a happy Putin is a shirtless Putin.
Big names: Alexander Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin, Datsyuk
Fun names: Alexander Popov, who is far and away Magnitude’s favorite player.
Why you should back Slovakia (WARNING – sincere rant ahead!): No country deserves international hockey success more than Slovakia. After Czechoslovakia split up in 1993, the Czech Republic got to keep competing at the top level of international hockey while Slovakia was treated as a newcomer and relegated to the bottom. They worked their way through the ranks but hit a glass ceiling when it came to getting an automatic berth in the Olympics, a privilege that was reserved for the Big Six (Canada, Czech Republic, Finland, Russia, Sweden, USA).
In 2002, Slovakia was doomed by its own talent when the NHL wouldn’t take a few extra days off to allow its players to participate in the Olympic qualifying tournament. As the non-Big Six team with the most NHL players, Slovakia had to beg NHL teams to allow their Slovak players to compete for their country, which of course they could only do when their respective NHL teams had an off day. The roster changed nightly as Slovakian NHLers ran themselves ragged trying to serve two masters, and in the end Team Slovakia failed to qualify, losing out to countries with fewer NHL-caliber players. Team Slovakia has struggled and suffered through no fault of its own, and it will be a great day when the Slovaks win their first Olympic medal as an independent nation.
Why you should stay away: That great day is not yet at hand, and you don’t much feature watching dreams being crushed before your eyes.
Big name: Zdeno Chara. There’s none bigger.
Fun name: Branko Radivojevic
Why you should back Slovenia: You’ve watched so many shootouts that you’re convinced hockey doesn’t have to be played as a team sport.
Why you should stay away: Because you can’t find Slovenia on a map, and neither can international hockey.
Big names: Anze Kopitar, Anze Kopitar, Anze Kopitar and Anze Kopitar.
Fun names: Matic Podlipnik.
Why you should back Sweden: You’re a huge Daniel Sedin fan, but you can’t stand Henrik. You like talented teams made up of impossibly good-looking people who also seem like generally decent human beings.
Why you should stay away: You’re a huge Henrik Sedin fan, but you can’t stand Daniel. You’re from Finland.
Big names: Daniel Sedin, but not Henrik Sedin. Henrik “Rock Star” Lundqvist.
Fun names: Johnny Oduya. If you can’t find the fun in “Johnny Oduya,” you are incapable of joy.
Why you should back Switzerland: See: Fun names.
Why you should stay away: The Swiss have about as good a chance of medaling as the Austrians do. Rooting for Switzerland is basically the same as staying neutral.
Big names: Jonas Hiller, Mark Streit.
Fun names: Luca Cunti (heh heh, heh heh heh). Raphael Diaz (a name which wouldn’t be funny on Team Mexico, but is sort of hilarious here). Severin Blindenbacher (no explanation required).
Why you should back USA: You like freedom, apple pie and Christmas, all of which were invented in the US.
Why you should stay away: Even when the USA is an underdog, it still feels like the Evil Empire of international sports.
Big names: Ryan Miller. Ryan Kesler. Ryan Callahan. Ryan Suter. Pretty much all the Ryans… except Bobby.
Fun name: TJ Oshie, which really should be the name of a team mascot rather than a standout winger.