I'm sorry to bid farewell to Olympic hockey tournament. The hockey was fast, fun, skilled and exciting. It was a tournament in which any team could win on any night and dirty play was at a minimum. With very few scrubs playing, we got to see the game as it's meant to be played, and returning to the watered-down NHL version of hockey now will be a little bit tough to take. Things I've observed during this fabulous tournament include:
1. No team is ever out of it. Flurries at the ends of games, brilliant goaltending, great team play and immense determination all played their roles in keeping games close and exciting. I wasn't expecting the Olympic hockey to be inspiring, but it was. It was also a wonderful example of parity on a higher level than that we're used to seeing in the NHL.
2. Jaroslav Halak is a very good goalie. Regardless of the scattered softie he let in, the Slovaks would never have made the medal round without his brilliance. He proved himself capable of facing the best shooters going and coming out on top. And he proved what can happen when a team rallies behind its goalie and believes in him. Halak responded to that and did his country proud.
3. Once a choker, always a choker. Joe Thornton can be a solid support player, but he will never be the guy who wins you a championship.
4. Sidney Crosby is not God, but he's obviously born under a lucky star of some kind.
Things happen to ensure he's surrounded by a golden light at all times. It's almost freaky.
5. Ken Hitchcock is going to have a heart attack before much longer. My God, I saw him in the pressbox looking like a blue whale in his sky-blue dress shirt and I hoped they had the medics on standby in case of too much excitement.
7. Even teams that are loaded with talent can look like crap. Before the games started I thought the Russians would be unbeatable, just because of the amount of sheer offence on their team. Yet, when they took the ice, they looked very ordinary and very stoppable. It's something bubble teams like the Canadiens need to remember when they're facing the powerhouses in the East.
8. Drew Doughty may be the best under-21-year-old defenceman in the world. I remember seeing this kid at the world juniors a couple of years ago before he was drafted and thinking I'd give anything to have him in blue, blanc, rouge. He was just so mature and capable every time he was on the ice, he was hugely impressive. He's more than fulfilled that promise and he'll win a Norris within five years.
9. It's always good to have a Finn on your team. The Finns never stop fighting and they're tough as nails. Just ask the Slovaks.
10. You can never, never, never expect to protect a one-goal lead for half a game and get away with it. Desperation will overcome.
11. A captain who can raise his game when it counts is invaluable. Scott Niedermayer looked old and slow in the first couple of games of the tournament, but with the gold medal on the line, he was fantastic. All his wily experience and innate skill came into play in the biggest game of the Olympics. Everyone else followed him.
12. Ryan Miller is the best goalie in the NHL. The Americans had some good young scorers and played a solid team game. Without Miller, though, they were no better than several of the other teams. He's going to make the Sabres a serious playoff threat.
13. It's too bad coaches don't get medals. I thought Babcock did more for Canada's win than Brodeur or Fleury.
14. If a team believes in itself and its plan, even if it's not the best team going, it can win.
15. Hockey is better without fighting. Did you miss it during these games? I certainly didn't. I loved the offence and the skill and if NHL hockey was played that way, I'd never care if I ever saw another fight.
So now, it's back to the NHL and worrying about the Habs and their playoff situation again. I hate saying goodbye to the idyllic world of Olympic hockey, but it was great while it lasted.