It’s almost that time of year white people love, and no I’m not talking about literally any music festival in Indio, California. The 2018 Winter Olympics are right around the corner, and even if you’re a slightly-more-than-casual sports fan, I’m sure you’ve heard little to nothing about this year’s games.
The most exciting event of the Olympics for a sports fan (besides the big ass downhill ski jump), is by far the ice hockey tournament. Even though NHL commissioner Gary Bettman took it upon himself to ban his players from participating in this year’s games so that his owner friends don’t lose any big paychecks, there is still a fair amount to be excited for. So strap in and get ready for a cool Buzzfeed-style numbered list where I’ll stretch two solid points into five below average ideas.
1. IT’S COOL TO LIKE HOCKEY NOW
It’s been a long time coming, but hockey is on the precipice of becoming a sport that might actually get more than two minutes of airtime on a 60 minute Sportscenter show. NFL ratings are down, the NBA is the Warriors, and Major League Baseball is in a tough limbo between maintaining a geriatric traditionalist audience and attracting a bat flipping crowd of @youth. Hockey has everything for everyone; the world’s best athletes, tons of history, exciting young superstars, physical altercations, and an overall inclusive atmosphere. Hockey has been embraced by tons of subcultures for years, but now more than ever it’s ready to make the jump into the mainstream spotlight. Commissioner Bettman really shit the bed by not allowing NHL’ers to play in Korea during the one time that the world view is actually on his sport, but it will still be exciting because of players like…
2. Jordan Greenway, Chris Kelly, Rasmus Dahlin
If you scour each nation’s Olympic rosters looking for sick players like I just had to do, you’d be lucky to make three full lines. Despite each nation’s representatives being made up of washed up vets, players recovering from injury, and college kids who were just good enough to crack that prestigious group, there are actually some real beauties who could blow up in this year’s tournament.
Greenway: For the Americans, the best storyline is by far Jordan Greenway becoming the first Black player to wear the USA sweater in the Olympics, and pacing the point leaderboard in the process. Currently playing at Boston University, Greenway was one of my favorite players to watch in last year’s World Junior Championships, where he helped bring home a gold medal by notching eight points and inflicting physical terror on the ice at 6’5”/222. His international resumé, although at the junior level (under age 21), should make him a household name for American fans in the coming years, if it isn’t already.
Kelly: One of the few players in the tournament with a Stanley Cup ring, Chris Kelly leads a list of recognizable Canadian veterans who will wear the maple leaf in February. Kelly has spent most of this season bouncing around the minor leagues, and is one of a surprisingly small number of AHL players who backdoored their ways onto Olympic rosters by not “technically” being in the NHL. The Canadians (with an “a”) are fortunate to have a handful of players, who, like Kelly, have many years of NHL experience (Derek Roy, Rene Bourque, Mason Raymond to name a few), so I wouldn’t be surprised to see anyone from the 30 and over club revitalize their careers on Canada’s quest for gold.
Dahlin: The Swedes will be looking to bounce back from their 2014 silver medal finish, and return home with prizes that better compliment their beautiful blonde hair. Sweden’s developmental hockey program is extremely deep, and 17-year-old (yeah, the kid was straight up born in 2000) Rasmus Dahlin highlights the Scandinavian youth movement. Projected by many hockey minds to go #1 overall in the upcoming NHL draft, Dahlin introduced himself to the world with his absolutely NASTY hands in the recent World Junior Championship.
This uncharacteristically selfless millennial stayed busy in the WJC by dishing out six assists, so as long as his linemates keep their sticks open, Sweden has a good chance to finish on top.
BONUS – Pavel Datsyuk: This is someone who should require absolutely no introduction, but if for some reason you are completely unaware he is Russian and is simply known as “The Magic Man.”
The word that makes all sportscasters get a half-chub. For the first time since ‘98, the best players in the world won’t be playing in the Olympics, and one of the actual benefits is flattening the playing field. Sure, some countries have better talent than others, but it’s tough to make piping-hot takes when the teams are this unpredictable. South Korea could go undefeated, the Swiss could score 7,000 goals, or we could see a rare mid-tournament doping disqualification from the OLYMPIC ATHLETES FROM RUSSIA ©. The uncertainty in this year’s competition may be exactly what struggling programs like the US need, since the last time they saw gold was when the cosmic powers of soft, silky flow led a ragtag group of college boys to victory over the CCCP © in 1980.
4. Women’s Hockey Will Finally Get The Attention it Deserves
Listen, people are going to have plenty of dumbass takes about women’s sports, and pretty much all of them root from, “I’m a big man, I watch dudes play guy sports, PUSSY.” You don’t need to be a genius to understand that the men’s game is a lot faster, more physical, and much more popular, but I’ll be damned if I’m gonna sit here and listen to some beer league hero tell me that he’s got a better snap-shot than Amanda Kessel.
As far as the country we are concerned with (sorry international readers), the American women will be HUNGRY to avenge their 2014 gold medal overtime loss to Canada, and have been getting in tune nicely, racking up three consecutive World Championship golds since the Sochi games. The one sizzling take I can comfortably make about the Olympics is that the US women will ABSOLUTELY go farther than the men, and you would be an ABSOLUTE moron not to watch.
5. Is South Korea All In On Hockey Now?
One of the off-ice aspects of these games I’m incredibly interested in seeing, is how Korean fans and Eastern Asia in general receives the sport of hockey on this big of a level. Upon being awarded these games, South Korea really kicked the gears on beefing up their ice hockey program, and have drawn a handful of North Americans to become citizens and bring in some skill and stability. What was most surprising to me was that the Koreans are actually ranked 21st in the IIHF (International Ice Hockey Federation) world rankings, which out of a total of 48 teams is right behind some of the smaller European nations you’re familiar with seeing on Winter Olympic podiums.
To end this list shitting on Bettman one last time, these Olympics are going to be a great benchmark in seeing how far hockey has come, and how big the footprint is continuing to grow. Not only that, but as far as “team” sports go, the Olympics mean much more to the hockey community than any other major sport. Soccer lives for the World Cup, Olympic basketball has been laughable since the Dream Team, and baseball is only just now starting to realize what they have in the World Baseball Classic (although the 2020 summer games in Tokyo will be LIT).
So it would’ve been a great fucking call to allow the world to see your precious players, and force owners to find other ways to stuff their pockets with more money, GARY.
Tune in to NBC at some ungodly time on February 10th for the Women’s tournament, and February 14th for the men’s.