As we all nurse our Olympic hangovers and search for other ways to fill the void by the end of the games, it’s time to get ready for the final push of the NHL season. The Canucks had seven players in the games, and they had varying degrees of success. Three players in particular had great games, and they will bring into the dressing room a complete set of Vancouver 2010 medals. Let’s take a look at how the Olympic tournament may just help the Canucks as they aim to take another Northwest Division crown and go on a lengthy playoff run.
Pavol Demitra – Slovakia
Many Canuck fans may had forgotten who Pavol Demitra was, and you could hardly blame them for doing so. Demitra, 35, who missed 47 games for the Canucks with annoying shoulder problem that required two operations and many opinions on treatment. He returned to the Canucks on January 16th, but had struggled to find his game notching just a goal and three assists in 11 appearances since his return. Of course people were willing to cut him slack after missing so many games, but just before the Olympics Demitra was starting to get some heat from fans and media to start producing and he was seeing time on the teams fourth line.
Playing for his country seemed to be the tonic that Demitra needed and the veteran Slovak led his team to a best-ever fourth-place finish, while earning a spot on the tournaments all-star team. He also nearly ruined the hopes of the Canadian public with a last second goal in the semi-final but was thwarted by teammate Roberto Luongo. Demitra’s continued success would be a huge bonus for the Canucks heading down the stretch, but he won’t be playing with Marion Gaborik and Michael Handzus when play resumes. Early reports say he’ll start the post Olympic session on a line with Ryan Kesler.
There is no doubt that most had resigned themselves to the fact that Roberto Luongo would be the backup to Martin Brodeur heading into the games, and that was the plan when they began. But when the future hall of famer had a sub par game versus the USA, Luongo got his chance and the pressure to win was no doubt immense. Playing in front of his fans in Vancouver, in his rink and with the hopes of a nation riding on his shoulders, Luongo got the job done and won gold.
Luongo has had his critics, and their biggest beef has been the fact that he hadn’t won the big one. A couple of playoff series wins are the only thing on his resume and he needed to take that step. Well on the biggest stage in the world, he got the monkey off his back. No more can critics say Luongo can’t win the big game and with that label out of the way, who knows how it will translate to his role with the Canucks. He’ll get a brief rest and give way to Andrew Raycroft versus Columbus but he should return to the net with confidence of knowing he can win the big games. That in itself could be the key to a long playoff run for the Canucks.
Kesler had an outstanding tournament for the USA. He was a leader all over the ice. He killed penalties, won huge face offs and did what Kesler does best…pissed a lot of people off. The same reasons you love him as a Canuck were the ones you hated him as a Canadian. He took shots at his teammate Roberto Luongo in the media, and on the ice. Some felt there was friction between the two but I tend to believe all will be fine in Canuckville, and it was part of the quest for the gold.
The experience for Kesler had to be a valuable one. He led a great hockey team to within a sudden death goal of a gold medal, and the Canucks should reap the benefit of that experience. He’s truly becoming one of the best two way players in the game, and he can contribute in many ways. It sounds like Alain Vigneault will pair Kesler with Demitra to start when play resumes. If both can keep up their inspired play, the Canucks will be a tough team to handle going forward.
The disappointment of losing the gold should feed Kesler’s thirst for a cup and we should see the best Ryan Kesler we’ve seen yet down the stretch. I can’t wait.
The other Canucks, Daniel and Henrik Sedin, Christian Erhoff and Sami Salo should all be better for the experience. The early exit for the Sedin’s at the hands of the Slovaks was unfortunate for them, but they should pick up where they left off. Salo will bring home a bronze medal for his efforts, but Canucks fans are just happy he came out of the games healthy. Erhoff, playing for the Germans had little expectation of hardware, but got to compete at a high level in a great tournament.
So in the end the results of the tournament set up pretty good for these players to turn their experience into good things for themselves and their teammates. I’m sure a cup and a ring to along with the gold, silver and bronze in the room would suit the Canucks and their fans just fine.