Hockey Set to Headline the Sochi Olympics As Final Tourney Slots Are Filled
Add Austria, Latvia, and Slovenia to the field of entrants for the 2014 Olympic hockey tournament next February in Sochi, Russia.
Yes, they'll be bit players on the big stage, but if any of life's bromides ever rang true, it's the one that "being there is half the fun" when an athlete earns a trip to the Olympic Village. Any Olympic Village.
The tournament format features 12 teams in three pools. The top nine in the IIHF world rankings earned automatic berths. The other three spots were up for grabs in qualifying tournaments that involved the other 23 national teams that applied. They ranged from 40th-ranked Israel -- check out their cool jersey -- to 10th-place Germany.
It was a bummer for the Germans. To date, only world wars kept them out of the Olympic hockey tournaments (they were banned in 1920, 1924, and 1948). This time, it took less than Panzers and V-2's to keep them out. It just took less goals. Here are the results of the final qualifying rounds (numbers in parentheses indicate their international rankings):
|Group E||Group F|
|Winner||Austria (15)||Latvia (11)||Slovenia (18)|
|Oh-so-close||Germany (10)||France (14)||Belarus (13)|
|Italy (16)||Great Britain (21)||Denmark (12)|
|Netherlands (24)||Kazakhstan (17)||Ukraine (20)|
The events were held in the home of the highest seeds, so Denmark and Germany could have no complaints. In fact, the Germans only needed a regulation-time victory over Austria, but couldn't ring up their 3-2 win until overtime. Thus, the Austrians return to the Winter Games for the first time since Salt Lake in 2002.
Ted Nolan is guiding Latvia, and he combined with NHL veteran Sandis Ozolinsh to lead them to their fourth straight appearance in the Winter Games. It took a last-minute point against France to do it. Meanwhile, Slovenia cruised to three consecutive triumphs in their group to leave no doubt as to their immediate destiny.
So, one year from now, the Olympic pool play is settled. Again, based on 2012 IIHF rankings, here are the groupings:
|Russia (1)||Finland (2)||Czech Republic (3)|
|Slovakia (6)||Canada (5)||Sweden (4)|
|United States (7)||Norway (8)||Switzerland (9)|
|Slovenia (18)||Austria (15)||Latvia (11)|
The Bolshoi Ice Palace and nearby Shayba Arena were a top priority among Sochi's construction projects for Vladimir Putin, and they're already completed to rave reviews. All the teams need now is for the Games to begin.
On and off the ice.