Russia And USA To Meet In Group B Hockey Match

Russia And USA To Meet In Group B Hockey Match

Some rivalries are never allowed to die, providing plenty of chances for the natural expressions of the old adage “there ain’t room enough in this town for the both of us.” The Olympics hockey feud between Russia and the United States is such a rivalry, and the “town” is PyeongChang 2018.

Despite the unlooked-for outcome of both teams losing to seemingly underrated teams (Slovakia for the Olympic Athletes from Russia - the so-called OAR - and Slovenia for Team USA), the old rivals will once again meet on the Olympic ice in a showdown set for a broadcast early Saturday, Feb. 17. Russia fell 3-2 to Slovakia on Wednesday, but the OAR blasted the Slovenia team 8-2 just days later to earn a spot to the knockout round in Group B of the men’s Olympic Ice Hockey tournament, in which they will face the US team once again. Team USA narrowly took out the Slovaks 2-1 on Wednesday, but days prior they were taken down 3-2 in a wild Slovenia upset.

The whole situation has set up an interesting set of possible scenarios in which these four teams – and how they perform in their remaining matchups against each other – will be the deciding factors of the whole tournament. All four teams in this up-and-down tourney have a loss each, so this is quite literally the tie-breaker. And that ultimately means that somebody is going move on to the medal round and several are going to leave Korea with nothing to show for their efforts.

As it stands prior to the Saturday morning meeting between Russia and the US, the American squad is on top of the Group B rankings, but only just, having a four-point lead thanks to their overtime loss to Slovenia. The Russian athletes – which have the best odds of any team in the tournament to win it all (+110 on the moneyline at and most other online sportsbooks) is sitting in third place. If Team USA triumphs over its old foe this weekend then it will solidly hold onto the top spot with seven points, but it loses that will mean a fall to third place, whereas Russia stands to ascend to first or second place, depending on how Slovenia vs. Slovakia ends up.

Team USA has moneyline odds of +1400 to win the entire tournament, which puts them at a considerable disadvantage against Russia in what will effectively be Saturday’s scheduled elimination game despite indications that the game is really either sides’ to win. Western media outlets are quick to point out that the Russian squad – known by the nom du guerre “Big Red Machine” thanks to the team’s crimson jerseys and historical dominance in the Winter Games - is led by players either hopeful to join America’s National Hockey League (NHL). But then, so are most of the top-tier teams in the mix at PyeongChang 2018, and that comes down to a somewhat inexplicable decision by the NHL’s leadership not to allow its current players to participate in the Winter Olympics for the first time in 20 years.

Prior to the 1998 Nagano games, there was a strict no-professionals-allowed stance taken by the International Olympics Committee toward the Winter Olympics’ quintessential hockey tournament, but that trend was upended just a shade more than two decades ago. The NHL is unquestionably the strongest pro hockey league in the world, and though its Russian and broader European analogues are quickly gaining ground in terms of skill, the big money remains in playing in the ‘States (and for a few franchises in Canada). The official line taken by the NHL to disallow its active players – many of whom hail from countries with solid-to-great histories in Olympic competition – from competing at PyeongChang comes down to that most American motivations: bean counter-tier financial concerns.

The league’s bosses have decided that shutting down the 2018 NHL season for 17 days to accommodate the Olympics, which, as we know, comes around just once in four years, isn’t worth the cost. How the number-munchers quantify those costs is simple, as they take a look at losses in walk-up ticket sales, the temporary but observable decline in TV ratings, the potential for injuries to key players (which could derail Stanley Cup aspirations for some squads) and so on. Basically, the NHL says it can’t seem to find a quantifiable reason to allow its players to hop a flight to PyeongChang to play for something other than money.

That’s an awfully convenient excuse, to be honest.

The NHL might be the dominant pro hockey league in the world, but it’s also true that it’s a product of American market domination as well, and the Olympics – easily the most politicized event in sports – is a particularly dangerous arena given the current state of geopolitics. The big showdown between the US and Russia on the ice at PyeongChang is scheduled for this weekend, but with a potential for an even bigger showdown – if technically an indirect one - between the two nations in the Syrian desert looks to be an increasingly likely event too. Pro hockey players – or those that were or are good enough to be NHL players or will be as soon as they graduate from college - are still at the games either way, and they feature on most every decent team at the 2018 Winter Olympics.

By claiming that the decision to reverse a 20-year trend of allowing pro participation is about money, the League and the International Olympic Committee can take advantage of their fair share of plausible deniability. But it seems pretty clear as to why the call was made when armed security guards and local police were dispatched at the Gangneung Ice Arena on Wednesday to force Russian fans to take down banners bearing the likeness of the Russian Federation’s strongman president Vladimir Putin. Savvy viewers, even those who just want to see an exciting hockey rematch between Russia and the US – which they will assuredly get on Saturday – can tell that this was a move at least partially motivated by political considerations.

However, when one considers the fact that the Russian team isn’t even officially a “Team Russia” due to the ban on the nation’s participation that came after allegations of widespread doping at the Sochi 2014 Winter Games they hosted, it all starts to click. The US and the “Free World” it has taken the responsibility of bossing around, want to be able to claim that Team USA didn’t have its best players on the ice if they come up short against a Russian team. So in a way USA online sportsbooks feels this decision is all about branding and loss of market share, which is the commodity that bears the closest resemblance to national pride nowadays in the U-S-of-A.

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