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Blackhawks Thu Feb 13 2014

Olympic Hockey Opens in Sochi

OlympicRings.jpg Just because the NHL is on break, doesn't mean there's a lack of hockey for which to cheer, regardless of your nationality. The world's greatest tournament began last week with women's hockey dropping the puck in competition and continues through today with the men getting things underway, including the United States.

On the women's side, there really are only two teams of which to speak in terms of battling for the Gold, and that's the U.S. and Canada. There's no love lost between the two, stemming from 2010 when the Canadians took Gold in Vancouver. The Canadians lead the series between the two 10 games to five; however, the U.S. women have taken four out of the last five, with a few scrapes in between.

Nevertheless, the two faced off in preliminary action -- the last before the semifinals begin -- and the Canadians took it by the final of 3-2.

The U.S. took the lead in the second period with a goal from New Hampshire native Hilary Knight, and carried that lead into the third period, until the Canadians quickly added two goals from Megan Agosta-Marciano and Hayley Wickenheiser just 1 minute, 33 seconds apart. Each team tacked on one goal each, and when the final horn sounded, the Canadians came away with the three extra points to take the number-one seed in the group. There's no doubt these two teams will meet again for Gold, and it'll be one to catch for sure.

Over on the men's side, the Blackhawks are well represented throughout the tournament, with 10 players making the cut for their respective countries. Wednesday morning opened the men's competition with Johnny Oduya, Niklas Hjalmarsson, Marcus Krüger and Team Sweden beating Michal Rozsíval and the Czech Republic by the final of 4-2. None of the Hawks players tallied a point, but the defensive prowess of Oduya and Hjalmarsson for the Swedes helped shut down a Czech team who turned up the shot chances in the third period, firing over 15 in the direction of Henrik Lundqvist.

Early on Thursday morning, Team USA took on Team Slovakia, which meant Patrick Kane against Marian Hossa and Michal Handzuš. The game wasn't close as St. Louis Blues goalie Jaroslav Halák was lit up for five goals before being pulled for Peter Budaj.

The only goal for Slovakia came from Tomas Tatar, off an assist from Hossa. But in the end, the U.S. was too strong offensively, scoring seven goals in all. Kane was his usual self on the ice, swerving in traffic and finding an open skater either up at the blue line or across the net. He did just that, connecting with Ryan Kessler, which gave the U.S. the lead for good.

Kane ended up with two assists and three shots on goal, helping his team to a 7-1 trouncing in its first game of these Olympics. The next game for Team USA is against host Team Russia, who beat Team Slovenia by the final of 5-2. The two teams will meet Saturday, February 15, at 6:30am. Meanwhile, Jonathan Toews and Team Canada begin play Friday, February 14, at 11am against Team Austria.

Outside of Kane, who is the sole Blackhawks player on Team USA, and Rozsíval, who is the only Blackhawks player on Team Czech Republic, most of the other Blackhawks players are being paired with one another on the ice. Oduya and Hjalmarsson skated together on defense for the Swedes and you can bet Toews and Patrick Sharp will be paired together for Team Canada, along with Ryan Getzlaf (yikes, that's a dangerous line).

A lot of other co-teammates are being paired together, as it breeds familiarity, considering each team had very little time to practice. Eventually, coaches might break up pairings after getting familiar with each style on the ice.

More updates in the coming days as these games continue to unfold in Sochi, Russia. Bringing home the Gold for the men and women would be great to see, but watching along the way makes for a great way to start your day.

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