World Tour Z

The 2010 Vancouver Olympics were exciting because it showcased some of the best hockey players in the world, and the tournament came down to the United States and Canada. In the Gold Medal Game, Patrice Bergeron and Tim Thomas were both dressed and representing their countries. This year, the Boston Bruins have five players going to Sochi to represent their countries in the Olympics. They are five players from five different countries, and while they have nobody on Team USA (maybe next time, Torey Krug!), it is a good cross section of the NHL talent represented, and some of the most important players for a team that has been to the Stanley Cup Finals twice since the 2010 Vancouver Olympic Games. It should be an excellent tournament once again, and the B’s will be well represented among the countries expected to make it interesting. Other teams may have more Olympians, but the Bruins have guys who are as important to their homelands as they are for the team that pays them in Boston.

Zdeno Chara, Slovakia. Boston Bruins captain Zdeno Chara has left the team a couple games early to carry the flag for his native Slovakia in the opening ceremonies of the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia. The Bruins gave him their blessing, because something like that is a once in a lifetime opportunity and a great honor. Chara headlines the list of five Bruins who will be playing in Sochi this month, and when they all come back, he will resume his duties as their undisputed leader regardless of who takes home the Gold. In the Olympics, Chara is the captain for Slovakia. As one of the best lockdown defensemen on the planet and the tallest player in NHL history, he will be tasked with slowing down the most skilled players from each team he faces. It’s the kind of thing he does on a nightly basis for the Bruins, but is taken for granted because he’s been here since 2006 and he’s so consistent. In 2010, Chara and Slovakia made it to the Bronze Medal Game, but lost to Finland. In Sochi, he’s sleeping on a bed that is too small for him, so it’s likely he’ll be literally restless in his 2014 quest for an Olympic Medal.

Patrice Bergeron, Canada. Patrice Bergeron is the longest tenured Bruin, and the second in command in the dressing room after Big Z. This is Bergy’s second time representing Canada in the Olympics. His first ended with his first of two championship celebrations on the ice in Vancouver (the second was when the B’s won the Stanley Cup in the summer of 2011), and he’s back on the world’s most talented roster looking for another Gold Medal. The Canadian team is loaded, as evidenced by their ability to add Martin St. Louis to the team this week to replace his Tampa Bay Lightning teammate Stephen Stamkos. Bergeron is a great two-way player, a perennial Selke Trophy candidate, and is one of the best in the business at winning faceoffs. He’s competing with the like of Sidney Crosby and Jonathan Toews for ice time, but the Stanley Cup Playoffs last year showed that he is more than capable of holding his own against the best players in hockey.

David Krejci, Czech Republic. This season, David Krejci was named an alternate captain for the Bruins for the first time in his career. He’s a good two-way player for his size, perhaps not as strong defensively than Bergeron, but certainly more skilled in the offensive zone, and he plays his best hockey in big games. Krejci was a force for the Czech Republic in 2010, and the broken wrist that took him out of the lineup against the Philadelphia Flyers that spring was the catalyst for the Bruins playoff collapse that year. Since then, he’s helped the team win the Stanley Cup in 2011 and come within a couple bounces of the puck from doing it again in 2013, as their best playoff scorer. In Sochi, he’ll get a chance to play with his childhood hero and former Bruin teammate Jaromir Jagr once again. If the Czechs want to win their first Gold Medal since 1998, they will need David Krejci to do what David Krejci does in these kinds of games.

Tuukka Rask, Finland. While Chara, Bergeron, and Krejci have been the most important skaters for the B’s for quite some time, Tuukka Rask has become the anchor between the pipes that Tim Thomas once was. In 2010, Thomas was having a down year, and the rookie Rask had to step up just to keep Boston in the playoff picture. While Timmy got to represent Team USA in Vancouver (He didn’t think the government was too big when he got to wear a USA jersey or accept a hockey scholarship at a public university, but it was when he was invited to meet the President? That’s another rant for another day.), Rask arrived on the scene too late to be considered for Finland’s historically deep pool of goalies. Miikka Kiprusoff got the starting job for Finland, and then he was shelled by the scoring attack of the American team in the semifinal round. In the spring of 2010, Rask ended up beating Olympics MVP Ryan Miller (who started ahead of Thomas for Team USA in Vancouver) and the Buffalo Sabres in the first round of the playoffs, before they infamous 3-0 collapse against Philly. Rask did not play a single playoff minute of the B’s 2011 Stanley Cup run, but was the biggest reason the team returned to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2013, earning himself a wealthy contract extension this summer. Kiprusoff retired last spring, and now it’s Tuukka Time in Finland. Rask is more fundamentally sound than Thomas ever was, and is rarely caught out of position. Finland is a hockey powerhouse, and he’ll help keep them in it.

Loui Eriksson, Sweden. Loui is still a newcomer for the Bruins. He was dealt to Boston from the Dallas Stars on the 4th of July, just weeks after the B’s surrendered the Stanley Cup Finals to the Chicago Blackhawks. Eriksson is a good two way player, who is starting to find his stride after getting concussed twice in the first half of the season. Tyler Seguin, who was sent to Dallas in that trade, has played better this season, but did not make the cut for the stacked Canadian team. Fairly or unfairly, their careers will always be compared because of that trade. Ultimately, Eriksson is a better fit for what Boston tries to do, and Seguin is a good scorer on a team that is still out of the playoff picture in the Western Conference, as they sit 10th in the West heading into the Olympic Break. Hopefully a strong performance for Sweden can for Loui can carry over into some NHL momentum as the Bruins hope for another deep playoff run.

The Bruins don’t have anyone playing for the USA or Russia, the two other powerhouse teams in the tournament. The Russians have a lot of pressure as the host country, and Alex Ovechkin and Ilya Kovalchuk have been looking forward to this tournament ever since their earlier than expected playoff exit in Vancouver four years ago. As for the Americans, they came so close to winning it all in 2010, and want to prove that their run to the Gold Medal Game was no fluke. It should be a fun couple weeks for hockey fans around the globe!

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