Congratulations to Team Canada for successfully defending their Olympic gold medal in hockey, a feat that has not been accomplished since the Soviets/Unified Team won three in a row from 1984-’92. Obviously, the Canadians are the biggest winners in hockey from the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics. However, there were a handful of players, coaches and countries who can consider a 2014 a “win” in their book. We’ll take a look at the top five…and take a look at the five biggest losers from the tournament. Without further ado….
5. Ted Nolan
The current interim head coach for the Buffalo Sabres coached Latvia to an impressive performance, particularly in their near-upset of Canada that saw the Latvians lose 2-1 on a goal in the waning minutes of the third period of their quarterfinal game. Undoubtedly front offices around the league were watching what Nolan was able to squeeze out of a Latvian squad that was quite short on NHL talent. If the Sabres don’t lock up Nolan as their coach of the future, it’s a sure bet that Nolan will land a deal somewhere else in the league.
4. Team Finland
While they only (“only”) won bronze, their 2014 performance has to give Suomi supporters great hope for the future. While this was the final Olympic games for Finnish legend Teemu Selanne, outstanding performances by youngsters Mikael Granlund, Sami Vatanen, Olli Maatta and Aleksander Barkov, all of whom are 22 years of age or younger, mean that Finland is going to be a big contender in international play for years to come.
3. T.J. Oshie
-While Team U.S.A. may have disappointed (more on that later), Oshie made himself a household name with his otherworldly performance in the preliminary-round match against Russia. Oshie’s four-of-six performance in the shootout to give the Americans a 3-2 victory over the host nation was truly a sight to behold.
2. Ziga Jeglic/Team Slovenia
– Jeglic’s performance for Team Slovenia in their preliminary-round game against Russia (Slovenia’s first-ever Olympic hockey game) assuredly put him on the map for a possible NHL signing. The 26-year-old, who went undrafted, showed great chemistry with the Los Angeles Kings’ center Anze Kopitar, and he scored Slovenia’s first two goals of the tournament. Jeglic, who has spent his entire professional career in Europe and who currently plays for Sodertalje in the Allsvenskan Swedish league, will likely get a few looks from NHL teams this offseason- particularly L.A., given the aforementioned synergy he showed with Kopitar. As a whole, the tournament was a win for Slovenia- this was the first time the nation had sent a hockey team to the Olympics, and they managed to finish a respectable seventh out of twelve teams.
1. Kristers Gudlevskis
In what was probably the single-greatest individual performance of the 2014 men’s Olympic hockey tournament, Latvian goaltender Kristers Gudlevskis, a lanky-haired 21-year-old with zero NHL experience, held his own against a veritable barrage from Team Canada in the quarterfinals. Peppered with a ridiculous 57 shots, Gudlevskis kept Latvia in a 1-1 game until the closing minutes, when defenseman Shea Weber finally solved the phenom from Aizkraule. While he’s still part of the Tampa Bay Lightning system (currently as the starter for their AHL affiliate, the Syracuse Crunch), and won’t crack a lineup that features a strong tandem of Ben Bishop and Anders Lindback, he’s surely going to attract attention in the trade market. And even if he doesn’t, he will undoubtedly go down in Latvian hockey lore for his performance against Canada, when David’s weapon against Goliath was not a slingshot, but a brick wall.