March 02 2010 09:33AM
So 17 days of podium owning and nationwide togetherness (or whatever) has come to an end, and all eyes return to the NHL. After an epic Olympic hockey tournament, three members of the Calgary Flames return to the city with hardware... a certain golden captain and his two bronzed Scandinavian teammates.
The Golden One
Jarome Iginla entered the Olympic break in somewhat of an interesting state. He'd been playing much better after about a month or so where he wasn't where he needed to be. He'd had some points, been a big part of some Flames wins, and had a good portion of Flames fans excited for the final 20 games. However, another portion of fans had started to wonder if now is a good time to move the Calgary captain, when his "value was at it's highest."
That reached a fever pitch, at least in my mind, doing post-game call-in following Team Canada's opening thrashing of Norway. If you'll remember, Iginla came away with a trick... So why not think about moving him while on such a national stage?
Iginla was a real-hot button throughout Olympic competition, scoring three here, disappearing and getting benched there, and then returning with two more over there. The facts are simple: Iginla finished with a team- and tournament-leading five goals. His seven points tied Sidney Crosby, Ryan Getzlaf, and Dany Heatley for tops in red and white. His 13:40 of average ice time was around the middle in terms of Canadian forwards.
It was his usage and real live impact that was debated most however. After an inconsistent round robin, I felt Iginla turned it on and became a real factor when the games mattered most. We all know how important he was on a certain OT winner, but it's not just that. Even though he never scored a goal against anybody but Norway or Germany, I felt he was a factor against teams like Russia, Slovakia and the US. What was most important was how he meshed with Sidney Crosby and how that got better throughout.
Now the question is, what's next for Iginla? In 2002, he won a gold medal with Team Canada. That year, he returned to the NHL on fire and went on a complete tear down the stretch for a Flames team that would eventually miss the playoffs. However, individually, Iginla was unstoppable, scoring 17 of his 52 goals in the 24 post-Olympic games. It's a performance that launched him into the superstar realm. Now, at 32, the question is will the final 20 games bear any similarity to eight years ago?
The Bronzed Pair
As much as eyes will be on Iginla, how about those two bronze medal winning Finns? Niklas Hagman and Miikka Kiprusoff return to the 'Dome with pretty good Olympic tournaments themselves.
For #34, it was pretty darn good save one stretch of time when it mattered the most. Kiprusoff's final Olympic stats are underwhelming. He was 3-2 with a 2.64 GAA and .894 SP%. But take away that stretch of four goals in seven shots against the US, and you've got a different story. Take away that, and you're looking at a .928 SP%. For the most part, he was very good, especially in games against the Czech Republic and Sweden.
Many wonder whether that little stretch in a highly important game will carry over to the NHL season. I've got two reasons why it won't. First, Miikka is a gamer and has shown an ability to not let prior outings affect him negatively. We all remember that stat from 2004 after he had allowed four goals in a game. Second, he played the next day and helped Finland win bronze. You could tell what that meant to both him and the team, so I think if it wasn't already, all is behind him.
And what about Hagman? One of the newer Flames is coming off a very impressive tournament of his own, pacing Finland with a team leading six points. His four goals were right behind Flames teammate Iginla for the tournament lead. He was Finland's best player on most occasions, and showed he can rise to the challenge when it matters. He scored the winning goal (late in the third, no less) in Finland's quarterfinal win over the Czech Republic. He scored Finland's second goal (to spark a 3rd period comeback) in a 5-3 win over Slovakia in the Bronze Medal Game. Not too bad at all.
Who knows? To me, I think it's tough to assume a good Olympic tournament will automatically translate to huge success down the NHL's regular season stretch. What we do know? That all three of these players played with the best players on the biggest stage in the world. And all three looked pretty damn good in the process.