InGoal’s Goaltending Stars of Sochi 2014 Olympics
After a fortnight of intense competition, the 2014 Winter Olympics drew to a close on Sunday with Canada taking gold in both the men’s and women’s tournaments.
Few competitions pile on the pressure like the Olympics, with the hopes of a nation and the weight of expectation causing some to crumble while others soar.
In a tournament where one loss can mean the end, no one is under more pressure than goaltenders, and Sochi was no exception. But from the fires of competition, some rose higher than the rest.
Here we celebrate those who made their mark in Sochi:
Carey Price – Canada
It may seem odd to see an established NHL goaltender like Price on this list; but in a tournament where no position was scrutinized more than the Canadian starting job, the Canadiens no. 1 took the ball and ran with it.
Price’s 31-save shut out against Team USA in the semi-final looked effortless, despite being in one of the most highly charged games of the entire tournament. Price, who is less aggressive in his initial depth, but more active and engaged since getting lower at the waist in his stance under new Canadiens goaltending coach Stephane Waite this season, followed it up with a 24-save effort in the final to secure a 3-0 win over Sweden and consecutive gold medals for Canada.
The confidence and poise with which Price played throughout the tournament belied the huge expectations he carried on his shoulder. If he wasn’t already considered to be one of the worlds elite netminders, he is now.
Kristers Gudlevskis – Latvia
Gudlevskis, a 5th round pick for Tampa Bay in 2013, has spent this season split between Syracuse in the AHL and the ECHL Florida Everblades. But the Aizkraukle native became an overnight sensation thanks to his 55 save effort against Canada in the quarter finals.
It was one of the finest goaltending performances seen on the international stage, as the defending champions were pushed all the way by Ted Nolan’s Latvia. Shea Weber’s late marker eventually secured a 2-1 win, but Gudlevskis hero like status had already been secured.
Along with team mate Edgars Masalskis, Gudlevskis ensured Latvia got great goaltending throughout the tournament as the small European nation exceeded everyone’s expectations.
Noora Räty – Finland
While America and Canada garnered much of the attention in the women’s tournament, it was Räty who caught everyone’s eye in the preliminary round.
The 24-year old pulled off a string of remarkable saves to keep both the US and Canada at bay, keeping Finnish medal hopes alive along the way. Her incredible play on the ice may be surpassed by her impact off it.
Räty, who won two NCAA championships with the Minnesota Golden Gophers, announced that she was to retire from hockey following the Olympics; citing the lack of professional league for her to go to.
While some of her peers, such as Canada’s Hayley Wickenheiser, have cut their teeth in men’s senior leagues; Räty’s frustration at the continued absence of a serious professional league for women provided a catalyst for her retirement. Hopefully it will act as a sort of “call to arms” for the sport to finally provide more than lip service to the women’s game.
Jonas Hiller – Switzerland
Twelve months ago, Hiller’s future in Anaheim seemed to be under serious consideration as Viktor Fasth burst on to the scene.
Today, he has 25 wins on the NHL-leading Ducks and was stunning for a Swiss team who scored just three goals in Sochi. Only Price had a better save percentage and goals-against average than Hiller, who allowed just 2 goals throughout the tournament.
Had Switzerland found any semblance of a scoring touch, Hiller may well have carried them all the way to the final.
Tuukka Rask – Finland
There was a surprising lack of buzz around the Finns heading in to the tournament. The Scandinavian’s had won a medal at four of the last five Olympics, but the absence of stars like Mikko Koivu and Valtteri Filppula meant few rated their chances.
Enter Tuukka Rask, who backstopped a team playing well above of the sum of their parts.
The Boston puck stopper was a perfect example of both the quality of Finland’s goaltending coaching, but also what a great equaliser an elite netminder can be for a smaller nation.
The Finns dispensed with Russia and America on their way to bronze, and one can only speculate what might have happened had Rask not missed the semi-final clash with Canada due to flu.
Florence Schelling – Switzerland
Like Räty, the Swiss stopper was instrumental in helping her nation close the gap on the world’s top two.
With the women’s game engaged in a round of political hot potato entering Sochi, this tournament needed to be about more than Canada vs USA. Schelling and her Swiss team mates ensured they did their part, pushing the Canadians hard in the semi-final before staging a dramatic come back in the bronze medal game against Sweden.
Schelling was chosen as the tournament MVP and made the All Star team for her efforts, as she helped prove there is more to women’s hockey than just Canada vs America.