Boucher: Tampa Bay Lightning Olympic Primer
The Winter Olympics in Sochi officially kicked off today. The men’s hockey tournament is still a few days away to allow NHLers to join their national teams. This is a good time to refresh our memories as to where some of our Bolts will be playing for the next two weeks. (Photos/Susan Ferlita)
Canada – Of course Lightning GM Steve Yzerman is the executive director of Team Canada. Steven Stamkos was initially selected as Tampa’s lone member of Team Canada. After team doctors couldn’t medically clear him to play, Martin St. Louis was named as his replacement on the roster. Marty’s role may not be what we’re expected to seeing here in Tampa, but he’ll undoubtedly chip in however he can. Originally pegged as “too slow” to make the national team, it’s hard not to hope Marty makes them eat their words with a fantastic Olympics. Team Canada opens the tournament on Thursday, February 12 vs. Norway.
Finland – Forward Valtteri Filppula was set to represent Suomi, but he suffered a non-displaced ankle fracture in Thursday’s game against the Toronto Maple Leafs. Veteran defenseman Sami Salo will be playing in Sochi. Finland has the potential to take some people by surprise. Add in their growing legion of top notch goaltenders and this could be a very formidable team. The Finns open the tournament on Thursday, February 13 vs. Austria.
Latvia - Syracuse Crunch goalie Kristers Gudlevskis will be stopping pucks for Latvia at the Sochi games.His meteoric rise through the Bolts system has been unexpected. The recent Lightning call up has experience playing in Russia, as a junior player and also in the KHL. Gudlevskis will rejoin Buffalo Sabres coach Ted Nolan, who is the Latvian national team coach. The Bolt prospect credits Nolan for his being drafted by the Lightning in the 2013 draft. Ever since Nolan played him in last year’s World Championship, Gudlevskis confidence has skyrocketed him to become a solid AHL backstop. The Latvians get under way on Wednesday, February 12 vs. Switzerland.
Sweden – Oh… wait. Victor Hedman isn’t on this team because Sweden ate a big plate of crazy during the selection process. Sweden plays Wednesday, February 12 vs. Czech Republic.
Czech Republic – Two of Tampa’s young guns will make their presence known on the international stage for their home country. Ondrej Palat and Radko Gudas will be part of the Czech team. A larger ice surface doesn’t necessarily lend the Olympic game to a lot of physicality, but Gudas will most likely find a way to make his presence known. Palat is such a well rounded player. Having the opportunity to learn from more veteran players can only help both of them. The Czech Republic starts on Wednesday, February 12 vs. Sweden.
Slovakia – Richard Panik will be playing for the Slovaks in Sochi. As with Gudas and Palat, this experience can only help Panik further his development. Many had him pegged to have more success at the NHL level than he did. More playing time at a high level is a huge opportunity for him going forward. Slovakia opens with the United States on Thursday, February 13.
USA – No Ben Bishop which stinks, but it ended up being a good thing in light of his rash of injuries. Bolts trainer Tom Mulligan and equipment manager Ray Thill will be part of the support staff for Team USA. Both have worked for Tampa Bay for 11 years and both have international experience, so we’ll still cheer for the red, white, and blue. The USA plays Slovakia on Thursday, February 13.
The Tampa Bay Lightning have a decent crop of players headed to Russia for the Winter Games. There is always concern over the possibility for injuries in these types of tournaments. The lessons the younger members of the team can learn from the Olympics are a huge boon. If the Bolts continue to have success and make the playoffs, they will be a young and largely inexperienced group. Experience is a big deal when it comes to the NHL postseason, especially when that experience comes from some of the best hockey players in the world.
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