5 Break Out Stars of Sochi 2014

It’s not unusual to see new talent emerge on the biggest stage. Names seldom mentioned outside of an athlete’s own nation suddenly become stars courtesy of the Olympics.

We saw it in London, we’re seeing it in Sochi. And the men’s, and women’s, hockey tournaments have had their own share of success stories over the past 10 days. These are my personal favourites; so far at least!

Noora Räty

Noora Räty
With honourable mentions for Switzerland’s Florence Schelling and America’s Amanda Kessel (whose ‘cross market’ interest and ‘known’ skill set put her in the spotlight before Sochi even started); Räty has become the break out star of the women’s game during these Olympics.

The Finnish puck stopper made 40 saves against Team USA in her nations opening game, then 39 saves versus Canada – wowing spectators, pundits and TV viewers across the world with her athleticism and ability.

It’s a huge shame that retirement now seems to beckon, but Räty has helped raise the bar within women’s hockey whilst further demonstrating what a great equaliser good goaltending is for smaller nations. The women’s game continues its battle against politics and ignorance, but the emergence of players like Räty has helped dispel a lot of myths.

TJ Oshie
27-year old Oshie, who has 14 goals and 46 points with St Louis this season, became American newest sporting hero last Saturday, as Team USA beat hosts Russia in a shootout.

There has been a strong ‘Miracle on Ice’ narrative surrounding the US team throughout these games, and as a result their showdown with the home side was arguably the most anticipated clash of the preliminary round.

Tied after 65 minutes, the oft maligned shootout was called on to separate the two sides – with Oshie being sent out no less than SIX times by the US.

Four goals later, including an eighth round winner, Oshie truly emerged as a household name in the sporting world.

Perhaps the most surprising aspect of the whole thing is that he’s been doing this for the Blues for years…

Slovenia
7 rinks. 148 senior players. 1 superstar. A place in the quarter finals.

Slovenia’s magical run in Sochi has delighted pretty much everyone not from Slovakia or Austria. Their 25 man squad accounts for 1 in 6 male hockey players from the tiny European nation, but the only numbers that really matter are 3, 1 and 4.

Now in to the last eight, they toppled Slovakia 3-1 on Saturday to record their first ever win at the Olympics. Then they followed it up by dominating Thomas Vanek and Austria today, to make their own little piece of history.

With a respectful nod to Latvia as well, this Cinderella story is what the Olympics is all about.

Ted Nolan
Perhaps it is a little bit of a stretch to include Nolan here – he did win a Jack Adams as the best coach in the NHL after all.

But it is what Nolan represents that makes me want to include the Buffalo and Latvia supremo.

Perhaps it is because I come from an island where coaching feels like an after thought, a job reserved for the veteran player, but Latvia’s unlikely run to the quarter finals is further proof of what a good coach can do with an ‘average’ team.

I mean that as no disrespect to the Latvian squad, but few would have predicted they’d push Switzerland so hard in the preliminary round. Even fewer would have seen them knocking the Swiss out today…

This wasn’t a lucky win – a couple of fortunate bounces or a dodgy call by the referee. Latvia out played a genuine medal contender.

Whilst Switzerland struggled to score, struggled to find plan B, Latvia hustled, banged bodies and kept on coming at the World Championship runners up.

Latvia could have parked the bus and lent on Edgars Masalskis, but they didn’t. A testament to them, and their coach – and a warning shot to Team Canada.

Joy Johnston
Nee Tottman, pretty much everyone involved in the sport in Great Britain knows Joy.

I’ve seen her take more than her fair share of stick from fans and players here in the UK. She’s now about to officiate the women’s gold medal game at the Olympics.

Just think about that next time you choose to share your opinion from block C…

Being an ice hockey official is a thankless task, especially in the UK. The pay is terrible and you frequently endure the wrath of ‘that bloke at the back’, whose own knowledge of the rules could fit on a postage stamp.

For the British game, it’s heartening to have some sort of representation among the sports elite – and hopefully an inspiration for those in power that we can in fact ‘cut it’ with the best on the ice, if we only put the time, effort and resources in to it.

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About Rob

Software engineer by day, Elite League Media man by night, Rob also blogs about cricket for One Stump Short, hockey for In Goal Magazine and video games for Outpost Delta as well as hosting the One Stump Short Podcast.

Posted on February 18, 2014, in Hockey, Olympics and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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