With the playoff round for men’s hockey underway at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, I felt it’s only fitting to offer my opinion on the top seven underrated players in the tournament.
I pride myself in knowing an immense amount about European hockey leagues and players that no one really cares about in the off chance that I’d be able to use that information in some sort of an article.
This is the perfect opportunity for that information.
5.) Krisjanis Redlihs. The oldest of the three Redlihs brothers (brother Mikelis is also playing for Latvia while Jekabs was cut from the team), Krisjanis is a blueliner that has a very crisp, accurate first pass and a nice shot from the point.
He’s displayed his passing ability so far this tournament, being on the ice for much of the Latvian offensive chances and picking up two assists.
He has also been the go to defenceman on the powerplay for a Latvian team that also relies on the ageless wonder Sandis Ozolinsh (or Ozolins).
4.) Sabahudin Kovacevic. Kovacevic is highly underrated. He’s a fairly big body at 6’3”, 210 pounds and he knows how to use it.
Kovacevic has been the best defenceman for a surprise Slovenian team in Sochi and, as I write this Kovacevic has just scored the third Slovenian goal against Austria after assisting on the second one (a Jan Urbas short-handed goal).
If you want proof as to how underrated he is, all you have to do is look at this tournament. Kovacevic was suspended one game for a hit he delivered to Tomas Kopecky of Slovakia.
Slovenia then lost to Team USA 5-1 in a game that they could have used the hard hitting blueliner. Sure, he may not have been able to lead Slovenia to victory over the US, but he’d have definitely put some fear into the Americans.
3.) Edgars Masalskis. Masalskis came into the Sochi Winter Olympics as, what most people assumed, the second string goaltender behind ECHL/AHL netminder Kristers Gudlevskis.
However the 33 year old Masalskis, who hasn’t played for a team this year before signing with HK Poprad in Slovakia on January 17, stole the starting job away from the younger Gudlevskis and has simply played amazing.
Masalskis, who is in his fourth Olympics with Latvia, has lost both of the games he has played in. He has also posted a 2.50 goals against average and an incredible .935 save percentage for a defensively subpar Latvian team.
2.) Juhamatti Aaltonen. Aaltonen only made Team Finland due to injuries to other Finnish players. However, Aaltonen is just what the Finns ordered.
The Finnish winger has always been known as a goal scorer (he is a two time 20 goal man in the KHL) but has more recently found his playmaking ability for Oulun Karpat in the Finnish top league (Liiga) where he has 18 assists to go with his 11 goals.
Aaltonen also plays a with a bit of a chip on his shoulder. So while he is only 6’0” and 195 pounds, he plays much larger. While he has no points this tournament he has played in every situation for Finland and has done his job to perfection.
1.) Robert Kristan. The Slovenian goaltender has been outstanding so far this tournament. Kristan was in net when Slovenia shocked Slovakia 3-1 in round-robin play, turning aside 27 of 28 shots.
Kristan has also been lights out for his club team HK Nitra. In 22 games Kristan has a 2.00 goals against average and a sparkling .930 save percentage.
He has also just shutout the Austrians 4-0 (stopping Thomas Vanek on a breakaway) to move on to the quarter-finals against Sweden.
So there you have it, the top five most underrated players in the 2014 Winter Olympics as I see it.
Now here’s to hoping that Kristan and Kovacevic can orchestrate a Belorussian-esque upset over Sweden in the quarter-finals.