The Flyers fan's guide to the Olympic hockey tournament

The Flyers fan's guide to the Olympic hockey tournament

Remember four years ago back in Vancouver when that player who plays on the other side of Pennsylvania and whose name shall not be mentioned drove the stake through America’s hockey heart with an overtime goal to give the Olympic gold medal to our neighbors from the Great White North?

While some people out there may not like it, guess what?

The NHL has officially shut down for almost three weeks.

It’s time for revenge.

Grab your cases of Budweiser, throw on your jorts and have Hulk Hogan’s theme song (Don’t act like you don’t know the words) on cue because the 2014 Winter Olympics are officially underway in Sochi and its main attraction, the men’s hockey tournament, begins Wednesday morning.

And the U.S. is gunning for the gold.

The only thing is there are no current Flyers on Team USA. Former Flyer James van Riemsdyk, who has 24 goals in 58 games played this season, is on the squad and former head coach Peter Laviolette, who was unceremoniously dumped three games into this season, is an assistant coach under current Penguins coach Dan Bylsma.

There are no Flyers – even the best of all the Flyers, Claude Giroux, but you already know that story – on the Canadian roster, either.

There are five current Flyers on Olympic rosters. Those players are Andrej Meszaros Michael Raffl, Mark Streit, Kimmo Timonen and Jake Voracek.

But before we get into that, let’s get a little refresher on how international hockey is different than NHL hockey.

The biggest difference is the size of the rink. An NHL rink is 200 feet by 85 feet. An Olympic rink is 200 feet by 100 feet, which, as you may imagine, favors the speedier and more skilled players, and puts the onus even more on the opposing defensemen.

If tied after regulation, preliminary round games feature a five-minute overtime followed by a shootout. Knockout round games feature a 10-minute overtime followed by a shootout and the medal games feature a 20-minute overtime followed by a shootout.

Olympic shootouts are much different than NHL shootouts. After the third player goes for a team in the shootout, any player can go again as many times as he is selected to do so. So for example, if the U.S is still tied after the third round of a shootout, Bylsma can send Patrick Kane out over and over and over again if he chooses to even if Kane was one of the first three shooters.

The only other main differences are that fighting receives an automatic ejection and the goaltender can play the puck anywhere he wants to behind the net.

The countries playing in the tournament are separated into three groups of four teams. Group A includes the United States, host Russia, Slovakia and Slovenia. Group B features defending champion Canada, Finland, Norway and Austria. Group C has Sweden, the Czech Republic, Switzerland and Latvia.

Got all that? That was a rhetorical question. Of course you do.

Now, back to the five Flyer Olympians, in alphabetical order.

Andrej Meszaros (Slovakia)

Having played just 35 games this season for the Flyers and  a healthy scratch for the other 24 contests, Meszaros hasn’t had the type of role he would have liked with Orange and Black this season.

The good news for him is he’ll get the chance to be a featured defenseman for his homeland in this tournament because preliminary reports have him on Slovakia’s second defensive pairing with a non-NHL player.  Meszaros, who had two assists in the Flyers’ win over the Flames this past Saturday, and the Bruins’ Zdeno Chara are the only NHL defenseman on Slovakia’s roster.

The big ice will help Meszaros showcase his offensive skill but it could be a double-edged sword for him with all the explosive offensive talent he will defend against on every shift.

Michael Raffl (Austria)

This is new territory for the Austrians (Well, let’s put another shrimp on the barbie then!) because they didn’t qualify for the 2010 games.

They’ll have a mountain to climb but Raffl will help them compete with the big boys.

The 25-year-old has impressed in his first season with the Flyers, totaling seven goals and 11 assists in 46 games played. They may not seem like large totals but they are a testament to him considering he started the year in the AHL and has jumped all across different line combos since he got to the big club.

He’s a smart player that plays both ends of the ice, including the penalty kill. He and the Islanders’ Thomas Vanek and Michael Grabner will have to carry the load big time if Austria is to pull off any upsets.

Mark Streit (Switzerland)

Streit, who signed with the Flyers this past offseason and has eight goals and 25 assists this season, almost finds himself in the same situation as Meszaros, just with better defensive help around him.

The 36-year-old will be able to display his offensive prowess that we’ve seen as of late in Philadelphia on the big ice in Sochi. But Streit has help around him in NHLers like Nashville’s Roman Josi, and Vancouver’s Yannick Weber and Raphael Diaz. That should allow him to take more chances and play a game he’s more comfortable with. Plus, he has Anaheim’s Jonas Hiller, who is having an awesome season, in net behind him so that should help, too.

This will be Streit’s third Olympic games. He helped lead the Swiss to an upset over Canada in 2006 and helped them put a scare into the Canadians in 2010 before ultimately losing in a shootout.

Kimmo Timonen (Finland)

At 38 years old and after missing recent games with a foot injury, if there was one Flyer you wouldn’t mind seeing skip the Olympics, it would probably be Timonen.

But, alas, Timonen is over in Sochi representing his Scandinavian homeland for the fifth consecutive Winter Olympics.

Though the big ice could be a challenge, the good news is that the Flyers’ No.1 defenseman won’t have to work as hard as he does here because of the defensive depth he has around him on defense.

He also has crazy good goaltending behind him in Dallas’ Kari Lehtonen, San Jose’s Antti Neimi and Boston’s Tukka Rask, a legit Vezina Trophy candidate.

The Finns have been hurt in recent weeks with injuries to their forward corps, but with a steady guy like Timonen helping to anchor that defense and the stellar goaltending they should get, they could be a dark horse.

Jake Voracek (Czech Republic)

The 24-year-old winger will be participating in his first Olympic Games and he’s one of the younger players on a Czech Squad that is chock-full of experienced NHL talent.

Expect him to fill the same type of facilitator role he fills here in Philadelphia by dishing and setting up Czech snipers like Boston’s David Krejci, Edmonton’s Ales Hemsky and New Jersey’s Jaromir Jagr (still love you, Jaromir).

Voracek has broken out as a heck of an offensive player over the last season and half here in Philadelphia as he finally got the chance to play with a skilled player like Giroux. Don’t be surprised if he puts up big numbers, especially in the assist column, in Sochi.

So what’s my prediction?

Pain!

Ok, not really. I just always really wanted to say that in a public forum. And it makes no sense since Olympic hockey is more of skilled game than a physical game.

I give the Russians a slight edge because of how stacked they are up front and in net and the fact that the pressure is on them. Let’s be honest, they may never be allowed back into Russia if they don’t win a gold medal on home soil so they kinda have to win.

I put the Canadians, Swedes and Americans just behind them with the Czechs and the Finns lurking.

It all gets underway Wednesday afternoon when the Czechs clash with the Swedes.

The United States’ push for gold begins Thursday morning at 7:30 am when it meets Slovakia.

Set your alarm clocks and take your sick and vacation days from work accordingly.

Go ‘Merica.

Sixers Injury Update: Simmons rolls ankle, taken for precautionary imaging

Sixers Injury Update: Simmons rolls ankle, taken for precautionary imaging

GALLOWAY, N.J. -- Ben Simmons rolled his right ankle during scrimmage on the final day of training camp. He was taken for precautionary imaging. The results have not yet been completed.

Jerryd Bayless did not scrimmage because of a sore left wrist, which the team continues to monitor. He sat out of Thursday's scrimmage for the same reason.

Jahlil Okafor participated in Friday's scrimmage in accordance to his load management. The Sixers are being cautious with players as they return from injury. Okafor underwent right knee surgery last season. 

Temple vs. SMU: Get ready for offensive firepower in AAC opener

temple-smu-matchup.jpg

Temple vs. SMU: Get ready for offensive firepower in AAC opener

Temple (2-2, 0-0 AAC) vs. SMU (2-2, 0-0 AAC)
Lincoln Financial Field
Saturday, Noon, ESPNews

If recent history tells us anything, we should expect to see some crooked numbers on Lincoln Financial Field’s scoreboard Saturday afternoon when SMU visits Temple in the conference opener for each team.

The last two times these AAC programs have met, the final scores have wound up 59-49 (a SMU win in Dallas in 2013) and 60-40 (a Temple win in Dallas last season).

Temple is coming off a 48-20 homecoming demolition of Charlotte. The game was basically over early in the second quarter, a frame in which the Owls scored 28 points to blow away the 49ers. SMU is coming off a 33-3 home loss to in-state rival TCU. The Mustangs hung tough for the first half and the score was 6-3 at the break, but the Big 12 powerhouse Horned Frogs took over in the second half.

Weather could play a factor Saturday, though, as current forecasts call for a chance of scattered thunderstorms in the Philadelphia area all afternoon.

Let’s take a closer look at Saturday’s the matchup.

Scouting Temple
The Owls’ offense has been in a much-needed groove since the second half of the narrow loss at Penn State two weeks ago.

Last week, Walker went 15 of 26 for 268 yards and two touchdowns – a 51-yard bomb to Adonis Jennings and a 40-yard quick strike to Brodrick Yancy. On the season, Walker has completed 57.8 percent of his passes for 846 yards, five touchdowns and five interceptions. His favorite target has been Keith Kirkwood, who has 14 grabs for 191 yards and two touchdowns through four games.

It should be no coincidence that Temple’s offensive revival has come with the return of star senior running back Jahad Thomas, who missed the first two games of the year with a dislocated left thumb. In the two games Thomas has played, he’s got 127 yards on the ground and four touchdowns. Sophomore Ryquell Armstead, who also has four rushing scores, leads the Owls with 166 yards on the ground. Last year against SMU, then-freshman Jager Gardner ripped off a school-record 94-yard touchdown run.

One other offensive note: Temple head coach Matt Rhule was finally pleased with his offensive line after the way it played against Charlotte. Earlier this week, he praised offensive line coach George DeLeone and the job he’s done recently trying to get work out the issues on the line. The Owls didn’t give up a sack last week. True freshman Matt Hennessy started at left guard last week while redshirt sophomore Jaelin Robinson saw time at right tackle. Don’t be surprised if they see significant playing time again.

Two things have concerned Rhule defensively – a lackluster pass rush and the tendency to give up big plays.

Through four games, the Owls have yet to establish any sort of consistent pass rush. They have just four sacks through four games. They had 10 in last year’s opener against Penn State alone. The good news for Temple’s pass rush is that SMU starts a freshman QB and his given up nine sacks through four games, so opportunities to disrupt the pocket should be there on Saturday.

Temple’s defense has allowed 10 plays of 20 yards or more from scrimmage this season, including a 66-yard touchdown run by Charlotte’s Kalif Phillips last week.

Injury-wise, the Owls are relatively healthy. Sophomore wideout Ventell Bryant, who was believed to be dealing with a shoulder injury, announced on his Instagram this week that he’d been cleared to play.

Scouting SMU
The Mustangs’ rebuilding efforts took a big hit during the first game of the season when senior quarterback Matt Davis, who played very well against Temple last season and hurt the Owls with both his arm and legs, was lost for the year with a knee injury. Redshirt freshman Ben Hicks has stepped in and his tenure so far hasn’t been so hot. He’s completed just 50 percent of his passes this year and has thrown just two touchdowns compared to seven picks.

Despite the inexperience and lack of production at quarterback, SMU will still push the tempo with a fast-paced offense that can rip off chunks of yardage instantly and averages 448 yards per game. A big reason for that is the play of sophomore wideout Cortland Sutton, who has 449 receiving yards and four touchdowns already this season. Sutton, whom Rhule had very high praise for earlier this week, averages 24.9 yards per reception. Sophomore tailback Braeden West is no slouch, either. He’s averaged 93.8 yards per game on the ground this season and has two rushing touchdowns.

Defensively, SMU has a couple of ballhawks in its secondary. The Mustangs are tied for tops in the nation with 10 interceptions through four games. Sophomore corner Jordan Wyatt is tied for the team lead in picks with three and also leads the Mustangs with 25 total tackles and two forced fumbles. Walker will have to be wary of where Wyatt is at on the field. Senior Horace Richardson also has three picks already for the Mustangs.

While SMU’s takeaway numbers are pretty, the Mustangs’ total defense numbers are ugly. They give up an average of 449.8 yards per game, which ranks 98th out of 128 teams in the FBS. The 27 points the Mustangs allow per game are good 70th in the FBS.

History
Saturday will mark the third meeting between the schools in the last four years and fifth overall. As mentioned above, the two teams combined for 208 points the last two times they’ve met. Those last two meetings have been the only meetings between Temple and SMU that have had definitive finals. They tied in both 1942 (6-6) and 1947 (7-7). So feel free to call Saturday’s game a rubber match.

Storyline to watch: Second test for Temple's secondary
Thus far this season, Temple has faced a triple-option team in Army, an FCS team in Stony Brook, a weapon-filled offense in Penn State and a second-year FBS team in Charlotte. Needless to say, Penn State was the only true test Temple's defense, specifically the new-look secondary, has had to face and it didn't go so well, especially in the first half when the Nittany Lions tore the Owls apart with slant plays for huge chunks of yardage. While the Owls' defense calmed down, the Nittany Lions still finished with 287 passing yards and 403 total yards. Temple's secondary will have its next test on Saturday with Sutton and SMU's receivers. Corners Derrek Thomas, Artrel Foster and Nate Hairston and safety Delvon Randall have a prime opportunity to gain more confidence against a young quarterback with a tendency to make mistakes. Junior safety Sean Chandler is still the unquestioned leader of the group.

What’s at stake: Getting conference play started on the right foot
If the Owls want to be taken as a serious threat to repeat in the AAC East, this is a game they have to have against an inferior SMU team. This is the first of nine straight AAC games, and even though SMU is in the AAC West, this game is still a tonesetter for rest of conference play. The Owls don’t want to fall behind right off the bat. And they really don’t want to fall behind right of the bat this week, with a short week and travel to Memphis for a game on Thursday looming. Yes, that’s two games in five days coming up for Temple.

Prediction
Even if the weather doesn’t hold out, points will be scored at the Linc on Saturday. Just not as many as the past couple of years. At this point in time, Temple just has more talent and it looks like the Owls are finally getting things in sync. Temple 38, SMU 21