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2014 Olympic Hockey: The 10 Most Polarizing Players at the Winter Games

Steve MacfarlaneFeatured ColumnistFebruary 7, 2014

2014 Olympic Hockey: The 10 Most Polarizing Players at the Winter Games

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    Chris O'Meara/Associated Press

    They run your goalies or rub success in your face.

    The most polarizing players at the Sochi Games Winter Olympic hockey tournament have honed their craft in the NHL, won and lost fans based on their behavior on and off the ice. You love them or hate them, and there's often no middle ground.

    They may not all be villains, but they are people who you cheer for, root against or just can't believe they even made the cut. Here's our list of the most interesting of the bunch.

Petr Nedved (Czech Republic)

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    Jeff Vinnick/Getty Images

    Why you love him: You remember his NHL glory days with the Pittsburgh Penguins and New York Rangers, and you respect the fact that even though he seemed to have fallen off the face of the hockey world after leaving the Edmonton Oilers in 2007, he's still actually playing overseas.

    Why you hate him: The 42-year-old is clearly a coach's pick, beating out legitimate current NHL talents like Radim Vrbata and Jiri Hudler.

    What to expect in Sochi: Petr Nedved was one of the most surprising selections of any team in the tournament, and he may not even dress for any games. It's unlikely he'll have any kind of impact, which will only fuel detractors of the Czech Republic team.

Jonathan Quick (U.S.)

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    Alex Gallardo/Associated Press

    Why you love him: Jonathan Quick exploded onto the NHL scene in 2009-10 and posted 39 wins for the Los Angeles Kings in the last Olympic year, backing up Ryan Miller as the Americans claimed a silver medal at the Vancouver Games. Then he led the Kings to a Stanley Cup in 2012, earning the Conn Smythe as playoff MVP.

    Why you hate him: You believe he's a product of a defensive style of play in Los Angeles and that his unorthodox style means inevitable failure.

    What to expect in Sochi: It's likely he'll end up backing up Miller again, spending most of his time on the end of the bench in Russia. But if he starts and steals the regular role, people will be expecting him to fail much like they do regarding Canada's Roberto Luongo.

Roberto Luongo (Canada)

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    Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

    Why you love him: His snappy sense of humour, as displayed on his unofficial Twitter account. His ability to return to form as a starting goaltender with a team that had been trying to trade him for more than a year before eventually trading the guy it wanted to replace him with instead. His curly hair.

    Why you hate him: His curly hair. His inconsistent play in a few playoff series in the past. Or because you're a Chicago Blackhawks fan and you hate everything remotely related to the Vancouver Canucks.

    What to expect in Sochi: Many hockey fans have been reluctant to consider him a legitimate starter for the 2014 Winter Games. They could be right, but he did backstop Team Canada to a gold medal four years ago and will be a slight favorite to start over Montreal Canadiens goalie Carey Price if only because Price has struggled a bit in recent weeks.

Zdeno Chara (Slovakia)

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    Mark Humphrey/Associated Press

    Why you love him: He decided being Slovakia's flag bearer was more important than a couple of NHL games with the Boston Bruins, and you respect that kind of dedication. He's also been one of the most dominant defensemen in the league for a decade.

    Why you hate him: He's kind of the epitome of a villain on skates unless you're cheering for his squad. He's massive and isn't afraid to use his size and strength to intimidate. His aggressive and dangerous treatment of Montreal Canadiens winger Max Pacioretty also really got folks riled up. 

    What to expect in Sochi: It's unlikely Slovakia will have much success at the Games, but Zdeno Chara will probably do some damage in both ends of the ice.

Ryan Kesler (U.S.)

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    Elise Amendola/Associated Press

    Why you love him: Ryan Kesler's two-way play and feisty nature on the ice is something any fan of the Vancouver Canucks or United States national team will appreciate. He's a clutch player who plays his best when everything is on the line.

    Why you hate him: You're not American, or a Canucks fan. Everyone else seems to really despise the sometimes-snarky center who doesn't make any effort to appease the hockey world.

    What to expect in Sochi: Guaranteed he gets under the skin of his opponents. He's capable of getting into all kinds of trouble on the ice. Usually, he draws others into it, too.

Alex Ovechkin (Russia)

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    Matt Slocum/Associated Press

    Why you love him: Alex Ovechkin is one of the best goal scorers in the world, and he plays a physical, aggressive game that can be exciting to watch.

    Why you hate him: The fact he doesn't play very well in his own end drives you nuts, reminding you of that guy from the office you play ball hockey with who has never been back over his own blue line. His celebrations are also a little excessive at times.

    What to expect in Sochi: He's as motivated as anyone to dominate in Sochi, given that he is playing in his home country and stated in the past that if the NHL wasn't allowing players to go, he would cross that line anyway. He'll no doubt excite and annoy at the same time, whether you're a fan or not.

Corey Perry (Canada)

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    Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

    Why you love him: It wasn't so long ago Corey Perry was voted the Most Valuable Player in the NHL. He has a 50-goal season on his resume, along with a Stanley Cup win and a reputation as the most productive pest in the league. He's aggressive and doesn't shy away from physical play.

    Why you hate him: He has a tendency to play on the edge of legality and has been suspended a couple of times for dirty checks.

    What to expect in Sochi: He will frustrate opposition goaltenders and defensemen to no end, draw a few penalties and then park himself right back at the top of the crease again on the power play. He might also take a few dumb penalties himself.

Semyon Varlamov (Russia)

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    Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press

    Why you love him: Semyon Varlamov established himself as one of the league's best netminders this season, and he's done it with Patrick Roy, one of the greatest goalies ever, breathing down his neck as his head coach in Denver. The 25-year-old Avalanche backstop is a big reason his team is taking the league by surprise this season.

    Why you hate him: You think he's arrogant and hasn't yet proved himself to be a reliable starting goalie in the NHL. You also assume the worst when it comes to his arrest last year.

    What to expect in Sochi: The Russian Olympic hockey staff has a difficult decision to make with both Varlamov and Sergei Bobrovsky to choose from in goal. Varlamov has been the better of the two statistically, but Bobrovsky is the defending Vezina Trophy winner and has been stellar since January. It may be a platoon situation until one wins the job outright.

P.K. Subban (Canada)

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    Ryan Remiorz/Associated Press

    Why you love him: He's one of the few hockey players in the game who displays any real personality to complement his on-ice skills. P.K. Subban can take over a game at times—something that is relatively rare from the defensive position.

    Why you hate him: You believe his confidence is cockiness, and the immaturity in his game is selfishness. You prefer your athletes to let their actions do the talking.

    What to expect in Sochi: It's entirely possible Subban is simply a spare part on Team Canada's studly blue line. But if he gets a chance to play with any regularity, he'll be on a mission to prove his detractors wrong. The only problem is his enthusiasm sometimes gets the best of him, making him a discipline risk. One bad penalty in a single-elimination game derails things.

Ilya Kovalchuk (Russia)

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    Jussi Nukari/Associated Press

    Why you love him: You respect his goal-scoring prowess and the fact he walked away from a multimillion-dollar contract with the New Jersey Devils to play in the KHL and be closer to family.

    Why you hate him: You can't respect someone who terminates a perfectly good deal, especially one the team forfeited a first-round pick for because of salary-cap circumvention. You also may inexplicably have a hate for Russian Olympians in general because the tournament is on their home turf.

    What to expect in Sochi: Ilya Kovalchuk will likely play with either Evgeni Malkin or Pavel Datsyuk at center, which means he can expect to snipe a few goals during the tournament. He's not going to win back any of his haters for abandoning the NHL, but the only hockey fans he cares about are his country's anyway.

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