Hockey scores top marks as Games problems mount

By Steve Keating

VANCOUVER (Reuters) - The men's hockey tournament has already provided an oasis from mounting troubles for Vancouver Games officials in a Games plagued by weather woes and technical glitches.

The party started early at Canada Hockey Place and carried on late into the evening as staff smoothly moved three sellout crowds of close to 17,000 in and out of the arena as hockey-mad Canadians geared up for the one event that matters more than any other to them.

As one hockey fan wearing a Team Canada sweater told another on the way to watch Canada faceoff against Norway on Tuesday: "These Olympics are a big hockey tournament with a bunch of other stuff going on."

Canada's ambitious objective is to top the medal table at the Vancouver Games but it will be a hollow achievement to much of the Great White North unless the men's hockey gold is included among the final tally.

Opening day of the men's tournament was a Canadian's dream come true: three hockey games, stretching from morning to midnight topped off by a Canada victory.

HIGH-POWERED

Canada delivered the mauling fans demanded, demolishing the Norwegians 8-0 while the high-powered Russians led by Alexander Ovechkin overwhelmed Latvia 8-2.

If there was one event that was going to run smoothly at the Vancouver Winter Games it was going to be the men's hockey tournament.

Many of the same staff who work the arena for the NHL Vancouver Canucks home games are occupying their posts for the Olympics.

"The whole atmosphere was amazing," said Canada's Jarome Iginla, who had two goals in the win. "It feels like a whole different place.

"There was more red and white than I expected, it's just something you look forward to."

While the air crackled with electricity inside Canada Hockey Place, outside the weather-troubled Games spectators and athletes battled rain and fog that delayed events and made racing and medal chasing extremely tough.

But there were no problems with ice-resurfacing Zambonis breaking down at the hockey like at the Richmond speed skating oval and no outrageously long queues for food and restrooms.

No ticket refunds were being handed out at the hockey venue while every seat seemed to be occupied by a smiling face -- even those who paid double the listed price to ticket touts doing a brisk business outside of the arena.

(Editing by Jon Bramley)