Olympic Hockey Preview: Surveying the Field

I covered team USA Monday and now it is time to learn about the rest of the field. The tournament is broken into three groups with four teams in each. There is a round robin in which each team plays three games against everyone in their group. A team gets three points for a win in regulation, two points for a win in OT/shootout and one point for a loss in OT/Shootout. (Seriously why can’t the NHL do that?) Each team then gets ranked into a tournament based upon how they do in group play and then the tournament begins. The top four teams get byes and goal differential breaks any ties. (Here is the results from 2010 if you need further explanation.)

I will also give you meaningless predictions for each team. I say meaningless because this is a tournament that lets the players practice for three days, play three games and then has single elimination hockey. I will try to predict and then the puck will actually drop and shit will hit the fan because it always does in these tournaments. If that sounds like a cop out, it is so feel free to read ESPN and Puck Daddy’s team breakdowns if you want a more professional experience.

Lets take a look at the field and would go in descending order of their odds to win. We will start with our rivals to the North but before we get started just watch this Canadian video with Alan Thicke…

Canada

Group B/Roster/Schedule

What up Lou?

What up Lou?

Odds to win: 2/1

Storyline coming into Sochi: Steven Stamkos broke his leg early in the season and was hoping to return in time for the Olympics. Unfortunately for him he won’t be back in time and his fellow Lightning teammate Marty St Louis will take his place. While Stamkos is an fantastic goal scorer, if any country can overcome his absence it is Canada who has enough forward to fill two full rosters.

Why they will win: Depth. No one can match their depth up and down the lineup with either their forwards or defence. Mike Babcock has the tough task of telling four superstars that they won’t be playing. Also, there are many NHL teammates that will play together and give the unit instant chemistry so the short practice time shouldn’t be a problem. There is one huge question mark though.

Why they won’t win: Goaltending. It is crazy that for a country that cranks out hockey players and has legends like Marty Brodeur and Patrick Roy that there is no sure fire pick as to who should start. The two expected to compete are Carey Price and everyone’s favorite twitter follow Roberto Luongo. Lou was in net when the Canadians won in 2010 but has since had so much drama in Vancouver meanwhile Price has had a nice start to the NHL season but has struggled recently as the Habs have fallen apart at times in front of him. Either way this will be the real storyline for Canada the next two weeks.

Player to watch: Sidney Crosby. I get to watch him three times a week and it is a please but for two weeks every four years we are enemies. He has been the best player in the NHL this season and broke our hearts four years ago. (It pissed me off that he beat America but also that the biggest goal of his career so far is not for the Pens. I hope he plans on changing that this June.)

Mike Babcock’s hair: Perfect in everyway

Rival to USA?: Yes but we are their little brother. Canada has a rich history of hockey and their main rival is Russia. We have started to change that perception at the Junior level but we need to beat them at the Olympics to get their full attention.

Meaningless prediction: Will win their group and be the #2 overall and will have a showdown with Russia in the Semis. The two will put on an offensive show that will be fantastic to watch but Russia will come out on top.

Russia

Its good to be the king

Its good to be the king

Group A/Roster/Schedule

Odds to win: 12/5

Storyline coming into Sochi: There is pressure on this team to win. Not like pressure that was on Canada to win four years ago, way, way, way more pressure than that. After getting embarrassed in Vancouver it will be important for Russia to make their country proud and win Gold in its home country. Half of their team is made up of KHL players who’s league is run by the Russian mob so they feel this on a regular basis. Win and Putin will make sure each of these guys never has another worry ever. Lose and, well, I don’t really know.

Why they will win: Goaltending. Everyone knows about Russia’s offensive firepower but they actually bring two legit goaltender to Sochi. Sergei Bobrovsky and Semyon Varlamov have both turned themselves into quality NHL goaltenders. I expect Bob will get the start but Varlamov is not a bad guy to have in relief. In years past Russia lacked this depth and it caught up to them when they ran into a team that could score with them.

Why they won’t win: Defense. No I don’t know half of their roster because it plays in the KHL but none of their NHL defenceman would make it on a lot of other countries roster. This will be a concern when going up against the US and certainly if Russia takes on Canada or Sweden.

Player to watch: Ilya Kovalchuk. He left the NHL for the KHL this offseason and I almost forgot he existed until this Grantland piece on him. Despite his erratic behavior off the ice, when he laces them up the guy can play. He used to beat the Pens on a regular basis and with Ovi give Russia two of the best snipers in the world.

Rival to USA?: Yes, in every way possible.

Meaningless prediction: No one will want to read this but I think Russia does really well. I know they lack defense but they will overcome that with a home ice advantage that even Canada didn’t have. All of the pressure will be on the big guns and I think they respond well, win Group A beat Canada in the Semis and will have a showdown with Sweden in the final.

Sweden

You can't actually be from Sweden

You can’t actually be from Sweden

Group C/ Roster/ Schedule

Odds to win: 9/2

Storyline coming into Sochi: Nick Lidstrom retired two years ago so for the first time in forever the Swedes will enter the Olympics without one of their all time greats. Add that to Henrik Sedin being injured and missing Sochi and the Swedes have some questions marks.

Why they will win: They are in the easiest group. They have to play an aging Czech team first and if they win that should coast to at least a bye if not the top overall seed. This should put them on the opposite side from possibly both Canada and Russia. Plus they have plenty of NHL talent and won gold eight years ago.

Why they won’t win: Henrik Lundqvist is human. They don’t have the goalie depth Finland or the US does but the King has as much experience as anyone in this tournament. He had a rough first half of the season but him, along with the Rangers, have had a nice last month and everything seems to be returning to normal.

Player to watch: Daniel Alfredsson because I think he is the only ugly person Sweden has ever produced as a country. Meanwhile look at Zetterberg and his wife. They are going to turn out the most beautiful children ever.

Rival to USA?: No. Other than “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” being terrifying there really is no beef between Sweden and America.

Meaningless prediction: Sweden coasts to the Semis where it will face the winner of Finland/USA. It then takes on Russia for gold and we all pull for Sweden so Russia doesn’t win but secretly we just want to be from there so we can be beautiful.

USA

Ready to throw some shakers

Ready to throw some shakers

Group A/Roster/ Schedule

Odds to win: 6/1

Storyline coming into Sochi: I wrote more on this yesterday but America is not the unknown team they were in Vancouver.

Why they will win: They get the elite goaltending they expect and all four line contribute to scoring.

Why they won’t win: The defense gets exposed on the big ice and the American tradition of struggling away from North America continues.

Player to watch: Phil Kessel will be everyone’s favorite person, mainly because he already is because of this clip. I assume USA will have a couple “Shakers” if they win.

Meaningless prediction: USA will get the 5 seed in the tournament and will have to beat Finland just to get a chance to medal. A USA/Canada showdown might have to be for the bronze.

Finland

Please don't leave us

Please don’t leave us

Group B Roster/ Schedule

Odds to win: 10/1

Storyline coming into Sochi: The forgotten team amongst the world powers. They don’t have the gold medal to their resume like the Czech’s do but the got bronze in Vancouver and have a stable of goalies that can rival the Americans.

Why they will win: Because of their goaltending, specifically Tukka Rask. Finland has the chance to be like the US was in Vancouver. If they can upset Canada in group play then they can get a bye and perhaps even a 1 seed. They will need Rask to carry them just like Miller did in 2010.

Why they won’t win: No one can score. Finland has plenty of NHL talent but they don’t have the snipers some of the other countries do. They will need Teemu to be Teemu. Speaking of…

Player to watch: Teemu Selanne. Did you think it would be anyone else? He is the best NHL Olympic player of all time and one of the main reasons he came back this year was to play in the Olympics.

Rival to USA?: Kind of. I mean there are no Finish/USA international incidents but Finland is the country the US actually beat in 1980 to win Gold and four years ago America won 6-1 in the Semis. If we get another meeting we might have a potential rival on our hands.

Meaningless prediction: Gets a bye but still loses to Canada. Plays USA in the quarters. Hopefully they lose but if not am 100% alright with getting behind Teemu. (This is my plan if the Pens lose in the playoffs as well. Not a bad strategy.)

Czech Republic

I look forward to my grandkids watching Jagr someday

I look forward to my grandkids watching Jagr someday

Group C Roster/ Schedule

Odds to win: 10/1

Storyline coming into Sochi: This team is old as dirt. This team is so old that Jagr isn’t even the oldest member of the team. That would be Petr Nedved. They were once teamates for the Penguins…back in 1997. Excuse me while I feel old and reminisce about good times all at once…

Why they will win: Because time somehow moves backwards to 1998 and Dominik Hasek appears out of nowhere as his 30 year old self.

Why they won’t win: Hasek is not on their team anymore and its 2014.

Player to watch: Petr Nedved is fucking 100. He actually played for Canada years ago, I have no idea how this is possible.

Rival to USA?: America, specifically the CIA probably fucked with the Czechs when they were splitting from Slovakia. I am just too lazy to look it up. Just watch this Jagr goal, you will feel better.

Meaningless prediction: Jagr scores a bunch of goals and doesn’t get killed by Ovie this time around. Czech’s won’t sniff a medal

Switzerland

"But I am Swiss"

“But I am Swiss”

Group  Roster/ Schedule

Odds to win: 25/1

Storyline coming into Sochi: Switzerland may actually have a better shot at beating Sweden in Group C because of Jonas Hiller. The Ducks goalie has been the backbone to Anaheim’s great season so far and we all know a hot goalie can steal a game or two.

Why they will win: Jonas Hiller and their decent D corps play lights out and win games 1-0.

Why they won’t win: Because their best forward is Damien Brunner

Player to watch: Nino Niederreiter because it is fun to say.

Rival to USA?: They are rivals with no one. They hate conflict.

Meaningless prediction: Jonas gets them 2nd place in Group C and they make the quarterfinals before going back into their fortress of solitude.

Slovakia

They guy in the background is the best

They guy in the background is the best

Group A Roster/ Schedule

Odds to win: 33/1

Storyline coming into Sochi: How will Zdeno Chara deal with the short beds? That problem has been answered.

Why they will win: If Jaroslav Halak plays like its 2010. The Blues goalie would have to go on a miracle run not unlike the one when he was in Montreal. I will always hate him for it.

Why they won’t win: Because Chara isn’t a superhero. I am not sure if he is or isn’t but I hope he isn’t

Player to watch: Red Wings forward Tomas Tatar can do things such as this (Nobody scouts Europe for talent like Detroit)…

Rival to USA?: So apparently the CIA has a fact book on Slovakia that is available for public consumption. Interesting fact about Slovakia is each woman produces on average 1.39 children. I assume Chara counts for 2.

Meaningless prediction: Slovakia will take Russia to OT on Sunday but will come up short. A quarterfinal will be the farthest they go.

Norway

The Norway Bears

The Norway Bears

Group B Roster/ Schedule

Odds to win: 200/1

Storyline coming into Sochi: Mats Zuccarello is playing really well for the Rangers which is nice since he is so short.

Why they will win: If the contest all of a sudden becomes about the ability to cross country ski then they should be in good shape.

Why they won’t win: Because Mats Zuccarello can only do so much people.

Player to watch: Seriously Zuccarello is a legit hockey player.

Rival to USA?: I googled “Norway-USA Relations” and there was actually a Wikipedia page about it. Apparently the US Constitution had a big influence on the Norway constitution. Learning new things everyday folks.

Meaningless prediction: Zuccarello has 2 awesome goals but Norway doesn’t do much. 4 members of the team still win gold in cross country skiing.

Latvia

Group C Roster/ Schedule

Odds to win: 400/1

Storyline coming into Sochi: Their flag is boring and it makes me tired.

Why they will win: All of the other teams decide to just stay and party in the Olympic village.

Why they won’t win: Time doesn’t stop

Player to watch: They have so many players with great names so I will just go with my favorite Koba Jass

Rival to USA?: This is from the US Embassy site.

Meaningless prediction: They score four goals.

Austria

Can you play hockey?

Can you play hockey?

Group Roster/ Schedule

Odds to win: 750 to 1

Storyline coming into Sochi: Artworks removed from of Austria Home of German who holds huge trove.

Why they will win: It turns into a singing competition

Why they won’t win: All the members of the Von Trapp family are dead

Player to watch: Michael Grabner who is really fast, just look at how fast he is.

Rival to USA?: Relations between America and Austria haven’t been the same since this international incident.

Meaningless prediction: Dumb and Dumber 2 will actually be a funny film. (Unlike Anchorman 2)

Slovenia

The Original Minnesota Lynx

The Original Minnesota Lynx

Group Roster/ Schedule

Odds to win: 1000/1

Storyline coming into Sochi: They have a Lynx on their mascot which makes me want to trek out into the wilderness and pet a Lynx on its head.

Why they will win: Slovenia is better than the LA Kings

Why they won’t win: Slovenia is worse than the LA Kings

Player to watch: Anze Kopitar is the only NHL player on the team and he has been used to carrying his team so this is the usual for him

Rival to USA?: 22% of Slovenians are uncertain of US leadership.

Meaningless prediction: Kopitar scores all of their goals

Enjoy the hockey everyone

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