As the Olympics have begun in Sochi it is time to ponder the biggest question going through the minds of hockey fans. Who is going to take the gold in Sochi, Russia? Russia has home ice advantage and we all know how that helped Canada reach the top step in Vancouver 2010. It also comes with a lot of pressure; the pressure facing the Russians in Sochi is of monumental proportions.
Russia finished sixth in Vancouver and hasn’t medaled since the 2002 Olympics when they won bronze. This is quite a disappointment for a nation in love with hockey. Pittsburgh Penguins star Sidney Crosby knows all about the pressure of playing at home and maybe he has helped his teammate and fellow Penguin star Evgeni Malkin. Maybe Crosby has had words of wisdom to his teammate turned opponent, but Malkin and his Russian counterparts will be under immense pressure when they hit the ice in Sochi.
Just like Crosby, Malkin will have a superstar supporting cast with the likes of captain Pavel Datsyuk, Alex Ovechkin, Ilya Kovalchuk, among others. Can Team Russia power a nation by winning gold on home ice? Who knows? Here is a preview of the teams competing and some of the important members of their respective squads.
Quarterfinals is Heaven
The last time Austria was in the Olympic games was 2002 in Salt Lake. Although they do have some very good NHL players on their squad in Michael Grabner and Thomas Vanek both of the New York Islanders, I don’t see Austria making a push for a medal in Sochi.
This is Slovenia’s first ever berth in the Olympic tournament. They will be lead by Anze Kopitar and Jan Mursak but will have a slim to none chance of making it to the quarterfinals especially in the group of death with Slovakia, Russia, and the United States.
Latvia’s best finish at an Olympics is ninth in 2002 and their goal in 2014 would be to make it to the playoff round. With minimal NHL caliber players it will be a tough tournament. Although they do have a NHL connection with Buffalo Sabres coach Ted Nolan behind the bench.
The Scandinavian country of Norway is starting to push development of younger players in their country. Watch out for them in 2018 in Pyeongchang, South Korea but a quarterfinal appearance in Sochi would be push.
Bronze Medal Pushers
The Swiss have always had tough teams to play against in World Championships and Olympic competitions. On the heels of winning a silver medal at the 2013 World championships the Swiss could be an outside long shot to medal at the Sochi games. Switzerland will be led by goalie Jonas Hiller and captain Mark Streit on the blue line. As Hiller goes so goes the Swiss!
At the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver Slovakia pushed Canada in the playoff round and finished fourth in the final standings. With a team on the later side of 30 it will be a tough go for this squad but they do have a lot of NHL talent. Although they will be missing Marian Gaborik, the Slovaks will have Zdeno Chara, Marian Hossa, Jaroslav Halak and a whole bunch of Tomas power! Slovakia could push for a bronze medal and will be guided by the memory of former star Pavol Demitra who was killed in the Lokomotiv plane crash.
The Czech team is an old squad with a lot of veteran leadership. Jaromir Jagr will be leading this team once again into the medal round. Jagr has showed great determination and a scoring knack at the age of 41, and still in the NHL. Goaltending will be the weakness of this team as they roll with Ondrej Pavelec of the Winnipeg Jets. Both the Swiss and the Slovaks have better goaltending than the Czechs and in a short tournament we all know this can be the deciding factor. Hard to believe, but 42 year old Petr Nedved made this team and with the age of this group I will have to say they will finish out of the medals.
Gold Medal Contenders
The Finns have medaled in three of the four Olympics with NHL participation, including bronze in Vancouver. Finland’s goaltending is a huge strength with Antti Niemi of the San Jose Sharks and Tuukka Rask of the Boston Bruins. Depth at forward with a couple aging veterans in Teemu Selanne and Olli Jokinen in addition to some nice young blood in 2013 second overall pick Aleksander Barkov will be a key. News has just broken that Mikko Koivu and Valtteri Filppula will be missing the games due to injury. This may push Finland out of the medals.
Sweden’s depth will be tested as Henrik Sedin will be missing the games but have added Marcus Johansson. Sweden will go as far as Henrik Lundqvist takes them. Lundqvist is the key to the Swedes gold medal chances. With NHL stars like Henrik Zetterberg, Gabiel Landeskog, Daniel Sedin, Nicklas Backstrom, Erik Karlsson among others, this team is stacked with talent to go all the way.
The United States will be looking to move up from their silver medal in Vancouver to a gold in Sochi. The USA has a ton of talent and depth but has always struggled in Olympic competition not in North America. The USA has it all; depth, power, speed, veteran leadership, young talent. With goaltending depth on par with Finland this team will push for Olympic gold in Russia.
The Russians have a strong team with tons of scoring up front but a depth problem on the blue line. If Russia can get solid goaltending from Semyon Varlamov of the Colorado Avalanche or Sergei Bobrovsky of the Columbus Blue Jackets this team can win it all. There will be a ton of pressure on team Russia playing in their home country. Can they follow in the footsteps of Canada in 2010? Will this be Ovechkin vs Crosby? Cold war enemies going head to head? Should be fun to watch!
Team Canada is almost always the favorite when it comes to hockey tournaments, especially if they can ice the best players from the NHL. But just like their North American neighbors to the south, Canada has always struggled in Olympic games outside of North America. Since the inception of allowing NHL players to participate in 1998 it has been gold or bust for the Canadian squad, including the worst finish ever by a Canadian men’s hockey team, seventh in 2006. Depth is always there for Canada, but the two big questions are; can they get quality goaltending and can they mesh as a team. Can’t wait to find out!
- Russia – they pull it off at home and beat Canada in an epic final
- Canada – close but no cigar
- Sweden – one Sedin makes only bronze
- USA – so close but can’t get over the hump in a foreign nation
- Finland – can’t score enough
- Slovakia – not enough depth
- Czech Republic – too old
- Switzerland – some close games but need a difference maker
- Norway – getting better
- Latvia – off to relegation
- Austria – off to relegation
- Slovenia – getting here was an amazing feat
Enjoy the games and remember to follow your passion!
The K2LFGM Team