Olympic Hockey Preview - 2010
Here is my early look at the 2010 Winter Olympic mens hockey games.
A quick look at the Format
There will be 3 groups of 4 teams each, and each team will play 3 round robin games, one against each other team in their pool. After the round robin is complete, the top 4 ranked teams will receive a bye to the quarterfinals, and all of the other 8 teams will play each other for the final 4 spots in the quarterfinals. After that, the elimination games will play out. The 4 winners of the quarterfinals will move on to the semi-finals, and the losers of the semi-finals will play for bronze, and the winners of the semi-finals will meet each other in the finals.
Group A Group B Group C
Canada Russia Sweden
United States Czech Republic Finland
Switzerland Slovkia Germany
Norway Latvia Belarus
Looking at these groups, Group B is the strongest. Russia is also a great threat, and are two time defending World Championship Gold Medalist, and have a high powered offense with Ovechkin, Malkin, Kovalchuck, Datsyuk and more. Group B also has a strong Czech team, lead by Kaberle, Plekanec, and of course Jagr. Slovkia also has has a strong team, and Latvia as the weak link is a pretty good weak link. Group A is a close second for the strongest group, lead by Canada and the US, but the skill drops off after Canada and the US. Group C is the weakest group, with a solid top two teams, but not as strong as say Canada and the US, and group C also has a weak number three and four team.
A in depth look at each team:
Canada- The canucks will be favourites to get to the Gold Medal game. Canada has a lot of depth, and no other team has more depth than Canada. Canada will be strong at every end of the ice, and has a lot of depth at every position, from between the pipes, to the blue line, to the forwards up front. Canada will of course have a lot of individual talent, but there is a big difference in having a lot of talent, and having a great team. Canada will have to come together, like every team, in a short period of time and play great. But, Canada will have a large advantage with it being in Canada. Of course Canada will have the crowd behind them to pump them up and support them. But maybe a bigger advantage is the home locker room. The Vancouver Canucks and GM place spent millions of dollars this past year to upgrade the home locker room, for team Canada. The Canadians will be the only ones using that change room, and it is truely a state of the arch locker room. Look at the gallery here, of the world's best locker room. But besides team Canada having all that as an advantage, they will be playing on the smaller, NHL size ice. Canadians start as young kids playing on this small ice surface, but outside of North America they play on the big international ice surface. On the smaller ice surface that the Canadians are use to, they are allowed to play the more physical style that has made Canadians famous. Team Canada generally puts together a full line just to play that physical role. Mean while, the European teams that will also be filled with many players playing over in Europe, on the big ice surface, wont be use to the small ice surface and physical play.
United States- Like Canada, the US will have an advantage playing on the smaller ice surface, and playing Burke's physical play. The US too will have a lot of fans making the trip north to see the Olympics and cheer on their hockey team, but it wont be nearly as loud for the Americans as it will be for Canada. The US will put together a strong team, but will be underdogs going up against the likes of Canada, Russia, and Sweden. But, the Coach, Ron Wilson, loves playing the underdog role, much like he did when he won the 1996 World Cup of Hockey as Coach of the US. The US will be lead by great goaltending with Ryan Miller between the pipes, and whenever you have a hot goalie you can do some serious damage, as goalies can stand on their head and steal you games.
Switzerland- The Swiss will have a tough task at hand to do anything. The Swiss only have two regular NHLers, but both are talented players in the Islander powerplay specialist, Mark Streit, and Duck goaltender, Jonas Hiller. Hiller could steal the Swiss a game or two, much like Martin Gerber did for the Swiss in the 2006 Olympic games, when Martin Gerber stopped all 49 shots of Canada's, back stopping them to a shocking 2-0 win. I don't expect that to happen again, but like I said before, a goalie can steal you a game.
Norway- Nearly all of team Norway will be made up of players playing over the Atlantic and in Europe. Norway didn't even qualify for the Olympics last time in '06, and will be tough to make it to the quarterfinals. Anything can happen at any game, but it will be tough for Norway to win just a single game.
Russia- The high flying Russians are also favourites to make it to the gold medal game. The Russians may have the most high powered offense in these Olympics, lead by Ovechkin, Malkin, Kovalchuck, Datsyuk, Semin, and more. But Russia's weakness will be in there own end. The Russian defense will be weak, and made up of mostly KHLers, but they will have Andrei Markov back, but we don't know if he will be on top of his game as he still hasn't even returned to the NHL. The Russian's also don't have many checkers on the blueline or up front to stop other teams top guns, like Crosby. The Russians will have to heavily relay on their goalies, with Nabokov and his .921 SV%, Bryzgalov .922 SV% probably splitting time to start the tournament, and then either Varlamov or Khabibulin being the third goalie.
Czech Republic- The Czech's are always able to put out a solid team, and I don't expect this to be any different. But with that said, they will be in tough to medal. The Czech's will have a solid group up front with Plekanec, Michalek, Hemsky, Hejduk, Lang, Krejci, Elias, Havlat, and of course Jagr. The defense will also be solid, and do a great job QBing the powerplay, lead with Kaberle and Kubina. Between the pipes they will be strong, and their netminders have the ability to steal any game, on any given night, with Vokoun, Ondrej Pavelec, and maybe even Hasek (although he wont go if he is the 3rd goalie).
Slovkia- This team wont have much talent, but up front they have two of the best forwards in the NHL. Slovkia has both Marian Hossa and Gaborik up front to provide most of their offense. Although Hossa and Gaborik might not have much talent around them on the national team, they have the ability to do it all by themself, as Gaborik has shown year in and year out in Minny, and as he has shown this season with Rangers, as he leads the NHL in goals. On the backend, they will be lead by their captain Chara, who won the Norriss last season. They also have powerplay specialist, Lubomir Visnovsky, and shutdown defenseman Andrej Meszaros. Slovkia's biggest weakness is their goaltending, as they have Halak and Budaj between the pipes, as neither are that good. But, even with their goaltending, this team has a great shot to make the quarterfinals, like they did in 2006.
Latvia- This team may not have much talent, nor many NHLers, but this team does have chemsitry. This team has played together for a long time, and they all know each other very well. This team also is mostly the same as the 2006 Latvia Olympic team, so like I said they know each other, but they also have Olympic experience.
Sweden- The defending Olympic Gold medalist will put together another good team. This team will have a high power offense with the Sedin's, Zetterberg, Backstrom, Alfredsson, Eriksson, Holmstrom, and Franzen has said he will be back in time for the Olympics. This team shouldn't have any problem scoring, and they will also have a some good checking forwards, like Sammy Pahlsson. Team Sweden will also have a good mix of offensive and defensive defenseman on the blueline, with Lidstrom, Kronwall (also says he will be back) and Ohlund. In net, Sweden will be going to the King, Henrik Lundqvist. Lundqvist will be the starter, and he was on in net when Sweden won it last, but they better hope he doesn't get injured, as they don't have much depth after Lundqvist in net, as the Monster, Jonas Gustavsson will back him up. Sweden's weakness has always been goaltending, but that shouldn't be a problem if Lundqvist stays healthy. Oh yeah, don't let in any half ice shots in elimination games, against weak teams.
Finland- Last Olympics they finished with a silver medal, after a crushing defeat against Sweden. Finland has no high power scorers, but they always seem to play great in international competitions. Finland will no question be led by their goaltending, even with all the constroversy surronding the position. In case you haven't heard, Kipper has pulled a Patrick Roy and said that if he isn't named starter he wont play. I don't think that Kipper will be going to the Olympics, as he isn't needed with Backstrom, Rinnie, and Rask all having the ability to suitup for the Finns. Hey, they made it to the Gold Medal game last year with Antero Niittymaki, as Kiprusoff pulled out of the '06 games too.
Germany- This squad is a weaker team in the Olympics. They don't have many NHLers, as most of their team plays in Europe. There one true everyday NHLer is Christian Ehrhoff, who has put together a nice season in Vancouver. Not much more to say here.
Belarus- Another weaker team here, but putting together this team will be intresting. Belarus' three best players are Grabovski, and the two Kostitsyn's, but all three of these players played in Montreal together and they did not get along. Grabovski was traded to Toronto, and when ever Toronto plays Montreal, they go at it. The Kostitsyn's don't normally hit, but when they see Grabovski they go flying trying to kill him. This team is probably the most intresting team to watch to see who makes it.
Who will get the byes?
This I feel is easy. The teams getting the byes will be:
Canada- Should finish 1st in group A
Russia- Should finish 1st in group B
Sweden- Should finish 1st in group C
Finland- I feel the Finland is in the easier group C, and should be able to win big against Germany and Belarus, and then advance, because they will have a higher +/- than say the USA.
Who else will get to the quarterfinals?
USA- Probably the best team not getting a bye
Czech- I think the second best team not getting a bye.
Slovkia- A good team, with some really good players.
Switzerland- I like Hiller to win a game or two.
Canada vs. Switzerland- I'm sure we will hear a lot of the 2-0 Switzerland win from the '06 matchup, but Canada will win, and make a statement winning big.
Russia vs. Slovkia- Russia's highpower offense will overpower the Slovkia team, and there lack of goaltending.
Sweden vs. Czech- I like Sweden in this game, as Sweden just has too much depth for the Czech team to handle.
Finland vs. USA- This will be the matchup of the Quarterfinals, as too really good teams go up against each other. I predict this game going to a shotout with the US coming out on top.
Canada vs. USA- The crowd at GM place will be rocking. It will be a great game, end to end, with great goaltending at both ends, but Canada comes out on top in s 4-2 win, with the 4th goal being an empty netter.
Russia vs. Sweden- Another great game, with two great teams going at it, but I like the offense of Russia to take out Sweden, leaving Lundqvist with nightmares. Russia will win 5-2.
Anyone want a Bronze medal?
Sweden vs. USA- These two teams don't like playing for third but unlike Russia and Canada, they will still try in this game, as both Russia and Canada usually don't try once they get knocked out of the Gold medal game. Sweden's depth will overpower the Americans, but Ryan Miller will keep this a extremely close game. I predict a 3-2 Sweden win in OT,
The Moment we have all been waiting for!
Canada vs. Russia- This is the matchup everyone wants, the two best hockey nations in the world, that have a great history of going up against each other, in great games. Hockey's biggest rivals will be at it against. I like Canada for two reasons, their depth on defense and in net, and Russia's lack of depth on defense and in net, and Canada's physical play. I say Canada pounds Russia physically but Russia's offense will come back a score some clutch goals. In the end Canada comes out on top as Olympic Champs again, with a 5-3 win!