Olympic Hockey Preview
Every four years, hockey fans are treated to something special, as the world’s only best-on-best tournament takes place. This time around, Sochi, Russia will host the tournament, which means that the games will take place on Olympic-size ice, rather than the NHL ice that hosted the 2010 games. This could cause problems for 2010 finalists Canada and the USA, since the players have much less experience competing on the larger ice. Here are some things to watch in the 2014 Olympic hockey tournament.
It goes without saying that Canada enters every hockey tournament as the team to beat and the Olympics is no different. The team boasts a high-powered offence featuring the likes of Sidney Crosby, Steven Stamkos, John Tavares and Jonathan Toews and an outstanding defense that includes Duncan Keith, Drew Doughty and Shea Weber. Perhaps the main concern for Canada comes in goal, as Roberto Luongo and Carey Price have both struggled at times during the NHL season, but the team’s offence should be enough to carry it deep into the tournament.
The silver medalists from 2010 are back with a very strong lineup that should help them to contend. The team is very strong in goal, as Ryan Miller and Jonathan Quick will battle for minutes in the crease. Offensively, the team will be led by Patrick Kane, Phil Kessel and Joe Pavelski, while two-way players like David Backes, Zach Parise and Ryan Kesler will also play important roles. The team’s main weakness is on the blueline, as there is very little in the way of elite talent outside of Ryan Suter and Kevin Shattenkirk.
Some analysts look at team Sweden as a favorite and that is not far from the truth. In net, Henrik Lundqvist will take on a heavy workload, while the defense will be anchored by Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Erik Karlsson and Alexander Edler. Up front, the team is equally as strong with stars like Nicklas Backstrom, Loui Ericsson, Daniel and Henrik Sedin, and Henrik Zetterberg leading the way.
From the time the metal roof was put on Sochi’s Bolshoy Ice Dome, Russians have been looking forward to this tournament. Russian fans have every reason to be excited, as the team will be led by the superb goaltending tandem of Sergei Bobrovsky and Semyon Varlamov, which could keep other teams’ offences at bay. Russia will not struggle to score, as snipers Alexander Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin, Ilya Kovalchuk and Pavel Datsyuk will lead the way. The Russian defense, however, is underwhelming, leaving Andrei Markov and Nikita Nikitin to play a great deal of minutes.
Although those four teams will head into the tournament as the favorites, do not count out squads like Finland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia, as each of them could medal if things fall into place. Finland has the most goaltending depth in the tournament, with Kari Lehtonen, Antti Niemi and Tuukka Rask, although they could struggle to score goals. The Czech Republic has solid NHL players like David Krejci, Tomas Plekanec and Martin Hanzal leading the way, while Slovakia is dangerous with Jaroslav Halak in net, Zdeno Chara on defense, and Marian Hossa and Marian Gaborik up front. Overall, this is shaping up as a wide-open tournament that any number of teams could win.
You never know how the puck will bounce. We can’t wait to find out.