NHL players are currently descending upon Sochi, Russia, ready to represent their countries in the XXII Olympic Games. The hockey begins on Wednesday. Get the full schedule of games here.
Twelve nations are divided into three pools of four teams each:
Group A: Russia, Slovakia, United States, Slovenia
Group B: Austria, Canada, Finland, Norway
Group C: Czech Republic, Sweden, Switzerland, Latvia
There will be four rounds of elimination games on the way to winning the medals.
Bovada has Canada, Russia, Sweden and USA as the favorites to win the tournament, with our neighbors to the north at the top of that list as 2-to-1 favorites.
A closer look at the four powers’ chances:
Key Players: Carey Price, Jonathan Toews, Corey Perry. Perhaps no one holds Canada’s Olympics fate in his hands more than Carey Price. And that’s if he starts. Roberto Luongo won gold between the pipes in 2010, but Price is having a heck of a year in Montreal. Toews is perhaps the best captain in the NHL right now, and Perry has the ability to score big goals in big moments.
Bottom Line: Nothing spells arrogance like Canadian Hockey (really), and it was somewhat of their downfall in the ’98 and ’06 games. It’s all about chemistry. Can this group mesh and play like a solid team? I think yes, and fully expect this squad to compete for the gold medal.
Key Players: Alex Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin, Sergei Bobrovsky. The top line of Malkin, Ovechkin and Pavel Datysuk is downright filthy, but the problem for Russia is that depth is not their friend. Bobrovsky will be their key to have any chance of getting to the medal round.
Bottom Line: Russia’s D is not chock full of elite talent, and it could be their downfall. Can Bobrovsky save them?
Key Players: Henrik Lundqvist, Henrik Zetterberg, Daniel & Henrik Sedin. Lundqvist is Sweden’s key, and he has the ability to shut down the opposition. Unfortunately for him, he’s having the worst NHL season of his career and will need to step up.
Bottom Line: Sweden has won the last two Olympic men’s hockey tournaments on European ice. There is tremendous skill on this team. Sweden needs to score on the power play to have a shot at gold.
United States of America
Key Players: Phil Kessel, Patrick Kane, Jonathan Quick. Kessel will have to be an absolute stud for the US to have a chance at winning gold, and he’s good enough to do that. Kane may make the biggest leap in impact from the 2010 team, and expect Jonathan Quick to play a major role, though Ryan Miller was a wall in 2010 and could get the nod in a medal game.
Bottom Line: There is no reason why the US can’t contend for gold. Facing Canada in the final game is quite possible.
Reverse Barometer Prediction: Canada defeats Sweden in the gold medal game while the United States wins bronze over Russia.