February 7, 2014
Before we begin let’s get one thing straight—nothing is better than the Olympics. The 2014 Sochi Olympics in no exception. Perfectly sandwiched between the end of the 2013 NFL season and the beginning of the 2014 MLB season the Sochi Olympics is a dream come true. The Sochi games begin February 6 and the Opening Ceremony is on February 7. All Olympic events are interesting for one reason or another but one stands out amongst the rest in these games. All eyes will be on the men’s ice hockey tournament as the best in the world play for pride.
With that being said Olympic hockey is a bit different from the NHL. Unlike the 2010 Vancouver games which used the standard NHL rink size of 200’ long x 85’ wide the Sochi games will use a standard Olympic sized rink which is 200’x100’. Now the extra 15’ may not seem like that much of a difference but it changes the how the game is played. Also keep in mind that the bigger ice is the prevalent choice of leagues outside of NHL. Olympic hockey in an Olympic rink is much more of a symphonic ballet than the NHL. The presence of the forecheck is replaced with puck control and finesse. Many may think that speed will make up the difference but it will be stick handling that tilts the scales. In a sense it can become a game of cat and mouse, a game of keep-away. The teams with a pristine blend of veteran wisdom and youthful exuberance will do well here.
With that in mind, let’s power rank the top six teams in the 12 team tournament.
Group A: USA, Russia, Slovakia, Slovenia
Group B: Canada, Norway, Finland, Austria
Group C: Sweden, Czech Republic, Switzerland, Latvia
Bonus Pick: Slovenia
This is the Olympics; the bonus pick is just giving credit where credit is due.
While these guys don’t really have a chance to medal, they’ll sure be fun to watch. Led by Los Angeles Kings star Anze Kopitar, Slovenia will put on a show. Although Kopitar is the lone Slovenian currently playing in the NHL that means the rest of the team is comfortable on bigger ice. This gives them a slight advantage.
Sleeper Pick: Czech Republic
Hey, it wouldn’t be a good article without a sleeper selection.
The Czech Republic sports a veteran-heavy roster with a touch of youth in Sochi. They make the list because of the playmaking ability of star Jaromir Jagr. He has a strong supporting cast but something seems to be missing on this roster. Still, with the puck in open space Jagr is magical. He’ll keep his country in the mix for a medal run.
No. 6: Slovakia
There are 14 Slovakians in the NHL and all are present on the national team for the Sochi games. Headlining the bunch are Zdeno Chara and Marian Hossa who will put it on themselves to lead their people to Olympic glory. Although they’ll represent themselves well they’ll miss the podium. Still, they are an exemplary model on why this is hockey at its finest. A team this rich in talent only measures in at No. 6.
No. 5: USA
From here on out is like pulling teeth. Yes, I’m an American but no, I don’t think we’ll medal in Sochi. I’ll be rooting for the team all the way, but I don’t expect much. The USA has a very good team with a lot of youth and speed, but something isn’t right. Beyond Patrick Kane, who will be the scorer? Who will be the guy that steps up and leads his countrymen?
Those are questioned that have yet to be and can only be answered in Sochi. Not to mention, if this was the World Cup, the USA would be in the dreaded Group of Death. Group A is straight stacked—it will be hard to advance to the medal round. With that being said, the USA loves to play the role of the underdog.
No. 4: Finland
Finland is as well-balanced as they come in Sochi. Led by star Teemu Selanne in his final Olympics the Fins may shock the world and win it all, but have been conservatively ranked fourth right now. Selanne is an all-world playmaker and the Fins are solid between the pipes with Kari Lehtonen, Antti Niemi and Tuukka Rask to choose from in the net.
Finland also has a young star named Mikael Granlund that will be the beneficiary of Selanne’s craftsmanship. Beware of Finland. They may just spoil the party reserved for one at the top of the podium.
No. 3: Sweden
Whoa doctor! Call your mother the Swedes are good. Try to pick a weakness in their game—there are none. They have experience, youth and a world-class goaltender in Henrik Lundqvist. The most important thing they have is the young combination of Carl Hagelin, Marcus Kruger and Gabriel Landeskog. If you haven’t heard of them before now is the time.
These three kids will be the difference for their country in the tournament.
No. 2: Russia
What a debate it has been on just where to put host-country Russia. While they certainly have the advantage of playing at home all the pressure is on them. Alexander Ovechkin is the top goal scorer in the world right now and the mighty Russians will dazzle at times during the games.
Another young player that will announce his presence during the Olympics is Vladimir Tarasenko. He is simply something to see. Combined with the likes of Evgeni Malkin and Pavel Datsyuk and the Russians are stacked.
In the end the pressure will get to them in the final game.
No. 1: Canada
To many this is no surprise that the Canadians will be the last man standing. The defending Olympic champs look to repeat as gold medalist in Sochi. Their roster is basically the NHL All-Star team. Just looking at it is somewhat breathtaking. One can only think of power. If they have one weakness it may be in net but even that is a stretch.
Sydney Crosby looks to take his team to Sochi and leave where they started–on top. Albeit the favorite every opponent will give Canada their best shot.
Regardless of who wins the gold this tournament is something to cherish. The whole world is in for a treat.