As we said in our Practical Rundown of Every Winter Olympic Event, hockey is the only sport even more synonymous with Canada than curling. Hockey really is the only reason to watch the Winter Olympics, other than the non-jailbait hot chicks in curling. Hockey is the purest example of a sport in the Winter Olympics, and not just because it passes J-Dubs’ test for what is and isn’t a sport. Hockey is not only one of the four major-league American sports, it is also a world sport as well. That’s important because it’s status as a world sport means it isn’t something that we Americans forced down the Olympic committee’s throat, like all that snowboarding bullshit.
Having said that, we here at Sports Blog Movement are out to give you a heads up on this world version of hockey; you will see a lot of familiar names from the NHL, but in some cases they will be playing for countries because you might not have ever heard of. That’s also why J-Dub partnered on this with SBM’s resident Canadian to offer insights on this event. After all, it is their national sport.
- United States
In World Cup Soccer, there’s always what is know as the “Group of Death,” meaning a group so loaded with talent that somebody who could win the whole tournament won’t advance beyond the Group stage. In this hockey tournament, that would be Group A. There are three solid medal contenders in this group: the United States, Russia, and Slovakia. Slovenia, is making it’s fist Olympic hockey appearance, and is facing some seriously long odds against advancing to the medal round.
Russia has talent and the “home-field advantage,” and that is part of why there is pressure to bring home the gold for the first time since 1992. The fact the Russian don’t want to admit is that the United States has done better in this tournament than the Russians have since the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Slovakia, long thought of as a dark horse, now must seriously be considered as a medal contender depite the fact they have injury issues with two of their best players, star forward Marian Gaborik and veteran defenseman Lubomir Visnovsky. Despite what that does to their depth, they still have talent like Zdeno Chara and Marian Hossa.
In other words, with the exception of Slovenia, each team has a chance to advance out of this group, and no matter what happens, a very good team will be going home early.
Why do we think the Americans will finish first in Group A? In a word; goaltending. To be blunt, Jonathan Quick (when healthy) is the best goalie on the planet, and will carry the Americans to the top of the group.
That doesn’t mean Team USA doesn’t have some weakness. First off, America, the country that brought you the concept of “super-sizing,” has trouble taking that idea from hamburgers to hockey. Team USA historically struggles on the Olympic size rink. The bigger sheet means the usual NHL-style game featuring lots of boarding and generally physical play around the nets and in the corners is diminished.
Another problem Team USA has is they really don’t play on the road very well. The only times the Yanks take medals is when the ice is on North American soil. The United States won gold in 1960 at Squaw Valley and in 1980 in Lake Placid, and silver in Salt Lake City in 2002 and Vancouver in 2010. Maybe John Madden coaches this team because they obviously have an issue with flying, and you can’t take a bus to Russia.
Having said that, if Team USA can get over the travel and get to Russia with love, they have a great shot at a medal. The defense led by Ryan Suter and Cam Fowler are a strong unit that moves the puck superbly. The forwards have more firepower than the 1st Infantry Division and Disney combined; Patrick Kane, Phil Kessel, Zach Parise, and Joe Pavelski are all high quality puck-blasters and should ensure many goalkeepers will be changing their shorts far more often than every three periods. On top of that, Kane may be the exception to the “super-size” rule; he may enjoy the big ice more than Kirstie Alley loves the chocolate fountain at Golden Corral.
Bottom Line: This team may be younger than the girls Woody Allen adds on his dating sites, but we think youth and enthusiasm will be well-served in Sochi.
As the opposite of the United States, the Russians will have home ice advantage, but will that be enough to over come some of their glaring issues. Like the America, the hockey artists formerly known as CCCP is facing more questions than Alex Rodriguez’ lawyer.
The biggest one centers on the health of captain Pavel Datsyuk. The Detroit Red Wings’ superstar has been nursing a lower body injury (That’s what she said…insert rimshot here) and has missed 13 games leading up to Sochi. While he has been cleared to play, we must never forget that Derek Jeter was cleared to play on an ankle that was still fucking broken!
Another question lies between the pipes; will Sergei Bobrovsky or Semyon Varlamov get the call to tend the twine? Varlamov has been excellent at times for the Colorado Avalanche this season, posting a 2.49 goals against average and a .924 save percentage. But he also has some legal issues, as a misdemeanor assault charge looms over the Russian keeper. Is that going to be a distraction? Who knows?
After a slow start, Bobrovsky has been outstanding in goal and the main reason why the Columbus Blue Jackets are as of the break near a playoff spot (Yeah, we can’t believe we just said that either.) The 2013 Vezina Trophy winner could very well be the main man between the pipes for Russia, but he can also get colder faster than Hilary Clinton in a Siberian gulag in February.
Bottom Line: Russia has plenty of offense with the likes of Alexander Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin, Ilya Kovalchuk and Alexander Semin flying around, which means they could blow through this tournament scoring at “1970s Hugh Hefner” levels. But, the pressure of an expectant home crowd coupled with a defense shakier than a Soviet-era apartment building makes Russia an enigma in Sochi.
Slovakia nearly won their first hockey medal in Vancouver four years ago. After they lost a heart-breaker to Finland in the bronze medal game, this team comes to Sochi as a sleeper medal contender and with a sense of determination to make it happen.
Make no mistake about it, the Slovaks have some outstanding players on their team. They are led captain Zdeno Chara, the Andre the Giant of the NHL. Chara is a behemoth whose treatment of opposing skaters around the blue line is reminiscent of King Kong swatting at airplanes. On the offensive end, Slovakia features the likes of Marian Hossa, Tomas Kopecky and Tomas Tatar, but Marian Gaborik is is still recovering from a broken collarbone. If Gaborik can’t play, it will put more pressure on Hossa and company to compensate for that lack of depth.
Depth is also an issue on defense. With injury issues hanging over Lubomir Visnovsky, Chara may have to play 30+ minutes for the Slovak defense to avoid being treated like the French Army in 1940. If that defense can keep St. Louis Blues goalie Jaroslav Halak from being treated like the tin duck at a shooting gallery, his ability to come up huge in crunch time should keep the Slovaks in contention.
Bottom Line: Slovakia can get to the quarterfinals, but if they want to bring home some hardware, they will need “Superman meets the Navy Seals”-style hero performances from Halak, Chara, and Hossa.
Somebody’s got to be the “little brother,” and in this group, Slovenia is it. With the exception of the Los Angeles Kings’ Anze Kopitar, this team is comprised of players from European clubs like the Schwenninger Wild Wings. The only wild wings we know of or care about are those from Buffalo Wild Wings, and as far as we know the ones from Schwenninger don’t come with all those awesome. Jsportsfan likes the honey dill sauce, while J-Dub likes anything hot enough to make him feel like he just dragged a flaming tumbleweed through his digestive tract. What the hell does that have to do with Olympic hockey? Not a damn thing, but we needed content here, and unfortunately a team featuring Latka Gravas from “Taxi” just isn’t going to give us much.
Bottom Line: If Slovenia wins a game, it will be their “Miracle on Ice” moment.
Canada is far and away the favorite in the group, even over 2010 bronze medalist Finland, a team which actually has the most Olympic hockey medals (5) since 1988. Canada is essentially a top-to-bottom NHL fantasy team, which means for all of Finland’s success, if they want to capture their first-ever gold, they will have to overcome a Canadian team which simply has an overwhelming pool of talent. Despite this, Finland is clearly the second best team in Group B, and they have a proven track record of being the proverbial thorn in the paw of favored teams.
In the “Thanks For Coming” department, we have Austria and Norway. Austria is making its first Olympic hockey appearance since Salt Lake city in 2002, while Norway is a team that has never finished above eighth. Both are long-shots to advance or medal.
Jsportsfan is Canadian. Obviously, he has to pick his home and native land, otherwise he will be deported faster than Justin Bieber. Not to mention, it the “duh” pick in this group.
Let’s start with the strength of the Canadians. The blue line has strong points like Duncan Keith and Shea Weber. Weapons for the offensive zone include forwards will have 2010 hero Sidney Crosby, Jonathan Toews, Corey Perry, and John Tavares. Like we said earlier, this team is more loaded that Lindsay Lohan at a sunset Strip nightclub, but they aren’t without their Achilles’ heels.
First, we need to talk about the starting goalie situation. As of right now, Carey Price seems to be the “go to” guy, but the experience of Roberto “The World’s Most Expensive Sieve” Luongo should not be discounted. Our money is on Price, but then again, if we were any good with money, we wouldn’t be amateur bloggers living on Spam and Ramen noodles.
In front of those goalies, theer’s some issues with that strong defense. P.K. Subban is one of the most exciting players in the NHL, but he’s more reckless than Billy Joel behind the wheel after he’s been drowning his “I Used to bang Christie Brinkley” sorrows in far too many Long Islands Iced Teas. Jay Bouwmeester is having a fine season in St. Louis, but he peaked as a 16-year-old in Medicine Hat and has never lived up to the hype. In other, Bouwmeester is the star athlete in high school who knocked-up the cheerleader and is still trying to make the child-support payments.
Like their neighbors to the south, the Canadians struggle away from North American ice. Since the NHL started sending their best in 1998, Canada has won 2 gold medals, but those happened in Salt Lake City and Vancouver. Canada finished fourth in Nagano in 1998, and seventh in Turin in 2006. The last time Canada won gold somewhere other than North America was at the Oslo games in 1952. That was so long ago that crew cuts were cool, we had World War II veterans who were still in their 20s, and television was considered a “voo-doo” fad that would never last.
Then there’s the pressure of wearing the Maple Leaf. As a proud Canadian, Jsportsfan could try to explain it to us non-Canadians, but the closest example might be how the Americans feel about Olympic basketball, but that still doesn’t even get there. Imagine if NFL style football were an Olympic event, and imagine what would happen in America if Team USA came up short against the likes of Finland. Hockey means more to Canada than beer, poutine, and Alan Thicke combined. Simply put, Canada views the Winter Olympics as a huge hockey tournament, with some side events thrown in as between-game entertainment. The Great White North will grind to a halt for this tournament, and the pressure on the players to perform will be roughly the same as putting your genitals in a bench vice.
Bottom Line: Canada has a ton of expectations, and how they handle that pressure will determine Canada’s success or failure.
Like we said earlier, Finland has more medals in hockey since the NHL sent its best and brightest to Jacques Rogge’s party in 1998. This time around, the Finns biggest strength is between the pipes, where the likes of Tuukka Rask, Kari Lehtonen, and Antti Niemi form what may be the best goaltending crew this side of the Americans. Rask is one of the best on the planet, but if he falters the Finns will have no worries with either Lehtonen or Niemi.
The defense in front of those goalies is going to prove problematic. Sami Salo is as fragile as a hopeless romantic’s heart and the odds of his suffering an injury during this tournament are as good as yours of not winning the lottery this week. When it happens, Finland will find itself relying on young star Olli Maatta, which may be a bit much to ask of 19-year-old blue liner.
This will be the last chance for Teemu Selanne to finally capture that elusive gold medal. The highest scoring Finn in NHL history is one of the most respected and beloved players in the NHL, and a gold medal would be a fitting way to end a storied career. Selanne can’t do it on his own though and will need help from Mikko Koivu, Tuomu Ruutu, Valtteri Flippula and Olli Jokinen to provide offensive spark.
Bottom Line: Advancement is likely, but to win gold, the Finns need spectacular goaltending (which they will get), timely offense (which is entirely possible), and solid defense (which will be a problem).
The Austrians have Tomas Vanek, Michael Grabner, and the Von Trapp kids. The only chance Austria has of winning a medal in hockey is if the sport is played on a mountain and they replace skates with skis. That said, the Austrian hockey program is on the rise and could be a factor in the future, if the country lets the sport grow.
What do hockey and world history have in common? Norway hasn’t mattered in either since Vidkun Quisling. If it weren’t for the New York Rangers’ Mats Zuccarello, the Norwegians would have zero NHL players on their roster. If he gets hurt, look for the guys from 80s one-hit wonder A-ha to take the ice for Team Norge.
Bottom Line: Norway needs to stick to Biathlon and Nordic Combined for their medal aspirations.
- Czech Republic
This is a group which features two prior gold medal winner in Sweden (1994, 2006) and the Czech Republic (1998). Sweden is packed with NHL is packed with NHL talent, which makes them the favorite of this group. In some people’s minds, since these games are being played on an enlarged rink more typical of Europe than North America, Sweden is considered by many to be a solid pick to win gold.
Normally, the Czechs would be considered a solid second pick in this group, but the development of young Czech players has become as stagnant as the Okefenokee Swamp. Add that to the fact that Czech stars Jaromir Jagr and Patrik Elias’ ages can now only be estimated by carbon-dating, and it easy to see why the Czech team could be seen to be in decline.
While the Czechs may be on the way down, Switzerland is just the opposite. Despite having a roster that is only about half comprised of NHL players, the Swiss play a fundamentally sound defensive style that keeps all of its games close; Switzerland’s only losses in Vancouver in 2010 were to the U.S. (twice) and Canada (once). However, in those three losses against the silver and gold medal teams respectively, they only gave up five goals. The problem is they have no offense.
And then there’s Latvia. They are a gutsy group of players, and they are led by Canadian-born Buffalo Sabres interim head coach Ted Nolan, but they will need more breaks than Joe Theismann’s shin bones to advance out of this group.
The 2006 gold medalists were a bigger disappointment than Guns N’ Roses “Chinese Democracy” in Vancouver, as the Swedes were eliminated by Slovakia in the quarterfinals. Sweden comes to Sochi looking to regain their form of eight years ago.
Goalie Henrik Lundqvist is starting to find his game again which is bad news for opposing shooters. In his last 5 games, King Henrik has a .938 save percentage. Only a Kevlar vest stops more bullets than the New York Rangers goalie as of late. That’s great news for Sweden who will certainly be riding his hot hand.
Oliver Ekman-Larsson might be the best defenseman you’ve never heard of. Since he plays defense for the Phoenix Coyotes, you have a better chance finding an ex-Mafioso in the Witness Protection Program than seeing an Ekman-Larsson highlight on SportsCenter. Nothing cures anonymity like winning gold.
The big question for Sweden is the health of Henrik Sedin. The Vancouver Canucks captain has been nursing injured ribs and saw his iron-man streak snapped a short time ago. There are many observers who say Sedin should not go to Sochi and rest his knee for the stretch run of the season, but if he can play, you can bet he will.
Sweden doesn’t have the scoring power as offensive juggernauts like Canada or Russia, but you could do far worse than the likes of Alexander Steen, Loui Eriksson, Henrik Zetterberg and Gabriel Landeskog.
Bottom Line: This is a strong team with a great chance at gold.
2) Czech Republic
The Czechs are the biggest wildcard in this whole tournament. Gold medal winners in 1998, the Czechs can also look like the 1974-75 Washington Capitals in any given tournament.
Up front, the Czechs are a blend of youth and experience. The youth is featured with David Krejci, Ondrej Palat, Jakub Voracek and Michael Frolik. The experience is supplied by Jaromir Jagr, Patrik Elias, and Petr Nedved. But the key player might be Tomas Plekanec. The Montreal Canadiens captain is being asked to bring the young and old together into a cohesive unit.
The blue line is a question mark, but keep an eye on Radko Gudas. The Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman is a mean son of a bitch who looks like he was an extra in the chainsaw-murder scene in “Scarface.” Gudas has no problem with being physical and he is an equal opportunity skull-crusher.
If the Czech defense is a question mark, the goaltending is a full-fledged inquisition. Ondrej Pavelec can be spectacular, but also can be scored on more often than a Kardashian in an NBA locker room. Jsportsfan has had a front-row seat to watch Pavelec for the last 3 seasons as he plays for his hometown Winnipeg Jets. That means he knows first-hand that Pavelec can exhilarate and frustrate in the same game, let alone the same week.
Bottom Line: If the bad Pavelec shows up, the Czechs will be gone by the quarterfinals.
The Swiss recorded their biggest win ever at the 2006 Olympics when they shutout Canada 2-0, which put their hockey program on the map. Jonas Hiller will be asked to lead the Swiss to another Olympic miracle. The Anaheim Ducks goalie is having an excellent season in Orange County and will be asked to translate that success to the Olympic stage. Hiller won’t get much support from his teammates so he will need to be spectacular to pull this off.
While the defense has solid NHL contributors like Raphael Diaz, Mark Streit, Roman Jusi, and Yannick Weber, they likely won’t be enough to deal with some of the heavyweights in this tournament. This team can’t give up a lot of goals, because beyond Nino Neiderreiter and Damien Brunner, they really have no threats in the offensive zone. The odds that the Swiss advance are slim, but possible. The odds they win a medal are roughly that of finding an honest banker in the land of yodeling.
Bottom Line: If the Swiss can’t get goals from an unlikely source, they will crash and burn in Russia.
Without looking it up, can you tell us exactly where Latvia is? The first one to answer more specifically than “Europe” gets to hang out at J-Dubs’ house, where you will be plied with more pizza and beer than you think physically possible for one human being to consume. As far as the hockey is concerned, the Latvians have one NHL player on their roster, Zemgus Girgensons of the Buffalo Sabres. WE don’t even know of any famous Latvians to makes jokes about being on the roster. We’re not even sure anybody actually lives in Latvia.
The Bottom Line: Latvia has no chance.
Our Predicted Seedings:
6. Czech Republic
Our Predicted Quarterfinal Results:
- Canada over Switzerland
- Sweden over Slovakia
- USA over Czech Republic
- Russia over Finland
Our Predicted Semifinal Results:
- Canada over Russia
- Sweden over USA
Our Predicted Bronze Medal Game:
- USA over Russia
Our Predicted Gold Medal Game:
- Sweden over Canada
So that his fellow Canadians won’t burn Jsportsfan’s house down or worse yet, cut off his beer supply, J-Dubs takes full responsibility for saying the Canadians won’t win.