With the memory of Gold still on the minds of many Canadian hockey fans from four years ago, the world awaits the best players on the planet to arrive in Sochi, Russia, to compete for hockey supremacy.
Below are my projected final four teams and who I believe will medal at this year’s Olympics.
4th place – Team Russia
Russia is a legitimate Gold Medal contender. Playing on home ice is a huge advantage and given the proud nature of the Russians, they will surely be taking this tournament very seriously. This team has arguably the best top 4 offensive forwards in the World (Ovechkin, Datsyuk, Malkin and Kovalchuk). But their potential weakness lies in their depth. A huge unknown is the talent level of the 10 KHL players that Russia named to their team. With nearly half of their players not currently playing in the NHL, this could be a very dangerous situation for opposing countries. Russia has the skill and the home ice advantage to lead them to Gold, but I believe the overall depth of the next 3 countries will ultimately be too much for them to handle.
Bronze Medal – Team USA
With many players returning from their Gold Medal defeat to Canada in 2010, Team USA poses a real threat to win Gold. USA boasts the best goaltending in the tournament (along with Finland) and either Ryan Miller, or Jonathan Quick, can simply steal games. The question mark around this team is how they are going to respond to the larger ice surface. Will the likes of Derek Stepan and Justin Faulk be able to keep up in critical situations? Another thing working against the Americans is that they are slotted in a group with the Russians and Slovakia. It’s very possible that they fall to 3rd place in that group and have to go through an extra qualification game, just to make it to the Quarterfinals. If they survive the group stage and get a bye in the Quarters, they will be a team to watch down the stretch.
Silver Medal – Team Sweden
Team Sweden is always a powerhouse on the World hockey stage. Their roster includes superstars like Henrik Zetterberg, Erik Karlsson and Daniel Sedin, who are all game breakers. In net, they have one of best goalies on planet Earth in Henrik Lundqvist. The loss of Henrik Sedin will surely hurt them and brother Daniel will miss the chemistry between the two. Sweden does have the easiest group and will surely finish in first place. This will give them a bye into the Quarters and a match up against a lesser opponent (barring any upsets). They are solid from the net out and can bury any opponent if taken lightly.
Gold Medal – Team Canada
The defending Gold Medal winners have the best team on paper. With the deepest talent pool in the World, it’s easy to make a case for a second Canadian team being able to win a medal. The clear question mark for Canada at this tournament will be goaltending. Both Roberto Luongo and Carey Price have had good, but not great years. Countries like Finland, Sweden and USA have an advantage in net. But where Canada lacks in the crease, they gain everywhere else. The potential 4th line for Canada includes John Tavares centering Rick Nash and Martin St. Louis. That line could match up with any other countries top line and be just fine. If Roberto Luongo continues to prove his skeptics wrong (like he did by winning Gold in 2010), Canada will once again be the Men’s Olympic Hockey Champion.
HonorableMention: Finland & Slovakia