Hockey is one of the premier Winter Olympic events and the 2014 Sochi Games will again feature the best players in the world. The NHL will suspend play in February to send their players to Russia for the games. The NHL players will help most of the 12 teams who have qualified, which will make men’s hockey a must see event.
The countries have already begun the team selection process and will bring the players into camp at the end of August. There is no clear favorite to win gold but the top teams all have great potential. But no team is without holes.
Team Canada always has pressure to win any hockey event but it will be a lot less then the team faced in 2010 as the host country. The big question mark for Canada will be in goal. They have a lot of talent but Roberto Luongo has struggled since back stopping them to gold in 2010 and the other potential goalies are coming in with very little Olympic experience.
Canada is stacked in every other position with arguably the best player in the world, Sidney Crosby joined by the likes of Jonathan Toews and Rick Nash up front. The defense is anchored by Blackhawks teammates Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook who have won gold and two Stanley Cups together.
The Americans will be going into the games with one of the top goal tending cores with Jonathan Quick the favorite to win the job from long time starter Ryan Miller who will be back to try and again get a spot on the team. USA Hockey will return forwards Patrick Kane and Zach Parise who will lead the scoring for the team which will likely be needed as the defense could be suspect.
If the Americans don’t have the best goaltending team then it will be Finland who has their choice of top NHL goalies: Niklas Backstrom, Antti Niemi, Tuukka Rask and Pekka Rinne. Only Backstrom made the team in 2010 but the other three have really grown since then, making deep playoffs runs. The other big question for Finland is whether or not Teemu Selanne will return for another Olympics to play to earn his first gold or fourth Olympic medal.
Finnish rival, Team Sweden, already knows they will have a changing of the guard at these Olympics. Long-time team Sweden members Nicklas Lidstrom and Daniel Alfredsson will not be making the trip to Sochi. Jonathan Ericsson has already had to fill Lidstrom’s skates in Detroit so he should be fine. Ericsson will be joined by Red Wing teammate Henrik Zetterberg along with the Sedin twins and Henrik Lundqvist – meaning Sweden should contend for a medal if they avoid a early loss like they had in 2010.
Making what will probably be a last run with their core players is Team Slovakia. In 2010 Slovakia came up one game short of their first medal losing in the bronze medal game to Finland. Slovakia has all the pieces with goaltending, the best defenseman in Zdeno Chara and talented scorers Marian Hossa and Marian Gaborik. What will hurt Slovakia is their depth, they are nowhere near as deep as other teams but they will be a force to be reckoned with.
With the home ice advantage comes all the pressure. Team Russia is be expected to bring home gold just like Canada was in 2010. The good thing for Russia is that they have one of the most talented teams with a lot of top- tier NHL players.
Most of the pressure will fall on the forwards like Ilya Kovalchuk. He will get a lot of attention after retiring from the NHL to return to Russia and play in the KHL. Evgeni Malkin and Pavel Datsyuk will also be looked to for a lot of scoring on the wider Olympic ice because of the magical things they can do with the puck on NHL ice.
The player with the most pressure going into the games is without a doubt Alexander Ovechkin. Leading Russia to gold would do wonders for Ovechkin as he tries to stay in the conversation of best player in the world. Crosby was able to shine in 2010 and, to keep up with him, Ovechkin will have to make 2014 his time.
Rounding out the field of 12 are the teams from Slovenia, Norway, Austria, Latvia, Czech Republic, and Switzerland. Even thought they don’t get a lot of attention, crazier wins have come in the Olympics and Switzerland is getting a lot of buzz. Now the only questions that remain is who will make the final rosters and whether the Russian gay oppression will have any effect on gay rights supportive hockey players.
The one thing I know is it will be exciting. I can’t wait for the puck to drop. For many more photos of men’s Olympic hockey check out Newscom.