Now that they’re officially OK’d for Sochi, what should we look for from the fifth Olympic hockey tournament with NHL players?
The key storylines as the Games approach:
1. Will Russia defend home ice? At Vancouver 2010, the most vital medal for Canada was men’s hockey gold. You can make the same argument for the host nation next year.
Russia is rooted in Olympic hockey success from the Soviet Union era, much moreso than Canada. The Soviets won all but one Olympic gold from 1964 to 1988 (with the exception, of course, being 1980).
But, “Russia” has never won an Olympic title. The Unified Team won in Albertville in 1992. In the last five Olympics, “Russia” took home a total of one silver (1998, thanks, Dominik Hasek) and one bronze (2002), half as many medals as Finland.
2. What pressure is on Alex Ovechkin? The Washington Capitals superstar and reigning Hart Trophy winner has never been able to lead his juggernaut NHL team past the conference semifinals. Likewise, Russia would have liked to have done better with Ovechin in 2006 (fourth place) and 2010 (quarterfinal loss to Canada).
Ovechkin actually starred in 2006, scoring five goals and making the all-tournament team. But he’s never carried the weight of expectations that will come in Sochi. Is it a stretch to equate it to what Sidney Crosby faced in Vancouver? I say no.
3. What about the U.S. and Canada? The acclaimed Olympic medal predictor Infostrada went out on a limb with its latest projections in April.
Bronze: Czech Republic
Obviously, European nations have a built-in advantage not having to cross an ocean for an Olympics, but it’s hard to believe neither the gold nor silver medalist from Vancouver will podium.
If there’s any uncertainty, it’s who will start in goal for both nations.
For the U.S., Vancouver fortress Ryan Miller turned 33 after the worst goals-against average (2.81) season of his career. Jonathan Quick, the No. 3 U.S. goalie in Vancouver, crashed back to earth in the strike-shortened season after being a Vezina finalist in 2012.
The current leaders appear to be the Red Wings’ Jimmy Howard, 29, who has turned in back-to-back strong seasons, and Craig Anderson, so long as his spectacular last season with the Ottawa Senators wasn’t a fluke.
Canada is loaded with skaters, but not in goal. It’s hard to believe Roberto Luongo was their super sub in Vancouver, replacing Martin Brodeur after the group stage. Luongo has since had an epic downturn with the Vancouver Canucks, Brodeur is now 41 years old and the No. 3 in 2010, Marc-Andre Fleury, is coming off forgettable playoff performances with the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Corey Crawford of the Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks may be the new favorite.
ProHockeyTalk compiled the groups and schedule, which begins five days after the opening ceremony.
|Group A||Group B||Group C|
|Men’s Preliminary Round Schedule|
|WED, FEB 12|
|1||12:00 PM ET||Czech Republic vs. Sweden|
|2||12:00 PM ET||Latvia vs. Switzerland|
|THU, FEB 13|
|3||3:00 AM ET||Finland vs. Austria|
|4||7:30 AM ET||Russia vs. Slovenia|
|5||7:30 AM ET||Slovakia vs. United States|
|6||12:00 PM ET||Canada vs. Norway|
|FRI, FEB 14|
|7||3:00 AM ET||Czech Republic vs. Latvia|
|8||7:30 AM ET||Sweden vs. Switzerland|
|9||12:00 PM ET||Canada vs. Austria|
|10||12:00 PM ET||Norway vs. Finland|
|SAT, FEB 15|
|11||3:00 AM ET||Slovakia vs. Slovenia|
|12||7:30 AM ET||United States vs. Russia|
|13||12:00 PM ET||Switzerland vs. Czech Republic|
|14||12:00 PM ET||Sweden vs. Latvia|
|SUN, FEB 16|
|15||3:00 AM ET||Austria vs. Norway|
|16||7:30 AM ET||Russia vs. Slovakia|
|17||7:30 AM ET||Slovenia vs. United States|
|18||12:00 PM ET||Finland vs. Canada|
|Qualification play-off – TUE, FEB 18|
|19||3:00 AM ET||TBD|
|20||7:30 AM ET||TBD|
|21||12:00 PM ET||TBD|
|22||12:00 PM ET||TBD|
|Quarterfinals – WED, FEB 19|
|23||3:00 AM ET||TBD|
|24||7:30 AM ET||TBD|
|25||12:00 PM ET||TBD|
|26||12:00 PM ET||TBD|
|Semifinals – FRI, FEB 21|
|27||7:00 AM ET||TBD|
|28||12:00 PM ET||TBD|
|Bronze Medal Game – SAT, FEB 22|
|29||10:00 AM ET||TBD|
|Gold Medal Game – SUN, FEB 23|
|30||7:00 AM ET||TBD