Ok…yea…I know. Where have you been? Well, there has been very little that I feel strongly enough to write about. Even this is not holding my interest enough to do a player by player deep analysis. Still, it’s a start. Before we begin, I need to get things off to the proper start…
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There…now that that’s out of the way…here are my predictions and analysis for the gold medal in men’s hockey at the 2014 Sochi Olympics.
Unless and until they prove otherwise, the Canadians (no…not the Montreal ones) are the best in the world (and I’m not just saying that because Pickles and Patty are on the team). The only questions are which players are going to ride the pine during the tourney. Not to start any arguments, but the people that say that the Canadian ‘B’ team (the players not named but could have been) could still win a medal might just have a point.
The US team is just as loaded as the Canadians, but a slightly weaker defencive core and questions about Jimmy Howard (having him out would be a plus for the US team, but that’s just my evil empire bias) slip the US team behind the Canadians. Either way, a medal podium without both of these teams would be a major upset.
Once again, the Swedes have a very strong team. The Sedin Sist…I mean Twins, Nick Backstrom, Henrik Zetterberg, Gabriel Landeskog…there’s no lack of offence for them. Defencively, they are just as strong even with Johnny Oduya (OH…DO YA?!?!). They even have a strong goaltender presence. The only thing that might trip them up is their group (as I will get to later).
My biggest concerns with the Russian team is, do they go with the proven international vet, Alexander Yeryomenko in net, or go younger and less exposed to international play with Sergei Bobrovski who just happened to win the 2012-13 Vezina? It’s difficult to get a true read on the Russian team based on the number of KHL players that are on the Russian roster. Still, the Russians traditionally have a strong showing and they still have a better than average chance on the gold. On an unrelated note, I would love to be able to sit in the stands during a Russian practice and yell “ALEX!” as loud as I can. With five Alexander’s and two Alexi’s on the team, getting that many heads to turn would amuse me to no end!
By far the deepest team in net in the Olympics (a combined .918 SV% and 2.39 GAA among Niemi, Lehtonen, and Rask as of 1-21). The thing that could keep them off the podium is a perceived lack of offence. Rip Van Selanne’s goal scoring has been dropping off significantly over the past few seasons and no Finnish forward has yet cracked the 20 goal mark in their respective pro league (Valtteri Filppula’s 18 for the Lightning leads the way). Sure, any of the three Finnish goalies have the ability to win a 2-1 game every night, but they shouldn’t have to. Yea, I’m sure the coaches have a “system” for them to play in, but the best system won’t work if you can’t put the biscuit in the basket.
Sure, Jaroslav Halak in net and Zdeno Chara on the blueline is a great base to build on and having a good (albeit cheating Blackhawk) in Marian Hossa as a scorer definitely gives the Slovaks a fighting chance, they are done in by not having as deep a team as others higher on this list and being in a group with the US and Russia. Sure, Halak can steal any given game (cheating Blue that he is) but can he steal them all? If all the planets align the Slovaks could sneak onto the podium, but they, along with the Czechs, are a long shot pinned against the rail when it comes to the gold.
CZECH REPUBLIC 12-1
Don’t get me wrong, the Czechs have a decent team. However, they are just not at the level of the top 5. In fact, the Czechs only NHL goalie is likely to be the #3 on the roster. The best talent that the Czechs have is getting a little long in the tooth. I’m not really sure where their #3 world ranking is coming from. Sure, they have a solid defencive roster, but not outstanding like the others.
The Swiss. This team has the single biggest chance of making a mess of the group and possibly the medal round. It’s all going to come down to if Jonas Hiller is a very good goalie on a very good team or a good goalie on a excellent team. If the former, he may be able to steal enough games in the round robin to possibly upset the Swedes for the group winner.
As go their goalies, so go the Norwegians. Two very young (20 and 21) and one mentally questionable goaltenders holds the key for them. Who knows…maybe youthful exuberance could lead to a magic run for the Norwegians. More likely is a 10-0 beatdown by the Canadians on Feb. 13th.
Sure, playing for your country on the biggest stage in sports is an honor many of us will never get the opportunity to have, but I am sure that Anze Kopitar would rather stay with his Kings teammates. Would give the Slovenes a better chance in a group with Slovakia, Russia, and the US.
As much as Kopitar wants to stay in LA, Thomas Vanek is looking at the 2 week vacation in Russia as a much needed break from the island. The thing I am most looking forward to with the Austrian team is the announcers taking a stab at some of the names (Gerhard Unterluggauer, Thomas Hundertpfund, and Daniel Oberkofler are my personal favorites).
The biggest surprise to me was the fact that long time Shark Sandis Ozolins is still playing and Arturs Irbe isn’t. Yea…Irbe is 46, but I’m sure he’s still got enough game to be the backup. the Alex Trebek stat of the Olympics is, with the exception of Arturs Kulda, every member of the Latvian team has a surname that ends with an ‘S’.
Well….there it is. Yea, it’s no TSN in depth analysis, but it is what I see. Other than following current and former San Jose Sharks, one of my pleasures will be following current Milwaukee Admiral Simon Moser as he plays for Switzereland.