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Sochi Olympics 2014: Will Canada Men’s Hockey Repeat Gold?

Why Canada is the obvious favorite, along with a complete preview of Russia, the U.S. and other contenders.

Sochi Olympics 2014 Video: First Look Event Update #2

 

Canadian forward Sidney Crosby (C) celeb

The 2014 Sochi Olympic Games have a tough act to follow.

Four years ago, in Vancouver, the world was treated to one of the greatest ice hockey games since the ‘Miracle On Ice’ in 1980 – only the ending was much different.  With the gold medal on the line, the U.S. faced off against a hockey powerhouse, but this time around, was on the losing end of the score. 

Having tied the game with :25 seconds remaining, on an incredible goal by Zach Parise, the U.S. forced overtime against its northern neighbors, but in the end it was Canada’s captain – and the best hockey player in the world – Sidney Crosby, who scored the winner to give Canada its second gold in three Olympics.  Now, four years later, Canada remains a powerhouse and the heavily favored country.

But it certainly isn’t going to be easy, with several countries touting some impressive lineups.

Sochi will mark the fifth time the NHL has halted its regular season schedule for the tournament, which will be comprised of Canada, United States, Russia, Czech Republic, Finland, Latvia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Sweden, Switzerland, Norway and Austria.  In Vancouver, the rinks were sized the same as the NHL (200 x 85 feet) but this winter, the committee has decided to return to the wider surface of 200 x 98.5 feet.

That could prove to be a slight advantage for teams pooling more of their talent out of Europe, like Russia, for example.  The host country has a solid lineup up and down, starting with goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky.  Bobrovsky, last year’s Vezina winner as a member of the Columbus Blue Jackets, has had a tough time staying healthy this season but will be ready to go.  There’s no reason for Russia to be worried with Colorado Avalanche starter Semyon Varlamov and KHL standout Alexander Eremenko backing up Bobrovsky.

While Russia’s defense is definitely its weak point, the offense has more firepower than when Stalin ruled.  Pavel Datsyuk, Alexander Radulov, Evgeni Malkin and Alexander Ovechkin are just a few of the big name goal scorers that make up the lineup.  With all those scorers, it does beg the question, who will wind up passing the puck?

Russia might have several goal scorers, but for the U.S. it’s much the opposite.  Designed with a pass-first mentality, the reigning silver medal winner has brought back several familiar faces.  Returning is Buffalo Sabres goaltender – and tournament MVP – Ryan Miller, backed up by the Detroit Red Wings’ Jimmy Howard and the Los Angeles Kings’ Jonathan Quick.  There are 11 others back from four years ago on offense and defense, including Zach Parise, David Backes, Phil Kessel, Ryan Suter and Brooks Orpik.  It’s a solid lineup, with question marks at goaltender due to inconsistency and injury.

With Team USA’s potential issues in between the pipes, it could put both Finland and Sweden right in the thick of things.  For Finland, the big storyline is Anaheim Ducks star Teemu Selanne, who will be competing in his sixth Olympics.  He’ll be just the second player to ever do so, leaving no lack of motivation for the team.  Kari Lehtonen and Antti Niemi could split time in between the pipes, while Valtteri Filppula, Olli Jokinen and Mikael Granlund on offense and Kimmo Timonen, Osi Vaananen and Lasse Kukkonen on defense prove that Finland has talent scattered throughout and could be a wildcard.

The same could be said for Sweden.  Eight years removed from a gold medal, Sweden has a shot simply based on its goaltending, thanks to Henrik Lundqvist, Jhonas Enroth and Jonas Gustavsson. The country’s defense isn’t too shabby either, with Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Niklas Hjalmarsson and Niklas Kronwall, among others, manning the blue line.  The same could be said of its offense, who has such big names as the Henrik and Daniel Sedin, Henrik Zetterberg and Johan Franzen.  Sweden is built for the podium but can its defense remain consistent?

And then there is Canada.

Heavily favored Canada has a disgusting offense with a good balance of scoring: Jeff Carter, Rick Nash, and Steven Stamkos, and playmakers, Jonathan Toews, Patrick Marleau and Sidney Crosby to lead the charge.  And with defensemen like Shea Weber, Duncan Keith and PK Subban, Canada has lots of size, strength and puck handling ability in front of what might be its only flaw – goaltending.  Team Canada will live and die by its goaltending, composed of Roberto Luongo, Carey Price and Mike Smith.  If it wants to win back-to-back gold, the goaltending will have to be huge.

One other notable team is the Czech Republic.  Its lineup is might be a little old, with players like 42-year-old Petr Nedved, 41-year-old Jaromir Jagr and 35-year-old Tomas Kaberle, there’s still plenty of talent on both offense and defense.  Forwards Michael Frolik and Martin Hanzal and defenseman Marek Zidlicky and Michal Rozsival will be the keys if the Czech team wants to find any success.  We’d be shocked to see this team walk away with a medal.

Predictions:

Gold – Canada

Silver – Russia

Bronze – USA

Tournament MVP – Patrick Sharp

 

Ed Miller is a contributor for CraveOnline Sports. You can follow him on Twitter @PhillyEdMiller or “like” CraveOnline Sports on Facebook.

Photo Credit: Getty