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2014 Sochi Olympics Men’s Hockey Preview, Part 2: Canada, Sweden Among the Front-runners

February 11th, 2014 at 1:38 PM
By Paul Lane Sabres 101

Part one of our two-part Olympic hockey preview detailed Team USA's chances of repeating as a medalist. Part two will take a look at the rest of the field.

'Alexander Ovechkin' photo (c) 2010, s.yume - license:

Twelve teams will play in three groups; the U.S. team is in Group A. All teams advance to the medal round, with the top four teams earning first-round byes. Play begins Wednesday, with the U.S. team opening Thursday.

Group A

  • RUSSIA: The hosts figure to be the main U.S. competition on this group. Evgeni Malkin, Pavel Datsyuk and Alex Ovechkin will lead perhaps the most proficient offense in the Olympics. Defending Vezina Trophy winner Sergei Bobrovsky will be the top netminder, providing a good backstop for a solid defense.
  • SLOVAKIA: The Slovakians can provide some resistance, but not enough to warrant medal consideration. Marian Hossa leads the offense, while Zdeno Chara leads the defense and Jaroslav Halak minds the net.
  • SLOVENIA: The Slovenians are making their Olympics debut. They will likely appear as such. Anze Kopitar is the only NHL player on the roster. While he can light the lamp, who else will? Robert Kristan plays in Russia's KHL and will start in goal.

Group B

  • AUSTRIA: Former Buffalo Sabres winger Thomas Vanek is one of three NHL players skating for Austria, which will likely contend with Latvia for last in this group. Michael Grabner and Michael Raffl will also provide some scoring touch.
  • CANADA: The defending gold medalists may be the favorites to repeat. Sidney Crosby, Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry and Rick Nash are just some of the snipers. Norris Trophy winners P.K. Subban and Duncan Keith will help keep things clear for Roberto Luongo and/or Carey Price in net. The entire roster is pretty much an all-star team in and of itself, so expect the Canadians to cruise at least into the final four.
  • FINLAND: The bronze medalists four years ago will need a miracle to repeat. Teemu Selanne and Kimmo Tumonen are among the scorers, but like the United States the Finns will need stellar goaltending to excel. Tuukka Rask is good, but he will have to be great for another medal to be had. Antti Niemi will back him up.
  • NORWAY: Mats Zuccarello is the only NHL player for this Scandanavian also-ran. Lars Haugen of the KHL will start in net, with most of the rest of the roster being made up of European league pros.

Group C

  • CZECH REPUBLIC: Tomas Plekanec, Patrick Elias and David Krejci will front the top lines, with the ageless Jaromir Jago and Petr Nedven still playing from the 1998 gold medal-winning team. The Czechs aren't churning out enough young talent to stay competitive, though, so look for them to be eliminated sooner rather than later.
  • LATVIA: The Sabres' Zengus Girgensons is Latvia's only NHL player, and the 20-year-old is in his first professional season. That tells you everything you need to know. Sabres coach Ted Nolan will coach the Latvians. Like in Buffalo, he will be lucky to win at all.
  • SWEDEN: The Swedish may be the most complete team in the tournament. The Sedin brothers, Niklas Backstrom, Henrik Zetterburg and Daniel Alfredsson are just some of the forwards for a high-power attack. Henrik Lundqvist will lead the way in goal, with Sabres goalie Jhonas Enroth likely to see some action against a low-ranking opponent as his backup. They were upset in 2010. Don't look for that to happen again.
  • SWITZERLAND: The Swiss prove tenacious in each Olympics, giving Canada one of its toughest tests four years ago and beating the Canadians eight years ago. Jonas Hiller won't have too much help up front, with Damien Brunner and Nino Niederreiter being his only NHL forwards. The Swiss won't score much, so they will have to rely on slowing things down to stay competitive.
Tags: Alex Ovechkin, Buffalo, Buffalo Sabres, Evgeni Malkin, Henrik Lundqvist, Hockey, NHL, Olympics, Sidney Crosby

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