Sochi Hockey Ponderings

cat tacopinaSo, I know last week I did a mini-preview of the Men’s Hockey Tournament, but I want to expand. Here’s the thing: I love Olympic Hockey. We could probably go back and forth over whether or not players are more passionate about the NHL playoffs and the Stanley Cup or the Olympics, but it’s undeniable there’s something special Olympic Hockey brings to the table. Maybe it’s the change in teammates or the infrequency of the event, but I like to think it’s that, in an age where pessimism and cynicism are too easy to find, there’s still patriotism and unbridled allegiance for a country to exist in a form as innocent as sport.

Not to mention how much more intense it is for fans of teams in NHL’s Eastern Conference. It’s a completely different game than the finesse and skill Eastern Conference fans are familiar with, and it’s a total treat.

The teams at this tournament are boasting unbelievably talented line-ups, but there are four major players in these games. However, don’t be surprised if this is the year of the dark horse. Anything can happen at the Olympics.


The 2010 Olympic Champions are being projected by pundits everywhere to repeat, and for good reason. This team is so stacked on offense, they can put Islanders Captain John Tavares as their fourth-line center. If you could bring a B team to the Olympics and put them in the medal mix, they’d probably win that too. The wealth of talent on offense is almost unfair.

But that’s by far their best area. The blue line should pack enough of a punch, especially with Shea Weber. Their goaltending depth however, even with Carey Price’s sparkling season, isn’t as convincing as the cases being made by the other teams going for Gold.


Last week I had predicted the Swedes would be able to snag the Gold in Sochi. Not necessarily a dark horse, but definitely an unexpected choice considering Canada and Russia’s offensive capabilities and the physicality and goaltending depth of the United States.

But now that star forwards Henrik Sedin and Johan Franzen are out due to injury, their case has gotten weaker.

Or has it?

Their chance to win gold has certainly weakened, but it isn’t easy to count out a team who, even after two serious losses, still has depth in every area. They shouldn’t be counted out of the gold rush just yet.

Like Canada, the host team is also brimming with offensive superstars. They have four of the world’s best forwards in Alexander Ovechkin, Pavel Datsyuk, Evgeni Malkin and Ilya Kovalchuk. While they’re similar to the Canadians on  the offense, the Russians do have an edge. Even if the Canadians have more scoring depth, Russia is the faster team and they can put up more than enough goals to keep them ahead.
The issue with the Russians, and why they probably won’t grab Gold, is that there’s nothing outstanding about their defensive game. It’s difficult to pick out a World-class defender or goaltender on the roster, but they will have the scoring and home-ice advantange to aid them in their quest for Olympic Glory.
At the Vancouver Olympics four years ago, the major unsurety surrounding Team U.S.A. was their youth. However, that team won Silver, against a more-talented Canadian team who, won by the skin of their teeth. This team is older and better than their 2010 predecessor.
The U.S. has the physical edge over everyone, and may have the ability to wear down their competitors before 60 minutes is up. They also have the most goaltending depth, with Jonathan Quick to start and proven Ryan Miller to bench. Depth on offense is worrisome and the blue line is young, but hey, youth hasn’t stopped them before. The   team  was chosen with chemistry in mind, and that could make a difference.
Final Prediction:

The majority of analysts and pundits are saying that Canada will repeat. However, while the Canadians are the most offensively-gifted team in the tournament, the goaltending is a giant question mark. There are other teams in this tournament who can also score goals and defend better than Canada. Canada won’t get a blow-out against a major power, and many gold medals come down to goaltending.

The gold medal game will come down to the United States and Sweden. Should Quick not be able to make a mark in these games and come up big in the ways he’s expected to, Sweden will win this game. However, the grit on the United States team is miles away from the finesse-inspired Swedish team. Phil Kessel, Patrick Kane and Zach Parise can deliver the goods up front, and if Quick come up big too, the U.S. will nab top honors.