Let the Real Olympic Games Begin

Who's the favorite?

There are plenty of popular events at the Winter Olympics, but only one of those sports actually has a significant following: ice hockey. So while I am a little biased because I love hockey, I think this is the most important event, and many people in the host country would agree.  Honestly, how many people would tune into curling on a regular basis, and how many people watch figure skating every time it’s on tv? Answer: very, very few people care about those “sports”.  Also, it’s the only competition in which teams literally go head to head, as opposed to racing against a clock.  When we look back at past winter games, the first thing that comes to American’s minds would be the Miracle on Ice. Swedes, Canadians, and a few others will remember Forsberg’s penalty shot in 1994.  Nobody ever talks about a triple lutz, a record breaking slolam, or the Jamaican bobsled. All of the events feature great athletes, and they deserve to shine. But amongst the sea of stars, men’s ice hockey is the north star, sun, and the moon.  And while there’s no question that this sport is the crown jewel of the games, the only issue that remains unresolved is to determine who will wear the crown.

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Hockey is a team sport, and it really does take a group effort to achieve higher goals. Individuals can come together, and create things that they never imagined. In sports, it’s not uncomprehensible to witness David slaying Goliath.  However, we can be realistic and say that the real competition for men’s hockey gold is between Canada, Russia, Sweden, Finland, Czech Republic, USA, and Slovakia.  Here’s a quick breakdown:

While Czech Republic and Slovakia have a fair share of stars, I don’t like the goaltending. For them to compete with some of the firepower that the other teams posess, they need to be able to hold down close games. Neither team will embaress themselves, and one may post an upset here or there, but I don’t see a Cinderella story here.

Sweden, USA and Finland pose a much higher threat to medal.  Each team has incredible goaltending that can take them very far.  They all have better scoring balance, and if they manage to gel quickly, a gold is not out of the question.  Looking up and down the US roster, it doesn’t really scare me.  However, Ryan Miller is playing out of this world, and if they can provide ANY goal support, that can be enough. He’s played against all of the top guns that other teams have, and knows all of their tendencies. The Finn’s can arguable match Canada’s depth in goal.  Their third stringer, Niittymaki was the last tournament’s MVP.  The have enough snipers, and a good mix of guys who don’t mind doing dirty work, that can help them go far.  Finally, the Swedes also don’t need much offense to win, if Lundqvist plays the way he did in 2006 when hey won the gold.  However, they also have a lineup similar to the Finns, and a repeat is more than just possible.

With all of that said, the two favorites are still Russia and Canada.  Each team has superstars throughout the lineup, and can almost score at will.  The goaltending is deep on both sides, but Canada has an edge on defense.  Still, Russia’s firepower is enough to cover up any defensive lapses they might have.  Canada has the ability to push any of the other teams around, and I think they will. The same goes for Russia, although I think they like offense a little more, and will push for some higher totals.  If/when these teams meet, I expect Canada to try to carry the play, but play a more defensive brand of hockey.  Not Russia though! They’ll keep the gas pedal down no matter who they play, and will just dare someone to stop them.  However, Canada also has significant home ice advantage on their side, so we’ll see how much that plays a role.  I’m not making any predictions, because I’m cheering for Russia, so my bias will sway my opinion. I just hope this is a fun tournament to watch, and wouldn’t mind seeing a few upsets along the way (although I do want a Canada/Russia final).

Thanks for reading!

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