I love the Olympics. I love hockey. I love Olympic hockey.
It’s a simple formula, and it is not all that surprising. The Olympics and hockey go hand in hand. For two weeks every four years, the world’s best hockey players put on their native country’s crest and carry the hopes of gold from their countrymen on their shoulders.
Olympic hockey has given some of the greatest moments sports have ever seen. And these Olympics in Sochi should be no different. With so many story lines, who knows what could possibly unfold?
To pass the time between the NHL winter break, since this site, well you know, covers the Flyers and all, we’ll be doing some Olympic coverage. And with that, here is a preview and predictions for Group A, featuring the United States, Russia, Slovakia and Slovenia.
2010 Result: Quarterfinal Loss to Canada
Captain: Pavel Datsyuk
Why Russia Will Win Gold:
With dynamic scoring with the likes of Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin, Ilya Kovalchuk (yes he still exists, sorry Devils fans), and solid goaltending in Sergei Bobrovsky and Semyon Varlamov, it’s hard to overlook the Russians as potential gold medalists. Add in the fact that they’ll have wild support of their home country behind them, where they’re basically expected to win, and you can bet this Russian team will come out with fire. This team is scary and could go all the way and earn Russia its first hockey medal since bronze in 2002.
Why Russia Won’t Medal:
This Russian team isn’t exactly known for their defense. If the defense can’t handle offensive pressure and rely too much on Bobrovsky or Varlamov, they will fall. And although Datsyuk is captain, this is Ovechkin’s team, and with the tremendous pressure to win gold on home soil . If he and the rest of the team are overcome by pressure from their countrymen, this Russian side will wither and fail.
United States of America
2010 Result: Silver Medalists; Loss to Canada in Gold Medal Match
Captain: Zach Parise
Why USA Will Win Gold:
This team was just one goal short of winning their first gold medal since 1980 in Vancouver. With the likes of Miller, Parise, Patrick Kane and Ryan Callahan returning from that team, there’s no reason to believe they can’t get to the final game once again. The United States will need good goaltending from Ryan Miller, or Johnathan Quick if Dan Bylsma decides to go that route. Six players on the USA roster are 20+ goal scorers (Joe Pavelski, Patrick Kane, Phil Kessel, Blake Wheeler, Max Pacioretty and James van Riemsdyk) and that scoring prowess continues in Sochi. Ryan Suter leads a young defense that is able to adapt to the large ice surface to shutdown oppositions scoring attacks.
Why USA Won’t Medal:
Miller can’t get in a groove and never recaptures his 2010 Olympic form, while the defense’s Olympic inexperience causes breakdowns galore. Leaving Bobby Ryan off the roster comes back to haunt GM Dave Poile as the U.S. is unable to score as many goals as expected, especially after ESPN’s Scott Burnside wrote in his Jan. 4 piece that USA coaches “felt they had enough scoring.” USA comes in third in the group, and does not get past the quarterfinals.
2010 Result: Fourth; Loss to Sweden in Bronze Medal Match
Captain: Zdeno Chara
Why Slovakia Will Win Gold:
Any team with Zdeno Chara has a chance to win on any stage. Marian Hossa lights up the scoreboard with Detroit Red Wings rookie Tomas Tatar and the aging Michael Handzus. Jaroslav Halak puts the defense on his back and has an epic Olympic performance backstopping the Slovaks to gold.
Why Slovakia Won’t Medal:
Injuries to Marian Gaborik and Lubomir Visnovsky catch up to the Slovaks and their lack of depth on offense shows. Chara can’t adapt to the larger ice surface. Halak can’t provide the goaltending this team needs, and ends up being upset in the qualifying stage.
2010 Result: Did Not Qualify for Olympics
Captain: Anze Kopitar
Key Players: Anze Kopitar, David Rodman
Why Slovenia Will Win Gold:
Beginner’s luck. Being that this is Slovenia’s first ever Olympics, this team is not expected to do much, especially in a tough group with Russia, USA, and Slovakia. However, an upset over Slovakia gives this team the confidence it needs to feel as if it can compete with the world’s best. Kopitar becomes an Olympic legend, singlehandedly carrying a country to upsets rivaling that of the Miracle on Ice and its first ever gold medal in Slovenia’s first ever Olympic games.
Why Slovenia Won’t Medal:
Slovenia is not expected to medal, so this would be no surprise. With only one NHL player in Kopitar, Slovenia can’t compete with the best of the world, failing to win a game. But for this team, just being here is an accomplishment.
GROUP A Predictions
Game 1: United States 3 Slovakia 2; Russia 6 Slovenia 1
Game 2: United States 4 Russia 2; Slovakia 5 Slovenia 0
Game 3: United States 5 Slovenia 0; Russia 4 Slovakia 1
1. United States 3-0-0 – 9 Points – Advances to Quarterfinals
2. Russia 2-0-1 – 6 Points
3. Slovakia 1-0-2 – 3 Points
4. Slovenia 0-0-3 – 0 Points