The preliminary round of the 2014 Men’s Ice Hockey competition is over. From now on, the tournament is single elimination. The teams are seeded and the bracket is set. Here is how the teams stack up going into the medal round:
1 – Sweden
2 – USA
3 – Canada
4 – Finland
5 – Russia
6 – Switzerland
7 – Czech Republic
8 – Slovenia
9 – Austria
10 – Slovakia
11 – Latvia
12 – Norway
In the first round of games, the top four seeds will get a bye, while seeds 5-12 play it out to face those top four seeds in the quarterfinals. Here are match-ups and previews for the upcoming four games:
Slovenia (8) vs. Austria (9) – February 18 – 3:00am
The winner of this game will face the top seeded Swedish squad on Wednesday. Neither Slovenia nor Austria were supposed to do much in this tournament. Although Austria lost to both Finland and Canada, they put together a good effort against both teams and controlled most of the play against Norway. Philadelphia Flyers forward Michael Raffl is one of the top players on the Austrian roster and has a goal and an assist through the first three games.
Slovenia, led by LA Kings center Anze Kopitar, was one of the biggest surprises of the preliminary round. After giving the hometown Russian team a scare in their first game, the Slovenians took down Slovakia. The United States cruised past Slovenia, but in a match-up against Austria, Slovenia may be the favored team.
Prediction: Slovenia wins 4-2. As much as I am rooting for Raffl, Slovenia looked surprisingly good in prelims.
Russia (5) vs. Norway (12) – February 18 – 7:30am
The winner of this game will take on the fourth seeded Finnish squad. After surviving the scare against Slovenia in their first game, the Russians were taken to a shootout by both the USA and Slovakia on back-to-back days. They lost to the United States and beat Slovakia in the shootout, but the lack of regulation wins pushed Russia back from the fourth seed to the fifth seed. Russia should have no problem against the Norwegian squad. Norway played a strong period and a half against Canada, but they were barely in contention in any of their three preliminary games. Mats Zuccarello is the lone NHL player on the Norwegian club.
Prediction: Russia wins 6-1. Ovi, Malkin, Datsyuk, and Kovy? Sorry Norway.
Czech Republic (7) vs Slovakia (10) – February 18 – 12:00pm
This may be the most exciting of the pre-quarterfinal games. The winner of the game will take on the second seeded United States. This game also features two Philadelphia Flyers, forward Jakub Voracek and defenseman Andrej Meszaros. The Czech Republic took a tough loss to the top ranked Swedish squad in their first game of the tournament, then followed it up with a quality win over Latvia and a fairly strong showing against Switzerland. The biggest problem with the Czech team is their coaching/management. They have an old roster and seem to be constantly mismanaged.
Slovakia has been a huge dissappointment in the Olympics. Without the likes of Marian Gaborik, the Slovakians are short on goal scorers. However, Slovakian leaders like Hossa and Chara continue to give the team a chance. Andrej Meszaros has played big minutes in the tournament and he made a game saving play in their last game. Look for Slovakia to stay competitive with the Czech Republic.
Prediction: Czech Republic wins 3-2. Close call. Almost a toss up.
Switzerland (6) vs Latvia (11) – Febraury 18 – 12:00pm
The winner of this game will take on the third seeded Canadian squad in the quarterfinals. Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Mark Streit has been helping backstop the defensively stingy Swedish team. In their first game Switzerland won 1-0 against Latvia, then came back to lose 1-0 to the Swedes, and finally they beat the Czech Republic by a score of, you guessed it, 1-0. Therefore, through three games Switzerland has scored two goals and allowed just one. Latvia went 0-3 through the preliminary round and will have a tough time hanging with an under-rated Swiss team.
Perdiction: Switzerland wins 2-0. Against Latvia, I’m going to give Switzerland that elusive 2nd goal.
The Quarterfinals will be held on Wednesday, in which the top four teams will face the winners of the games above. There will be no games Thursday, and then the semifinals will be held on Friday. The two medal games will take place this weekend.
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