During the next two weeks, the Sochi Games will play host to the world’s most prestigious hockey tournament.
National teams from 12 nations will compete for Olympic gold beginning Wednesday, and 12 days later, on Feb. 23, the champion will be crowned.
Most Detroit hockey fans are well aware that there’s a distinct Red Wings flavor to the men’s hockey competition. Ten Red Wings players will participate, along with coach Mike Babcock, who will be behind the bench for the Canadian team, and GM Ken Holland, who’s part of Team Canada’s management group.
Holland’s excited to be in Sochi, working with Babcock and former Red Wings captain Steve Yzerman, who’s Team Canada’s executive director. But it’s the caliber of hockey that has Holland really wound up.
"I’ll be seeing some incredible hockey, and I am looking forward to doing some scouting on behalf of the Red Wings," Holland said recently. "There are a lot of players over there, and you never know — you could gather some information that down the road could be beneficial to the Red Wings.
"The more hockey you watch, the more people you meet, on the ice and off the ice, it’s an information-gathering business. It (the Olympics) certainly helps gather information."
Holland believes that there are several teams that could capture the gold medal because of the way the tournament is structured. However, he thinks the champion will come out of what he calls the "Big Six."
"Canada, Russia, the Americans, the Swedes, the Finns, the Czechs — there’s always the Big Six," he said. "But beyond that, the second week is single elimination. You think back to Salt Lake City, when Sweden got eliminated in the quarterfinals. That’s what makes the tournament so difficult.
"The first week is for seeding, and the second week it’s all single elimination. It’s Game 7 every night. You could run into a hot goalie or have an off night or take a penalty at the wrong time. That’s the beauty of the tournament.
"It’s sudden death; it’s not a best-of-seven, where you can bounce back."
Besides the single-elimination format during Week 2, Holland feels that the players are also under extreme pressure because of the time frame between Olympic Games.
"It’s not only one-and-done; it’s every four years," he said. "It’s hard to win Olympic Gold."
If there’s one aspect of being at the Games that has Holland apprehensive, it’s the security in Sochi. He’s traveled all over the world and realizes that the rest of the globe isn’t as secure as North America.
"Anytime I leave our country, I think about the job that all these people do to protect us in the United States, to make our life safe," Holland said. "When you go overseas, it’s not as safe.
"But you have to trust that things are going to be good. That’s all you can go with and trust that everything will be handled the way it’s supposed to be handled."