First games to watch in men’s hockey
The long awaited tournament of dreams gets underway in Vancouver
with six games over the next two days. Here’s a preview of
United States vs. Switzerland
Trying to build team chemistry and cohesiveness in a 48-hour
period is no easy task and nowhere was that more evident than when
the Swiss knocked off the mighty Canadians 2-0 in a preliminary
round tune up in Torino. The Americans also had their work cut out
for them in a 3-3 tie right off of the plane against Latvia, a sign
of the troubling times ahead for the North American superpowers in
the 2006 Olympics.
“The final scores of games you sometimes can’t
control, but you can control how you play,” U.S. captain Jamie
Langenbrunner said. “For us, especially in those first few
games, we’d like to start building that bond and chemistry so
we have confidence in each other.”
We do know the answer to one big question, Ryan Miller not
only will start for the Americans, but unless things drastically
change, Head Coach Ron Wilson will ride him throughout the
“The way this tournament has worked in the past is that
teams who stick with one goaltender seem to have the most
success,” Wilson said. “We do have two backups that
know they have to be ready at any time.”
The Swiss return 10 players from the previous Olympics and 18
of the 23 players were a part of the 2009 World Championship squad.
The team is led by former NHL goaltender Martin Gerber and New York
Islanders defenseman Mark Streit, currently the backbone of the
blue line on Long Island with 8 goals and 23 assists.
The Pick: U.S.A. The Americans will struggle to
score at points in this tournament, which will make this one closer
than it will seem.
Canada vs. Norway
This should be business as usual for the Canadians who open
up under the expectation that gold and only gold is acceptable in
“Do you think the Russians are going to throw a parade
in Moscow if they win a silver medal?” Canadian General
Manager Steve Yzerman asked in a press conference on Saturday.
“We play to win. It’s nothing unusual. When you were a young
boy growing up, or a young girl growing up, you’re expectation was
to win. And this tournament is no different.”
Norway returns to the Olympic stage for the first time since
automatically qualifying as the host nation back in 1994. Stacked
primarily with players from the Swedish league, the Norwegians are
the lowest ranked club in the competition. Defenseman Ole Kristian
Tollefsen is the only NHL connection and was recently sent to
Detroit for Finnish player Ville Leino.
The Pick: Canada You can’t pick a more
perfect tune-up for Hockey Canada than the 12th ranked club (out of
12) in the tournament.
Russia vs. Latvia
The Russians haven’t won Olympic gold in 18 years,
under the Unified Team label in Albertville. With a group of
dynamic forwards and a veteran defensive core, they’re
expected to be heavy favorites to win Group B and capture one of
the four automatic byes to the quarterfinal round.
While European clubs are typically deemed as “soft”, Alex
Ovechkin isn’t afraid to throw the body around and Red Wings
forward Pavel Datsyuk is one of the sport’s best two-way
players. Karlis Skrastins is the big presence for a Latvian club
that consists largely of Russian league players.
The Pick: Russia Is it possible to set an
over/under on Ovechkin goals for the tournament? He lit the lamp
five times in Torino.
Finland vs. Belarus
Finnish Head Coach Jukka Jalonen will try to emphasize
defense first, building off of a 2006 Olympics that saw the Suomi
take home the silver medal with their superior play on the blue
line. The Finns lack the depth of the Swedes, Russians and the
Canadians but make up for it with a trio of superior goaltenders,
starting with Miikka Kipprusoff.
The defense consists of puck moving defensemen like Joni
Pitkanen, who is having a breakout season in Carolina with 33
points and by logging over 27 minutes a game. As far as putting the
puck in the net is concerned, watch out for Minnesota Wild forward
Mikko Koivu, who leads all Finnish players in NHL scoring with 16
goals and 38 assists over 54 games this season.
Ruslan Salei is the only Belarusian NHL player returning to
the Olympic stage. The Avalanche defenseman played in just his
second game this season on Saturday after undergoing back surgery
in December. Andrei and Sergei Kostitsyn will both suit up for
Belarus after Andrei was given permission by the Canadiens medical
staff to continue his recovery in Vancouver after suffering a knee
injury on New Year’s Eve.
The Pick: Finland They’re better than anyone
in North America gives them credit for, even on a smaller ice
surface that could expose their lack of physical presence.
Sweden vs. Germany
The Swedes will try and defend their gold medal without the
services of crease-pest Tomas Holmstrom, who will miss the Olympics
due to recurring problems with his left knee. His Red Wing
teammate, Johan Franzen will replace him on a club that has as much
depth and skill as any in the tournament. The Swedes will find
their greatest strength in net with the services of Henrik
Lundqvist, who in addition to leading his country to glory in
Torino, has a Inline World Championship gold medal to boot.
The Germans are led by veteran forward Sven Felski, who has
played his entire career with the Berlin Polar Bears and has 140
games of national team experience, including nine appearances at
the World Championships. Among the NHL talent, seven players led by
Nashville Predator Marcel Goc and Boston Bruin Marco Sturm, who has
18 goals this season, including an overtime winner in the Winter
Classic last month. Uwe Krupp, the man who won the 1996 Stanley Cup
for the Avalanche in triple overtime is the German Head Coach.
The Pick: Sweden The Germans would like a strong
showing here to build excitement for the upcoming World
Championships, which they’ll host in the spring.
Czech Republic vs. Slovakia
It’s been a while since we’ve seen Jaromir Jagr
on a stage this big and though he hasn’t played an NHL game
since 2008, he still hasn’t lost that scoring touch with 47
goals and 48 assists in two seasons with Omsk of the Russian
league. Panthers goaltender Tomas Vokun was as good as anyone in
January 8-4-2 with four shutouts and a 1.49 G.A.A.
The Slovaks have to be concerned about the health of Marian
Gaborik, who was scratched from Sunday’s game against Tampa
Bay after cutting his thigh this week after a collision with Henrik
Lundqvist. And Marian Hossa is currently ‘day to day’
after getting hit by Colby Armh3 in the third period of
Saturday’s game against Atlanta. Goaltender Jaroslav Halak
comes into Vancouver off a horrific outing against Philadelphia
that saw him get pulled after two periods in a 6-2 loss.
As far as positives are concerned, Zdeno Chara comes into the
Olympic tournament with points in four of his last five games.
The Pick: Slovakia If they can get healthy, the
Slovaks could be the tournament sleepers, but if Gaborik and Hossa
aren’t 100 percent, they won’t see the quarterfinal