First games to watch in men's hockey

BY foxsports • February 15, 2010

The long awaited tournament of dreams gets underway in Vancouver with six games over the next two days. Here’s a preview of the matchups.

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 tournament.

“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 this tournament.

“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 round.


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