This tournament may be the most anticipated tournament in the history of the Winter Olympics; at least from Team Canada’s standpoint. It’s in their home country, hockey popularity is at an all-time high and the Olympic team is coming off a disappointing non-medal finish in the 2006 Games in Torino. All the pressure in the world is on Canada to not only do well, but win gold. Anything less would be a disappointment. Unfortunately it won’t be that easy. Team Russia has the most explosive offense to perhaps ever grace the Olympic Games. Team Sweden is the defending gold medalists and still possesses boatloads of talent. Team USA boasts the hottest goaltender in the NHL right now; ask the 1998 Czech Team to see how far a hot goalie can get you. The Finnish team, who quietly won silver in 2006, is full of grit and world-class goaltending. Even the Czech Team can make some noise. Everybody in the world with a hockey-fan bone in their body is going to enjoy the hell out of this tournament. Plus, because it’s in Canada, the atmosphere is going to be unbelievable. Puck drops this weekend. Here are the predictions:
Gold Medal: Team Canada -150
As if there was really another choice. No other team can claim such a balanced roster of superstars. They have world-class offense in Sidney Crosby, Jarome Iginla, Rick Nash and more. They have grit in guys like Mike Richards and Jonathon Toews. They have cohesiveness with the line of Dany Heatley, Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau. They have offensive defensemen and shutdown defensemen. Martin Broduer and Roberto Luongo will be manning the pips. Plus, they are the best coached team in the tournament. Mike Babcock has been to two straight Stanley Cup Finals and no other coach gets as much from his players. This team is built not to crumble under the pressure, but to thrive and feed off it. When the final buzzer goes and Canada wins gold, expect a full-blown riot across all of the Great White North.
Silver Medal: Team USA +800
Team USA has been my sleeper team ever since Ryan Miller emerged as an elite goaltender a couple of years ago. In this tournament a hot goalie can get you far, and that’s what the US has in Miller. He is top-3 in every significant goalie statistic in the NHL this season; and that’s playing behind an otherwise sub-par Sabres team. Put him behind an offense that features the likes of Patrick Kane and Zach Parise and a defense led by Bryan Rafalski, and Miller should be even better. The old guys who used to play for Team USA are out. Now they’re a young, fast and exciting team to watch. They’re also underdogs, a role that has suited the US well in Olympics past (see: Lake Placid, 1980).
Bronze Medal: Team Russia +225
Looking at the offense of this team is downright scary. Alexander Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin, Pavel Datsyuk, Alex Semin and Ilya Kovalchuk are all world-class scorers. The Russians also boast an impressive 1-2 punch in goal with Ilya Bryzgalov and Evgeni Nabokov. The question marks arise in their defense. Sure, they have Andrei Markov and Sergei Gonchar, but they’re also dressing three unknowns from the KHL. The KHL may be a professional league in Russia, but those players have yet to see the kind of world-class offense that the Canadians, Swedes and Americans bring to the table. The Russians will be able to score a lot of goals, but with their suspect defense, they’re susceptible to giving up a lot of goals too.
alexander ovechkin - evgeni malkin - jarome iginla - ryan miller - team canada - team russia - team usa - winter olympics