Come tomorrow, the largest international men’s hockey tournament of the year will be under way, and it promises to be exceedingly competitive hockey. Any team from favored Canada and Russia to underdogs Switzerland and Denmark could take home a medal at the World Hockey Championships. And the region with perhaps the greatest chance of seeing gold, aside from North America, is Scandinavia. Sweden recently took gold in the World Junior Hockey Championships, while the Finns are the reigning champions at the tourney. The Danes are a dark horse, but the Norwegians are far more likely to be playing relegation games than medal ones.
The Finnish management had a large variety of talent to pick from, but some surprising decisions were made at the end of the day. Their choice of goaltending seems suspect, and will prove to be either a judgement failure or an ingenious risk by GM Jari Kurri. The Finns selected a NHL prospect-turned-KHLer in Karri Ramo to play back up, while Kari Lehtonen will fill the starting job following a solid year with the Dallas Stars. The third-stringer will be Petri Vehanen, also of the KHL. This is a respectable corps of netminding by normal standards, but Finland is famous for being a goalie factory of late. That they would select Vehanen and Ramo over the likes of Miikka Kiprusoff, Niklas Backstrom, and Mikko Koistinen is frankly beyond myself, barring declined invitations from at least Kiprusoff and Backstrom. Also notably missing from the Finnish roster, presumably for R&R, are Teemu Selanne and Saku Koivu.
Odds of winning gold: 6-1
The Swedes are probably the most heavily-favored Nordic team to win gold, and seem primed to make a run. They do, however, have several roster holes. The top six defensemen are a very strong group, and the seventh and eighth men look to be up-and-coming Jonas Brodin and steady-as-she-goes Mattias Ekholm. The forward group is a mixture of scorers and grinders, but stands without a real star scorer, as the Sedins won’t play for Sweden. While Henrik Zetterberg and Johan Franzen should work well together, and Daniel Alfredsson will be a great supporting scorer, the Swedes must play a quick, opportunistic game if they are to beat higher-octane opponents. Their greatest weaknesses will be their fourth line (Likely Patrik Zackrisson, Niklas Persson, and another), as well as their goaltending. With Henrik Lundqvist still in the playoffs, Jhonas Enroth will play the role of starter. And while Enroth performed admirably on spot duty with the Buffalo Sabres, he is still inexperienced and will be backed up by Viktor Fasth and Christopher Nihlstorp, neither of whom are over thirty or have any NHL/KHL experience. If the Swedish team hits rough waters, their goaltending might weigh them down as opposed to keeping them afloat.
Odds of winning gold: 4-1
The Danish team is quite possibly the most underestimated in the entire tournament, even without top-line forward Mikkel Boedker. They boast a top-six forward corps that has slightly stronger teams like Switzerland nervous. With Jannik Hansen, Frans Nielsen, and Lars Eller all in the mix, they will certainly make opposing defenses work for what they get. And Dallas Stars’ defence prospect Philip Larsen, as well as Boedker’s brother Mads, will stop their defensive corps from being a pushover. Their fairly strong team, however, may not be enough to prop up a weak (at best) situation in net. Their three goalies are Simon Nielsen, Frederik Andersen, and Patrick Galbraith. Not exactly top-rate names. Or even top-rate goalies, at that.
Odds of winning gold: 125-1
Finally, Norway is a weak team trying to make their way in a strong tourney. They should definitely be good enough to stave off relegation, but they will have to battle hard to better their chances at an Olympic berth. With their top skaters being Kristian Forsberg, Mathis Olimb, and O-K Tollefsen, the Norwegians lack in the way of depth of scoring and star power. They might be able to scrounge a fair showing based on defense, as Tollefsen is a stay-at-home ‘D’ who loves the big hit, and the team’s goaltending should be nothing short of fantastic. Lars Volden is a very young goalie who has acquitted himself well in the Finnish professional leagues. Pal Grotnes, who will likely be the starter, is a veteran with 5 World Hockey Championships already under his belt. It is a fair to predict that Norway will make it no further than a quarter-final match-up, but will be in no danger of relegation.
Odds of winning gold: 400-1
So, folks, there it is. In a nutshell, the breakdown of every Scandinavian team at the WHC, and their shot at the big prize. But of course, it is unlikely that anything will turn out as I predicted, and that’s the beauty of the tournament: there are always more surprises.