Its amazing how fast four years can fly by. It seems like yesterday when Sweden was hoisting their gold medals in Torino, Italy after winning the Men’s Ice Hockey Championship. The Olympics are always an exciting time but, even more so for hockey fans as National Hockey League players are permitted to play in the tournament. Fans get the luxury of showing their national pride while supporting their favourite NHL players. As the game of hockey continues to grow globally, we can see the Olympic tournament becoming more and more competitive. Lets have a look and preview some of the tournament powerhouses.
Team Canada could quite possibly have the best talent pool of all to choose from. In goal they will be rock solid with Martin Brodeur and Roberto Luongo. Two tremendous goalies that have a lot of international experience and have proven they can win big games. When it comes to the skaters however, there will be a changing of the guard. There will be a lot of new faces and young talent that will make their Olympic debuts in 2010. Players like Dion Phaneuf and Sidney Crosby will give the team a youthful feeling that it hasn’t had in past Olympics. Of course there will still be the familiar faces like Jarome Iginla, Dany Heatley and Joe Thornton.
With so much depth, a big decision will be who to leave off of the roster. Jonathan Toews of the Blackhawks, Mike Richards of the Flyers, and Milan Lucic of the Bruins have a good chance of making it but will have to earn a spot with a strong camp and a great first half of the season. Based on the fact that Canada had a poor showing in 2006 and that they are playing in front of a home crowd, they are going to be fully prepared to make a run at the Gold.
The U.S. could be a dark horse in the tournament but it’s going to be tough. No one will be picking them to go far but don’t sleep on them yet. On the back end, outside of Brian Rafalski, there will be a lot of young faces with little international experience. This will put pressure on goalies Ryan Miller and Tim Thomas to carry the team. A healthy Rick DiPietro would help but that may be wishful thinking.
The forwards are going to have to carry the team and they are simply going to have to outscore their opponents. There is some talent up front with Dustin Brown, Mike Modano, Zach Parise, and Paul Stastny but it remains to be seen whether they can carry the team to a medal.
The defending champs will be one of the favorites. With a wealth of international experience and players like Daniel Alfredsson, Nicklas Lidstrom, Henrik Zetterberg Daniel and Henrik Sedin that can play both ends of the ice, the Swedes will be a formidable opponent for anyone.
Not to mention Henrik Lundqvist in goal who is quickly becoming one of the National Hockey League’s premier puck stoppers. With a combination of great goal tending and strong defensive play, the Swedes will rely on frustrating the more skilled teams and players in the tournament.
Russia will be the most explosive and arguably the most talented team in the tournament. With Ilya Kovalchuk, Alexander Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin, and Pavel Datsyuk up front, there will be no shortage of scoring.
In the past their weakness has been defense and goal tending but that may no longer be the case. With Evgeni Nabokov in net and a solid defense with the likes of Anton Volchenkov, Andrei Markov, and Sergei Gonchar, the Russians could be a threat at both ends of the ice.
An aging team that shocked everyone by winning a silver in 2006. However Saku Koivu, Teemu Selanne, and Jere Lehtinen aren’t getting any younger. There best asset may be between the pipes with two excellent goalies to choose from in Niklas Backstrom and Miikka Kiprusoff. Even with excellent goal tending and a great team game, it should be hard to duplicate the success of four years ago.
Not as deep as some of the other teams in the tournament, so the Czechs are going to have rely on some younger players stepping up to fill in the void. Patrik Elias and Jaromir Jagr aren’t what they once were so players like Jiri Hudler and Martin Erat better have an impact.
Dominik Hasek will no longer be there to steal games so a streaky Tomas Vokoun will have to do in goal.
Never really considered a threat in international competitions, but the Slovaks are starting to develop some good talent. A first line that boasts Marian Hossa, Pavol Demitra, and Marian Gaborik should be able to match up with most in the tournament. Don’t forget they also possess one of the best blue liners in the world in Norris Trophy winner Zdeno Chara.
They had a nice run a the World Junior Hockey Championship but most of those players shouldn’t have an impact just yet in 2010.
Overall it should be a great tournament with lots of interesting match ups taking place. It’s always exciting seeing NHL teammates battle it out in international competition or watching superstars like Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin take their rivalry to the Olympic stage. No matter who you are rooting for, keep in mind what the Olympics are all about and enjoy the tournament.