Friday, February 12, 2010

2010 Winter Olympics Preview - Hockey


Ice Hockey Preview


Events

Men’s
Women’s


Overview

It is ice hockey. You should know what it is if you read this blog, or if you are alive. This year they are playing on American sized ice and not Olympic sized ice which means that the rinks will be NHL size and they will be a little smaller.


Preview

There are some loaded teams in the years Olympics. In 2006 Sweden took home the gold medal with a 3-2 win over Finland. Should be pretty interesting that Russia, Canada and the U.S. did not make it back in 2006.

This season the teams are loaded with some NHL star talent and it should set up to be a wild ride. For Penguin fans like us it is going to be a great ride to see our top stars play on the top teams on the Olympics. Whether you like the NHL being in the Olympics or not you have to admit that they are going to bring the spotlight onto hockey. Too bad NBC is covering it and they will probably preview the medal games with the 700 Club and cut it out so we can see the Charlie Brown Christmas Story.

Here are the groupings for the men’s tournament (IIHF World Rankings):

Group A
Canada (1)
USA (6)
Switzerland (7)
Norway (12)

Group B
Russia (2)
Czech Republic (5)
Slovakia (8)
Latvia (11)

Group C
Sweden (3)
Finland (4)
Belarus (9)
Germany (10)

Lets take a look at the top teams in this year’s Olympics:


Canada


You gotta think that they have more to lose than any other team in this Olympic hockey tournament. After not medaling last season the pressure is on. If Canada does not win the gold there are going to be some upset people in Canada.

Look at the Canada team and they are just loaded with talent. Marty Brodeur, Marc-Andre Fleury, Sidney Crosby, Shea Weber, Dan Boyle, Rick Nash, Dany Heatley, Jonathan Toews just to name a few are on this team.

When you can keep a guy like Jordan Staal off the team because you just don’t have room for them then you know you are in a good spot.

From your Pittsburgh Penguins Bing and MAF are on the team. Bing is going to be the leader of this team that more closely resembles an all-star team that you might put together when you play NHL on your Playstation 3 when you want to dominate. MAF isn’t probably going to play any minutes but he will get to practice.

This team is loaded offensively so that is where they are going to make their money. They have good enough goaltending that they will be able to push it a little bit more and score some goals. They are the front running favorite to win the gold medal. They have to or they might not be able to stay in Canada for the closing ceremonies.


Sweden

Sweden is going to be sort of a sleep team. They are a strong team and after taking home gold in the last winter games you can’t really call them a sleeper. They have a lot of NHL talent on their team and if they can get strong goaltending they will be a force in the games and a definite gold medal contender.

Henrik Lundqvist will be the main man in net for the Sweds. If he goes down they are going to be in trouble with young Jonas Gustavsson and little known Stefan Liv as his back ups. King Henrik has been the backbone for the Rangers team, a team that does not score a lot of goals. He knows what it is like to have to stand on his head night after night in order to get wins and he is perfectly capable of doing so. Remember, this isn’t a best of seven series, these are a lot of one game playoffs so to speak. A goaltender can get hot and carry a team and if Henrik gets hot Sweden has a chance. He can get rattled though, ask the Penguins.

Sweden also has arguably two of the best players in the NHL this year in Daniel and Henrik Sedin. They are atop most offensive categories and are just straight hockey players. They ar every good at what they do and they should be on the same line so they are going to be a force. Pair them up with Daniel Alfredsson and Tomas Holmstrom and you have a very gritty team.

Nik Lidstrom will be the key player in the defense that also features Johnny Oduya and Niklas Kronwall. Lidstrom is one of the best in the NHL and has been for a very long time so he will be the glue that holds this defensive unit together.

Do not be surprised if Sweden takes home gold.


Russia


If there is a team that can match up with the high powered, offensive, Canada team it is defiantly Russia. Russia is littered with talent that inclues Alexander Ovechkin, Illya Kovalchuk, Pavel Datsyuk, Alex Semin, Andrei Markov, Anton Volchenkov.

The Penguins sent up Evgeni Malkin and Sergei Gonchar. Geno and Sarge are two of the center pieces of the Penguins Stanley Cup run last season will look for Olympic gold with their high powered team.

Legit how do you match up a line with AO, Geno and Kovalchuk? Sure OV and Illya don’t play any defense but they can fill the net with the best of anyone in the Olympics. When that line is on the ice they can do some damage and might carry this Russia team to greatness.

The Russians also have some experience on their late lines with Alexei Kovalev, Sergei Fedorov and Aleksay Morosov but they can still fill the net. What a team.

Sarge and Markov might be paired together for a very nice defensive pairing and pair that with defensive stud Anton Volchenkov who is one of the best PK guys in the league and for those Penguins fans that he can just shut down a player like nobody’s business.

Evgeni Nabokov will be the main man for the Russians and he is a brick wall for the San Jose Sharks. His backup, Ilya Bryzgalov has been rock solid for the Phoenix Coyotes and will be a solid backup should something happen to Nabokov. Like I said before goalies can steal games in a format like the Olympics and while Nabokov might not have to steal the games with the offense that Russia has, he has that ability.


United States


The United States will probably not be picked to medal by most people because they will say that they just don’t have the talent to match up with Russia and Canada. To some extent they are absolutely right. I mean when you look over the rosters for those two teams you just get scared because they are the best of the best when it comes to hockey players. If you think I am going to be impartial when it comes to team USA then you got another thing coming. My American pride trumps all.

Team USA is a very young team and they are very raw. Is that going to be good or bad for the US? Will it be better for them to go and just not know what is going to happen or to have some playmakers out there that have been there and done that before. Who knows. Their team will be exciting, however, and should make for some great games.

Ryan Millers will be the man in net with Tim Thomas and Jonathan Quick. Miller is the starter, no questions asked. Miller is one of the best players in the NHL right now and some people are saying that he could be the league MVP if they were to pick now. That is saying a lot. He is atop the list of most statistical categories facing guys like OV, Geno and Bing all the time. If he comes up big then the USA has a chance to do some big things. Thomas has been mud, Quick is only 24. Yikes.

The defense is also pretty young with Pittsburgh’s own Brooks Orpik being one of the oldest guys on the blue line. Orpik is 29 and makes his cash on dishing out free candy. You know what that means if you follow hockey. He is a physical presence

Joining Free Candy with me the Johnson’s (Jack and Erik), Brian Rafalski, Ryan Whitney and Ryan Sutter. Not a terribly flashy defensive group but they can play some hockey. It will be interesting to see how Ryan Whitney fits into the fold as he is a very offensive minded player and is not physical at all. That might hurt. Rafalski was on the last two American teams and brings some experience as he has played on that venue and also for the Wings on some finals teams.

On the front lines for the Red, White and Blue is a mixed bag of players. A lot of youth of front with Pat Kane, Ryan Kesler, Bobby Ryan and Paul Stasty. Those group of youngsters are joined by some good veteran players such as captain Jamie Langenbrunner, Chris Drury and Ryan Malone. I like seeing Malone on the team. He is a gritty player that does whatever it takes to get the job done.

A man on this team that I absolutely love (in a hockey way, not in a I want to marry that guy way) is Zach Parise. He is the most underrated player in the NHL. He is a superstar that never gets any pub. I can’t wait until he beats fat Marty with 1 second left in OT.

Overall this team doesn’t have a ton of flash on it, but it does have a lot of heart. While heart does not score goals it does mean something, especially in a tournament like this. I talked about it a hundred times but a goalie standing on his head for a few games goes a long way in a one-and-done type thing. Ryan Miller can steal games.


Prediction

Three Rivers Burgh Blog – Are you kidding me? Team USA. Suck it Canada and Russia.

The Steelers n’at - I actually took a long time debating this pick. Team USA knocked off Canada in the World Junior Championships a few weeks ago and this may have signaled a changing of the guard in hockey. However, when your team has Sidney Crosby on it, you have to be the favorites. Therefore, I am going to pick Crosby to do what Wayne Gretzky never did: win a gold medal. For the record, Mario Lemeiux was on the '02 Canadian team that won gold, so 66 has a gold to his name while Gretzky does not. Suck it, Wayne. I'm going to take Finland as my sleeper team. I do think the US will find their way onto the medal stand. Sweden is basically the Detroit Red Wings, there's no way I'm picking them. In Women's hockey, it's between Canada and the US for the Gold. Go America!

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