From TheSmartMarks.com

Hockey
Here we go, it's hockey time in Torino.
By Jeremiah
Feb 13, 2006, 16:45

Have I mentioned that I love Olympic hockey?  I really do.  I think Olympic competition is the pinnacle of the sport, and this may be the best field of teams that we've ever seen.  I'm ready for this to start on Wednesday, aren't you?

 

Group A

Group B 

Canada

Latvia

Czech Republic

Kazakhstan

Finland

Russia

Germany

Slovakia

Italy

Sweden

Switzerland

USA

 

Canada

Three Key Players

Martin Brodeur-New Jersey Devils, Rick Nash-Columbus Blue Jackets, Chris Pronger-Edmonton Oilers

Outlook

In the minds of many, this Canadian team is the best in the tournament.  This team is very deep and Pat Quinn will have to utilize his depth to bring a Gold Medal to Canada.  However, this team was not correctly selected.  Shane Doan, Kris Draper and Martin St. Louis shouldn't be on this team.  These three have been having poor seasons and players like Joe Thornton would benefit from having scoring help from Eric Staal, Jason Spezza and Sidney Crosby.  Incidentally, the Canadian brass named two of those three forwards to the Taxi Squad.  Why couldn't they name Spezza and Staal to the main roster?  It's quite apparent that they could use quick scoring help, yet they refuse to add two of the best young players in the league?  It doesn't make sense.

The main problem for this team lies with the defense.  Quinn has four great defenseman to work with in Regehr, Pronger, Foote, and Redden, but their other two defenseman are going to be a liability before the end of the games.  Rob Blake is deteriorating fast, and Bryan McCabe makes a ton of mistakes when teams are at even strength.  Those two should be utilized on the power play, and nothing more.

If Canada can win their group, they'll have an easier road to take to get to the Gold Medal game.  They shouldn't look that far ahead.  If they finish 1st in their group, which they can, they'll likely be playing Slovakia in the Quarterfinals, and either Sweden or Finland in the Semifinals. 

Canada should be satisfied with the Gold and nothing more.  Their team one of the best in the tournament, and Martin Brodeur is the best goalie in the world.  They'll be there towards the end.

 

 Czech Republic

Three Key Players

Patrick Elias- New Jersey Devils, Jaromir Jagr-New York Rangers, Ales Hemsky-Edmonton Oilers

Outlook

This is my favorite team in the tournament.  There isn't much wrong with this team and they have all the tools necessary to win the Gold Medal.

The Czechs have the most balanced group of forwards in the tournament.  They have great forecheckers, strong defensive players, and players that know how to put the puck in the net.  In this tournament, everyone will be introduced to Ales Hemsky.  He's a great playmaker, and when the Czechs have scorers like Elias and Jagr on the ice, it's r great to have someone like Hemsky who can get the puck to them.  He'll be out there with one of those two all the time.  The Czechs also have great faceoff men and a dangerous player in Robert Lang at Center, so rest assured that they won't have a problem scoring.

Did I mention that I love the Czech goaltending?  Dominik Hasek and Tomas Vokoun can steal a game on any given night.  This is Vokoun's big chance to shine, because playing in Nashville, he doesn't get as much press as any of the other big name goaltenders in the tournament.  We all know what Hasek brings to the table.  He's one of the best goaltenders of all time, and his ability to make dazzling saves was the reason that he was selected to this team.  I don't know who'll start in net, but whoever it is will be bringing their "A" game on a nightly basis. 

The Czechs defensive group personifies the mentality of this team: toughness.  Pavel Kubina and Marek Malik both love to take the body, and Tomas Kaberle is generally recognized as one of the better defenseman in the NHL.  Marek Zidlicky possesses the best one-time shot in the tournament and you can be sure that he, Kaberle or Jaroslav Spacek will be out there on every power play.

This team is solid.  I don't see any weaknesses on this team, and I love what this team brings to the table.  They will medal.

 

 Finland

Three Key Players

Jere Lehtinen-Dallas Stars, Saku Koivu-Montreal Canadiens, Teemu Selänne-Mighty Ducks of Anaheim

Outlook

Simply put, injuries are the story for the Finnish team.  When this team was originally announced, many people thought that the Finns had a great chance to medal.  Things have drastically changed.

This team was decimated by injuries to their goaltenders before the Olympics.  With Kari Lehtonen and Miikka Kiprusoff deciding to rest their injuries instead of going to Torino, the Finnish hopes for a medal rest squarely on the shoulders of Antero Niittymaki.  He's no Kiprusoff, but he has provided flashes of brilliance while playing in Philadelphia. 

This forward group was also decimated by injuries.  When Sami Kapanen and Tuomo Ruutu pulled out due to injury, it was a huge blow to their medal hopes.  Prior to these injuries, their forward group was widely regarded as one of the better groups in the tournament.  Now, Jarkko Ruutu will be playing on one of their top three lines.  Not good.  This team has it real tough.  Teemu Selänne and Jere Lehtinen will both have to carry the great years they are having in the NHL over to Torino.

On defense, this team is also in big trouble.  Aki Berg will have to play a big role on the blue line in order for this team to perform at a medal standard.  It's not going to happen.  There are other bright spots such as Saku Koivu, Olli Jokinen and Kimmo Timonen, but they aren't going to matchup with Joe Thornton, Joe Sakic and Chris Pronger. 

This team will get to the medal round, but they'll exit in the Quarterfinals.

 

Germany

Three Key Players

Marcel Goc-San Jose Sharks, Dennis Seidenberg-Phoenix Coyotes, Olaf Kolzig-Washington Capitals

Outlook

I was told that this team plays a tight defensive system.  Germany has the goalie to do this, but do they have the talent elsewhere?  No.  They'll probably finish fifth in Group B.

Italy

Three Key Players

Ok, I'm going to be honest.  I don't know shit about this team, and I'm not the only one.  Nobody knows anything about this team.  This team could surprise and win a game or they could get blown out 10-0 every game.  I'm picking the latter.

Kazakhstan

Two Key Players

Nikolai Antropov-Toronto Maple Leafs, Vitaly Kolesnik-Colorado Avalanche

Outlook

This team could have used Alexander Perezhogin or Konstantin Pushkarev.  Those two could have given them enough firepower to get to the medal round.  They don't have enough as it is right now.  They'll fall just short.

Latvia

Two Key Players

Karlis Skrastins-Colorado Avalanche, Arturs Irbe-Salzburg Red Bulls

Outlook

I should have asked around about this team as well.  I don't know much about them, and they lost to Italy in the test game, so they can't be very good.  Skrastins is the most underrated defenseman in the NHL, and Arturs Irbe has carried a team to the Stanley Cup Finals.  However, these aren't the Carolina Hurricanes.  They'll finish last in Group B.

Russia

Three Key Players

Ilya Kovalchuk-Atlanta Thrashers, Pavel Datsyuk-Detroit Red Wings, Alexander Ovechkin-Washington Capitals

Outlook

Here's a team to watch.  This is by far, the most exciting team in the tournament.  There are so many great scorers on this team.  Ovechkin, Malkin, Frolov, Datsyuk, Kovalchuk, Kovalev, and Yashin are all great scorers.  I'm eagerly anticipating the line of Kovalchuk-Datsyuk-Ovechkin.  I can't even imagine how good that line will play.  If the Russians get any 4 of those aforementioned players performing, they will be the highest scoring team in the tournament.  This is the only team who's games I will be taping to watch when I get home every day.  In a shootout, this team will be favored, regardless of who they'd be facing.

Now, here's where the Russians have had a problem in the past.  Defense.  I think this team has much better defenseman than they had in Nagano when they made it to the Gold Medal game.  There are a lot of tough players on this team.  Darius Kasparaitis, Anton Volchenkov and Vitali Vishnevski all play on the edge and have no problem with the physical aspect of the game.  The Markov's, Sergei Gonchar and Alexei Zhitnik are all good power play defensemen.  Kasparaitis and Volchenkov will have to log big minutes to keep this team from getting scored on in bunches. 

As far as goaltending goes, I don't like Evgeni Nabokov.  I don't think that he's going to be able to withstand the pressure that other teams are going to put on him.  Russia will have to turn to Ilya Bryzgalov in net if they hope to medal.  He's good, but really young.

They'll finish first or second in Group A and advance in the Quarterfinals.  Where they go from there is anyone's guess.  This team is a big wildcard.

Slovakia

Three Key Players

Zdeno Chara-Ottawa Senators, Marian Hossa-Atlanta Thrashers, Lubomir Visnovsky-Los Angeles Kings

Outlook

I'll have to keep my L.A. Kings bias out of this one.  This team has great forwards.  Hossa, Demitra, Gaborik, Svatos, Satan and Bondra all can score, but they suffer from one big problem.  They are floaters.  On this big ice surface, this team will have to give 100% every night for their team to win.  I don't see the drive and passion from these Slovakian players that I see from the Canadians and Czechs.  That's what separates these teams from one another.  Slovakia should be there towards the end, but they won't be.  Chara's going to log 35-40 minutes a night, and Lubomir Visnovsky will be right there with him.  This team is weak on defense outside of those two and has the worst goaltending in Group A.  With a goaltender, maybe these players would be ready to play.  We'll never know.  Out in the Quarterfinals.

Sweden

Three Key Players

Henrik Lundqvist-New York Rangers, Nicklas Lidstrom-Detroit Red Wings, Peter Forsberg-Philadelphia Flyers

Outlook

Questionmarks are abound in Sweden.  Will Peter Forsberg and Mattias Norström play?  Can Mats Sundin return to form at the international level?  Does Henrik Lundqvist have enough experience to carry a team deep in the tournament?  Can they score enough?  Do they have the defense?  Now, for my take.

The Swedish hopes for Gold rest in the hands (or groin) of Peter Forsberg.  He is the best player in the world and without him, Sweden can kiss all their medal hopes goodbye.  I believe that he will play, but pull out after a few games.  He doesn't even know if he will play yet.  Forsberg brings so much to the table that I believe this team will be lost without him.  If he goes out, Henrik Sedin and Mats Sundin will have to carry the load.  Sundin hasn't performed in Toronto this year, and maybe he needs this competition to get back on track.  Sweden is deep at the wings, with Zetterberg, Daniel Sedin, Alfredsson, Modin and P.J. Axelsson.  All those players need to perform at the level that we know they can.

Without Mattias Norström, the Swedish defense is in big trouble.  Matty is a warrior, as he has played the last few games in LA with his teeth wired together, a broken jaw and a cervical strain.  If he goes out, Sweden doesn't have that big physical presence on the blue line.  Sweden does have Lidström and Öhlund, but those two don't make up for the lost presence of Norström.

Henrik Lundqvist is a phenom in goal for the New York Rangers and he will be making his Olympic debut in goal for the Swedes.  Henrik can steal games for the Swedes.  The emergence of Lundqvist keeps Mikael Tellqvist out of the net, and gives the Swedish the big time goalie that they've never had.  If it weren't for Tommy Salo the past few years, Sweden could have won the Gold Medal.  We'll see if his lack of experience plays a big part, but it shouldn't.

Switzerland

Two Key Players

David Aebischer-Colorado Avalanche, Martin Gerber-Carolina Hurricanes

Outlook

This team has great goaltending.  Martin Gerber has emerged as the guy in Carolina, but can he carry his team to the medal round.  From my understanding, the Swiss players are good, but don't have the desire to come over to North America.  I don't know why that is, but they'll finish 4th in Group A and play Russia in the Quarters.

USA

Three Key Players

Mike Modano-Dallas Stars, Derian Hatcher-Philadelphia Flyers, Keith Tkachuk-St. Louis Blues

Outlook

Where to begin with this team?  I'll start with the forwards.  I don't know why people don't think this team can impress in Torino.  They have good checking forwards, good scorers, and good playmakers.  Brian Gionta and Erik Cole will impress everyone in Torino, as they are 2 of the more exciting players in the NHL.  For what Gionta lacks in size, he makes up for it with his heart and his drive for success.  Mike Modano has had a great year in Dallas and his leadership will be key for young players like Gionta, Jason Blake and Erik Cole.  Bill Guerin's had a poor year, but recently he's caught on fire.  I think his chemistry with Modano will be critical for American success.  Keith Tkachuk is the X factor for this team.  When he's been healthy this year, he's been nothing short of excellent.  If he stays healthy, he'll put up big numbers for the Americans.  Craig Conroy is a great defensive forward, and he'll be put to the test.

I like the American defense.  They have great offensive players like Brian Rafalski, Mathieu Schneider, and John-Michael Liles, and they have really tough defenseman such as Chris Chelios and Derian Hatcher.  Aaron Miller pulled out of the Olympics, and he is a tough guy in the vain of Hatcher.  People found ways to criticize the selections that were made, but I don't see anything wrong with these selections.  Hatcher was seen as a bad selection at the time, but he's proven that he's worthy with his excellent play of late.  He and Chelios provide great leadership.

The big problem with this team lies in net.  Rick DiPietro, John Grahame and Robert Esche aren't good enough to win a Gold Medal.  All of these goalies are inconsistent.  Most Americans want one of these three to pull out so that Ryan Miller can enter, and I can't say that I don't agree with them.  If Miller entered, the US would win a medal.

I think this team is good enough to get to the Gold Medal game, but they'll need help.  They won't get it.

Predictions

Quarterfinals

(A1)Czech Republic vs (B4)Slovakia

(A2)Canada vs (B3)USA

(B2)Sweden vs (A3)Finland

(B1)Russia vs (A4)Switzerland

Semifinals

(A1)Czech Republic vs (B2)Sweden

(B1)Russia vs (A2)Canada

Bronze Medal Game

(B2)Sweden vs (A2)Canada: Blame the people who made the roster.  They are at fault, not the players.

Gold Medal Game

(B1)Russia vs (A1)Czech Republic

Medal Winners

Gold: Czech Republic

Silver: Russia

Bronze: Canada

Feedback goes here: [email protected] , or you can PM me.  I'm sure we'll be talking about this on the forums, so if you haven't registered yet, you should.

Time differences are here:

USA (California), Canada (British Columbia) -9
USA (Arizona), Canada (Alberta) -8
USA (Texas), Canada (Manitoba) -7
USA (New York), Canada (Ontario) -6
Czech Rep., Germany, Italy, Slovakia, Sweden, Switzerland 0

 



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