NHL

Vancouver 2010: Men’s Hockey Olympic Preview

Peter ForsbergThis past Saturday night as millions of people viewed the opening ceremonies of the 2010 Olympics, the NHL was finishing up its scheduled games before the break. None of the big NHL names were on hand to watch as the man seen as hockey’s all-time greatest player, Wayne Gretzky did the final lighting of the torch. However in some kind of irony, Gretzky has already passed the torch. He passed the Canadian team over to Steve Yzerman and passed the on ice duties and star studded name over to Sidney Crosby. So as the hockey games prepare to begin Wednesday, here is a look at the top teams and projections as to how they may fare.

Team Canada
Head Coach: Mike Babcock
Last Gold: 2002
2006 Finish: 7th
Notable players: Sidney Crosby, Dany Heatly, Jarome Iginla, Joe Thornton, Mike Richards
Goalie(s): Martin Broduer, Roberto Luongo

Outlook: Talk about pressure. After finishing a disappointing 7th in 2006, the Canadian team is now the host of the 2010 games. Yes as always it is full of talent, as always it carries the leagues best player and has great puck movement on defense. The goaltending is so good that you could flip a coin to determine your starter. However, as in years past, this teams problem lies in playing as a “team” instead of just an overflow of talent. Crosby is looked at as the leader, but a very young leader at that. It won’t be a problem for this unit to score, but rather will the defense play up to its potential, and will the big name forwards be willing to hustle to play both offense and defense. Mike Babcock, who has had great NHL success will be challenging his players to stay tough, but the field around them this year is real good at the top. If they play to the ability expected, the Canadian team can be quite a force.

Prediction: Hard fought loss in the final. Silver medal, 2nd

Team Czech Republic
Head Coach: Vladimir Rucizka
Last Gold: 1998
2006 Finish: Bronze medal, 3rd
Notable Players: Jaromir Jagr, Patrik Elias, Martin Havlat, Tomas Kaberle, Pavel Kubina
Goalie: Tomas Vokoun

Outlook: This is truly one of the dark horse teams every Olympic year. They have a decent amount of NHL talent and are well disciplined. However, the team that won gold in 1998 and the team that finished 3rd in 2006 had something this team does not, Dominik Hasek. The man seen as the best goalie in the world is now retired and the fate of this team now leans heavily on the goaltending of Vokoun, who when hot is red hot, but when cold can be ice cold. Jaromir Jagr shows his face to the greater public again, but its now an aged Jagr, and alot of this teams star power is beginning to fade. This team will make life tough for any opponent, but it is my belief that they no longer take anyone by suprise, and just don’t have the guns this time around to medal.

Prediction: A good run, some good hockey, but no better then 7th

Team Finland
Head Coach:
Jukka Jalonen
Last Gold: N/A
2006 Finish: Silver medal, 2nd
Notable Players: Saku Koivu, Mikka Koivu, Teemu Selanne, Olli Jokinnen, Sami Salo
Goalie: Miika Kiprusoff

Outlook: The little engine that could is back for another dose of World Competition. This team has a quality mix of spped, puck moving skills, passing and scoring. Plenty of NHLers on this squad, and many of the players return from the Silver medal finish of 2006. 39 year old Teemu Selanne is still asked to lead the scoring, but how much he has left in the tank will be the story here. Kiprusoff has the ability to steal games and has a very gifted and gritty defense in front of him this year. If Finland can mix the lines up properly and get some goals, to go with tough defense and goaltending they may be able to lay out some upsets and steal this thing. Either way, if this club is on your schedule, you’re in for a dog fight, but it is a team one mistake away from disaster.

Prediction: Just not enough to overpass the big three and medal, fall to Sweden in the consolation game. 4th

Team Germany
Head Coach:
Uwe Krupp
Last Gold: N/A
2006 Finish: 10th
Notable Players: Marcel Goc, Dennis Seidenberg, Marco Sturm, Jochen Hecht
Goalie: Thomas Griesse

Outlook: Not every team on this list can be star-studded, but any one of these team can drop an upset in these games. Germany is not loaded with NHL stars, but does field a tough, puck-hawking defense, and good teaching in its head coach, former NHLer Uwe Krupp. A few years back they had talent in goal with Olaf Kolzig, but since he has retired, Germany has struggled to get top net play to make a big splash in international games. This team will certainly give lots of effort, and may land a sneak into the next round, but it will have to play flawless hockey. Tough team to get early on in the schedule so play with caution, but not enough to seriously challenge.

Prediction: Worthy of being here, but not much else. 9th place

Team Norway
Head Coach:
Roy Johansen
Last Gold: N/A
2006 Finish: DNQ
Notable Players: Patrick Thoreson, Zuccarello Aasen, Ole Tollefson
Goalie: Pat Grotnes

Outlook: Out of the top 10, this team is most likely number 10. They do not bring in very much NHL talent, are average in goal and have a coach very new to the system. Norway will make the lesser teams look bad, but the big boys will do the same to them. I do recommend if you get a chance to watch Zuccarello Aasen. Aasen plays in the Swedish league with Peter Forsberg, and is the top forward in ice time. He plays hard, has great skill, and is for some reason overlooked by NHL scouts. It may not be much, but it is a bright spot just the same.

Prediction: beat who they should, get beat by who they should. 10th

Team Russia
Head Coach:
Vyachislav Boykov
Last Gold: 1992
2006 Finish: 4th
Notable Players: Alexandre Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin, Ilya Kovalchuk, Pavel Datsyuk
Goalie(s): Evgeni Nabokov, Ilya Bryzgalov

Outlook: Finally, in my eyes anyway, the Russians come back to the Olympics with the best team on paper. Too much NHL talent to possibly list, tremendous skills, tough defense, and quality in goal. Ovechkin, Malkin, and Kovalchuk probably stand as the 2nd, 3rd and 4th best players in the NHL today, and are all on the same squad. The lines can all mix and match into 3 great scoring lines and fast skating. the Russian team always has seemed to thrive on intimidation, as if they are told they have the best squad coming in, they manage to play with great levels of confidence. It is all up to coach Boykov to keep this team level-headed and sharp. Nabokov over the years has shown to be one of the best Russian goaltending products ever, and this can be his show here. As a whole, this team is truly scary!

Prediction: After 18 years, Russia should welcome back a gold medal. Anything else would have to be a let down. A great game against Canada in the finals with the Russians winning it all. 1st

Team Slovakia
Head Coach:
Jan Filc
Last Gold: N/A
2006 Finish: 5th
Notable Players: Zdeno Chara, Pavel Demitra, Marian Gaborik, Marian Hossa, Miro Satan
Goalie: Jaroslav Halak

Outlook: This is a team packed with NHL and former NHL talent. Chara, who stands 6 foot 9 and close to 7 foot on skates leads what is a very strong, very large and very forceful defense. This team knows how to bang and can wear opponents down with a very tough style of play. They also posess some good snipers in Hossa, Gaborik and Satan. It is though, a team that is aging and running out of steam to run the tough Olympic schedule. Many within the team feel that this is its last run before a major roster overhaul is placed. They can play well with any of the big boys, but the huge question is Halak in goal. He can and will have to stand on his head to get this team to a medal. It’s not impossible to think of it getting done, but they are just one step short of the medal contenders.

Prediction: They are going to make a potential medal team hurt, and could sneak in a big upset. Along the lines of the Finnish team they are close, but fall just short. 5th

Team Sweden
Head Coach:
Bengt Gustafsson
Last Gold: 2006
2006 Finish: Gold medal, 1st
Notable Players: Peter Forsberg, Niklas Lidstrom, The Sedins twins, Henrik Zetterberg
Goalie: Henrik Lundqvist

Outlook: Everyone always guns for number 1. The Swedish team over the years has gotten tougher, which has complimented the great puck moving talents nicely. They still carry some great defensive players, although age is becoming a factor. Unsung team hero Mats Sundin will not be here for these games and the role of leader drops into the lap of Forsberg and Lidstrom. In 2006, goalie Henrik Lundqvist played out of his mind, and was a brick wall for the Swedes. He will have to be even better then that this time around as many of the teams here seem to be packing more goal scoring bang. As much as I hate to say it, this team is very strong but not quite strong enough this time around. They have loads of skill, always seem to be the most “team oriented” group, but I feel a small dose of magic has been left behind. They will need to be more perfect this time around to win it all, but you will all know they were here.

Prediction: The usual great effort from the Swedes is expected. Although they won’t repeat, they will go home with a medal once again, bronze anyone? 3rd

Team Switzerland
Head Coach:
Ralph Kreuger
Last Gold: N/A
2006 Finish: 6th
Notable Players: Mark Streit, Luca Sbisa, Hnat Domenchelli
Goalie: Jonas Hiller

Outlook: After a suprise finish in 2006, the Swiss come in more prepared and have an all around decent club. They do however lack alot of NHL experience, and lack big time scoring. If you want to have some fun, watch up and coming talent Mark Streit play. Trust me you will see alot of him in Switzerlands games. With each passing Olympics, the Swiss seem to be fielding better clubs. Hiller is a sleeper in goal, a guy who can steal a game all by himself. The Swiss do have what it takes to play good hockey, it just remains to be seen how much good hockey, and who exactly they can beat. Of course in these games anything is possible. Watch for more Swiss players in the NHL soon, and maybe a top 5 run in 2014?

Prediction: Finishing 6th in 2006 may be a curse. Teams will gun for this Swiss club, but will not see a team roll over. Good effort, but 8th at best.

Team USA
Head Coach:
Ron Wilson
Last Gold: 1980
2006 Finish: 8th
Notable Players: Brian Rafalski, Patrick Kane, Zach Parise, Phil Kessel, Bobby Ryan
Goalie(s): Ryan Miller, Tim Thomas

Outlook: Fisrt off, happy 30th anniversary to the 1980 USA gold medal team from Lake Placid. Ok now on to these guys. It had looked in the 1990’s that the US had a team comparable to the Canadians. Then a few poor outings the last few Olympics had many giving up on this team. Now they are back with a good looking group of up and coming young stars and goal scorers. Defense is seen as a weak link here, so the goaltending of Miller and/or Thomas will have to be excellent for this team to go far. Some good players worth watching here with Kane, Kessel, Parise and Ryan as well as Paul Statsny all being guys that can light the lamp. Yes this is not the 80 miracle team, but also isn’t the 2006 club. They will give good teams a good run, and will be prepping for 2014, where if they stay in tact can and will be a force.

Prediction: as much as I would love to see my home country snag a medal, this team is not quite ready. They will look good here, have some good outings, but still won’t get much better then 6th. However 4 and 5 are really up for grabs.

Enjoy some fun and skill filled Olympic hockey sports fans. I will be updating the games on a regular basis!

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Eric G.

Eric is the owner and editor-in-chief of the Camel Clutch Blog. Eric has worked in the pro wrestling industry since 1995 as a ring announcer in ECW and a commentator/host on television, PPV, and home video. Eric also hosted Pro Wrestling Radio on terrestrial radio from 1998-2009. Check out some of Eric's work on his IMDB bio and Wikipedia. Eric has an MBA from Temple University's Fox School of Business.

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