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HomeSportsIt’s a hockey tournament, eh?

It’s a hockey tournament, eh?

By Zack Wilson and Tim Vander Kooi, Staff Contributors

With two games already under their belts, Team Canada’s men’s Olympic team looks poised to make a deep run in the most anticipated hockey tournament in the history of the game. Despite a roster loaded with names such as Crosby, Iginla and Brodeur, Canada is no shoe-in for the gold.
In recent times, a number of countries have risen to the surface of the hockey world.  Twenty years ago a tournament such as this would have been a two-horse race, with Canada and the Soviet Union as the only real contestants. Instead, this year there are seven nations that could hypothetically walk away with gold.
Slovakia, Sweden, Russia, Finland, the Czech Republic or the United States could be crowned Kings of the hockey world and nobody would bat an eye.
Canada will be hard-pressed to find an easy adversary in the tournament from this point on.  Neither of their opponents– Switzerland nor Norway – is considered to be a medal contender. From here on in, the big boys will be rearing their ugly heads and coming to play.
Many have referred to this tournament as a competition that has seven main players: the “Big Seven”. Here is a list of teams Canada will have to go through if they have any hope of bringing back those ever-coveted gold medals.

Slovakia comes into the tournament with high hopes, although the rest of the world may not echo that same sentiment. They will probably be the dark horse of the tournament. This team could surprise a lot of people. They have a big defensive squad led by Zdeno Chara, Milan Jurcina, and Andrie Mezaros. Jaroslav Halak is a streaky goaltender that could get hot throughout the tournament. Marion Gaborik has proven himself for the New York Rangers this season, so he should do some serious damage alongside Marian Hossa. Slovakia must keep the score low in order to win games.

Sweden comes into the tournament as the defending champions and they look poised to repeat their winning ways. Henrik Lundqvist has shown shades of Tommy Sodderstrom this season and will surely keep Sweden in any game.  It will be interesting to see if Peter Forsberg will make a difference, or be a flop. He needs to perform to help out the younger players around him.   Nicklas Lidstrom, in the twilight of his career, should log a great number of minutes if Sweden has any chance of reclaiming the gold.
To many experts, the Russians look to be the most offensively lethal group of the bunch. Their offence can explode on weak teams, so expect some high-scoring games in the round robin.  With the likes of Ovechkin, Semin, Malkin and Datsyuk, this team should have no problem keeping the puck in the opposition’s zone. Defence is a bit of an issue though. Markov and Gonchar are not defensive-minded defensemen. They typically like to jump into the play to make something happen. However, they have strong goaltending with the one-two punch of Nabokov and Varlamov.

Finland has a fine crop of young players and a group of elder statesmen, but little in between.  Names such as Saku Koivu and Teemu Selane litter their forward roster, and a number of personalities around the game agree that these guys may be too old for the young men’s game.  Finland’s defence is adequate but porous. Little to no offence is expected from the back end.  Their goaltending may be their saving grace with former Toronto Maple Leaf first rounder turned Boston Bruin Tuuka Rask in net. This year, the young goaltender has had scorching numbers in the National Hockey League and has all but forced last year’s Vezna trophy winner Tim Thomas from the net.

The Czech Republic
The Czechs are always a tough team to play. This hockey-crazy nation possesses a number of lethal scoring weapons. North Americans will likely be given their last chance to watch Jaromir Jagr on Canadian soil. Two years after the future Hall of Famer departed from North America for the opportunity to play in Russia’s upstart KHL, the Czech flag bearer returns as team captain. Although still a scorer, Jagr is more likely to be a leader than a sniper.
The team’s defence is anchored by Toronto Maple Leaf defenseman Tomas Kabarle and is expected to handle quite the workload as they have been grouped into a pool that includes the likes of Slovakia and Russia. In net the Czechs have turned to Tomas Vokun. Gone are the days when Dominic Hasek patrolled the Czech crease and Vokun will be heavily relied upon.

The United States
For the first time since the 1992 tournament, the United States will be sending a team that is not made up solely of geezers. Up front, names such as New Jersey Devils forward Zach Parise, Maplle Leaf`s winger Phil Kessel highlight what promises to be an exciting forward contingent.  On the blue line, veteran Brian Rafalski will guide a young defensive corps. In net, Ryan Miller (arguably the best goaltender in the NHL this season) will back-stop this young squad, and for his part, hopefully bring home Olympic glory.

Other teams of note in the tournament include the Belarus and the Norwegian. Both have good young crops of players (Norway has three members of their 2010 IIHF World Junior Championship squad in their line up), although these teams will need a number of years to mature and improve their national programs. Neither pose any real threat to the “Big Seven”.


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