The day hockey fans worldwide have been waiting for is finally here. After months, even years, of anticipation fans from Canada, USA, Russia, Sweden, Finland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and more will finally get to see the best hockey players of their respective nations go head to head in a quest to capture the Olympic gold medal. Though not a minute of hockey action has yet taken place this tournament is already being heralded as the greatest of all time. Whether it lives up to the tremendous hype remains to be seen, but with a plethora of superstars that includes Sidney Crosby, Alexander Ovechkin, Jaromir Jagr, Patrick Kane, Martin Brodeur, Teemu Selanne, Nicklas Lidstrom, Evgeni Malkin and Marian Gaborik just to name a few, there certain is enough star power to ensure this will be an incredible spectacle for live and television viewers alike. Here are the day one match-ups of the Olympic men’s ice hockey tournament:
Noon – PST – United States vs. Switzerland
On paper this one, like many of the early match-ups, looks like an enormous mismatch. The U.S. is led by a number of young offensive stars including Zach Parise, Patrick Kane, Bobby Ryan, Paul Stastny, Phil Kessel and Dustin Brown. Their speed and skill up front should more than make up for their relative inexperience. On the back end they are anchored by veterans like Brian Rafalski and Brooks Orpik, both former Stanley Cup champions who can use their experience to help keep the youngsters calm and level-headed under the immense pressure and excitement of the Olympic tournament.
As good as Team USA is at forward, their greatest strength might lie in goal where they have the impressive trio of Ryan Miller, Tim Thomas and Jonathan Quick to tend the mesh. Miller has been lights out all season and is the odds-on favorite right now to take home the Vezina Trophy. If Miller happens to stumble then coach Ron Wilson has the luxury of throwing in Tim Thomas, last year’s Vezina trophy winner. Quick probably won’t get to see any action, but if the unthinkable happens and he is forced into action Team USA has plenty of confidence he can get the job done. As of the Olympic break no other goalie in the NHL has more wins than Jonathan Quick.
The Swiss lack the NHL stars of the American squad, and they will have to rely upon good team chemistry and spectacular goaltending from Anaheim Ducks goalie Jonas Hiller if they are going to have any sort of chance in this game. The Swiss have the advantage of having played together for some time already, while the U.S. stars have had but a single day to practice together. Still it is hard to imagine any other outcome than a U.S. win
Prediction – USA 5, Switzerland 1
4:30 – PST – Canada vs. Switzerland
The biggest game of the day will of course be the one featuring Team Canada. With the Olympics taking place on Canada’s home soil you can rest assured that hockey-mad Canadians will be out in droves to cheer on their team, even though this match-up is far from compelling.
From top to bottom the Canadians have to be considered the strongest team in the tournament. Sidney Crosby, Rick Nash, Jarome Iginla, Joe Thornton, Dany Heatley and Eric Staal are just a few of the offensive weapons at their disposal.
On defense the Canadians boast a pair of Norris Trophy and Stanley Cup winning defensemen in Scott Niedermayer and Chris Pronger, and a number of future Norris candidates like Duncan Keith, Drew Doughty and Shea Weber.
And in net the Canadians are as strong as anybody with Martin Brodeur, the NHL’s all time wins and shutouts leader, Vancouver Canucks superstar tender Roberto Luongo and defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins keeper Marc-Andre Fleury between the pipes. In a bit of a surprise Team Canada head coach Mike Babcock has confirmed that Roberto Luongo will get the start against Norway today.
The Norwegians, who have no players on their roster with NHL experience, will likely play a defensive, trapping style game in an attempt to keep the powerful Canadian team from blowing them out too badly. If they can keep the Canadians to single digits that strategy will have been a success.
Prediction: Canada 9, Norway 0
8:55 – PST – Russia vs. Latvia
As excited as Canadian fans will be to see their home nation play earlier in the day, they will be almost as intrigued by this match-up between the offensively explosive Russian squad and Latvia. Russia has an absolute embarrassment of riches at the forward position with superstars like Alex Ovechkin, Ilya Kovalchuk, Evgeni Malkin and Pavel Datsyuk in their lineup. With such offensive explosiveness there can be little question that the Russian team will play a run and gun style of game, and will attempt to out-duel opponents in high-scoring games.
However, though this Russian squad is unquestionably offense-centric they boast a pretty decent squad of defenders as well, including Andrei Markov, Sergei Gonchar and Anton Volchenkov.
Goaltending, which has often been an issue for the Russians in years past, shouldn’t be a problem this time around, with Evgeni Nabokov, Ilya Bryzgalov and Semyon Varlamov all guarding the nets. Should the Russians actually find themselves in a defensive struggle in this tournament then they can have confidence they have the tending to keep them alive in a low scoring game as well.
Latvia, much like Norway and Switzerland, has little chance in this one. Latvia does have a number of players that star in Russia’s KHL superleague, so they will have experience playing against many of Russia’s players. However, that experience will only go so far, and Latvia will in all likelihood get soundly drubbed by an Ovechkin-led squad that is going to come out with cannons blazing tonight.
Prediction: Russia 12, Latvia 1