Canada will be looking to please the overwhelming home crowd, Russia will look to dominate, the United States will look to upset, and Sweden will look to defend. Those are the main headlines in Men's Ice Hockey heading into this year's 2010 Olympic Games in Vancouver, British Columbia. Olympic Hockey may be one of the most exciting competitions in all of sports, as the World's best players combine and battle in the World's fastest sport. Fortunately, your's truly will be in Vancouver to witness it all live, and below are the things I will be looking out for throughout my trip.
I will start by taking a look at Team USA. General Manager Brian Burke went about creating his team with a bit of a different mindset than the rest of the Countries participating in the games. He went young and talented instead of old and experienced, but the question is if that young talent will be enough to be superior to clubs such as Canada and Russia, who are simply loaded with skill.
The United States will rely heavily on forwards Zach Parise and Patrick Kane to provide a majority of their offense. And in goal, you have Buffalo Sabre Ryan Miller, who knows he will have to be superb in net for the U.S. if they want to go anywhere in this tournament. On defense, you have the Johnson combination (not related) in Jack (Kings) and Eric (Blues).
You also have the grinding fourth line containing the Rangers own Ryan Callahan and Chris Drury, who you can also look to play on the penalty-kill and in situations where the coaching staff in Ron Wilson, John Tortorella, and Scott Gordon will need a 110 percent effort.
The United States will have no choice but to overachieve in this tournament. They will be the underdogs, the rivals, the enemies. Sometimes that can work in your favor, and other times it does not.
Team Canada is the obvious favorite to win Gold in this year's tournament. Sidney Crosby, Ryan Getzlaf, Rick Nash, Joe Thornton, Jarome Iginla, Eric Staal are among the many stars GM Steve Yzerman has selected on offense for his squad which will have the home crowd on their side for the full two weeks. The Canadian blueline is comprised of defensive stalwarts in Scott Niedermayer, Shea Weber, Drew Doughty and many more. Finally, you have Martin Brodeur, Roberto Luongo and Marc-Andre Fleury in goal.
Intimidating? Yes, you better believe so, and if Canada will go far in this tournament it will be for that very reason. Teams like Latvia and Norway will be shaking in their boots, errr, skates when going head to head with this unbelievable collection of athletes.
Canada will have four lines equivalent to a first line in an NHL All-Star game and if they cannot win Gold with a squad like that, well, that is just pathetic. In fact, that is the reason why I feel they may not be able to meet the expectations of the home crowd.
The environment in Vancouver is going to be surreal, first off. At every game, even if it is against a weaker team like Norway, GM Place, or as they are calling it for the Olympics, Canada Place will be jam packed with a crowd in red and white sweaters with the giant Maple Leaf on the front. The pressure on this team will be unimaginable and, yes I am taking a big risk in saying this, I have a feeling that they will choke.
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Canada's real competition will lie in the Russians. Led by Capitals star Alexander Ovechkin, Team Russia is looking to make a bold statement in this year's Olympics. You have to expect Ovechkin to be sick and tired of seeing Sidney Crosby published as the NHL's "poster boy", so this will be his time to prove otherwise.
Joined with mates Pavel Datsyuk, Ilya Kovalchuk, Evgeni Malkin, Alex Semin on offense, Ovechkin and the Russian forwards will be near unstoppable. These players are always playing hockey in North America, not being able to represent their hometown, or home country for that matter. This will be their opportunity to do so and to prove that hockey is not just Canada's game.
Defense will be where the Russians are lacking. Beyond Sergei Gonchar, Team Russia's defense is nothing special. Andrei Markov, Dmitri Kalinin, and Fedor Tyutin just aren't going to cut it on the back end for Russia. Although, you would expect their offense to spend most of the time in the opposition's end so will defense really matter?
I truly believe Team Sweden has a chance at defending their Gold Medal this year in Vancouver. Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist will backstop a team of well-rounded offense and defense. The Swedes will have to play to the best of their ability, there is no question about that, but they are one of the more complete teams in the tourney.
You have experience on defense in Nik Lidstrom and Mattias Ohlund, skill up front in Zetterberg, the Sedin twins, Forsberg, Backstrom, Alfredsson, and World class netminding in good ‘ol Hank. There really is not a large weakness on this club, but they are not the most stacked, either.
The Swedish team has not changed a whole lot since Torino in 2006, which makes you believe that they can easily pull it off again, but the clubs around them have improved majorly making the competition much greater.
All the Rest
I put the rest of the teams in one category because it would be very surprising if they found a way to medal in this tournament. Sure the Czech Republic, Finland, and Slovakia may have decent squads, but they are not expected to compete with Canada, Sweden, and Russia.
Of course, each year there always seems to be that one team that astounds everyone and defeats one of the big market teams and makes it to the medal rounds. Who that will be? Well, it is impossible to predict, but more often than not there is at least one.
Enough talk already, it is about time to drop the puck. These Olympics have been hyped up by hockey fans even since the camps this past summer. The environment up in Canada will be breathtaking, and like I have stated many times, I will be honored to be there in the mix of everything.
I will be flying out to Vancouver on Tuesday and will be coming home on Saturday. During that time, I will be attending four hockey games including USA, Canada, Sweden, and the Czech Republic. I will have constant live coverage all throughout my trip with daily blogs here on Blueshirt Banter, frequent posts at the Rangers Tribune, as well as live game updates on My Twitter.