Olympic Hockey Preview

Steve O Speak

The Olympics are finally here and even if you aren’t a fan, you might want to pay attention if you like the NHL. The hockey season is on hold as the world’s greatest stars head to Vancouver to battle it out for their national supremacy. The greatest part about Olympic hockey is that NHL rivals, now become teammates, and NHL teammates are now the enemy. On the Russian roster, the first line could be comprised of Alexander Ovechkin, Evengi Malkin, and Ilya Kovalchuk, three players who will be battling out for the Eastern Conference in a couple of months. You can’t get better television than that. Here is a look at the top 3 squads, USA, Canada, and Russia:

USA:  The United States is looking to avenge their embarrassing performance in Italy 4 years ago, where they finished 8th. The USA team is deep, but doesn’t have the star talent of some of the other squads. Their top forwards are Patrick Kane, Zach Parise, Jamie Langenbrunner, and Colorado’s Paul Stastny. The good news is even though they don’t have the scoring power of some of the other squads, they have a great assortment of defensemen and goalies. Their goalies are led by Ryan Miller and Tim Thomas, two of the best net minders in the game. Everyone of their defensemen could be in the top 4 (and pretty much are) in any team’s rotation. The American team is deeper and better in 2010, but don’t have the star power to compete for the Gold. A medal finish is definitely within reach though, and USA should come away with the Bronze.

Russia:  The Russian squad can’t match the USA team’s depth, but has it beat in star power, especially on the offensive end. In addition to Ovechkin, Malkin and Kovalchuk (each one would be the star of the USA squad), the Russian team also has NHL stars Alexander Semin and Pavel Datsyuk. In addition, they have former NHL stars (and Washington Capitals) Sergei Federov and Viktor Kozlov, making the Russian offense the most potent in the Games. The Russian team will need to score in bunches, because they don’t have the defensemen and goalies that some of the other teams have. Sergei Gonchar leads the defensemen, which aren’t by and large the shutdown defensemen you are hoping for. Evgeni Nabokov, Ilya Bryzgalov and Seymon Varlamov are solid goaltenders, but aren’t nearly as good as their USA and Canadian counterparts.

Canada:  Team Canada won the gold medal in 2002, but defended it with an awful 7th place finish in 2006. This year, they are on their home ice and anything less than another gold would be a stunning disappointment. Canada has the best of both worlds, they have the star power of Russia and the depth of the USA. Their top two lines (entire roster) is scary. They will likely match up Sidney Crosby with wings Rick Nash and Jerome Iginla. Their 2nd line could even be better due to familiarity, as Dany Heatley, Joe Thornton, and Patrick Marleau are all teammates on the San Jose Sharks. As good as the Canadian’s offense is, their goaltending is even better. Martin Brodeur is still the best goalie in the league. Backing him up are Roberto Luongo and Marc Andre-Fleury, each of whom would probably start on any other team in the Olympics. The Canadian defensemen aren’t as strong as the USA team’s, but are good enough to bring gold home to Canada.

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