The Winter Games are approaching and there are three exceptional hockey teams that are getting attention. These teams are considered to be the best and they are favored to win medals in Sochi.
Here’s a look at the top teams:
The U.S. team finished with a silver medal in 2010. This year, the roster is full of big stars such as forward Patrick Kane, guard Ryan Miller, forward Zach Parise, and D Ryan Suter.
Some were surprised when some players with extensive international experience such as Columbus Blue Jackets defenseman Jack Johnson were left off the roster. But after taking Canada to the brink four years ago, Americans still boast a lot of talent. Kane is always among the NHL points leaders and was explosive in last year’s Stanley Cup win for the Blackhawks, as well as the Vancouver Games. Miller, the MVP in 2010, returns to protect the net. Suter is among the NHL’s best defenders and Team USA will get a big boost if his Minnesota Wild teammate Parise returns from injury in time to suit up in red, white and blue.
Be sure to keep your eye on Justin Faulk. He’s a 21-year-old Carolina Hurricane defender and he’s the youngest player on the roster. Faulk got the nod over Johnson and was USA’s top scoring defenseman at the 2012 World Championships.
Canada took home the gold in 2010. Their big players are forward Sidney Crosby, forward Rick Dash, G Roberto Luongo, D Drew Doughty, and D Duncan Keith.
It is clear that there is overwhelming talent available to Canadian coach Mike Babcock. Sidney Crosby cemented his status as a national hero with the gold-medal winning goal in Vancouver and leads the team into Sochi. But Nash, Chicago’s Jonathan Toews, the Islanders’ John Tavares and other great forwards mean it’s not all on Crosby and the Canadians can send out line after line capable of lighting up the goal. With Doughty, Keith, PK Subban and others in front of Luongo it’s not going to be easy to score against the defending champs either.
Be sure to keep your eyes peeled for Steven Stamkos. The Tampa Bay Lightning center recently rejoined the Lightning at practice and he continues to recover from a broken leg. Stamkos says he’ll be ready to go in Sochi, but Canadian officials have the right to replace him on the roster if they don’t agree.
The Russian team didn’t receive any medals in 2010 but they made it to the quarterfinals. Players such as F Alex Ovechkin, F Evgeni Malkin, F Pavel Datsyuk, G Semyon Varlamov, and F Illya Kovalchuck hope to bring their country some hardware this year.
The 2010 Games were quite a disappointment for the team. This year, failing to get a medal at home will be something close to a disaster if the Russians are left off the stand again. The talent is there to challenge for gold, especially at forward. Ovechkin and Malkin are ranked as two of the best in the world and Datsyuk isn’t far behind. Varlamov is the likely choice to start in goal and can be a brick wall at times. Illya Kovalchuck disappointed some U.S. fans when he bailed on the Devils and signed with SKA St. Petersburg in Russia’s KHL. He may get an opportunity to do it again if the nations meet on the Sochi ice.
Keep a look out for Sergei Bobrovsky. The Blue Jackets goalie has been on fire as the Olympics get closer. He’ll likely start as Varlamov’s backup, but if the Avalanche star falters, Bobrovsky seems more than ready.
Of course there are other teams who have the talent to fight for medals.
FINLAND: The 2010 bronze medalist, Finland could play spoiler in Sochi. The roster boasts both the oldest, 43-year-old Teemu Selanne, and the youngest, 18-year-old Aleksander Barkov, players in the NHL.
CZECH REPUBLIC: A pair of New Jersey Devils veterans, Jaromir Jagr and Patrik Elias, give the 2006 bronze medal nation a shot this time around.
SWEDEN: They are plagued by injuries, leaving question marks on the roster, but they are set in goal with Rangers star Henrik Lundqvist and Henrik Zetterberg leads a potentially dangerous group of forwards who could find the medal stand.
SLOVAKIA: Forwards Marian Hossa and Marian Gaborik are capable of finding the back of the net often.
SWITZERLAND: Nashville’s Roman Josi was the MVP of last year’s World Championships, leading the Swiss to a silver medal.
The preliminary rounds for the 2014 Men’s Tournament will start on Wednesday February 12th between Czech Republic and Sweden at 12 PM.
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