2014 Winter Olympics: Ranking the 12 hockey teams
The rosters are in for the Winter Olympics so how do the teams stack up for the hockey tournament? Needless to say, it's going to be excellent.
The deadline has passed, the rosters are in. We now know what all 12 teams competing in the 2014 Winter Olympics will look like, so let's see how they stack up.
Note: This is not necessarily a projection of the order of finish but just a pre-tournament ranking of who looks the strongest. You never know what's going to happen in a tournament as short as this, especially once you reach the stage of single-elimination. It's a varitable crapshoot which can make it all the more exciting.
|1. Canada | Roster | Breakdown|
|There is little dispute that top to bottom, the Canadians have the best roster on paper. The amount of talent they had to leave out is telling enough. The defending gold medalists are as strong as ever. Player to Watch: We'll say two: Roberto Luongo and Carey Price. If there's a perceived weakness on this team it's in net. Expectations: Like every Olympic hockey tournament, Canada will settle for nothing but gold.|
|2. Sweden | Roster|
|As per usual, the Swedes assembled an excellent roster. It's a group with loads of experience and plenty of ability. Player to Watch: Henrik Lundqvist. He has struggled this season in the NHL but he is still the clear starter. If he has the same struggles at the Olympics, Sweden could be in trouble. Expectations: Sweden has a team that could win gold and that's what will be expected, especially on international ice where the North American teams usually struggle.|
|3. USA | Roster | Breakdown|
|Questionable decisions aside, on paper this roster looks better than the silver squad in 2010, if only because the young players have improved. The USA has a contender. Player to Watch: Patrick Kane. He has the puck skills to rival anybody in the world and could be a lot of fun to watch on the bigger ice. The US might hurt for scoring at times so they'll need his creativity. Expectations: Internally, the US squad is thinking one thing: gold. Realistically, landing on the podium should be seen as a success.|
|4. Russia | Roster|
|The pressure is on the hosts, especially after a disappointing showing in Vancouver. A squad split with players from the NHL and KHL, there's no denying they have a good top six but there are questions. Player to Watch: The defense. We'll take the whole unit because this is not an incredibly inspiring group. How they play could dictate Russia's success. Expectations: It is absolutely to win gold, the pressure to do so will be immense. It will be interesting to see how they react to said pressure.|
|5. Finland | Roster|
|Finland is looking for the rare double gold after winning juniors. They have one clear strength in net but top to bottom look to be a step below the teams above. However you can never discount Finland on big ice. Player to Watch: Mikko Koivu. Question is: will he be healthy? He recently had surger to repair a fractured ankle. They need him on top of his game and need his leadership up front. Expectations: They took bronze in 2010 and a return to the podium is the aim.|
|6. Slovakia | Roster|
|The Slovaks are an interesting team, tough to peg down. The strength appears to be on defense with Zdeno Chara and crew playing in front of Jaroslav Halak but they have some scorers too in the Hossas and Marian Gaborik.Player to Watch: Big Z. There are few players in the sport that can impact a game as much as Chara when on the ice. They need him to be all that he is in Boston. Expectations: In a group with Russia and the US, it would be an achievement to win a couple games.|
|7. Switzerland | Roster|
|Every competition the Swiss take a step up it seems. They have a roster with just eight NHL players (and one AHL) but that isn't a reason to dismiss the Swiss. Remember, they lost to Canada in a shootout in 2010. Player to Watch: Mark Streit. The bedrock of this team should be the D and Streit is the veteran, appearing in his fourth Olympics. Not only that but he needs to help lead an offensive push from the back. Roman Josi will be leaned on heavily too. Expectations: While they aren't stuck with both USA and Canada again, they don't have an easy draw. Advancing out of pool play would be a win.|
|8. Czech Republic | Roster|
|This much can be said for the Czechs: they have plenty of experience but the 1998 gold medal feels like a long time ago. They are bringing 17 NHL players along but the ones they left back (Radim Vrbata, Jiri Hudler) could really sting. Player to Watch: Ondrej Pavelec. The Jets goaltender has not been very good this season and he figures to be their starter. If he doesn't improve they stand no shot. Expectations: In the past you would have to stay it's to medal and that's likely still their goal but making the medal round would be a surprise.|
|9. Norway | Roster|
|The good news is the Norwegians return a lot of players with Olympic experience. The bad news: They only picked up one point and had a goal differential of -14 in three games. Player to Watch: Mats Zuccarello. The only NHL player on the squad, he's having a strong season and has to be Superman if the Norwegians stand a chance. Expectations: Really the Norwegians would probably settle for a win before thinking of advancing.|
|10. Austria | Roster|
|The Austrians surprised some when they qualified for the Games, which was a great achievement in and of itself. They don't have a lot of talent that you'll recognize. Player to Watch: Thomas Vanek. Along with his Isles teammate Michael Grabner, he's one of three NHLers on the team (Michael Raffl the third). It's up to these three to lead the offensive charge, what little there might be. Expectations: Being competitive is big enough but they have a shot at a win with Norway in the group.|
|11. Latvia | Roster|
|Latvia does have a few names NHL fans will recognize like Sandis Ozolins, Kaspers Daugavins and Sabres prospect Zemgus Girgensons. Just as intriguing is they have eight players from the KHL's Dinamo Riga, five defensemen. That helps. Player to Watch: Kristers Gudlevskis. A draft pick by the Lightning, the goalie is playing for AHL Syracuse but has just a .902 save percentage this season. A team like this needs a goalie to play well. Expectations: In the same group as the Swiss, Swedes and Czechs, the outlook is not good. Staying competitive would be a plus.|
|12. Slovenia | Roster|
|Welcome to the Olympics, Slovenian hockey. Try to enjoy the stay. The Slovenians are led by their first family of hockey with coach Matjaz Kopitar and son Anze Kopitar. Sadly, brother Gasper Kopitar didn't make the cut. Tough gig. Player to Watch: Anze Kopitar. Chances are, you won't find a happier guy to play on a poor team. He's far and away their best player as he's one of the best centers in the NHL. Expectations: If the Slovenians were to win a game, the country might shut down and have a party. This is a nation that's just happy to be there.|
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