Well, the games are finally here at The Games. Which men’s hockey teams will bring home the hardware from Sochi? Here are our, ahem, expert opinions.
Greg Wyshynski, Editor
Let’s start with the bad news, fellow patriots: I don’t have the USA winning a medal.
I have them in a medal game, against the Russians, but I can’t believe Putin would pay $50 billion for the Olympics and not ensure that his team medals. (“Say, why would someone just leave a paper bag full of diamonds in the officials’ dressing room like that …?”)
But seriously: They’re too inexperienced on defense and thin up the middle to confidently pick them to win gold, even if any of the four teams in the top group could. The Russians, meanwhile, win bronze and everyone sorta goes home happy. Sorta.
[Photos: Check out Team USA's men's hockey team]
I love Sweden’s mobile defense in front of Henrik Lundqvist, who could be the tournament’s top goalie. I’m not in love with their forward group without Henrik Sedin and Johan Franzen. Especially when a ridiculously deep team like Canada is across the ice.
Canada completes back-to-back golds over the Swedes in the Final. They’re just too deep, too versatile and just too damn good to miss out on a medal in this tournament. And they’ve got enough new faces where the team won’t be fat and happy thinking about its previously glory in Vancouver.
So once again, Canada rules the hockey world. Good thing we're gettin' those NHLers out of the Games and resetting the scales...
Sean Leahy, Associate Editor
These are the Olympics the Russian players were waiting for. These are the Games some were willing to risk suspension by the NHL teams if the league didn't allow its players to go to Sochi. The pressure is immense and for all the prior expectations on this team in Olympic tournaments, and for all the times they've fallen short, this time they will deliver.
Between Sergei Bobrovsky and Semyon Varlamov, they are fine in goal. The blue line isn't star-studded, but there's size to slow down speedy forwards and offensive skill to provide from the back. Up front, it's a bevy of an arsenal between Alex Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin, Ilya Kovalchuk, Alex Semin, and Pavel Datsyuk (maybe), among others.
The Russians haven't medaled since 2002 or won gold since 1992 when they were the Unified Team. They'll face a tricky road coming out of the group stage with Slovakia and USA providing formidable challenges, but once they survive that, it's all there for them to achieve gold.
Harrison Mooney, Associate Editor
Canada is the best team in this tournament, and anything short of gold will not only be a massive disappointment -- it will be a monumental upset. I honestly don't think there's any team that's even close to the Canadians if they're on their game. All four of their forward lines are terrifying, their back-end is unbelievable, and, I know I've said this before, but when your weakest link is your goaltending tandem of Roberto Luongo and Carey Price, you're a shade out of perfect.
If Canada doesn't win gold, they underachieved. And once again, they have to beat America to do it, after the Americans knock off the Russians with some truly aggressive, tenacious hockey. I think the big ice will help Russia, but I don't think they have the defence to withstand the Americans.
They will, however, triumph in the bronze medal game, provided Putin doesn't hit the STOP OLYMPICS button the moment America knocks them off.
Dmitry Chesnokov, Senior Writer
Full disclaimer: I am terrible at these things. Vegas must love me.
I am not going to hide the fact that I am biased and wholeheartedly hope that Russia will take gold in Sochi. I miss more predictions than the worst biathlon athlete. And I hope it works again and I am wrong... But... Sweden is has the right mixture of experience and surgical precision when it comes to playing on big ice at the biggest stage. The fact that no one is talking about them is playing in their favor, and the team can concentrate on the goal.
Ryan Lambert, Columnist
America is the best. There is nothing else to say.
Sweden is also pretty good and the Russian government will definitely intimidate some officials into giving them 50 power plays in the bronze game. That is just my opinion.
Jen Neale, Staff Writer
Bronze: Sweden (over Finland)
I honestly have no idea who is going to win.
This Team USA is the Team USA from the movie D2: The Mighty Ducks. A ragtag group of guys who have a core (those who played in 2010) and there were other players from around the US added to make them better. The squad can score a ton of goals but their defense is prone to turnovers that become scoring chances because of inexperience. The goaltender is the key component of Team USA. Well, goaltending and heart.
The Canadians are Team Iceland because everyone expects them to be the best team in the entire tournament. They're also the bad guys and the bad guys can't win again, right?
[Related: Five reasons to believe in Team USA]
The Swedes are the dark horse. They could be Team Italy or Team Germany in the movie. You pick. They are definitely not Trinidad and Tobago.
There is a Team Russia in the movie but they're nothing like this Team Russia who have the extra burden of being the host country. It's similar to what the Canadians felt in Vancouver except the Canadian team was full of Hall of Famers and superstars.The pressure is going to be too much for the Russians. They'll get a big win against a top country (like the movie) but won't make it past quarter finals (also like the movie).
Side note: I fully expect Vladimir Putin to lace up the skates for the game against the Americans. Your move, President Obama!
Nick Cotsonika, Yahoo NHL Lead Writer
The Swedes aren't as stacked as the Canadians, but they aren't short on talent. Many of them have played together before. They won the last Olympics on big ice. And goaltender Henrik Lundqvist is back in form.
The Canadians always have the talent. But can they adapt to the big ice and get the breaks? This coaching staff appears to have learned enough lessons from the past to win Canada's first Olympic medal overseas in the NHL era.
The Russians are the most fascinating team in the tournament, playing Vladimir Putin's favorite sport with a roster that includes several KHLers. How good are the KHL players after Kovalchuk and Radulov? How does everyone mesh? How hobbled is Datsyuk? Can they handle the pressure?
The guess here is they win a medal, but not the one they want.
Darryl “Dobber” Dobbs, Fantasy Columnist
I had originally pegged Russia for this one, winning on home ice and all. But Canada is too powerful. And if my only drawback is goaltending, I have to ask myself - is it? When Carey Price is "on", he's a Top 3 goalie in the league. And guess what? He's been "on" with more frequency, each and every season that passes. This year he's been "on" far more than he's been "off". He's in the zone right now - six games in a row without giving up more than two goals, including a pair of shutouts.
If a forward gets hurt and they can call Martin St. Louis from the press box - that's almost like an upgrade. How can any team compete with that? It would take stifling, Barry-Trotz-type defense and a white-hot goaltender.
Silver … USA. I know I'm being "Mr. Original" here, but I had to go with the Americans. Because if Russia gets to the final, then they'll win it at home. And I just said Canada would win it, right? Sweden is my next favorite for a Silver, but I think the lost of Henrik Sedin will be felt a lot more than Canada will feel the loss of Steven Stamkos.
Bronze …Russia. They're not gonna limp out of their own Olympics tournament without a medal. But they also boast two of the best lines in the tournament. If only their defensemen didn't look like Canada's
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