SOCHI, RUSSIA - FEBRUARY 10: Goaltender Jonathan Quick waits for a shot from Zach Parise #9 during a Team USA practice on day three of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics at Bolshoy Arena on February 10, 2014 in Sochi, Russia. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
On Wednesday morning, the men’s hockey tournament at the Sochi Winter Olympics will finally kick off, and after months of anticipation and arguing over the composition of the rosters, we will finally see which of the 12 nations competing is the best.
There are plenty of contenders for that role of course. Team Canada is the defending Olympic champion, and have two of the best players in the world in Sidney Crosby and Jonathan Toews will be propelling the team forward. The host nation of Russia is also gifted with insanely good players, with Evgeni Malkin, Alex Ovechkin, and Ilya Kovalchuk all looking to follow Canada’s lead and win gold on their home soil.
Team USA is naturally looking for redemption after their silver medal performance in Vancouver, losing on an overtime goal by Crosby. Finally, you have the Swedes, winners in Torino in 2006 and looking to pull off some magic with a young and talented blue line corps.
All of these teams could pull off gold, but saying that isn’t much fun. With that in mind, here are the three teams that I believe will take to the medal stand in Sochi next Sunday.
Bronze: Team Russia
The Russians have the benefit of playing on home ice this year, but despite that advantage and their prodigious group of forwards (which could be slightly lacking due to the continued injury woes of Pavel Datsyuk), they just don’t have enough defensive depth to guarantee a spot in the championship game.
One thing that could save them this time around is their solid goaltending. In recent years, they’ve had to rely on guys like Evgeni Nabakov and Ilya Bryzgalov, but having a guy like Sergei Bobrovsky between the pipes could be a big boost to their chances. Despite that, I’m picking them for bronze, winning over Finland in the 3rd place game.
Silver: Team Canada
Even without Steven Stamkos, the Canadians are still as complete a team as any skating in Sochi. They have offensive firepower with Toews, Crosby, and so many other players. They also have excellent defensive players like Alex Pietrangelo, Duncan Keith, and Shea Weber manning the blue line.
Despite all of that, goaltending is the only real question surrounding the team. Can Carey Price, Mike Smith, or Roberto Luongo lock down the starter’s role for the team? It’s going to be tough for them to figure it out, and as a result I’ve knocked them off of the top podium spot this year.
Gold: Team USA
I made this prediction way back in October when I was assembling my “Bold Predictions” for the Chicago Blackhawks (the team I cover for Madhouse Enforcer on NBC Chicago), but I’m going to stick with it for Sochi: the US men will avenge their loss last time out in Vancouver and bring the US their first gold medal in men’s hockey since the Miracle on Ice squad in 1980.
This team may not be loaded with the flashiest offensive players, but having guys like Zach Parise and Patrick Kane in the lineup, as well as stellar goaltenders like Ryan Miller and Jonathan Quick, make them one of the most well-balanced teams in the field, and should be enough for them to get it done when the tournament comes to an end next week.