Now that an agreement is in place, allowing for NHL players to participate in the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, international attention will turn to the question of just who will represent their respective countries on the ice this February.
If past history is any indication, the Blackhawks should be well-represented when final rosters are announced. In 2010, the Blackhawks sent six players to Vancouver: Jonathan Toews, Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook won gold with Canada, Patrick Kane took silver with the U.S. and Marian Hossa and Tomas Kopecky finished fourth with Slovakia.
With 12 countries set to compete in Sochi, expect many familiar faces to be competing on hockey’s biggest stage.
United States: Nothing is set in stone, of course, but 2014 should mark Patrick Kane’s second Olympics appearance with Team USA. Kane scored five points (3G, 2A) in six games in 2010, skating top-six minutes and ranking third on his team in scoring behind Brian Rafalski and Zach Parise. Kane should be one of the top playmakers again on a very talented, well-balanced squad.
Canada: With no shortage of talent hailing from the Great White North, it’s hard to call almost anyone a “lock,” but it would be a major upset if Jonathan Toews were not once again donning the red maple leaf sweater. Named the 2010 tournament’s top forward, Toews was Canada’s leading scorer and tallied in Canada’s dramatic gold medal-winning game against the U.S. Patrick Sharp could also be in the mix for forwards, especially with a hot start to the 2013-14 NHL campaign.
While the race for spots on Team Canada’s defensive corps will be contentious, it would certainly not surprise anyone if Keith, Seabrook, or both, made the cut. Also in contention will be goaltender Corey Crawford, fresh off backstopping the 2013 Stanley Cup champions. With all three Team Canada goaltenders from 2010 still in the NHL and on strong teams, it will be a challenge for Crawford to break in, but he could impress with consistent play to begin the 2013-14 season.
Slovakia: One of the best Slovakian players of all time, and still in his prime, three-time Olympian Marian Hossa will almost certainly be in Team Slovakia’s plans. His six goals and nine points for a surprising 2010 team will likely be needed if Slovakia hopes to contend for a medal once again. Joining him could be Michal Handzus, who would be making his fourth consecutive Olympic appearance dating back to 2002.
Sweden: Though none are locks, Niklas Hjalmarsson, Marcus Kruger and Johnny Oduya have accepted invitations to Sweden’s Evaluation Camp this summer. Team Sweden’s defense is among the deepest in the world, and many of their top players are impressive two-way threats, including Erik Karlsson, Niklas Kronwall, Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Alexander Edler. However, if the coaching staff is looking for a sound defensive-minded defenseman with plenty of top-level experience, Hjalmarsson may get a long look.
Finland: The Finnish program has seen a few hot new goaltenders rise in the NHL ranks lately – including a goaltender Blackhawks fans are now very familiar with in Tuukka Rask – but as the Finnish league’s reigning MVP, recent free-agent signing Antti Raanta may get a chance to compete for a spot on their Olympic roster. The 6-0, 182-pound goaltender was a member of Finland’s 2013 IIHF World Championship team, posting a 4-3 record with a 2.09 goals-against average and a .928 save percentage. He was named one of the country’s top three players by the tournament coaches.