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Pressing questions as Olympic hockey beckons

by Dan Rosen
With what promises to be 13 incredible days of hockey ahead of us in Vancouver, it's time to get a quick primer of what we all should be looking for when the Olympic tournament begins Tuesday at Canada Hockey Place.

Here are 13 questions that will be answered over the next two weeks:

1. How will Canada handle the pressure?

No team will be under more scrutiny. The success of these Olympics in Canada will be defined largely by how the hosts fare in the men's ice hockey tournament. Canada has the depth, talent and experience to win gold, but how they do will depend on how well they handle knowing that anything short of the top of the medal stand will be viewed as a disappointment.

2. Can the American blue line survive?

Besieged by injuries to Mike Komisarek and Paul Martin, Team USA is going to the Olympics without arguably its best shot blocker and best puck moving defenseman. It's not as if Komisarek and Martin are irreplaceable, but Tim Gleason and Ryan Whitney have to prove they belong if the Americans stand a chance.

3. What will Alex Ovechkin do?

Who knows, but we're guessing it's going to be both impressive and theatrical. You should always watch Ovi because you just never know what you're going to see next. The Olympics will be his biggest stage to date.

4. Is there a bigger star in the Olympics than Sidney Crosby?

You could argue that the answer is no. Crosby is the face of Canadian hockey and the men's ice hockey tournament could very well be considered the most important event of these Olympics. Seven hockey players carried the flag for their countries into B.C. Place and Wayne Gretzky closed the show by lighting the internal cauldron before leaving the building to light the external cauldron. No. 87 could turn into the face of these Olympics.

5. Which goalie does Mike Babcock choose as Canada's No. 1?

The consensus would be Martin Brodeur, but he hasn't been playing his best lately while Roberto Luongo is most definitely on his game. There's always Marc-Andre Fleury, but we'd be pretty surprised if Babcock tabbed him.

6. Is there a way to stop Russia's power play?

Alex Ovechkin and Sergei Gonchar at the points with Pavel Datsyuk working the wall while Evgeni Malkin and Ilya Kovalchuk put their big bodies in the slot. Or, would you prefer Ovechkin goes down low and Malkin comes up top? What about working in Alexander Semin, Sergei Fedorov, Alexander Radulov and Andrei Markov? Oh my.

7. How will the ice hold up?

Our man, NHL Facilities Operations Manager Dan Craig, is on the scene in Vancouver. With three games per day from Tuesday through Sunday, Craig will have his hands full. The man strives for excellence and nothing less, so you know he will work tirelessly to make sure the ice is as good in the gold-medal game as it will be when the U.S. takes on Switzerland in the tournament's opening game Tuesday at 3 p.m. ET.

Olympic Gear 8. How will the Euros handle the smaller rink?

A lot of the Russians, Swedes, Finns, Czechs and Slovaks play or have played in the NHL, so they know what the smaller ice rink is all about and how to play on it. However, it'll be interesting to see how they have to tailor their systems as a result of the smaller rink. They may have to play more dump and chase than they would like. But the skill of Russia and Sweden may allow those two to play the puck possession game.

9. Do you remember Jaromir Jagr?

Of course you do. The former NHL star and Hart Trophy winner carried the flag into the opening ceremonies for the Czech Republic. We haven't seen him in North America since the 2007-08 season. Jagr, as usual, carries the torch for the Czech hockey team.

10. Can Sweden defend its gold?

Sweden enters this tournament almost as an underdog despite having 13 players back from the team that won gold in Torino. The Swedes like it this way. While a lot of the old faces are back, there are some fresh ones for Tre Kronor, including Nicklas Backstrom, Douglas Murray and Loui Eriksson. We'll also get a look at Peter Forsberg again.

11. Is Miikka Kiprusoff Olympic material?

The Finnish goalie is making his Olympic debut after bailing on the last two Games. Kiprusoff didn't go to Salt Lake in '02 because he wanted to concentrate on his burgeoning career in the NHL. He didn't go to Torino in '06 because he complained of a hip ailment, though he didn't miss a game for the Calgary Flames. Finnish teammate Teemu Selanne questioned his desire to compete for the national team in '06. This year, Kiprusoff said he'd go to the Olympics, but only as the starting goalie.

12. Will the Americans medal for Brian Burke?

Not that they really needed any more motivation -- this is the Olympics after all -- but Team USA got some in the wake of the tragic death of Brendan Burke, the son of its GM, Brian Burke. Team USA will play with heavy hearts as they try to take Burke's mind off, if only for a few fleeting moments, the tragedy in his life right now. It could just be enough motivation to push the American team onto the medal stand.

13. Do you have enough food in the house for Rivalry Sunday?

From a viewing perspective, this coming Sunday, Feb. 21, is this is the best day of the tournament, so make sure the refrigerator is stocked because you won't want to leave your couch. The Russians and Czechs open it up at 3 p.m. ET. That's the perfect appetizer to what really is the main course, Team USA vs. Team Canada at 7:40 ET. For dessert, bitter rivals Sweden and Finland follow the Americans and Canadians.

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