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Russia, Finland could be teams to watch in Sochi

by Kevin Weekes

Now that all the Olympic team rosters have been unveiled and the 2014 Sochi Olympics are just a few weeks away, everyone has offered their opinion regarding every player included and excluded from the tournament. Naturally, the United States and Canada rosters have received plenty of attention.

With Sochi just around the corner, there are a few things I thought were worth mentioning.

The biggest key to recognize is that this is going to be a very different tournament. In the past, host cities like Salt Lake City or Torino have been picturesque, but hockey hasn't been the main focus. That won't be the case in Sochi. This is Russia. This is the motherland. They're hosting this on their home soil and Russia has a rich hockey culture. I think that is something nobody is talking about enough.

With this Russian team, you have to think they're going to bring their best since they are the host nation. There is going to be no indifference with this squad. The whole world is watching. I see these guys doing whatever it takes to give themselves the best chance to win gold. Considering they finished sixth in Vancouver, that environment is going to create a very different atmosphere.

That's something I'm sure Team USA and Canada are talking about. Could this have a 1972 Summit Series feel to it? Probably not to that extent, but it's going to be a great atmosphere.

Alex Ovechkin and his Russian teammates will be further motivated this Winter Olympics as they are the host nation. (Photo: Getty Images)

As we knew it would, the Russian team features plenty of players from the Kontinental Hockey League. That makes sense. There is pride in that country and the KHL is their league and they want to ensure that that league is represented on their roster. Having said that, I think that maybe they went a little too KHL-heavy. Of course, I don't care if you play in the Australian league. If you're a top player, you should be on the squad.

I think the Russians have an interesting mix. Alexander Semin hasn't been anywhere as good as he was last year but I have a hard time with him not being on that team. Still, they have Alexander Ovechkin there and motivated and having a great season, Evgeni Malkin back from injury, and we know what Pavel Datsyuk's all about. I also like their goaltending with Semyon Varlamov and Sergei Bobrovsky.

If there is one area of concern, it's probably their back end. They have a lot of good individual players, but they're not as mobile or fast as they need to be. A lot of smooth skating blueliners there like Fedor Tyutin and Slava Voynov, but they just don't have the speed that they need back there.

Russia could be a team to watch, but I'm really interested to see what's going to happen with Finland. They're considered a wild card in this tournament, but they're a great hockey nation with some great young talent in Mikael Granlund and Aleksander Barkov. The main takeaway with the Finns is how talented they are in net.

I'm not so sure about their back end but their net is great. Having Kari Lehtonen, Antti Niemi and Tuukka Rask means they can steal any game if those guys are hot. I don't know if there is a team with better goaltending. That's going to be scary.

How scary? Pekka Rinne didn't even make the team. That could have been four world-class goalies on one team.

One of the main things I will also be monitoring is the situation with Roberto Luongo. He has just battled back from injury and was great against the Los Angeles Kings on Saturday night. It will be interesting to see how that ankle responds. I've spoken with him and he says it's not serious, but the goalie position is a multi-joint position. Your ankle isn't used to doing what it does in a skate playing goal. It puts a lot of stress on that joint.

I'm curious to see how he is able to recover. Not just from a physical standpoint, but also with his timing and rhythm. The longer he's out, the more difficult it will be for him to get back on the horse. It obviously affects the Vancouver Canucks, but it also affects Canada in Sochi.

We'll get to see how it all plays out in just a few weeks. I can't wait.

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