Today marks the start of the NHL’s Olympic break. For the next two weeks all eyes will be on Turin, Italy. That’s the site of what should prove to be a truly incredible hockey tournament.
Twelve teams will square off beginning Wednesday. Sharks fans will want to pay special attention to games which feature South Bay skaters. Joe Thornton
is a star among stars for the powerful the Canadian squad. Evgeni Nabokov will help backstop a talented team from Russia. Team Germany will feature Marcel Goc and Christian Ehrhoff. Former Shark Marco Sturm was hoping to lead the German squad, but an upper body injury will force him to miss the games. An interesting note…former Shark goaltender Jason Muzzatti (he played 1 period in1997-98) will suit up for the Italian club.
International rules will be in place and NHL fans will quickly notice a different style of play. The ice surface in international play is a full 15 feet wider than the North American ice. This forces the attack to be more patient and the defense to use strong positional play rather than looking for the big hit. It should be interesting to see how the North Americans adjust. Speed, skating and puck possession will be key.
Twelve teams will be split into two groups. The first round of action will be a round robin in each group. The top four teams in each group then move on to the quarterfinals. The quarterfinal winners go to semi-final round that will determine the teams for the gold medal and bronze medal games set for February 26th.
So let’s take a quick look at the twelve squads seeking Italian gold.
Thanks for coming.
Barring a miracle of epic proportions we can pretty much rule out the host team Italy, Kazakhstan, Switzerland and Latvia from medal contention. Yet each of these teams will look to be heroes of their homelands with a well timed upset.
Contenders or Pretenders?
Team Germany sports proven NHLers in Olaf Kolzig and Jochen Hecht. The Germans work extremely hard and could post and upset or two along the way. But don’t look for a medal round appearance.
Slovakia could trip up a unprepared team as they feature some talented forwards in Marian Hossa, Miroslav Satan and Peter Bondra. The blueline will be anchored by towering Zdeno Chara. Goaltending appears to be the Achilles of this club.
With a little luck…
Over the years Team Sweden has enjoyed their fair share of international success. They own a rich heritage of winning hockey combined with artistry and emotion. It’s hard to rule out the Tri-Kroner when their roster features the likes of Nicklas Lidstrom, Mats Sundin, Daniel Alfredsson, Mattias Ohlund, Henrik Zetterberg and the Sedin twins. Sweden’s hopes for a medal will depend on the performance of a relatively inexperience netminder in Mikael Tellqvist.
The USA team is in transition. Gone from the American squad are the likes Jeremy Roenick, Tony Amonte and Brett Hull. Youngsters who have cracked the line are guys like Erik Cole, John-Michael LiIes, Jordan Leopold and Brian Gionta. The Americans could do some damage. Their defense corps boasts both speed and strength. Up front look for leadership from Mike Modano and Chris Drury. You may want to rent the movie ‘Miracle’ to get fired up.
The Finnish club will not lay down for anyone. They have a nice blend of skill and grit, but will certainly miss Mikka Kiprusoff who opted to stay home and rest his hip. Former Shark Teemu Selanne will lead the blue and white. With a break or two the Finns could advance to the medal round.
Russia will ice a team built to win. They possess size, speed and experience. Goaltenders Nikolai Khabibulin and Evgeni Nabokov give the Russians a legitimate opportunity to take gold. Proven vets like Alexei Yashin, Sergei Gonchar and Viktor Kozlov will compliment younger players like Ilya Kovalchuk and Pavel Datsyuk. The Russian version of ‘the Big Red Machine’ should get to the medal round.
The Czech Republic knows the feeling of winning the gold. Back in ’98 Dominik Hasek led the way in Nagano. Ottawa’s veteran netminder is back in the Czech crease in ’06. If Hasek plays like he can, anything is possible. But strength in goal is only a part of the story. Jaromir Jagr is the best offensive player in the world. His size, strength and creativity gives opponents fits. Up front Robert Lang, Milan Hejduk and Martin Straka will join Jagr in the attack. Whoever wins gold will have to contend with the Czechs.
And the odds on favorite: Team Canada! The Canadians captured gold in ’04 with their incredible talent and ability to adjust their style of play to match any opposition. The red and white will rely on veteran goaltender Martin Broduer. On the blueline look for veterans Rob Black, Chris Pronger and Adam Foote. Up front it’s super Joe Thornton
, Jarome Iginla, Vincent Lacavalier and Rick Nash. The Canadians could feel the loss of Scott Niedermayer who excels on the big ice, and Ed Jovanovski who combines grit and skill. It will be interesting to see how coach Pat Quinn adjusts is blueline. Motivation to defend their title will be easy as the hockey-crazed homeland will be watching every single moment.
Drum roll please.
Now my predictions….
Regardless of how things go it should be a fun and exciting tournament that shows the world what a great game hockey can be.