Here goes my Olympic Men’s Ice Hockey predictions. Shortly the tournament kicks off with Czech Republic versus Sweden. While you can take a look at the rosters and make some good determinations based on skill sets, my experience watching European hockey up close over the past two years indicates yo me that there are some other items to consider. Most importantly, the Olympic ice size is much larger than the surface used in the NHL. The travel time will be rough on players living in North America.
The jet lag will be bad for all NHL players…for instance, I am not sure that Ovechkin has an advantage because he is Russian by birth as he spends most his time in the U.S. and Canada during the season.
Wayne Gretzky believes the hottest goaltender and the best skater give you the best chance for winning. Goaltending is huge, so I will agree with him there. However, I think the best ‘set of skaters’ is much more important than the having the best individual player. Matchups are also a big deal and the groups are already set. Based on the Group Round, lets take a look at my predictions.
- United States
Russia is playing at home and were good in the group round for the 2013 World Championships. With home advantage and being more used to the bigger ice, I think they have the advantage to win the group over the U.S.
The U.S. could surprise Russia on February 15th. I predict Russia will win, so the U.S. should take second in the group. Slovakia is a bit of a threat, but it would be an upset if they beat the U.S. or Russia here. Slovenia probably does not have much of a chance getting off of the bottom here.
- United States
Finland or Canada could take this group, but the edge has to go to Finland based on goaltending and because they have fewer NHL players on their roster (yes I said fewer). Most players in the KHL or SM-Liiga are more than good enough to play at the NHL level, but are just better on the open ice or not as physical as necessary for the NHL. The Finnish side has several players playing in Russia and Finland currently, which also makse jet lag a non-issue. Whoever is second place in this division should still score a lot of goals, so they will likely have the best second place team after the group stage–giving them direct entry into the quarterfinals.
Between Norway and Austria, I think it is a bit of a toss up. Many of the Austrian players play together in the EBEL Austrian League, where the Norwegian players are a little more spread out. I will give the third place edge to Austria just based on chemistry.
- Czech Republic
Switzerland has been the surprise team lately and played extremely well in the 2013 World Championships. However, they will not have the firepower to keep up with what Sweden has brought to Sochi. They should still have the edge on the Czech Republic and Latvia though, placing the Swiss side in second place. Czech Republic can get a shot at the second spot, but are not quite as good as Switzerland. Latvia is the obvious bottom team here and might be the worse in the Olympics.
- Czech Republic
Based on my predictions, these are the matchups for the qualification playoffs:
United States (5D) vs. Latvia (12D)
This will be an easy match for the U.S. and they will move on to the next round.
Switzerland (6D) vs. Slovenia (11D)
Another easy match with Switzerland walking all over Slovenia.
Czech Republic (7D) vs. Norway (10D)
This could be a good match, but the Czech side should be able to grind out a win in a low scoring affair.
Slovakia (8D) vs. Austria (9D)
This will be an even match, but I think Austria actually has a chance here. Whoever wins will lose in the next round to the tournament’s top seeded club, so I will take Austria on the mini-upset here….there has to be an upset, right?
Russia (1D) vs. Austria (9D)
Austria probably does not have much of a chance here. Slovakia either. Their medal chances end with a Russian victory.
Canada (4D) vs. United States (5D)
This will no doubt be a great matchup and is really too close to call. The U.S. has better speed and goaltending and in the end I think that will be more important than having Crosby (best skater under the Gretzky rule). The U.S. will take this one and send Canada reeling without a medal.
Sweden (3D) vs. Switzerland (6D)
A rematch of the 2013 Men’s World Championship will end with Sweden victorious again. They are just too good for upstart Switzerland.
Finland (3D) vs. Czech Republic (7D)
The Czech Republic just simply does not have a championship side and Finland will come out of this victorious.
Russia (1D) vs. United States (5D)
A rematch of the semifinals from the 1980 Olympics in Lake Placid and the 2013 World Championship quarterfinals. Much less of a miracle needed this time. Russia has home-ice advantage, but they do not have the intangibles to win championships. They will fall again to the U.S. and will have a chance at third place.
Sweden (2D) vs. Finland (3D)
This will be the match of the tournament and should be great to watch. For me, it is a coin flip, but edge to Finland for goaltending.
Finland vs. United States
The game will be close, but not super competitive I imagine. Finland wins the gold and the American squad takes a silver after a hard run past Canada and Russia.
Sweden vs. Russia – Bronze Medal Game
Russia cannot be shutout in their own country, right? Sweden can do it, but the Russian side will come out to play here. Sweden goes from number one last year to number four and Russia celebrates third place in Sochi.