Hockey Matchups We Can't Wait to See at 2014 Sochi Olympics
Patrick Kane vs Jonathan Toews. Nicklas Backstrom vs Alex Ovechkin. Anze Kopitar vs the world.
These are just a few examples of matchups worth getting excited about as we inch closer toward the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. The level of hockey that will be on display will be otherworldly, and that fact is only magnified when you consider some of the tales that will be weaving their way in and out of each game.
Whether it's close teammates and friends lacing up the skates for opposing teams or underdogs fighting for a way to down a superpower, there will be no shortage of drama and intrigue once the world's best players convene at the Olympics.
Patrick Kane vs. Jonathan Toews
Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews have been the driving force behind the resurgence of the Chicago Blackhawks over the last seven years. When the two players were selected in the first round in back-to-back drafts (2006 and 2007) the 'Hawks were an ailing franchise on the brink of irrelevance.
The two youngsters turned the fate of the Blackhawks around and became good friends along the way. That friendship will be put on hold in Sochi however, as Kane suits up for the United States and Toews is a shoo-in for Canada.
It's one thing to watch teammates go head to head at the Olympics. That occurs during every Winter Games. It's another thing entirely to watch two close friends do battle as they suddenly play for archrival teams.
Switzerland's Top Line vs. Russia's No. 1 Defense Pairing
There's no question that Russia will be icing one of the most offensively prolific teams in Sochi. The list of forwards reads like a who's who among individual trophy winners in the NHL, and goals won't be hard to come by for the likes of Pavel Datsyuk, Evgeni Malkin and Alex Ovechkin.
Russia's defense, on the other hand, lacks any real defensive studs. While defenders such as Sergei Gonchar and Slava Voynov are effective in the offensive zone, no one is going to confuse them for Chris Pronger and Al MacInnis.
The Swiss have become a thorn in the side of Canada—is this the year that they begin to give other superpowers a hard time? It could be unless Russia comes up with a creative defensive scheme to keep the feisty and wave-like Swiss at bay.
Shea Weber vs. Ryan Suter
The sour feelings that Ryan Suter left behind when he decided to leave the Nashville Predators for the Minnesota Wild as a free agent still linger like the sting of an Atomic Warhead candy. Forget the near-$100 million contract—fans felt betrayed by Suter's choice of the Wild over the Preds and played the part of jilted lovers to perfection when he returned to Nashville for the first time last March.
While Suter would like to put the move behind him for good, it'll likely take more time to heal the scar that he left behind.
How does his ex-defense partner and fellow All-Star Shea Weber feel about the whole thing? While Weber understands more than just about anyone that hockey is a business, he must have felt at least mildly off-put and stunned by Suter's departure.
Together the pair figured to try to bring a Stanley Cup to Nashville. They were one of the best one-two defensive punches to ever play together, and Suter walked.
Some of that has to spill over at some point. What better time than with Suter wearing the Stars and Stripes and Weber wearing the Maple Leaf?
Ilya Kovalchuk vs. Patrik Elias
At least when Ryan Suter left the Nashville Predators it was as a free agent. Ilya Kovalchuk honored his 15-year pact for all of three seasons before retiring from the NHL—a move which freed him from his contract and allowed him to move back to Russia to make more money.
Standing in stark contrast to that act is Patrik Elias. Drafted by the New Jersey Devils in 1994, he has spent his entire career with the franchise. That's 1,090 games in case you were curious.
While Czech native Elias doesn't have the same talent level as Kovalchuk as this point, the latter could learn a thing or two about loyalty from the former.
As a longtime Devil, it had to burn Elias up a bit to see Kovalchuk leave his team hanging like he did.
Pavel Datsyuk vs. Henrik Zetterberg
While the Minnesota Wild-Ryan Suter and Ilya Kovalchuk-New Jersey Devils divorces were nasty, you won't see any kind of hard feelings between Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk. The two have been incredibly important parts of the Detroit Red Wings over the last decade, and have grown to be close friends in that time.
The only thing that can split this dynamic duo up is the Olympics. Datsyuk will be playing for Russia while Zetterberg takes the ice for Sweden.
Let's say hypothetically that Datsyuk hijacks the puck from Zetterberg on a play and scores a goal. How long before No. 13 stops giving No. 40 a hard time about it? The competition between the two should be a joy to watch.
Finland's Starting Goalie vs. Canada's Starting Goalie
The competition to be the starting goaltender for the Canadians is well documented at this point. Whoever lands the job—be it Carey Price or Roberto Luongo or any of the other viable candidates—will be expected to successfully defend the gold medal that the team won in Vancouver in 2010.
That's the big question surrounding Canada and its net: Which one of these goalies can prove that he has the mental fortitude needed to be the man in Sochi.
Finland has a different version of the goalie conundrum. The Finns have an abundance of guys who have proven track records. Tuukka Rask is arguably the best young goaltender in the world and will likely be in net for Finland at the Olympics.
How will Canada's pressure-cooked goalie match up against the cool-as-cucumber Finn?
Anze Kopitar vs. the World
While you'd be hard-pressed to find a better player in Slovenia's history than Anze Kopitar, you flat out won't find anyone better on Slovenia's Olympic roster.
He'll receive some support from his brother Gasper and David Rodman on the first line, but if Slovenia is going to make any noise at all it'll be because of Kopitar going off. A hot goaltender would help, but someone has to score the goals.
When Kopitar is at his absolute best he's capable of taking over games. His puck-possession style and size are hard to contend with, and it'll be fun to watch him literally take on the world.
Sidney Crosby vs. Evgeni Malkin
The Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin angle is played out. We want to see the Kid tangle with another Russian at these Olympics. That'd be his teammate, Evgeni Malkin.
Sidney Crosby might have more detractors than any other player in the NHL now that Sean Avery is out of hockey and Matt Cooke has cleaned up his act. A common refrain from those who believe him to be overrated is "he can't be the best player in the NHL because he's not even the best player on his own team."
The two Pittsburgh Penguins don't have very many opportunities to find out who truly is the most spectacular of the two, but they will have the chance in Sochi.
Nicklas Backstrom vs. Alexander Ovechkin
Forget about Sidney Crosby. We can't wait to see Alex Ovechkin go head-to-head with his longtime linemate, Nicklas Backstrom. No. 8 has always been the finisher out of the two, and while there won't be a shortage of guys to feed him the puck in Sochi, odds are he wants to get the better of his Swedish teammate.
Like Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg, these two seem to have a lot of fun out on the ice together. Neither one of them wants to have to live down getting beaten at the Olympics, especially since Ovechkin is playing on home ice.
There will be healthy competition once these two hit the ice to play against one another, and the biggest beneficiaries will be the fans.
Alex Edler vs. Eric Staal
This one is a little personal.
Alex Edler took a run at Eric Staal during the World Championships and, according to the Raleigh News Observer, caused a third-degree sprain of Staal's medial collateral ligament. The knee didn't require surgery, but the rehab has been painful and slow according to that same article.
He didn't make it back out onto the ice until the beginning of August.
Meanwhile, Alex Edler will be suspended through Sweden's first two games in Sochi because of the hit, according to the CBC.
Should these two end up face-to-face in a scrum later on in the tourney, we doubt that Staal is going to politely invite Edler to his birthday party. Hockey karma is an odd beast, and it'll be interesting to see how this all plays out in a few months.