Power Ranking Every Hockey Team at the 2014 Winter Olympics
Who will win gold at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia?
It's the question every hockey fan can't wait to see answered. Until the Olympics actually start, though, all we have is how the teams look on paper. With the naming of every team's roster on Tuesday, we now know who will be representing their respective countries and can forecast how each club will array its forwards, defencemen and goalies.
How do they stack up? While we won't know until they actually hit the ice, the following list is our best estimate of how these teams will perform in the Olympics. Read on for our standings.
How will they do? Slovenia is a good bet to finish dead last in the tournament. With the exception of forwards Anze Kopitar and Jan Mursak, the roster has almost nothing to recommend it.
Recent performances: The high-water mark in tournament play for Slovenia is the two occasions (2002 and 2005) when the team was able to survive the relegation round of top-division hockey. It simply isn't a country with the horses to compete with the world's powers.
How will they do? Team Latvia will go exactly as far as goaltender Edgars Masalskis can take them. The veteran goaltender has been playing relatively well in the KHL for three of the last four seasons and has a history of clutch performances in both the postseason and in tournament play.
The skaters in front of him are mostly unremarkable; there are a few players with NHL futures (notably Zemgus Girgensons) and NHL pasts (notably Sandis Ozolinsh), but this isn't a team that can challenge the best clubs in the world without insane goaltending.
Recent performances: Latvia went 0-3 and scored all of four goals in 2010's preliminary round but did manage to put a scare into the Czechs in its only elimination game, thanks to a 47-save performance from Masalskis.
How will they do? If Austria is very, very lucky, then Thomas Vanek and Michael Grabner will score some goals, and Bernhard Starkbaum (who has a history of occasionally putting together miraculous performances in international play) will stand on his head, and the team will put together a win or two.
They probably won't be lucky.
Recent performances: 2014 marks the first time Austria has qualified for the Olympics since a 12th-place showing in 2002, and the team has bounced in and out of the top division at the World Championships. The men's national team last won a medal (bronze) at the 1947 Worlds.
How will they do? Realistically, Norway has no chance of winning a medal in Sochi, but it just might be capable of playing the spoiler against a more talented team.
Goaltender Lars Haugen, who posted a 0.933 save percentage in the KHL in 2012-13, gives the team a chance to win any single game, and forwards like Mats Zuccarello and Patrick Thoresen can score.
Recent performances: Norway has a pretty ugly history at top tournaments, whether it's the Olympics or the World Championships. However, the team has shown itself capable of surprises. At the 2011 World Championships, the Norwegian team had wins over Sweden and Switzerland and played extremely close games against Canada and the United States.
How will they do? It would be a surprise if Switzerland were to medal, but stranger things have happened. The roster is mostly comprised of competent veterans of top European leagues with a sprinkling of NHL talent at the top end. In net, Jonas Hiller can play against anyone.
Recent performances: Switzerland won silver at the 2013 World Championships, beating Canada, Sweden, the United States and the Czech Republic in individual games. The team went 7-0 in round-robin play that year and only lost its final game of the tournament. Switzerland also beat both Canada and the Czech Republic in round-robin games at the 2006 Olympics and finished sixth in that tournament.
How will they do? Slovakia has a legitimate roster with some top NHL stars at both forward (Marian Hossa and Gaborik) and on defence (Zdeno Chara and Lubomir Visnovsky) and a roster filled out with respectable players from some of the world's top leagues. Jaroslav Halak in net also gives it legitimate goaltending.
Recent performances: In the last 20 years, the team has won medals four times at the World Championships and finished sixth or better in the Olympics on three occasions. Slovakia beat Russia in the preliminary round and eliminated Sweden in the medal round at the 2010 Vancouver games and came extremely close to upsetting Canada in the semifinals.
6. Czech Republic
How will they do? Despite some curious roster decisions that may well kneecap the team, the Czechs have an extremely good team drawn almost entirely from the NHL ranks. The ability of their largely KHL-recruited goalies to hold up in Olympic play will go a long way to deciding where they finish.
Recent performances: Always a threat to medal, the Czech Republic won gold at the 1998 Olympics and Bronze in 2006. The Czechs have three medals in the last four World Championships, including gold in 2010.
How will they do? Always a threat, Finland stands a decent chance of finishing in the top three if any of the major powers struggle. The team is blessed with elite goaltending and made all the right moves in selecting its roster, complementing NHL stars with high-end European professionals.
Recent performances: Finland has won medals (three bronze, one silver) in four of the last five Olympic games, with a sixth-place showing in 2002 representing the lone aberration. In 2006 when the Finns won silver, they went 5-0 in preliminary play (beating both Canada and the Czech Republic) and then eliminated the United States and Russia before falling to Sweden in the final by a single goal.
For good measure, Finland just won gold at the recently concluded World Juniors.
4. United States
How will they do? Team USA may very well come away from Sochi with the gold medal. Their roster is comprised entirely of strong NHL players, and this year's entry boasts high-end goaltending and an ice blend of talent and star power at all positions.
Recent performances: While the U.S. team is routinely embarrassed at the World Championships (a bronze-medal win in 2013 ties the country's post-1960 high point), it has done a much better job recently in best-on-best Olympic play, winning silver in both 2002 and 2010.
The bad news is that it seems to be all-or-nothing for the Americans. The team has finished sixth or lower five times in eight Olympic tourneys since the 1980 "Miracle on Ice."
How will they do? One of the big four in international play, the Russian entry is under incredible pressure to win it all on home ice. Despite some odd omissions and pandering to the KHL, it very well might pull it off.
The Russian team is a strongly balanced group of forwards and defencemen and in people like Alexander Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin, Pavel Datsyuk and Ilya Kovalchuk, they have individual talents who outshine those of every other nation in the tournament save Canada.
Recent performances: The Big Red Machine has struggled of late at the Olympics since winning silver and bronze in 1998 and 2002, respectively. However, the team also has gold-medal wins in three of the last five World Championships.
How will they do? Sweden has an exceptional overall collection of talent at all positions and boasts elite players up front, on the back end and in net. Even with some unforced errors, such as the decision to leave behind Victor Hedman, a mobile puck-moving defence and big-ice forwards will give the opposition fits, and Henrik Lundqvist will be around to cover up mistakes.
Many consider Sweden to be the gold-medal favourites in Sochi—and understandably so.
Recent performances: The last time the Olympics were played on international ice, it was Sweden that came away with the gold medal, and the Swedes are also the defending gold medalists from the 2013 World Championships.
How will they do? Nothing less than gold is ever good enough for the Canadian public, and given the wealth of talent available to the team, it is easy to understand why.
The roster boasts the best player in the world, the best goal scorer in the world, seven of the NHL's 10 leading scorers, five franchise defencemen and two elite goaltenders.
Recent performances: Canada won the gold medal in 2010 and has won in two of the last three Olympics. A fourth-place finish in 1998 was considered a national tragedy at the time, and a seventh-place finish at the 2006 Turin games was unspeakably disappointing.
The Canadians have been less impressive in recent World Championships and currently sport a four-year medal drought.