The U.S. women's hockey team flexed its muscle on Monday with a 9-0 rout over Switzerland that featured a quick-strike American attack. Coupled with their 3-1 win over Finland earlier this week, the U.S. women are poised to advance to the quarterfinals out of Group A with Canada.
Good thing for hockey fans, Team USA and Team Canada are scheduled to go head-to-head on Wednesday (7:30 a.m. ET) in a contest that will be televised live on NBC Sports Network and online at NBC Live Extra.
Meanwhile, the U.S. men's hockey team has been placed with Slovakia, Russia and Slovenia in Group A and will start up action on Thursday (7:30 a.m. ET) with an opening match against Slovakia, broadcast live on NBC Sports Network and NBC Live Extra.
In fact, every potential U.S. men's and women's hockey game will be televised live in America. Here's a look at the remaining schedules for both squads with predictions for the teams as they go for the gold in Sochi.
* Denotes prediction
|U.S. Women's Olympic Hockey Schedule|
|Group||Feb. 8||--||Finland||W||3 - 1||--|
|Group||Feb. 10||--||Switzerland||W||9 - 0||--|
|Group||Feb. 12||7:30 a.m.||Canada||W*||4 - 2*||NBC SN|
|Quarterfinals||Feb. 15||3 a.m.||Bye*||MSNBC|
|Feb. 15||7:30 a.m.||MSNBC|
|Semifinals||Feb. 17||7:30 a.m.||Russia*||W*||3 - 1*||NBC SN|
|Feb. 17||12 p.m.||MSNBC|
|Gold||Feb. 20||12 p.m.||Canada*||W*||3 - 2*||NBC|
Women's Team Outlook
The eight-team women's tournament in Sochi features a revamped format that put the world's top four countries in Group A to begin the competition.
Through Monday's action, Team USA and Team Canada are tied atop the Group A standings, as the Canadians have recorded wins over Switzerland (5-0) and Finland (3-0). At this point, these two heavyweights are favored to reach the semifinals.
But with the way the U.S. women looked in Monday's nine-goal victory over the Swiss, they look poised to finish as one of the top two seeds in the group stage and earn an automatic bye to the semifinals. Canada, meanwhile, might have to play its way to the semis as one of four teams in the quarterfinals.
On Monday, the American women were scoring at a rapid-fire pace, scoring three goals in less than a minute at one point during the first period. By the time first intermission came around, Team USA already led 5-0.
Leading the way is forward Amanda Kessel, sister of U.S. men's forward and Toronto Maple Leaf Phil Kessel. She was one of three women to score two goals against Switzerland, joining Monique Lamoureux and Kendall Coyne.
Following her strong performance on Monday, Kessel told Kevin Allen of USA Today she's looking forward to Wednesday's tilt against the Canadians.
"It's just awesome to play them, especially at this level," Kessel said. "To see them here, this early, is going to be fun."
Given their star power and recent successes against Canada in international competitions, I think the American squad is going to edge out a close win. While Team USA is looking like a well-oiled machine, Canada is still jelling under new coach Kevin Dineen, who was hired in December.
Dave Feschuk of The Toronto Star weighed in on the state of the Canadian women's team in Sochi:
The bad news is they’re gearing up for the usual gold-medal showdown with their arch rivals, and while Canada is the defending Olympic champion, the U.S. looks to be in better form. The Americans beat the Canadians in their four most recent Olympic tune-up exhibitions. And while it’s unclear exactly the root of the dysfunction that led coach Dan Church to resign his post in the days before Dineen took over, it has to be assumed it was significant enough to be worrisome.
With that in mind, I don't think there's anything stopping the U.S. women from bringing home the gold. They should have enough firepower to get past Canada in both the group stage and the final, in what would be a rematch of the 2010 gold-medal game that Canada won 2-0 in Vancouver.
Canada's stingy defense, Russia's home-ice advantage and Finland's talented goalie Noora Raty certainly pose stiff obstacles in the way of the American squad, but at this point, the U.S. offense looks simply irresistible.
Prediction: USA wins gold
* Denotes prediction
|U.S. Men's Olympic Hockey Schedule|
|Group||Feb. 13||7:30 a.m.||Slovakia||W*||2 - 1*||NBC SN|
|Group||Feb. 15||7:30 a.m.||Russia||L*||1- 3*||NBC SN|
|Group||Feb. 16||7:30 a.m.||Slovenia||W*||4 - 0*||NBC SN|
|Quarterfinals||Feb. 19||3 a.m.||Finland*||W*||2 - 1*||NBC SN|
|Feb. 19||7:30 a.m.||NBC SN|
|Feb. 19||12 p.m.||MSNBC|
|Feb. 19||12 p.m.||USA|
|Semifinals||Feb. 21||7 a.m.||Canada*||L*||2 - 3*||NBC SN|
|Feb. 21||12 p.m.||NBC SN|
|Bronze||Feb. 22||10 a.m.||Sweden*||W*||2 - 1*||NBC SN|
|Gold||Feb. 23||7 a.m.||--||--||--||NBC|
Men's Team Outlook
While the women's tournament looks like a two-team race for the gold, the men's side of things is much more wide open.
Twelve nations will compete in hockey's top international competition that will be littered with NHL stars. Heading into the men's tournament, Canada and Russia appear to have the top two teams while USA and Sweden figure to be other top teams in the quest to win a medal.
Dan Rosen of NHL.com provides a nice breakdown of the 2014 Sochi Olympics tournament. Following the group stage, when each country will play three contests, the top four teams will automatically will receive byes to the quarterfinals while the other eight teams will fight in four elimination games.
From there, it will be a knockout-style tourney until the final round, when the bronze-medal and gold-medal games will be played. In fact, the gold-medal game will serve as the final event of the entire XXII Winter Games on Feb. 23.
While Alex Ovechkin-led Russia is expected to win Group A, and likely hand the Americans a loss on Saturday in the process, Team USA should do enough damage to hold on to the No. 4 spot for the quarterfinals as the top second-place team in the group stages.
Like their female counterparts, the U.S. men have a stacked offensive attack, with forwards like Patrick Kane, Phil Kessel and captain Zach Parise leading the way.
Chris Peters of CBS Sports offered this analysis of the American team.
The U.S. built a team on a foundation of speed and seems to have the offensive firepower to be able to score frequently in this tournament. Eight players have 20 goals or more on Team USA's roster this year led by Phil Kessel who is among the hottest scorers in the NHL coming into the Olympics. The goaltending situation, whether it is Jonathan Quick or Ryan Miller between the pipes, is a strength for the U.S., and it will need to be. The U.S. is young on the blue line, but extremely mobile and will be a tough team in transition.
Parise, who has 36 points (19 goals, 17 assists) in 44 games for the Minnesota Wild this year, told Chris Estrada of NBC Olympic Talk he was excited to learn he would be wearing a "C" on his sweater for the 2014 Winter Games. In the process, he joined the ranks of other American greats like Jamie Langenbrunner and Chris Chelios.
"I was pretty thrilled the other day to get that call from [head coach Dan] Bylsma,” Parise said, via Estrada. “I am lucky enough to join a pretty elite list of players that have been captains for the United States."
While Slovakia has talent, injuries to defenseman Lubomir Visnovsky and forward Marian Hossa have hurt the team's depth, and Team USA should be able to beat it outright. Slovenia, meanwhile, joins Austria as one of the biggest underdogs in the men's tournament.
When/if they get to the quarterfinals, though, things will get interesting for the Americans. A likely scenario would be Team USA facing a mid-level country like Finland or the Czech Republic in the quarterfinals, nations that would surely provide stiff tests.
In the end, though, I think the Americans will run into an insurmountable foe in the semifinals, whether it be Canada or Russia. Once again, Canada is stacked across the board after beating the U.S. 3-2 in the 2010 gold-medal game at Vancouver, while Russia should be expected to raise its level of play in front of the home crowd.
There's no shame in a bronze medal, but that's where I see the U.S. team finishing after beating a talented Swedish squad in the third-place game.
Prediction: USA wins bronze