2014 Olympic Men's Ice Hockey: Preview and Predictions for USA-Slovakia Game
There are few Olympic events as exciting as men's hockey. The very best players from around the globe come together, and while many are no strangers to high-stakes hockey, this is the time when they play for something beyond even the coveted Stanley Cup—they play for global pride.
The format for the tournament is a bit complicated at first glance but is explained in-depth at NHL.com. It is a round robin format where each team in each group plays all the other teams. At this point, they are competing for seeding.
The matchup between Team USA and Slovakia has been much anticipated and will be the first game that both teams play in the tournament.
Heading into the Winter Olympics, Team USA has been regarded as having a chance to medal, though the greatest opposition it will face in Group A is from the formidable Team Russia. After pulling off a minor upset in Vancouver in 2010 to take home the silver medal, the Americans do have momentum heading into the Sochi Games.
Slovakia is a long-shot contender but not a team to be overlooked. Led by the Boston Bruins' defenseman Zdeno Chara, this is a team with size and raw talent. Slovakia has yet to medal since NHL players joined the Olympic roster in 1998, but it's a team that has been knocking on the door.
Schedule, TV and Live Stream Info
How Did We Get Here?
In the Vancouver Games in 2010, Team USA suffered a heart-breaking defeat to Canada to fall short of the gold in sudden-death play. That loss still resonates with the team, and it will be trying to avenge that defeat and prove that its ascent to the finals was not a fluke performance.
Several notable veterans from the 2010 team are absent from the roster this year, and it appears the selection process went in favor of a younger team. The group has minimal Olympic experience and will turn toward seasoned defensemen Brooks Orpik and Ryan Suter for leadership.
Slovakia is a team still trying to find a place in Olympic history. With growing talent, it is a team that is still developing and will need to put the pressure on immediately if it hopes to be medal contenders.
Will the "big ice" be a factor?
The group of athletes representing Team USA may have an advantage on the Olympic-sized ice. The surface is larger than typical NHL ice. The difference is not massive—it is only 15 feet wider and the same 200 feet in length—but that additional width will benefit the faster skaters.
Though speed has not always been a strength of Team USA, the team has developed into one that has both speed and power thanks to several young additions.
Does Slovakia have what it takes to pull an upset?
With a team that may be the country's strongest Olympic representation yet, Slovakia could have a legitimate chance to land a spot on the podium. Several top NHL players make up the roster, including captain Zdeno Chara and goaltender Jaroslav Halak.
Athletes to Watch
Zdeno Chara, D, Slovakia
The popular Boston Bruins player received the honor of carrying the flag for his homeland in the opening ceremony, and to do so, Chara had to miss several regular-season games for his NHL team. That was a respectable sacrifice from him and his organization, one that he'll be playing to make worthwhile.
In the Boston Globe, general manager Peter Chiarelli voiced his support.
“What he said was, ‘I know missing games is a significant thing for the Boston Bruins, and I’ll understand if I can’t go,’ ’’ said Peter Chiarelli, the Bruins’ general manager. “But it’s such a big honor. It’s really a no-brainer. If it’s important to ‘Z,’ it’s important to us. Mr. Jacobs felt strongly that he should go.’’
Phil Kessel, RW, United States
Kessel will be playing against his former teammate Chara, and the 26-year-old Wisconsin native is talented and sharp when he is on his game. After an unsuccessful stint with the Bruins, he has hit his stride with the Toronto Maple Leafs and his speed should work to his advantage.
Cam Fowler, D, United States
Fowler comes from the Anaheim Ducks and will be making his Olympic debut at age 22. Though he lacks experience, he was part of the United States team that won a World Junior Championship in 2010 and is no stranger to international play.
Final Score Prediction
Prediction: Slovakia 3, United States 2
Led by one of the top players in the NHL, Slovakia will try to get the ball rolling and cement itself as a medal contender from the beginning.
Team USA traveled from various corners of the United States just recently and because of that, there still may be some adjustment needed. Though the Americans may have a slow start in the first game, expect them to gain momentum as the tournament continues.