The U.S. men's and women's hockey teams are both clamoring for gold in the 2014 Winter Olympics.
Predicting a first-place win for either squad is not far-fetched. While each team has another fearsome foe sitting in its group, there's plenty of talent on each side to exit Sochi with a fancy souvenir.
The women have already made a statement during their opening two matches. After taking care of business against Finland, they decimated Switzerland to the tune of 9-1. Three of their goals came within a 55-second stretch, setting an Olympic record in the process.
Now the true test awaits in a potential gold-medal prelude versus Canada.
With the NHL now on hiatus, the U.S. men will begin Olympic action on Thursday against Slovakia. They're expecting to defeat Slovakia and Slovenia, but Saturday's bout against Russia is one that could verify or discredit the U.S. men as viable championship contenders.
Let's break down the road ahead for the U.S. men and women.
|U.S. Men's Hockey Olympics Schedule|
|Group||Feb. 13||7:30 a.m.||Slovakia||NBC Sports|
|Group||Feb. 15||7:30 a.m.||Russia||NBC Sports|
|Group||Feb. 16||7:30 a.m.||Slovenia||NBC Sports|
|Semifinals*||Feb. 21||7 a.m. or 12 p.m.||NBC Sports|
|Bronze*||Feb. 22||10 a.m.||NBC Sports|
|Gold*||Feb. 23||7 a.m.||NBC|
|Courtesy of NBCOlympics.com; *= if they advance|
Following a silver finish in 2010 that saw the men battle Canada to an epic overtime thriller, there are high expectations surrounding the men's side.
The biggest question for Team USA is who will guard the net. The Buffalo Sabres' Ryan Miller delivered an inspiring string of performances in Vancouver four years ago, but Jonathan Quick of the Los Angeles Kings provides the Olympic veteran with a worthy adversary.
Coach Dan Bylsma has still not announced his decision, but he told Yahoo Sports' Greg Wyshynski that he won't split playing time between the two goalies.
“I’m not going to announce that we’re splitting games," Bylsma said. "When I name a starting goaltender, that’s who is going to start in Game 1.”
Both men are deserving of the starting nod, so it's a good problem to have. Still, Bylsma will have to choose fast and hope he makes the right call.
They'll have little time to warm up, as Russia is waiting on Saturday in a battle between two medal contenders. The starting goalie will have to stop Evgeni Malkin and Alexander Ovechkin, while Patrick Kane and David Backes are among the forwards picked to provide matching offense.
Overall, the U.S. will send out a young and quick squad that should advance past Group A and into the quarterfinals. They must be careful not to fall asleep against a capable squad, such as Finland, that will stand in its way.
Knocking off Russia and Canada is the tricky part. Russia is loaded with scorers, while Canada rosters a stout group of goalies and forwards that are poised to repeat.
Matching 2010's finish will be extremely tough for the U.S., but the team should at least salvage a bronze medal while hanging tough with hockey's other powerhouses.
Prediction: Bronze Medal
|U.S. Women's Hockey Olympic Schedule|
|Group||Feb. 8||Finland (W 3-1)|
|Group||Feb. 10||Switzerland (W 9-0)|
|Group||Feb. 12||7:30 a.m.||Canada||NBC Sports|
|Semifinals||Feb. 17||7:30 a.m. or 12 p.m.||NBC Sports or MSNBC|
|Bronze*||Feb. 20||7 a.m.||NBC Sports|
|Gold*||Feb. 20||12 p.m.||NBC|
|Courtesy of NBC Sports; *=if they advance|
After annihilating the weaker links of Group A, the women are set for a major showdown with Canada.
Both undefeated teams have already stamped tickets to the semifinals. The new format calls for the top-two finishers from the group featuring the four highest seeds to automatically advance past the quarterfinals. Regardless the result of USA vs. Canada, each team will await someone from the other bracket.
But the winner will gain some steam before their probably championship showdown, and bragging rights are at stake in the meantime. It also provides a golden opportunity for the U.S. to get a closer look at Canada's styles and forceful defense.
B/R's Meri-Jo Borzilleri encapsulated the significance of this under-appreciated Olympic rivalry.
U.S.-Canada women’s hockey is the Olympics’ most intense team rivalry, partly because it’s the pinnacle of the sport for women. Women hockey players have no Stanley Cup to hoist and little in the way of professional leagues. The Olympics is their everything.
One commonality the U.S. men and women share is a member of the Kessel family included on the roster. Toronto Maple Leafs forward Phil Kessel will play vital minutes for the men, but Amanda Kessel has already made a massive impact for the women.
The 22-year-old scored twice during their rout of Switzerland, quickly establishing herself as one of the country's brightest stars. She'll need to continue her rousing play to fend off the Canadians.
During their two virtual tune-up games, The U.S. touted more offensive explosiveness than Canada. Given the stoutness of these two clubs, it's certainly possible for the loser of the upcoming tilt to gain vengeance with Olympic gold at stake. However, with Team USA fresh off a nine-goal massacre, it'd be foolish the pick against them.
Prediction: Gold Medal