Olympic Hockey 2014 Tournament Groups: Full Predictions for Men's Hockey

Alex EspinozaCorrespondent IIIFebruary 12, 2014

Russia forward Alexander Ovechkin approaches the goal for a shot during a  training session at the Bolshoy Ice Dome at the the 2014 Winter Olympics, Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2014, in Sochi, Russia. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)
Julio Cortez/Associated Press

While most of the Winter Olympic world is bustling with activity, the globe's best men's hockey teams are still waiting to drop the puck at the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi.

Dozens of NHL stars have taken breaks from their North American clubs to fly to Russia, and it's led to some notable roommate arrangements. Team Canada, for example, has bunked together two major adversaries from the 2013 Stanley Cup Finals, per Mark Lazerus of the Chicago Sun-Times:

But there are no Chicago Blackhawks or Boston Bruins in Sochi, only national alliances. Here's a group-by-group look at the talented national teams that will be competing for gold.

Luckily for American hockey fans, every men's game from the group stage until the final will be televised live on TV and online, starting with Wednesday's Czech Republic-Sweden matchup (12 p.m., USA Network) and Latvia-Switzerland tilt (12 p.m., MSNBC). Team USA, meanwhile, will get things started on Thursday against Slovakia (7:30 a.m., NBC SN).

Visit Sochi2014.com for a complete schedule and NBCOlympics.com for TV listings and live stream info.


Group A Predictions
CountryWOT WLOT LPoints
United States20106
Alex Espinoza's Predictions

Predicted Group A Winner: Russia

Group Outlook: If there is one gold medal that the host country wants to win, it's in men's hockey. 

Since becoming the Russian Federation and shedding the title of USSR in 1988, this outfit has never won a gold medal, but the 2014 team has as good a chance as any. From 1956 to 1988, though, USSR won seven of a possible nine gold medals in this event.

Of all the potent offenses that will take the ice in Sochi, Russia might boast the most deadly combination of attacking talent led by Alex Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin and Pavel Datsyuk. There might be some question marks on the blue line for this squad, but the collection of offensive power on this roster is remarkable.

Mike Wise of the Washington Post also illustrated the importance of this event in Russia by sharing a recent exchange between Ovechkin and a reporter:

I’m rooting for Ovechkin because of the perception he has to win. For my money, any elite athlete that overcomes that kind of pressure and expectation to succeed deserves more support than scrutiny.

“All the Russian fans are relying on you,” said the foreign journalist several rows back of Ovechkin early Monday evening after Team Russia’s first practice here. “How does it feel for you?”

The man added once more, “All the nation is relying on you right now.”

“I like pressure,” a very composed Ovechkin replied. “I like how the people look at me. It means the people respect you.”

It will certainly be interesting to see how the Russian squad handles the pressure, especially with an early test against the Americans.

Team USA's talented roster features leaders like captain Zach Parise, Patrick Kane and Phil Kessel. Though Russia is certainly the favorite to win Group A in front of the home fans, the U.S. will provide quite the challenge.

At the back end of this group, Slovakia won't be at full strength with injuries to Marian Gaborik and Lubomir Visnovsky, while Slovenia is widely viewed as the worst team in this entire tournament.


Group B Predictions
CountryWOT WLOT LPoints
Alex Espinoza's Predictions

Predicted Group B Winner: Canada

Group Outlook: Things are a bit more cut-and-dry in Group B, where Canada is viewed as the overwhelming favorite to emerge as the victor.

That will happen when your team has arguably the top roster on paper heading into the tournament, with essentially no weaknesses to poke at. If there's one area that is cause for concern, it's goalie, where the inconsistent duo of Carey Price and Roberto Luongo are expected to split duties between the pipes. 

On the other side of the ice, the world's top player, Sidney Crosby, will lead a robust offense that has top-flight talent with every line. Other key Canadian contributors include Jonathan Toews, Ryan Getzlaf, John Tavares and Duncan Keith.

Though there likely won't be a real challenge for Canada in the group stage while coach Mike Babcock figures out the goalie situation, Finland represents the biggest challenge. Those expectations can be traced to Finnish goalie Tuukka Rask, who has established himself as NHL's elite goalie for the Boston Bruins the past few seasons.

As for Norway and Austria, they aren't expected to make much noise in the group stages against Canada and Finland.


Group C Predictions
CountryWOT WLOT LPoints
Czech Republic10114
Alex Espinoza's Predictions

Predicted Group C Winner: Sweden

Group Outlook: Top to bottom, this might be the deepest group of teams in Sochi.

While Sweden is certainly the favorite to emerge out of this quartet as the winner and secure a bye into the quarterfinals, Switzerland and the Czech Republic each pose their share of problems.

A key to Sweden's success figures to be its deep crop of blueliners, as noted by Greg Wyshynski of Yahoo! Sports:

Even in a post-Nicklas Lidstrom world, the Swedes have the best defense corps in the Olympics: Erik Karlsson, Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Niklas Kronwall, Niklas Hjalmarsson, Alex Edler, Johnny OduyaJonathan Ericsson and requisite old guyHenrik Tallinder. They can fly, they can hit, they can win boards battles

The defense will be key in helping three-time Olympian goalie Henrik Lundqvist, who will need to be in top form as the Swedes advance deeper into the tournament and face the elite offenses of Russia, Canada and the United States.

The Czech Republic has assembled a veteran-laden team that features 41-year-old winger Jaromir Jagr making his fifth Olympic appearance. In the end, the Czech team may have a hard team keeping up with the Swiss, who I predict will earn a close victory in this head-to-head matchup and finish with the second-most points in Group C.

Switzerland is led by goalie Jonas Hiller, who will be sporting a special mask for the Olympics, per Greg Beacham of the Associated Press:

Rounding out the Group C quartet is Latvia, which will have a hard time overcoming these three squads to earn a victory.