Thursday is set to be a huge day for Olympic hockey, as six games are on tap and some of the top contenders in the men's tournament—Canada, the United States, Russia and Finland—all make their debut at the Sochi Games.
Will the heavy hitters open in style? Who will get the better seed for the playoff round in the women's tournament, Sweden or Russia? Can the Olympics most photogenic athlete, Zdeno Chara, slow down the United States team?
Questions, so many questions. Below, you'll find a full schedule for Thursday's matches, including predictions for each game.
|3 a.m.||Women||B||Japan vs. Germany||NBC Sports Live Extra|
|3 a.m.||Men||B||Finland vs. Austria||NBC Sports Network; NBC Sports Live Extra|
|7:30 a.m.||Men||A||Russia vs. Slovenia||MSNBC; NBC Sports Live Extra|
|7:30 a.m.||Men||A||United States vs. Slovakia||NBC Sports Network; NBC Sports Live Extra|
|Noon||Women||B||Sweden vs. Russia||MSNBC; NBC Sports Live Extra|
|Noon||Men||B||Canada vs. Norway||USA; NBC Sports Live Extra|
Japan 1-0 Germany
Yes, Japan is going to win their first ever Olympics hockey match. The team has already defied their history, scoring their first goal in 16 years against the Russians and has looked surprisingly good in 1-0 and 2-1 losses to Sweden and Russia respectively.
Meanwhile, the Germans have lost to those two teams by a combined score of 8-1. Look for this plucky Japanese team to pull off the win.
Finland 2-0 Austria
Finland has been beset by injuries—forwards Valtteri Filppula and Mikko Koivu will miss the tournament—but this is still a very strong team. Led by a top line consisting of Teemu Selanne, Aleksander Barkov and Mikael Granlund—and arguably the best goaltending in the entire tournament—the Fins will open with a convincing win.
Russia 3-0 Slovenia
The Russians will be heavy favorites in this one, and in the tournament in general, with a bevy of superstars that includes Alex Ovechkin, Pavel Datsyuk, Ilya Kovalchuk and Evgeni Malkin. But as defenseman Andrei Markov told NHL.com, none of that talent will matter if the Russians don't play the game right:
It doesn't matter how good, it has to work, you know. We have great players, great skills. But bottom line, we have to score the goals.
If we're going to work like a unit of five and we're going to be on the same page we're going to have to score the goals. We have to shoot the puck. We have to get traffic. We have to battle. That's all about the power play.
The home crowd will be whipped into a frenzy. The superstars will be pumped up and ready to go. Russia rolls.
United States 3-1 Slovakia
The biggest question heading into this tournament for the United States was who would protect the net. That question has now been answered. From Brian Stubits of CBS:
When the United States comes onto the ice on Thursday to face Slovakia, they will be led by Jonathan Quick.
For months one of the big questions in the US camp was which goaltender would be the guy in Sochi. Before the season the odds-on bet was that Quick would be that guy but as the season wore on, that conversation began to change as Ryan Miller began making his case to start again for the US.
What will remain to be seen is if this is something that will last throughout the tournament. The USA opens with Slovakia and then will face the host Russians. It would seem likely that Dan Bylsma would give each a start in a spot like that but you never know.
Led by Chara, Jaroslav Halak and Marian Hossa, Slovakia is no pushover. But the United States is one of the deepest teams in this tournament, and they'll open with a convincing win.
Sweden 2-1 Russia
This matchup could go either way, but on their best day the Swedish women are still the stronger team. Still, it's important to note that this game is simply for seeding, as both teams have clinched a spot in the quarterfinals.
The winner of this game will face the loser of Switzerland versus Finland, and vice versa, so neither team will be devastated with a loss. The Russians may use the home crowd to bolster them to a win, but the Swedes should sneak away with a narrow victory.
Canada 4-0 Norway
How would you like to be Norway, which gets its campaign started against the defending Olympic champions and probably the strongest team in this tournament, Canada? The Norwegians simply can't compete with the likes of Sidney Crosby, Jonathan Toews, John Tavares and Patrice Bergeron, among others.
Canada is absolutely stacked. They'll roll Norway.