Olympic ice hockey is often the event that everyone waits for at the Winter Games, and fans of the United States have been rewarded for their patience thus far.
The men's squad is currently 2-0 in Group A play heading into its game against Slovenia. T.J. Oshie played the hero with four shootout goals against Russia, leading to a big-time win for Team USA. It must let this momentum carry over into its final Group A contest.
For the women, it's been a bit different of a tale. The women have had two dominant wins over Finland and Switzerland, though they were unable to solve Canada's offensive schemes and took the loss. Now, in the semifinals against Sweden, the women's portion of Team USA will be shooting for gold.
Here are a few predictions for each team's upcoming game.
The men's Group A finale against Slovenia will take place on Sunday, Feb. 16.
Star Performer: Patrick Kane
Chicago Blackhawks star Patrick Kane has been relatively quiet in Sochi, but he'll look to turn it around against Slovenia. Slovenia is a team with a lack of overwhelming talent that sticks around because of its motor, but Kane should be able to solve it if he plays equally as hard.
Kane has a history of performing well when it matters, so says Rick Morrissey of the Chicago Sun-Times:
He always has done well in these moments. He helped lead the United States to a silver medal in the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. Several months later, he scored the Stanley Cup-clinching goal in overtime for the Hawks. He put on another championship ring last season. Now comes Sochi.
Even if Kane doesn't score a goal in this one, expect him to be involved in all the scoring plays by assisting the scorer or starting the possession that leads to the score.
Kane is too talented of a star to continue being this quiet in Sochi.
Slovenia has stuck around against a team like Russia and even defeated Slovakia, but its ability to hang around won't be enough to best the United States.
Team USA is always one of the most talented squads in the Winter Games. It'll be putting that on display here. Slovenia can give the U.S. a scare if it jumps on it early, but the likelihood of that happening is pretty slim.
Prediction: 4-1, USA
The women will take on Sweden in their semifinals match on Monday, Feb. 17.
Star Performer: Jessie Vetter
It's rare that goaltenders get the praise they deserve in international competition. Sure, a shutout is almost always recognized, but high-scoring international affairs are often too flashy offensively to credit the goalie.
Sweden has scored nine goals in five contests, and Vetter has allowed just three in three contests. Something's gotta give here.
Team USA coach Katey Stone had yet to name her goalie for Monday's semifinal on Saturday, though Stone also recognized that Vetter would step up if called upon, via Nick Zaccardi of NBC Sports: “We’ve got some time to think about that,” Stone said. “I’m sure if [Vetter] gets another opportunity, she’s a very competitive kid, she’ll show up.”
Well, it looks like Stone is banking on Vetter showing up:
Jessie Vetter will start in goal for U.S. women in semifinal game vs. Sweden tomorrow. Julie Chu (hand) also expected to play. #Sochi2014— Chris Kuc (@ChrisKuc) February 16, 2014
Vetter will be able to hold Sweden to two goals or less after getting the nod as the starter. With the 3-2 loss to Canada fresh in her mind, expect her to be a force in net.
This game should rival the Canada game in terms of competitiveness. Both teams have something to prove heading into the semifinals, so expect them to be playing hard and fast from the start.
Silver medalists at the 2010 Games in Vancouver, Team USA is motivated to win the gold medal this year. Sweden is just the next stop on its way to the finals.
Vetter and forward Hilary Knight will lead Team USA into the next round.
Prediction: 3-2, USA
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