Olympic Hockey 2014: The Biggest Surprises in Sochi So Far

Allan Mitchell@@Lowetide_Featured ColumnistFebruary 17, 2014

Olympic Hockey 2014: The Biggest Surprises in Sochi So Far

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    The preliminary games are over, and now it's time to assess what happened in week one at the Olympics. Hockey fans have been entertained with the unexpected and the exceptional.

    Which of these stories ranks as the biggest surprise? What does it tell us about the week to come?

    Here are the biggest surprises of Sochi, and what they mean for medal week.

10. Slovakia Knows It's Allowed to Score, Right?

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    What was Expected? Team Slovakia is in a tough group with the Russians and Team USA, but NHL players Marian Hossa and Zdeno Chara were expected to keep things respectable.


    What's Been Delivered? The Slovaks can't score any goals. Slovakia is tied with Norway at the bottom of the goals-for list with a total of one. Tomas Tatar scored the team's lone goal with help from Marian Hossa.


    The Cause? Slovakia was getting shots during the three preliminary games. The Slovaks' total shots on goal for the tournament so far (78) ranks them eighth out of 12 teams. One goal in three games is a massive disappointment for Slovakia—especially for the team's NHL players. Its qualification game Tuesday against the Czech Republic may offer the snipers a chance at redemption.

9. Those Unknown Czechs Are Unknown for a Reason

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    What was Expected? The Czech Republic boasts 17 NHL players, despite the curious exclusions of Radim Vrbata and Jiri Hudler. A medal was not expected, but no one was taking them lightly.


    What's Been Delivered? Fans received a bizarre display of decision-making during the preliminary games. Petr Nedved (born in 1971) played more minutes per game than Michael Frolik and Ales Hemsky—productive NHL players.


    The Cause? Coach Alois Hadamczik has impeded his team's ability to compete in these Olympics. The Czechs will play Slovakia in the qualifying round, and they should win the game. The result is less certain because of roster decisions and in-game execution.

8. Why Can't Anyone Play with Sid?

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    What was Expected? Canada's expectations of its best player are massive. The strongest memory from the Vancouver Olympics for Canadians is Sidney Crosby's golden goal.


    What's Been Delivered? Crosby has two assists through the first three games. The lack of production is a major issue back home in Canada, where overreacting to the Olympic men's team is a national pastime.


    The Cause? Chemistry has always been an issue with Crosby. This issue was also a major item in 2010. The key four years ago came in choosing two veteran wingers and sticking with them. That solution has eluded Canadian coach Mike Babcock so far in Sochi.

7. Austria's Giant Leap Forward

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    What was Expected? The Austrians boast three NHL players, but there were no medal expectations coming into the tournament. A win in any of the first three games would have been met with great joy.


    What's Been Delivered? Austria has been scoring goals at an outstanding clip during the tournament. It won its first game at the Olympics in 12 years against Norway 3-1.


    The Cause? Michael Grabner has scored five goals, which leads the tournament. It's clear that Austria has improved its hockey program, and regardless of where the Austrians finish, these Olympics will be memorable for them.

6. Finland's New Heroes

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    What was Expected? Team Finland entered the Olympics with major injury concerns about its roster. The loss of Aleksander Barkov during the tournament has only added to the problem. Its group includes Canada but also Austria and Norway—meaning the Finns came in as the second seed in the group.


    What's Been Delivered? In spite of the injuries, the Finns keep filling the net with goals. Their only loss in the preliminary round was to Canada, a game in which the teams were tied after regulation.


    The Cause? Finland has been served by its youth at these Olympics. Olli Maatta and Mikael Granlund are the new leaders of the cause based on early results.

5. Russia Takes the Hard Road

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    What was Expected? Russia is the home team, and it has had an incredible amount pressure placed on it to win the gold medal. The Russians are loaded at the forward position.


    What's Been Delivered? Team Russia's performance has been uneven. It lost a classic game to the U.S. and never reached dominant form in the preliminary round.


    The Cause? Russia's best players haven't delivered at their own established levels. Pavel Datsyuk stands alone among the top-level talents on the roster. The Russians may have gotten lucky with their medal-round matchups. They'll play Norway Tuesday and then Finland on Wednesday if they beat the Norwegians. A banged-up Swedish team may await them in the semifinals. This would allow Russia to avoid Canada or the U.S. until the gold-medal game.

4. The New Faces of Tre Kronor

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    What was Expected? Team Sweden was one of the gold-medal favorites on the eve of the Olympics. A balanced roster and few weaknesses suggested a deep run coming into the event.


    What's Been Delivered? A perfect run through the preliminary round, but clouds are forming for Sweden. Injuries have become a major story, with Henrik Zetterberg being added to the already sidelined Henrik Sedin and Johan Franzen.


    The Cause? Sweden's 3-0 record has been delivered by a new generation of Olympians. Erik Karlsson, Patrik Berglund and Oliver Ekman-Larsson are emerging leaders. This group will count on Henrik Lundqvist, Daniel Alfredsson and Daniel Sedin in the medal round, but times are changing for Sweden.

3. Switzerland No Longer Neutral

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    What was Expected? Switzerland is known for outstanding defense. Over the last several years, the Swiss have become famous for being the best of the emerging nations of hockey. A berth in the quarterfinals was the expectation.


    What's Been Delivered? They delivered a strong performance in the preliminary round. The Swiss managed a 2-1 record and a high-enough seeding to play Latvia in the qualification game.


    The Cause? The Swiss are the best defensive team in the tournament. In three preliminary games, they've allowed one goal! Jonas Hiller is perfect for the Swiss and will see all of the action in the coming week.

2. Canada's Forward Power Outage

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    What was Expected? Canada was expected to fill the net against the poorer nations and score well against the great teams.


    What's Been Delivered? The forwards have scored five goals in three games. If you take away Jeff Carter's hat trick, it's less than a goal per game. The most damning evidence comes from the defense, where Drew Doughty and Shea Weber alone have outscored the forwards!


    The Cause? Team Canada is still tinkering with the roster. The Crosby linemate issue has not been resolved, and that's causing problems. Mike Babcock has Martin St. Louis sitting and Chris Kunitz playing, and that remains an issue. Team Canada's next game is Wednesday—expect Sidney Crosby to have a breakout game.

1. Team USA's Amazing Offense

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    What was Expected? Team USA was expected to be a strong contender for the gold medal. Many fans picked them to win the gold in Sochi. After the brilliant performance in Vancouver four years ago, that appeared to be a solid bet.


    What's Been Delivered? The American offense has exploded during the Sochi Games, and the results have been exceptional. Team USA enters the medal round as the No. 2 seed, ahead of archrival Canada.


    The Cause? Team USA has enjoyed an impact Olympics from Phil Kessel. He leads the tournament in points and has been the most dangerous man on the ice. The Americans are also balanced offensively, with nine different men having scored through three games.