Every four years hockey fans get to enjoy their favorite game played on an international level.
If anything can match a hockey player's dream of winning the Stanley Cup, it would be the dream of winning gold at the Olympics.
It is only fitting that the upcoming Olympic games are being hosted in Canada, and the 2014 games are taking place in Sochi, Russia. Is it possible that the men's hockey finals will match up Canada and Russia in back-to-back Olympics? As of now, that looks to be a major possibility.
Although neither country reached the finals at Turin, Italy in 2006, both countries lay claim to the world's best players. Plus, with the Olympics in Vancouver, it would take a colossal meltdown for Team Canada not to reach the final.
The Canadian team is essentially take your pick:
Forwards: Joe Thornton, Jarome Iginla, Sidney Crosby, Shane Doan, Vinny Lecavalier, Ryan Getzlaf, Dany Heatley, Rick Nash, Jonathan Toews, Martin St. Louis, Patrick Marleau, Brenden Morrow, Mike Richards.
Defense: Dan Boyle, Chris Pronger, Jay Bouwmeester, Dion Phaneuf, Scott Niedermayer, Mike Green, Shea Weber, Duncan Keith.
Goaltenders: Martin Brodeur, Roberto Luongo, Marc-Andre Fleury.
Even though Team Russia will have difficulty matching Canada's depth, they can boast about having two of the best three players in the world in Evgeni Malkin and Alexander Ovechkin.
Rounding out the rest of the Russian forward group are the following:
Alexander Semin, Ilya Kovalchuk, Pavel Datsyuk, Nikolai Zherdev, Alexander Radulov, Alexander Frolov, and Alexei Kovalev
Defensively the Russians can throw out a couple of big names as well, including Sergei Gonchar and Andrei Markov.
Both defenseman are currently on the shelf with injuries, but both have a significant chance at returning by the Olympics. Gonchar will almost definitely be available unless he suffers another injury before that time, and Markov could start skating on that injured ankle come beginning of February. It will be a wait and see approach for Markov though.
When it comes to goaltenders, its not too far-fetched to think Russia may actually have an advantage.
Considering both Luongo and Fleury haven't been playing at the top of their games so far this season, Canada might not have the depth after Brodeur.
However, Russia has arguably two of the hottest goalies in the NHL with the Sharks' Evgeni Nabokov and the Coyotes' Ilya Bryzgalov. Add in the savvy veteran Nikolai Khabibulin, and Russia is three deep in net.
With the 2006 Olympic finalists Sweden and Finland aging quickly, it wouldn't be a surprise if both Canada and Russia met in the Vancouver final. And if it happened, it would probably be the most anticipated hockey game in the history of the sport.
Canada, the birthplace of hockey, and Russia, the largest country in the world going mano-a-mano for the gold?
Instead of Crosby and Malkin going against Ovechkin like we see in the NHL, it's going to be Malkin and Ovechkin against Crosby.
Instead of Thornton and Nabokov against Doan and Bryzgalov like we see in the NHL, it's going to be Thornton and Doan against Nabokov and Bryzgalov.
We could essentially see a line of Heatley-Thornton-Marleau trying to score on Nabokov.
And no, I'm not talking about a Sharks practice, were talking about the Olympics. Sharks against Sharks will be the setting of some of the most competitive hockey you will ever see.
While some fans who aren't familiar with Olympic hockey may be confused with all the different players playing against their NHL teammates, country against country hockey actually makes for an entertaining game no matter the outcome.
Unless you're Canadian or Russian, you probably don't have a particular team to root for which will make the game itself more entertaining to watch.
If you're an Penguins fan from the States, you will naturally hope both Crosby and Malkin make some plays. Similarly for Sharks fans who will want Heatley and Thornton to score, but they'll also want Nabokov to make some saves.
Therefore, no matter the score, those fans without a bias will watch from beginning to end because it is essentially an NHL All-Star game with one exception: the players will be performing like the Stanley Cup is on the line.
With a chance at winning a gold medal being just as big, if not bigger, of a dream for certain players then winning a Stanley Cup, Olympic hockey is an incredible showcase of the skill and precision of the world's best players.
Plus, with these two teams there are just so many intriguing story lines.
Remember when Nabokov absolutely robbed Kovalchuk twice during the All-Star game two years ago? Now instead of going against each other, Kovalchuk and Nabokov have the opportunity to play on the same side.
Furthermore, Ovechkin scored his first career goals against the Sharks, but Nabokov stoned him numerous times in the same game.
Those watching that game will tell you how entertaining it was to see Ovechkin skate by Nabokov and mutter something in Russian, probably along the lines of "Darn you, Nabby!"
With the Olympics, we will get to see the two play for the same squad. Nabokov plus Ovechkin? Talk about a dynamic duo of scorer and goalie.
Now on the Canadian side, the story lines are just as plentiful.
Guys like Crosby, Richards, and Lecavalier will now be helping Brodeur keep the puck out of the net instead of trying to get it past him like they have done their whole careers.
Shark-killer Chris Pronger will be playing alongside Patrick Marleau and Joe Thornton. Although Sharks fans may have a hatred towards the big bruising Pronger, they can't help but wonder about how awesome a combination that trio would be on the Sharks.
Depending on the line combinations, an Anaheim Duck in Ryan Getzlaf could be setting up a Dallas Star like Brenden Morrow. A Chicago Blackhawk like Jonathan Toews could be setting up a Columbus Blue Jacket like Rich Nash.
We see combinations like these in NHL All-Star games, but as we all know, nobody plays defense in the All-Star game.
However, these superstars playing in the Olympics are going to make the games in Vancouver some of the most entertaining hockey ever. With the offensive talent, defensive specialists and top tier goal-tending on both teams, there is good chance we could see them meet in the final.
As a hockey fan, watching these two nations go up against one another for the gold would easily be the highlight of the Olympics.
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