2010 Men's Olympic Hockey: The Dark Horses

Derrick LightfootContributor IFebruary 11, 2010

BUFFALO, NY - FEBRUARY 03: Ryan Miller #30 of the Buffalo Sabres makes a glove save as Ryan Shannon #26 of the Ottawa Senators skates in at HSBC Arena  on February 3, 2010 in Buffalo, New York.  (Photo by Rick Stewart/Getty Images)
Rick Stewart/Getty Images

Russia, Canada, Russia, Canada, Russia , Canada .

Really, that is all we have heard about the past few months regarding the upcoming men's Olympic hockey tournament.

But there are two teams that I believe can cause a stir that are not totally unheard of, but definitely not favorites, and both have a major factor in common— goaltending that is out of this world.

But that's really where the similarities end.

These teams, of course, are the USA and Finland.

Now looking at the rosters, most of the teams do have elite goaltending seen in Vokoun for the Czechs and Lundqvist for the Swedes, and of course Brodeur and Nabokov for Canada and Russia, respectively.

But arguably the two 'tenders that have seen the hottest streaks this year (with respect to Ilya Bryzgalov ) have been Miller and Kiprusoff and both have been stealing points for their teams on numerous occasions this year.

Miller (despite a recent mini slump) and Kipper (despite the Flames not playing too hot recently) are two goaltenders that have been nothing short of spectacular this season, and when these two do get hot, they get hot—hot enough to frustrate an offense that boasts Ovechkin, Kovalchuk, Semin etc.



The Finns captured silver in Torino 2006 on the back of Antero Niittymaki . This year, they will be a dark horse to repeat the heroics achieved four years ago.

They will be relying on Miika Kiprusoff to backstop them to the finals this year. Finland has a good veteran back-line with guys like Kimmo Timonen, Sami Salo, Toni Lydman, and Joni Pitkanen , and the same can be said of the Forwards with vets like Teemu Selanne, Olli Jokinen , and captain Saku Koivu , among the most popular names.

Niittymaki stood on his head for the Finns in Torino , but that doesn't mean that they had no offense—in fact five of the top seven point getters at the tournament were Finns. All this was evident in a dominant four to nothing win over the Russians to propel them into the gold medal game.

But in the end the Swedes were just too much for the Finnish team, edging them three to two with a game winner by future hall of famer Nicklas Lidstrom.


United States

I really think these Olympic games are a win-win for the American men's ice hockey team. General Manager Brian Burke has done a good job of downplaying the American's chances.

His team selection was great, too, with a lot of young skilled players in the lineup. The keyword there being young.

If the Americans go home empty-handed, finishing with a sub-par record and an early exit, they will be able to downplay the poor performance on the fact that their team is young and in the process get guys experience on the big stage, something that could and should be very valuable in upcoming tournaments.

A very valuable asset that usually accompanies youth is speed—and the Americans have their fair share of it. Of course this could mean this team has the ability to skate circles around older teams like Finland.

They also do have some veteran presence in guys like Brian Rafalski, Chris Drury , and captain Jamie Langenbrunner . Watch out for the young guns like Zach Parise, Phil Kessel, Bobby Ryan, Patrick Kane —this list could go on for forever.

On the other very obvious hand if they win, they well, win.


On the other, other hand

Overall, it should be a very entertaining Olympics, and while I am rooting for Team Canada to take it all on home soil, I do love an underdog.

Now as I finish writing this, know that I do think the Americans and Finns have the ability to make a deep run—but I fully expect a Canada-Russia final like so many others.