Russia is the favorite to capture the gold medal in men's ice hockey at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea. The country's domestic league, the KHL, released players for the Games, unlike the NHL, whose decision to skip the event will significantly hurt the United States and Canada.
Meanwhile, Team USA and Hockey Canada are likely on another collision course in the women's tournament. Those teams have faced off in the championship match in four of the five competitions since women's hockey made its Olympic debut at the 1998 Winter Games in Nagano, Japan.
Let's check out the scheduled dates for both tournaments. For a complete listing of each game, visit Pyeongchang 2018's official website. All contests will be available for live stream via NBC Sports Live.
Group Stage: Feb. 14-Feb. 18
Quarterfinals: Feb. 21
Semifinals: Feb. 23
Bronze Medal: Feb. 24
Gold Medal: Feb. 25
Group Stage: Feb. 10-Feb. 15
Quarterfinals: Feb. 17
Semifinals: Feb. 19
Bronze Medal: Feb. 21
Gold Medal: Feb. 22
Gold Medal Predictions
Men: Olympic Athletes from Russia
Officially, Russia is banned from the 2018 Winter Games by the International Olympic Committee following a widespread doping scandal. Any athletes from the country cleared to compete will do so under the neutral distinction of Olympic Athletes from Russia.
Russian winger Ilya Kovalchuk, who played 11 years in the NHL before returning to his homeland to join SKA Saint Petersburg in 2013, isn't concerned with the wording. He said they'll still represent the country even though the flag won't fly and the anthem won't play in South Korea.
"Everyone knows where we're from. It doesn't matter," he told James Ellingworth of the Associated Press in December. "The flag is in our heart."
Kovalchuk also acknowledged the Russians' favorite status: "We always are."
The 34-year-old sniper and former Detroit Red Wings stalwart Pavel Datsyuk headline the group of notable names on the roster, and they also benefit from having played alongside each other in the KHL.
Meanwhile, the United States and Canada will feature mostly makeshift rosters that, while still possessing potential medal-level talent, don't possess nearly the amount of star power they would if the likes of Sidney Crosby, Connor McDavid, Patrick Kane and Auston Matthews were eligible.
It's much the same story for the other usual contenders, led by Sweden and Finland. Although those Nordic countries do have their own leagues, the SHL and FEL, most of their elite players call the NHL home, and thus they are not being freed for the Olympics.
All told, not only does the NHL's decision place the Russian squad in a favorable position, the quality of hockey will likely see a considerable drop-off from recent editions of the Olympics.
Women: United States
The women's tournament is weighted heavily toward the U.S. and Canada. Not only are they the two most talented teams in the event, but they are both in Group A, and the top two finishers there receive automatic entry to the semifinals, virtually guaranteeing they land on opposite sides of the bracket.
Although the Canadians are the four-time defending Olympic champions, the United States won the Four Nations Cup in November. The Americans' undefeated run through the tournament included 4-2 and 5-1 wins over their neighbors to the north.
Canada bounced back with four straight victories in head-to-head competition against Team USA during December warm-up games for the Olympics. Two of those games were decided in overtime and the others were mere two-goal differentials, though.
In addition, the U.S. and Canada dismantled their most common biggest threats, Sweden and Finland, in the Four Nations Cup. The Americans beat those two teams by a combined score of 13-2, while the Canadians posted a 13-0 edge in those tilts.
So all signs point toward another two-country race for gold.
Team USA star Hilary Knight said in November a change in approach, allowing for a more free-wheeling, offensive game plan, has the U.S. squad in a better place than four years ago, when the Canada won both meetings to take gold in Sochi.
"The playing style, it didn't feel like a burden anymore," she told TeamUSA.org. "And I think that was one of the biggest things that was weighing down on a lot of us was like, 'Oh my gosh, that was a really unpleasant journey that we just took. I don't know if I could do that again for four years.' So then having a clean slate, coming in and saying just go out, play hard, have fun, really removed a lot of that burden."
Ultimately, the only shock that could come out of the women's event is either the United States or Canada failing to reach the final. Once they do, it's a toss up.
Given the overall parity in the rivalry, the U.S. is probably due for a return to the Olympic mountaintop for the first time since 1998 after four straight Canadian triumphs.