The first jam-packed schedule of 2018 Winter Olympic ice hockey is ready to begin on Thursday, as the puck is set to drop in five games between the men's and women's brackets in Pyeongchang.
The U.S. men's team will be among those taking the ice, but it will be for the second time following its opening contest against Slovenia on Wednesday. Meanwhile, contenders like Canada and Sweden will start their quests for a gold medal in games each should be heavily favored in.
Set your alarms early if you plan on catching most of the action live, as many games throughout this tournament will be played in the early morning with a few scattered late at night. Thursday's games can be live-streamed at NBCOlympics.com.
Thursday Olympic Hockey Schedule
Norway vs. Sweden, 2:40 a.m. ET
Switzerland vs. Canada, 7:10 a.m. ET
Czech Republic vs. South Korea, 7:10 a.m. ET
U.S. vs. Slovakia, 10:10 p.m. ET
Olympic Athletes from Russia vs. Finland, 2:40 a.m. ET
There is a significant margin between the upper tier of squads in each bracket and the next group of teams, which should make Thursday's results fairly predictable.
The U.S. and the Russian team are clearly the class of Group B, with the latter arguably the favorite to win the entire competition thanks to veteran superstars like Pavel Datsyuk and Ilya Kovalchuk leading a loaded roster.
Like Slovenia, Slovakia is a team the Americans should easily take care of. Doing so in a thorough manner will also be important, as goal differential could come into play should the Russian team and the U.S. tie atop the group.
The Americans are not built to just outscore teams, which means their goals-for numbers may not be sparkling. Still, they have plenty of skill with guys like Jordan Greenway up front to be able earn a comfortable win over a Slovakia team that simply lacks the personnel to skate with the U.S. over an entire game.
Canada and Switzerland, though, provides the most intriguing matchup of the day.
Depth is the clear strength of every Canadian national hockey team, and this squad is no different. Every player has seen time in the NHL at some point, and some like Chris Kelly, Mason Raymond and Derek Roy enjoyed successful runs in the league.
Roy in particular put up over 500 career points in over 700 NHL games, but the 34-year-old is still showing his top-end skill in the KHL:
He should act as Canada's No. 1 center throughout the tournament, but the team should be able to get scoring from all four lines. There is a solid mix of youth integrated with this group also, as guys like Quinton Howden, Christian Thomas and Linden Vey are all in their mid-20s. Thomas in particular is a known sniper who has 36 goals in his last 95 games in the AHL.
Switzerland will trot out a couple of familiar players for NHL fans in former Anaheim Ducks goaltender Jonas Hiller and former Montreal Canadiens defenseman Raphael Diaz, but it will have a hard time not getting worn down by Canada.
One player to keep an eye on is Pius Suter, a 21-year-old undrafted center who is lighting up Switzerland's top league this season with 38 points in 33 games. Should he produce a strong tournament, he could get a look at an NHL camp next year.
As for the other two men's matchups, the Czech Republic and Norway should be able to easily overpower countries like Korea and Norway that lack any high-end players to skate with the European powers.
The main attraction here is Rasmus Dahlin, the Swedish defenseman widely regarded as the No. 1 pick in the 2018 NHL Draft this summer. The smooth skating 17-year-old is a magician with the puck at the blue line, and he is sure to produce some highlights in this tournament.
Meanwhile, the lone women's contest is a must-win for both Finland and the Russian team.
Both sides drew overwhelming favorites Canada and the U.S. in its first two games. Finland put up a fight with a 3-1 loss to the Americans and a 4-1 defeat to Canada, as it even led the U.S. 1-0 after the first period.
On the other hand, it has been a struggle for the Russian team thanks to two 5-0 losses that saw a combined 31 shots on net.
Expect Finland to pull out a win here, but the two early losses could result in the unideal situation of having to face either Canada or the U.S. early in the knockout stage.