The men's hockey tournament at the 2022 Winter Olympics will look much different than previous versions of the competition.
The NHL pulled out of participation on December 22 because of issues related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Consequently, most of the men's Olympic rosters are made up of players competing in European leagues. The United States is using a roster comprising players based in Europe, the AHL and college.
The women's hockey tournament will have a similar look to it, as the United States and Canada are expected to fight for the gold medal once again. The Americans and Canadians are the favorites to win the women's competition in Beijing, while the Russian Olympic Committee carries the edge on the men's side because of its KHL-heavy roster.
Play in Beijing begins Thursday for the women, while the men start their tournament February 9.
Olympic Hockey Odds
Russian Olympic Committee: +160 (bet $100 to win $160)
Czech Republic: +900
United States: +1600
United States: -115 (bet $115 to win $100)
Russian Olympic Committee: +3500
Czech Republic: +5000
The buzz around the men's hockey tournament is understandably lower than it would have been with the NHL players involved.
The absence of the American and Canadian superstars in Beijing opens the door for the Russian Olympic Committee to cruise through the tournament.
The Russian side has a fairly easy group with Czech Republic, Switzerland and Denmark. The roster should cruise through those contests. Nikita Gusev is one of the Russians with NHL experience, and every man on the roster plays in the KHL.
The ROC should have the top ranking going into the knockout round. The 12 participating countries will be ranked by group position, points and goal difference to determine the knockout-round bracket.
Canada and the United States were drawn alongside each other in Group A. They will face off in the second Group A game on February 12.
The United States roster is powered by young players, some of whom are top NHL prospects who have not yet reached the professional level. Matty Beniers, Jake Sanderson and Brendan Brisson were recent first-round draft picks, and they could be among the breakout stars in China.
Canada's roster is headlined by NHL veteran Eric Staal, who most recently played for the Iowa Wild in the AHL. His experience could be vital for the young squad.
Sweden and Finland should not be counted out of medal contention, either, because they have talented rosters chock-full of European-based talent.
The Russians should win gold, but if they slip up, look for one of the two European countries to swoop in if the Americans and Canadians struggle.
The women's tournament is centered around longtime North American rivals.
The United States and Canada play once in the knockout round, and they are expected to meet again in the gold-medal match.
Both favorites have to play four group-stage games before they contest the Group A finale February 8. If the two sides finish first and second in group play, they will be drawn on opposite ends of the knockout-round bracket.
Canada's squad is headlined by Marie-Philip Poulin and Melodie Daoust, who combined for 13 goals four years ago in Pyeongchang, South Korea. The pair of experienced forwards will wreak havoc on every opposing defense, and they will be the players the Americans must focus on stopping in their head-to-head meetings.
Hilary Knight, Amanda Kessel and Brianna Decker carry the most experience on the United States, which is looking to defend the gold medal it claimed in 2018.
The United States will usher in a new generation of talent in Beijing, as nine players on the roster are 25 or younger.
A surprise gold medalist is unlikely in Beijing, so the other countries are likely fighting for the bronze medal.
Anything short of a United States-Canada final would be a letdown given how well both teams have played at the Olympic level.
Odds via DraftKings Sportsbook.
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