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2010 Olympic Hockey Preview - Contenders and Pretenders

Fans will be at a frenzied pitch for Team Canada in Vancouver
Fans will be at a frenzied pitch for Team Canada in Vancouver
Associated Press photo

CONTENDERS

 Canada

Canada easily has the most depth and talent, as their countrymen make up the largest percentage of NHL players. Coupled with the home-ice advantage, the Canadians won’t be an easy challenge for anyone. Just to name a couple key forwards, you can start with Sidney Crosby, Joe Thornton, who leads the surging San Jose Sharks, and Vincent Lecavalier and Jarome Iginla, veteran leaders of the Lightning and Flames, respectively. They have plenty of offensive weapons and speed and are boosted by a solid defense made up of Scott Niedermeyer and Chris Pronger, already used to playing next to each other on the Ducks. Defense is the only spot where the team could be pegged as older, but in goal Canada still features two of the NHL’s best in Martin Brodeur and Roberto Luongo.

Russia

Despite its fearsome reputation and tradition in the sport, Russia has never won a gold medal since becoming its own country separate from the Soviet Union. 2010 presents their best chance to date with a ferocious and deep pool of forwards along with solid goaltending, traditionally their weakest position. Just for starters, the Russians boast the defending top-goal scorer in the NHL, Alexander Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals. Couple him with the Penguins’ MVP runner-up Evgeni Malkin, Ilya Kovalchuk – who finished second in scoring last year – and Pavel Datsyuk of the Red Wings, and you have just a fraction of Russia’s depth at forward. If Russia were to have any weakness, it is at defense, where Andrei Markov of the Canadiens and Sergei Gonchar of the Pens lead an experienced backline, although one that lacks the punch of its forwards. Evgeni Nabakov of the San Jose Sharks will likely start in goal.

Sweden

2006 Olympic Gold Medalists and one of the most successful hockey nations in history, Sweden has just a strong as they fielded four years ago, although age could be their one weakness at forward. With Henrik Zetterberg of the Red Wings and Daniel Alfresson of the Senators finally slowing down in their careers, they might have trouble scoring goals, although they have shored up their roster with younger players. Nicklas Listrom is one of the best defenders in hockey, and he’ll be flanked by similarly-experienced teammates Mattias Ohlund of the Canucks and Niklas Kronwall of the Red Wings. Henrik Lundqvis – probably the most consistent New York Ranger over the last few years – who steps it up in major contests will start in goal.

United States

The perennially disappointing American team – although not helped by tremendous hype from American media – comes in with a much younger look to the 2010 Olympics. Ditching aging veterans who were responsible for the team stalling in past competitions, the younger roster has performed very well in recent tournaments. Lead at forward by Rookie of the Year Patrick Kane of Chicago, Dustin Brown of the surprise L.A. Kings and Zach Parise of the Devils, the young team is also helped by veterans Chris Drury and Scott Gomez. Defense shows a lot of steady players, though little flash, such as Brian Rafalski of the 2008 Champion Red Wings. Goalies Ryan Miller of Buffalo and Tim Thomas of Boston have both shown flashes of genius, but have yet to turn in stellar performances in international competition.
 

PRETENDERS

Slovakia

One of the strongest defenses in the 2010 Olympics, Slovakia’s back line features stellar defensemen currently leading their NHL clubs. Zdeno Chara is currently leading the Boston Bruins to one of their best seasons in recent years, and he’ll be flanked by the young talents Lubomir Visnovsky of the Oilers and Andrej Meszaros of Tampa Bay. They aren’t big names – defensemen rarely are – but think of them as the Crosby and Ovechkin of their position. Jaroslav Halak, in goal for the Canadiens, is one of the best young goalies in hockey, and an experienced – albeit aging – front line of Marian Hossa of the Blackhawksand Marian Gaborik of the Rangers will be a serious threat.

Finland

Finland has metaled in three of the last four Olympics, even though they lack flashy young stars that the other rosters will feature.  Teemu Selanne of the Ducks recently broke his jaw and his status for the Games are in doubt.  Saku Koivu of the Canadiens with his brother Mikko Koivu of the Wild are two of the leaders of their recent surge, and it’s just a matter of them playing swift and fluid hockey that will determine how far they’ll go in this contest. Kimmu Timonen and Sami Salo lead an older backline of a defensive-minded team and Niklas Backstrom will be in goal. They will be a difficult team to score goals against, but might have an equally tough time putting points on the board.

Czech Republic

Although they have a deep player pool from which to build their roster, the Czechs are nearly devoid of a big-name player who can come up with huge plays. Jaromir Jagr is the closest they have to a superstar, and he might not play. This leaves Patrik Elias of the Devils and Martin Havlat of the Wild, who are both second-tier stars for their NHL clubs. Tomas Kaberle is the heart and soul of a blueline short on talent. Tomas Vokoun is a solid goalie for Florida, but he has always played on lackluster teams, so it will be interesting to see how he plays on the big stage of Vancouver.
 

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