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NHL players compete for Olympic Gold

Dan Bylsma leads Team USA
Dan Bylsma leads Team USA
Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

The 2014 Olympics in Sochi, Russia got underway last week. On Wednesday, Feb 12, 2014 the Men's Olympic ice hockey tournament will begin in earnest.

Here is a quick look at the favorites, and the television schedule.

The Top Four teams -

1) Team Canada is the clear favorite to take home a second straight Gold medal, as they have the strongest collection of skaters in the tournament. This team, captained by Sidney Crosby, is so strong that players the caliber of Mike Richards and Claude Giroux did not make the cut. The achilles heel could be in goal. Roberto Luongo, Carey Price and Mike Smith are very good at what they do, but the trio are not quite the caliber of the netminders for Team USA, or Sweden. In any case, the offensive firepower of this squad, combined with solid (if not overpowering) goaltending, should be enough to carry them through.

2) Team Russia - The reigning Vezina trophy winner Sergei Bobrovsky of the Columbus Blue Jackets, will be the starting goaltender. Pavel Datsyuk is the captain, but may not be 100% (lower body injury), as he has only played in three NHL games since the new year began. Most North American hockey fans will also be getting their first glimpse of Ilya Kovalchuk since he abruptly bolted from New Jersey, in mid-contract last summer. The centerpiece of the team is of course, Alex Ovechkin. The Russians have a strong team, and would like nothing more than to win this event during an Olympics being held in their home country. Russia's hopes may ultimately hinge on the health of Datsyuk.

3) Team USA may not be able to match the raw talent of Team Canada, but the Americans will not be lacking in toughness. Both Dustin Brown of the L.A. Kings, and David Backes of the St. Louis Blues are on the roster of a team captained by Zach Parise of the Minnesota Wild. Parise's teammate Ryan Suter will be anchoring the blueline. In goal, will be the trio of Jonathan Quick, and Ryan Miller, and Jimmy Howard. Team USA has not captured a Gold medal since the 1980 "Miracle on ice". They are long overdue.

4) Team Sweden will sorely miss the services of Henrik Sedin (rib injury) and Johan Franzen (concussion). The strength of this team will be in goal, where Henrik Lundqvist (Gold medal 2006) could very well wind up being an equalizer for the more talented U.S. and Canadian teams. That said, expect some blueline wizardry from a strong defensive corps which features electrifying youngsters Erik Karlsson, and Oliver Ekman-Larsson. The Swedes may not be favored to win Gold, but do not count them out.

The Groupings:

Group 'A' - USA, Russia, Slovakia, Slovenia

Group 'B' - Canada, Finland, Norway, Austria

Group 'C' - Sweden, Czech Republic, Switzerland, Latvia

Men's Olympic hockey TV schedule :

*All games will be aired live

Feb 12, Noon ET - Czech Republic vs Sweden , USA Network

Feb 12, Noon ET - Latvia vs Switzerland, MSNBC

Feb 13, 3:00 a.m. ET - Finland vs Austria, NBCSN

Feb 13, 7:30 a.m. ET - Russia vs Slovenia, MSNBC

Feb 13, Noon ET - USA vs Slovakia, NBCSN

Feb 13, Noon ET - Canada vs Norway, USA Network

Feb 14, 3:00 a.m. ET - Czech Republic vs Latvia, MSNBC

Feb 14, 7:30 a.m. ET - Sweden vs Switzerland, NBCSN

Feb 14, Noon ET - Canada vs Austria, USA Network

Feb 14, Noon ET - Norway vs Finland, MSNBC

Feb 15, 3:00 a.m. ET, Slovakia vs Slovenia, MSNBC

Feb 15, 7:30 a.m. ET, USA vs Russia, NBCSN

Feb 15, Noon ET, Switzerland vs Czech Republic, NBCSN

Feb 15, Noon ET, Sweden vs Latvia, USA Network

Feb 16, 3:00 a.m. ET, Austria vs Norway, USA Network

Feb 16, 7:30 a.m. ET, Russia vs Slovakia, USA Network

Feb 16, 7:30 a.m. ET, USA vs Slovenia, NBCSN

Feb 16, Noon ET, Finland vs Canada, USA Network

Feb 18 - Qualifying rounds:

3:00 am ET, NBCSN

7:30 a.m. ET, USA Network

Noon ET, NBCSN

Noon ET, MSNBC

Feb 19 - Quarterfinals:

3:00 a.m. ET, NBCSN

7:30 a.m. ET, NBCSN

Noon ET, USA Network

Noon ET, MSNBC

Feb 21 - Semifinals:

7:00 a.m. ET, NBCSN

Noon ET, NBCSN

Feb 22 - Bronze medal game:

10:00 a.m. ET, NBCSN

Feb 23 - Gold medal game:

7:00 a.m. ET, NBC