Thursday, February 19, 2009

2010 Olympic Hockey Preview

The qualifying rounds are done, and in but a year’s time, the greatest hockey players in the world will hone in on the beautiful city of Vancouver, British Columbia for the hockey tournament at the 2010 Winter Olympics. Twelve teams will show up in Western Canada, looking to take home the gold for their nations.
I, for one, enjoy little more than international hockey, and therefore am eager to begin handicapping the tournament. With this in mind, I have decided to bring to you the first 2010 Winter Olympic power rankings…

Alas, there is one problem; the rosters have not yet been announced. While some may see this as a problem, I for one see it as an opportunity. This gives me the opportunity to pick my own teams, adding yet another level of discussion.
So here you have it, the first installment of the roster prediction/power rankings for the 2010 Games:

Group 1- Thanks for Showing Up

While I would have liked to pick the entire squads for the entire tournament, one at a time, the majority of a couple of these rosters are going to be made up of non-NHLers, whom I have no authority to analyze. So instead, I’ll give an overview of the lower groups, before breaking down the contenders one at a time.
It is no secret that while 12 teams make for a tidy tournament bracket, there certainly aren’t 12 teams capable of contending for the championship. For these squads, qualifying for the tournament was the main goal; a couple of wins in the tourney itself would be gravy.  

12. Norway

Rounding out the bottom of our rankings, are the Norwegians. This squad boasts just one NHLer, and while having one NHLer for most amateur hockey tournaments would be a huge advantage, something tells me that it won’t be enough for the hosts of the 1994 games. The NHLer in question is Ole Kristian Tollefson, a 24 year old defenseman from Columbus (well, actually from Olso, but he plays for Columbus). I am as big a believer as anyone that teams should be built from the blueline out, but Tollefson’s 10 career points in 4 seasons are unlikely to worry the likes of Nicklas Lindstrom and Zdeno Chara. Patrick Thoreson, who played over 100 games and tallied 24 points in the NHL up through last season before moving to the Swiss league, will be the Norwegian’s biggest scoring threat. The phenomenally named Espen Knutsen is probably the most prominent player in Norway’s recent history, and although he retired in 2005, he could be a candidate for the Olympic squad. Three Norwegians (Jonas Holos- COL, Mats Froshaug- VAN and Scott Winkler-DAL) are NHL draft picks who have yet to make it to the NHL. The only other note on their roster is that they will likely have a forward named Per-Åge Skrøder. I don’t know anything about the guy, but that is an absolutely epic name.
The roster is short, and the schedule won’t make it any easier. Norway is in a group with the United States and Canada. Their only opportunity for a win will likely come against a Swiss team that also outclasses them, but not by quite as much. Add all of that to the fact that even a tie against Norway comes with dire consequences, and it could be a long tournament for the afterthought of Scandinavian hockey.

11. Belarus

Assuming that you just read the section about the Norwegians, the Belarusians (shouldn’t that be Belarussians? Whatever…) will seem to have a ton of firepower. In fact, they have approximately three times as much, with a squad that boasts four NHL players.
In fact, the Belarus team actually has three players, Ruslan Salei, Mikhail Grabovski and Andrei Kostytsin who are quality NHLers, and a fourth, Kostytsin’s brother Sergei, who is a budding young player for the Montreal (nevermind that he just got sent to the AHL). They also have current KHLer Konstantin Koltsov who played a number of years in the NHL (144 games 38 points in the NHL). Like the Norwegians, the Belarusians will likely field a number of NHL picks who have yet to play in the NHL, but the majority of their talent will likely come from the Kontinental League.
Belarus shouldn’t be able to contend for anything meaningful, but will play their biggest game of the tournament against group C foe Germany, in what could potentially be a close game.

10. Latvia

The Latvians, the second to last team to qualify for the tournament (before only Norway), will likely also face an uphill challenge in BC. Their main asset, which neither Belarus nor Norway can boast, is a goaltender with NHL experience. Peter Skudra will likely tend the nets for the Latvians, and although he hasn’t played in the NHL since 2003, he will bring some experience, which the team (once again, made up largely of KHLers) lacks. Karlis Skrastins is the most notable NHLer for the Latvains. He is joined by Kings’ grinder Raitis Ivanans, Martins Karsums, a regular healthy scratch who has yet to find his place in Boston and Viktor Tikhonov, a promising first round draft pick of the Coyotes.
Still, not even rumors of the return of Arturs Irbe to the Latvians nets can bolster this team into any sort of medal consideration, especially with three quality teams in their bracket.

9. Switzerland

Obviously, quality goaltending is a major asset, especially in a short tournament such as the Olympics. Unfortunately, the fact that the Swiss have twice as many NHL goaltenders as forwards probably will not work in the favor of this traditionally neutral nation. Mark Streit is the only NHL skater for the Swiss team, but a strong presence in the Kontinental league as well as a relatively strong Swiss league will give this team a reasonable talent pool to draw from. Goaltending, though, will be their clear strength. Unfourtionately, that strength comes in the form of depth, with a pool containing NHL caliber tendys David Abishire, Jonas Hiller, Martin Gerber and Tobias Stephan. Of those, Hiller will likely get the nod, but they may need more than one of them, as they are matched up against the USA and Canada with their minor league caliber talent.

Up Next…The Longshot

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