Olympic Hockey Breakdown: Group B
The Olympics are finally here, which means that it’s time for Olympic hockey. In this four article series, Anthony Pucik breaks down each Group in the tournament, as well as predicts who will earn the gold in Sochi. Here is what Group B has in store.
Whereas Group A had two favorites to earn Olympic gold in Russia and the United States, in Group B the only favorite that I see is team Canada, the reigning gold medal winners. Along with Canada in this group are Finland, Norway and Austria. While Finland has a very good hockey team, Canada is simply on another level.
So let’s take a look at team Canada’s strengths: pretty much everything. Canada has the most complete team of anyone in the Olympics. Sidney Crosby, John Tavares, Corey Perry, Patrick Sharp, Johnathan Toews, Ryan Getzlaf, Duncan Keith, Shea Weber, Carey Price, Mike Smith. Must I go on? Team Canada could pretty much house an NHL All-Star team all by itself. With a lineup from top to bottom littered with players who can score goals, defend well and play solid in net, it’s no wonder Canada is a favorite to earn gold again these Olympic games.
One thing that Canada needs to watch out for, though, is being overconfident. Team Canada has been hyped up ever since the roster came out, and I’m sure they are well aware that they are a favorite to repeat gold. Now that they see their group is not very strong, they might think they can walk into the playoffs easily with a bye without a problem, which could get them into trouble and cause them to drop points in game they should win against teams they should beat. While this might happen, I don’t think it will. Canada will handle their group with relative ease, winning all three games and earning nine points.
Next up in Group B is Finland. If not for Canada, Finland would easily be the best team in this group. Their greatest strength is at goaltender; in fact, Kari Lehtonen, Antti Niemi and Tuuka Rask might very well be the best three goalie tandem out of any team in the entire Olympics. Where Finland might run into trouble, especially against offensive teams like Canada, is defensively. Their three goalies may be good, but the Finnish defense is not very strong. Outside of Sami Solo and Olli Maatta, who himself is just a rookie, Finland doesn’t have great depth at the blue line. Despite their goalies being very good, the lack of defenseman will hurt Finland. They’ll beat the other two teams in the group, but fall to Canada and earn six points.
The last two teams in Group B is where it starts to get really thin. For the Norwegians, they do not have many NHL players on their roster, and while that shouldn’t be the end all be all of a team, usually the most talented players are in the NHL and very rarely do teams with little to no NHL players make it far in the Olympics. The experience of the likes of NHL players like Mats Zuccarello and Jonas Holos will certainly help the other Norwegian players prepare for their the NHL player competition better, but there is only so much that can be said and so much a team can execute. The lack of a go to superstar to score goals, play solid defense and make big saves is going to hurt Norway. They will lose to the more NHL heavy teams in Canada, Finland, and Austria, earning zero points.
Last in Group B is Austria. Austria at least has top liners in Thomas Vanek and Michael Grabner, giving them more superstars than Norway and a much better top line. Outside of that top line, though, things dip fast for the Austrians. Their goaltending and defense leave much to be desired, and their second to forth liners are not good supplements to Vanek and Grabner. Vanek and Grabner alone could push Austria to a victory over Norway, but their holes defensively and in the net will force them to lose to Canada and Finland, earning them three points.
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