Previously we wrote an article containing early predictions for the Men’s Olympic Hockey tournament at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. This is a continuation of that topic, exploring the strengths and weaknesses or the nations in Group B: Austria, Canada, Finland and Norway.
This will be Austria’s first ever trip to the Olympics in Men’s Ice Hockey, and they’ll do their best to play spoiler in a bracket stacked with some pretty solid teams. So, what do we know about team Austria? Well, let’s start with WHO we know, and that list is pretty short. The Austrians only have three NHL players on their roster; Thomas Vanek and Micahel Grabner of the New York Islanders, and rookie Michael Raffl, who was drafted by Philadelphia but is yet to see NHL ice in the regular season. Other than that, it will be a lot of Euro league guys doing their best to compete with the superpowers of Finland and Canada. Vanek and Grabner are legit stars, and now that they have recently become teammates, their chemistry could lead to a lot of opportunities for the Austrians. It was a major deal from them to just MAKE the Olympics (defeating neighbor to the north, Germany), so don’t expect much, but do watch for this team to have a lot of heart and grit.
Oh Canada! What an enormous amount of talent the reining Gold Medalists have to choose from. That may be the hardest part for GM Yzerman, Coach Babcock & Co, as they try to pick from the vast ocean of skill that has been given the opportunity to represent the Great White North. Recent injury to Steven Stamkos, who was a shoe-in and also a top 6 forward has opened up the race for guys like Chris Kunitz who want to prove that even though they aren’t superstars, their role on the team is just as important. Kunitz could be paired with golden goal scorer Sidney Crosby, as the two are teammates in Pittsburgh and complement each other well. Alex Steen, the NHL leader in goals right now, is also making a pretty strong case for himself. As far as Goaltending goes, Canada isn’t as strong this time around as it was in years past. Roberto Luongo is expected to be the starter, with perhaps Corey Crawford or Carey Price backing him up. Crawford has not followed up the stellar year he had with the Blackhawks last season, and Price, who has been carrying the load for Montreal, isn’t faring much better.
The Forward lines are scary, as some of the top stars in the NHL will be lacing up the skates for Canada. It goes without saying that scoring will be their strong point. They will need to focus on team building and chemistry, since many of these players are captains of their respective teams, and all have their own ways of doing things. The defense is also solid, and should quell many of the concerns about goaltending. Look to Canada to win Group B, and be in medal contention.
The Finns have invited 52 players to their tryout camp, and 26 of them are from the NHL. Only 25 will make the cut, and it can be presumed that most of them will be coming from the National Hockey League. Team Finland’s greatest strength is in net, and it may be the strongest team in the tournament in that regard. Tuuka Rask and Pekka Rinne are expected to battle it out for the starting job, but Kari Lehtonen, Antti Niemi, and Niklas Backstrom could all potentially take one of those spots. That’s a pretty solid stable to choose from, and most other nations, Canada included, would kill for that kind of goaltending depth.
The ageless Teemu Selanne returns for his astounding sixth Olympic tryout, and the 42 year old will almost certainly make the team. He sits in the middle of the pack of a good crop of forwards, which include Miku Koivu, Olli Jokinen, Tuomo Ruttu, Ville Leino, Valteri Filppula and Sean Bergenheim. The Finns have always been a good scoring team, and it has made up for their lack of depth in defense. Joni Pitkanen and Kimmo Timonen are two of the few notables, the rest being lower pairing NHLers or Euro League players. Finland will be banking on their goalies to help them towards the medal round, and they hope that the D won’t be hanging them out to dry.
The other Scandinavian team in Group B is team Norway, which, other than Latvia, is the only team without any NHL players, and is going to have a very hard time getting out of group play. There are few positives on this roster, and this squad may not even be as good as the 0-3 crew that got mopped up in 2010. The last time Norway was in the Olympics, they received lopsided defeats from Canada and the US, and lost a heartbreaker to the Swiss in OT. Tore Vikingstad, th
e feel-good hero of 2010, will not be back, and that leaves a void in character players. Goaltending has never been the strongest point in the Norwegian system, and playing some serious foes in Canada and Finland will be rough. Likely to be a doormat for Group B, Norway will have its work cut out just to play spoiler.
Stay tuned as we delve into Group C in our final installment of pre-olympic predictions.
Scott Huntington is a writer, reporter, blogger, and long-time hockey fan. When he’s not watching hockey he’s doing research for CJ Pony Parts or spending time outside with his family. Scott will posting his thoughts on the NHL throughout the season and you can also find him on Twitter @smhuntington