Olympic Preview Part I
If you’ve discovered this blog, clearly you are a hockey fan, so there’s probably no need to discuss how good the hockey will be during the upcoming Vancouver Olympics. There’s nothing more exciting than the best players in the world giving their all in the name of their native countries.
That excitement is enhanced by the fact that the Olympic tournament does not feature long, drawn-out best-of-seven series. Nope. Once the preliminaries are finished it’s a one-and-done format. All it takes is a hot goalie and a couple of timely bounces, and on any given night you could be staring at another Miracle on Ice.
The fact that this year’s tournament is taking place where hockey was born, along with the incredible talent spread out among the 12 teams, should make the 2010 Olympic hockey competition the most exciting and most watched ever. Adding to the urgency to win a gold medal in 2010 is the uncertainty surrounding the prospect of NHL players competing in Russia in 2014. I have a theory about that, but that’s for another day and another blog.
So, the next two postings will preview the upcoming Olympic hockey competition, which gets underway on Tuesday, Feb. 16, when the United States takes on Switzerland at 3 p.m. Eastern time.
The next blog will delve into the actual team/talent breakdown, predictions, games analysisvand so on. This space will be dedicated to explaining the format, listing the groupings and providing the schedule – all of which constitutes a full-blown posting on its own.
In Torino (2006), the Olympic hockey competition featured two six-team groups. This year’s tournament has three groupings, which have been determined by each country’s 2009 world ranking:
Group A (seed in parentheses)
Czech Republic (5)
The preliminary round, which gets underway Feb. 16, is a round-robin format in which each team plays the three other teams in its group to determine playoff-round seeding. Standings are computed using a three-point system, with teams getting three points for a regulation win, two points for an overtime win and one point for an overtime loss. Games that are tied after regulation will proceed to a five-minute overtime, which is followed by a shootout if no winner has been determined.
The winner of each group gets a bye into the quarterfinals along with the team with the next-highest point total, for a total of four byes. Ties in the standings will be broken to determine the fourth seed in the quarterfinals and the other playoff-round seedings utilizing the following tie-breaker: goal differential, total goals scored and IIHF world ranking – in that order. Once the four byes are determined, the Qualifying Playoff matchups will be 5 vs. 12, 6 vs. 11, 7 vs. 10, 8 vs. 9. The qualifying playoff games will take place on Feb. 24 and the quarterfinals on Feb. 25, followed by an off day. Both semifinals are scheduled for Feb. 26, with the losers playing for the bronze Feb. 27 and the winners going for gold Feb. 28.
Olympic Men’s Hockey Television Schedule
USA, 3 p.m. - 5:30 p.m.: Men's Hockey: USA vs. Switzerland
CNBC, 8 p.m. - 10 p.m.: Men's Hockey: Canada vs. Norway
CNBC, 12:30 a.m. - 2:30 a.m.: Men's Hockey: Russia vs. Latvia
MSNBC, 3 p.m. - 5:30 p.m.: Men's Hockey: Finland vs. Belarus
CNBC, 8 p.m. - 10 p.m.: Men's Hockey: Sweden vs. Germany
CNBC, 12:30 a.m. - 2:30 a.m.: Men's Hockey: Czech Republic vs. Slovakia
USA, 3 p.m. - 5:30 p.m.: Men's Hockey: USA vs. Norway
CNBC, 8 p.m. - 10 p.m.: Men's Hockey: Canada vs. Norway
CNBC, 12:30 a.m. - 2:30 a.m.: Men's Hockey: Russia vs. Slovakia
MSNBC, 3 p.m. - 5:30 p.m.: Men's Hockey: Sweden vs. Belarus
CNBC, 8 p.m. - 10 p.m.: Men's Hockey: Czech Republic vs. Latvia
MSNBC, midnight - 3 a.m.: Men's Hockey: Finland vs. Germany
MSNBC, 3 p.m. - 5:30 p.m.: Men's Hockey: Norway vs. Switzerland
MSNBC, 7:30 p.m. - 10 p.m.: Men's Hockey: Slovakia vs. Latvia
MSNBC, midnight - 3 a.m.: Men's Hockey: Belarus vs. Germany
MSNBC, 7 p.m. - 10 p.m.: Men's Hockey: USA vs. Canada
MSNBC, midnight - 3 a.m.: Men's Hockey: Sweden vs. Finland
USA, 3 p.m. - 6 p.m.: Men's Hockey: Elimination Round
CNBC, 8 p.m. - 10 p.m.: Men's Hockey: Elimination Round
CNBC, 10 p.m. - 12:30 a.m.: Men's Hockey: Elimination Round
CNBC, 12:30 a.m. - 2:30 a.m.: Men's Hockey: Elimination Round
NBC, 3 p.m. - 5 p.m.: Men's Hockey: Quarterfinal Round
CNBC, 7 p.m. - 10 p.m.: Men's Hockey: Quarterfinal Round
CNBC, 10 p.m. - 12:30 a.m.: Men's Hockey: Quarterfinal Round
CNBC, 12:30 a.m. - 2:30 a.m.: Men's Hockey: Quarterfinal Round
NBC, 3 p.m. - 5 p.m.: Men's Hockey: Semifinal
CNBC, 9 p.m. - midnight: Men's Hockey: Semifinal
MSNBC, 10 p.m. - 12:30 a.m.: Men's Hockey: Bronze Medal Game
NBC, 3 p.m. - 6 p.m.: Men's Hockey: Gold Medal Game
Games to Watch
Oddly enough, the only game of the entire tournament not scheduled to be televised is the Russia-Czech Republic matchup (at least according to the Univeral Programming Guide), which should be one of the most wide-open and exciting of the preliminary round, on Feb. 21. Keep in mind that this will be the first Olympic hockey tournament ever played on an NHL-sized rink (200’ x 85’). Usually international events take place on a much larger ice surface (200’ x 98.5’). This will favor the North American teams (Canada, USA) as well as teams whose rosters are made up primarily of NHL players or players with NHL experience (Russia, Sweden, Czech Republic, Slovakia).
The following preliminary-round contests should not be missed
United States vs. Switzerland – Feb. 16
The opening game of the tournament is always a big one. The U.S. will be a heavy favorite, but the Swiss have pulled off upsets in the past and nerves may be a factor.
Czech Republic vs. Slovakia – Feb. 17
The Czech Republic has a roster full of talented NHL players, but the Slovaks have enough North American veteran pros to pull off an early upset.
Slovakia vs. Russia – Feb. 18
See above. Russia has an overwhelming talent advantage, but may be holding back for the playoff round and could be ripe for the picking.
Finland vs. Germany – Feb. 19
The Germans have pulled off surprises in the past and have enough NHL players and talented European pros to give the Fins a run for the money. Knocking off the top group of goaltenders in the tourney will be tough, though.
Russia vs. Czech Republic - Feb. 21
European grudge match. Should be a high-speed, physical battle. Other than U.S. vs.
Canada this is the marquee matchup of the preliminary round, but for some reason is not scheduled to be televised.
Canada vs. USA – Feb. 21
Canada on paper is the most talented team in the tournament, but this rivalry is unpredictable. The U.S. is a youthful and balanced team that will come with energy and should deliver good two-way hockey. It would not be surprising if the Americans give them a run for it, but the U.S. can only record the upset with spectacular goaltending.
Sweden vs. Finland – Feb. 24
The third- and fourth-seeded teams face off in a contradiction of styles. The Swedes play a fast, flowing game, while the Fins traditionally are more physical and defense-first. That said, Sweden’s roster has some of the best defensemen in the world. Always an exciting, hard-fought and physical battle. Should be a fun way to wrap up the opening round. There have been some ugly, NHL-style battles between these two teams over the years.
Please come back tomorrow for Part II of the Olympic Preview.