Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports
The NHL takes off for two weeks as hockey fans around the world turn their attention to the XXII Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia. For some fans, like Islanders fans, it’s a welcome break as they can watch some of the world’s best make up 12 international squads that will fight for gold.
Here, we will take a look at group B.
The defending gold medalists, as many Americans will remember painfully, and favorite of many, will bring in a side that is the envy of many nations. With arguably two of the top three players in the NHL, Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby and the Islanders’ John Tavares, from first line, to fourth line, Team Canada is the team to beat.
No matter how solid a roster looks, there were snubs to talk about including Joe Thornton, Brent Seabrook and Corey Crawford, as the list of players left off the roster are capable of competing with some of the best teams in the world.
Forwards: Jamie Benn, Patrice Bergeron, Jeff Carter, Sidney Crosby, Matt Duchene, Ryan Getzlaf, Chris Kunitz, Patrick Marleau, Rick Nash, Corey Perry, Patrick Sharp, John Tavares, Steven Stamkos, Jonathan Toews
Defense: Jay Bouwmeester, Drew Doughty, Dan Hamhuis, Duncan Keith, Alex Pietrangelo, P.K. Subban, Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Shea Weber
Goalies: Roberto Luongo, Carey Price, Mike Smith
Biggest strength: Scoring. Look at this roster. Team Canada will roll out four lines of athletes that will be able to score and score often. The NHL’s top three point getters are Canadian (Crosby, Tavares, Getzlaf). This is the kind of team that runs away with 8-1 scorelines in the group stage.
Biggest weakness: Goaltending. It isn’t much of a weakness, as Canada will most likely outscore its opponents if anyone of these goalies have an off night, but it’s been documented the struggles Roberto Luongo has had in big games. Price is hit or miss and Smith has never really had the opportunity to play on a big stage.
Schedule: Feb 13 v. Norway, Feb 14 v. Austria, Feb 16 v. Finland
Projected finish: Gold
Finland comes into the Olympics with a blend of fresh faces and old legends. Unlike other teams, Finland has included a familiar face, 43-year old Teemu Selanne.
It’s quite obvious that this will be the Finnish Flash’s last Winter Olympics as the ‘Leijonat’ (Lions) could be considered a dark horse in this tournament. Fresh off a gold medal in the 2014 World Juniors, a talented youth academy has started to make its way into the international side as Olli Maatta and Mikael Granlund make their Olympic debuts.
Forwards: Juhamatti Aaltonen, Aleksander Barkov, Valtteri Filppula, Mikael Granlund, Jussi Jokinen, Olli Jokinen, Mikko Koivu, Leo Komarov, Petri Kontiola, Lauri Korpikoski, Jori Lehtera, Antti Pihlstrom, Tuomo Ruutu, Teemu Selanne
Defense: Lasse Kukkonen, Juuso Hietanen, Sami Lepisto, Olli Maatta, Sami Salo, Kimmo Timonen, Ossi Vaananen, Sami Vatanen
Goalies: Kari Lehtonen, Antti Niemi, Tuukka Rask
Biggest strength: Goaltending. Antti Niemi has been one of the hottest, if not best goalies this season in San Jose while Tuukka Rask is capable of standing on his head as well. Everyone knows that you can ride a hot goaltender deep into the playoffs/tournament and Sweden has two stalwarts and another very solid option in Lehtonen.
Biggest weakness: Defense. While Maatta and Salo will make a decent first pair, Finland is going to be taking on some high-powered offenses and the three other pairings they might put on the ice are most likely going to have a rough time. It will certainly give their goalies a lack of down time.
Schedule: Feb 13 v. Austria, Feb 14v. Norway, Feb 16 v. Canada
Projected “Finnish”: Sixth place (Sorry, I couldn’t help myself.)
Every group has it’s whipping post and unfortunately for Norway, it seems that they will take the brunt of a lot of abuse in Group B. A roster that lacks inspiring names will be viewed in the United States as a team mostly unknown.
Norway will bring in one player that currently makes his living in the NHL, Rangers winger Mats Zuccarello who is enjoying his most successful season in America.
Forwards: Morten Ask, Anders Bastiansen, Robin Dahlstrom, Kristian Forsberg, Mads Hansen, Marius Holtet, Sondre Olden, Ken Andre Olimb, Mathis Olimb, Mats Rosseli Olsen, Niklas Roest, Martin Roymark, Per-Age Skroder, Patrick Thoreson, Mats Zuccarello
Defense: Alexander Bonsaksen, Jonas Holos, Henrik Solberg, Daniel Sorvik, Ole-Kristian Tollefsen, Mats Trygg, Henrik Odegaard
Goalies: Lars Haugen, Lars Volden, Steffen Soberg
Biggest strength: Mats Zuccarello. With 43 points in 58 games, Zuccarello will have to make the transition from role-playing spark plug in the NHL to headlining scorer with team Norway. Zuccarello does have plenty of international experience as this is already his second Olympic Games and will be looked upon to lead the Norwegians.
Biggest weakness: The backline. Finland and Canada are going to look at these games as target practice with the defense and goaltending Norway will bring in. A struggling KHL goali in Lars Haugen will have to try and stymie any mistakes made by a defense that has two former NHL players, Jonas Holos and Ole-Kristian Tollefsen.
Schedule: Feb 13 v. Canada, Feb 14 v. Finland, Feb 16 v. Austria
Projected finish: Tenth place
Islanders fans will have a soft spot for Team Austria with a pair of their players, forwards Michael Grabner and Thomas Vanek making up two-thirds of their team’s NHL players. The third NHLer is Philadelphia’s Michael Raffl.
Vanek will bring the scoring, Grabner will bring the speed, Austria won’t bring much else. Let’s just say, they are not as good as their alpine skiing team. For those that don’t know, their skiing program is the stuff of legend.
Forwards: Michael Grabner, Raphael Herburger, Thomas Hundertpfund, Matthias Iberer, Thomas Koch, Andreas Kristler, Manuel Latusa, Brian Lebler, Daniel Oberkofler, Michael Raffl, Thomas Raffl, Oliver Setzinger, Thomas Vanek, Daniel Welser
Defense: Mario Altmann, Florian Iberer, Andre Lakos, Robert Lukas, Thomas Pock, Matthias Trattnig, Stefan Ulmer, Gerhard Unterluggauer
Goalies: Bernhard Starkbaum, Rene Swette, Fabian Weinhandl
Biggest strength: Speed. There’s an extremely good chance Austria does not sniff a medal, but they will cause some problems. Grabner is going to fly, with an expanded ice surface, the more room to play, the more steam to build up. Speed kills, or in this case, keeps you out of last place.
Biggest weakness: Goaltending: Starkbaum is set to be the starter. A professional for Sweden’s Brynas IF, he is about to take on an entire different animal in talent when Canada, Finland and Austria start pushing.
Schedule: Feb 13 v. Finland, Feb 14 v. Canada, Feb 16 v. Norway
Projected finish: Ninth place
Coming up from our own Mike Willhoft will be a look at the final group in the men’s tournament, group C. Thanks for reading Eyes On Isles.