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Point/Counterpoint: Which hockey team will take gold in Sochi?

BY DI STAFF | FEBRUARY 17, 2014 5:00 AM

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Three DI staffers debate Olympic hockey.

SWEDEN

When the gold medals for men’s ice hockey are handed out at the end of the week, the Tre Kroner of Sweden will emerge victorious.

Injuries have hamstringed Sweden’s offense the past week. Captain Henrik Zetterberg as well as first-line center Henrik Sedin will both sit out the rest of the tournament with various ailments. Despite these injuries, Sweden still boasts one of the deepest offenses in the tournament, second to maybe only Canada.

Sweden’s offense presents a unique challenge to North American frontrunners Canada and the United States. The wider 200x100 ice surface being used in Sochi is one familiar to European players, and given that many of them played on the wide ice growing up before they made the jump to North America, it has taken them less time to adjust to playing on it.

But enough about the ice. Sweden’s offense brings with it a potent attack that can strike from anywhere on the ice or from any position.

Led up front by Daniel Alfredsson, Nicklas Bäckström, and Blues sniper Alexander Steen, the Swedes cycle the puck as good as anyone in the tournament, and when you’ve got elite talents such as Steen or Daniel Sedin as triggermen, putting the puck in the back of the net comes with relative ease.

Sweden has also received significant contributions from its blue-line as well. Erik Karlsson, perhaps the best two way blue-liner in the world, has been lights out for the Blue and Gold, registering 3 goals and 5 points in his first three games of tournament play.

Oh, yeah — did I mention that the Swedes arguably have the greatest goaltender in the world as well?

As solid as he is handsome, goaltender Henrik Lundqvist has played all three games for the Swedes, registering a .936 save percentage as well as a 1.67 goals-against average.

Either way you slice it, Sweden takes it in Sochi.

— by Ryan Rodriguez

CANADA

I could take the easy route here and say Canada will win the gold medal because the two best players on the planet, Jonathan Toews and Sidney Crosby, center the Canadians’ top-two lines, but I’ll go more in depth.

It’s because of just that, depth. Head coach Mike Babcock has had the problem, or luxury, of choosing who will be the healthy scratches each game. In Canada’s last two contests against Austria and Finland, Patrick Sharp (28 goals, 58 points this season with the Blackhawks) and Martin St. Louis (25 goals, 56 points in Tampa Bay) have been off the ice wearing suits and ties.

It’s not just who sits and who plays that Canada has the luxury of; it’s how many stars the United States’ northern neighbor has. Just take a glance at the names. Patrice Bergeron, Patrick Marleau, Jeff Carter, Duncan Keith, Shea Weber, Ryan Getzlaf, Rick Nash, Corey Perry, PK Subban (the other healthy scratch in Sunday’s 2-1 overtime win over Finland) — the names just keep going.

People may say it’s not just the names, it’s how those guys play together. Yes, of course chemistry is a vital part of a team of All-Stars playing well together, but when a team is as talented as Canada is, that feeling-out process becomes a whole lot easier.

That’s been the doubt about the team from the Great White North so far in this tournament — the players are not clicking. That will change now that the preliminary round is over.

Those superstars mentioned above have three games under their belt playing together, with the “role players” filling in. When those role players are named John Tavares (read: Johnny Hockey), Matt Duchene, and Drew Doughty, it’s hard to imagine the Canadians blowing it.

Look, this is the thing, Canada is really talented, as in REALLY talented. As a red-blooded American male, I hate that America’s hat is going to win this tournament. The only satisfying grace will be (hopefully) watching videos of a drunken Rob Ford celebrating with a knock-off gold medal.

— by Danny Payne

UNITED STATES

Team USA has the speed and determination to win in the gold medal this year. It’s a young team with 14 having their Olympic débuts and have a team chemistry that’s unmatched.

Four years ago in Vancouver, the United States lost the gold medal, 3-2, in overtime to Canada. This time around, it’s going to come down to goals and the men who protect the net. Canada has the veterans, but experience is not going to be enough for it to lock it up this year.

Jonathan Quick of the LA Kings has proven he is the best choice in net for the Americans to win this year in Sochi, and it showed in his performance in the preliminary rounds. Quick had 51 saves on 54 shots in two games and helped USA win in the shootout against Russia. The NHL ranked goaltenders before the Olympics started, and Quick came in at No. 2 with Canada’s Carey Price just behind him. Price might look better on paper, but when it comes to performance, Quick is able to perform under pressure.

He led the LA Kings to win its first Stanley Cup Final, beating the New Jersey Devils and arguably the greatest goalie of all time, Marty Brodeur, in six games. Quick was named the Most Valuable Player during the playoffs and earned the Conn Smythe Trophy for his performance.

If the gold medal match comes down to a shootout, T.J. Oshie showed his skills with the puck leading his team to a victory against Russia — scoring four times in the shootout.

Team USA’s offense has been explosive and worked as a unit. In Sunday’s game, forwards Joe Pavelski and Phil Kessel showed chemistry, and the latter netted a natural hat trick. Patrick Kane’s ability to control and pass the puck is one of the best in the world.

Team USA’s exciting play has been able to draw people across the nation into bars before the sun comes up. The boys in Red, White, and Blue carried their momentum from the wild Russia game into Sunday and don’t look like they are going to slow down any time soon.

Hopefully, my superstitious intuition pays off with my newest purchase of Kane’s Olympic jersey and has just as much luck as the current one I own. The Blackhawks have never lost a game when I’ve worn that sweater (never washed it), and now it’s the new jersey’s moment to shine. God Bless America.

— by Tessa Hursh


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