Who Will Contend With Canada to Win Olympic Gold in Men’s Ice Hockey?

Who Will Contend With Canada to Win Olympic Gold in Men's Ice Hockey? The 21st Winter Olympics is upon us, and for the fourth and possibly the last time, NHL players will grace the rosters of most of the participating countries.

Six Bruins — Patrice Bergeron (Canada), Zdeno Chara, Miroslav Satan (Slovakia), David Krejci (Czech Republic), Tim Thomas (USA) and Marco Sturm(Germany) — will all play for gold in Vancouver. Here’s my look at which ones, along with their countrymen, could be playing in the medal round late next week.

Gold
Canada
Team Canada GM Steve Yzerman probably had the hardest and easiest job of any of the competing Olympic country general managers. He could have fielded three contending teams with the surplus of talent to pick from in the Great White North.

Yzerman’s job was like that of a fantasy hockey manager, but it is the pressure of being the GM of the host nation that made his job difficult and ever so delicate for Yzerman. While there may be so many skilled players at his disposal, Yzerman needed to make sure they were the right players based on experience and chemistry. Well, one look at the roster Stevie Y. assembled and at least on paper, he appears to have found the right mix.

Obviously having Sidney Crosby, Ryan Getzlaf, Joe Thornton and Eric Staal up the middle will provide amazing play-making skills, and wingers such as Dany Heatley, Patrick Marleau, Rick Nash and Jarome Iginla can seemingly light the lamp at will. But it’s the group of two-way players (Crosby included) that are both skilled and full of grit and hustle that makes this forward corps the most complete of any. Players like Mike Richards, Corey Perry, Jonathan Toews, Brendan Morrow and Patrice Bergeron will provide defensive responsibility up front and loads of grit and toughness.

They will have a defense led by the likes of Scott Niedermayer, Dan Boyle and Chris Pronger. Young studs Drew Doughty and Shea Weber, possibly a top pairing on most NHL teams, could serve as the alternate sixth and seventh slots off the bench.

Oh, and by the way, the winningest NHL goalie ever, Martin Brodeur, will be backed up by Roberto Luongo and Marc-Andre Fleury.

By no means can this team be penciled in as the gold medal winners, but they are the pick here to give Canada its first hockey gold on home soil.

Silver
Russia
When you look at the Russian roster, one thing probably comes to mind: firepower!

Alexander Ovechkin, Ilya Kovalchuk, Evgeni Malkin and Alexander Semin, all regulars atop the NHL offensive stats lists, probably give Russia the most lethal offense. It’s one that change the pace of a game in an instant.

Let’s not forget the offense coming from the blue line either. Sergei Gonchar and Andrei Markov, two amazing puck movers and power-play specialists will provide probably the best transition offense in Vancouver and have opponents playing the most disciplined hockey they can to avoid putting Russia on the power play.

But one aspect of Russia’s game that seems to be overlooked when previewing the Olympics will be the reason it will play for gold at the 2010 Winter Olympics. The Russians have probably the most underrated goaltending trio of any at the Olympics in Evgeni Nabokov, Ilya Bryzgalov and Semyon Varlamov. Nabokov and Bryzgalov were the backbones of Russia’s back-to-back gold-medal wins over Canada in the 2008 and 2009 World Championships, and both have had consistent success at the NHL level since the lockout. Varlamov is most definitely the biggest question mark of the bunch, but it’s highly unlikely he will see any playing time.

Offensive fireworks will surely be on display with the Russians, but thanks to very solid goaltending, the same won’t be said for many opponents, maybe even Canada. But in the end, Russia’s recent dominance of the Maple Leaf will be stopped in the gold medal game.

Bronze
Sweden
The defending gold medal champions will be contenders again, but injuries and suspect goaltending will have them playing for bronze instead of gold in Vancouver. Yes, Peter Forsberg is playing and will give an emotional boost, but how much of an effect can he have on the scoreboard? Forsberg has failed numerous comebacks from an injury-plagued last few years, with his last NHL game being in March 2008. This could be the final farewell for the man known as “Foppa” in his homeland, and while he could chip in here and there, it probably won’t be enough for an aging core of mid-30s stars like Niklas Lidstrom, Daniel Alfredsson and Mattias Ohlund.

There is, however, an emerging core of youth on the roster that will keep the Swedes competitive and give them an outside chance. Twins Daniel and Henrik Sedin are among the league leaders in scoring and ripping it up, while the likes of Henrik Zetterberg and Nicklas Backstrom will provide a versatile presence for the Three Crowns.

The X-factor will be Henrik Lundqvist, who led his team to gold in 2006 at Torino but has struggled in the NHL and World Championships lately. Sweden is also missing some key players like Tomas Holmstrom and has many players playing hurt.

Dark horses
Slovakia
Slovakia will definitely be hurt by the possible loss of an injured Marian Gaborik, but they still roll out players like Marian Hossa up front, Zdeno Chara on defense and Jaroslav Halak between the pipes. This is an emerging powerhouse that could very well play for bronze in Vancouver.

USA
The other possible team to play Sweden for bronze will be Team USA. The Americans’ strength is obviously in net with Ryan Miller, Tim Thomas and Jonathan Quick, but they’ve got some great skill up front with Zach Parise and Phil Kessel. USA could be a major surprise in this tournament but they will play for bronze at best.

Team USA will get the hockey action started on Tuesday at 3 p.m. ET. For a full schedule, click here.

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