So what can they expect from this month's Olympic competition? Here are a few of the stories to watch.
1. Can Patrice Bergeron win gold?
Bergeron is part of a loaded Canadian team that looks to be the favorite to win Olympic gold this time around. Led, of course, by Sidney Crosby, the host nation will be a tough out in this year's tournament. But you have to be concerned with the youth and inexperience of this team, as Crosby, Bergeron, and Eric Staal are just a few of the youngsters headed to their first Olympics. But with tons of talent and tons of depth, you have to like the young center's chances of bringing a gold medal back to Boston.
2. Can Zdeno Chara take Slovakia to the next level?
The Slovak national team has never advanced beyond the quarterfinals in Olympic hockey. The squad finished sixth in Lillehammer, 10th in Nagano and 13th in Salt Lake City. Finally, in Turin in 2006, the team earned a best-ever fifth-place finish. But with Chara back on board for the second Olympics of his career and ready to be a big impact player for the Slovak defense, there's a chance that he can take them to new heights in this winter's Games. If Chara can be aggressive and physical in Vancouver in the coming weeks, don't count Slovakia out.
3. Can Tim Thomas shake off the rust?
Thomas, a one-time hero in Boston, now finds himself in an awkward situation — he's representing his country in international competition, but he's a backup on his own team. On the Bruins, Thomas has watched Tuukka Rask make six consecutive starts. What if he's called upon by Team USA to protect the goal in a big game? Ryan Miller is a lock to be the Americans' No. 1 netminder, but there's a chance Thomas could see action as his primary backup. On the plus side, he'll be well-rested. Then again, too much rest might not be a good thing.
4. Can Miroslav Satan get another shot?
Satan, who turned 35 last fall, hasn't competed in the Olympic Games since Lillehamer in '94. Back then, he was just a kid at 19; now, he's a wily old veteran. He'd no doubt love to get another shot at Olympic competition, but an unfortunate wrinkle turned up this weekend when he was sent back to Boston to have stitches to repair a cut in his right hand. Chara, his Slovak teammate, is hopeful that his veteran teammate will get a chance to play, but we won't really know for sure until Thursday, when the team takes the ice against the Czech Republic.
5. Can David Krejci be a part of a Czech return to glory?
Speaking of those Czechs, Krejci is the lone Bruin representing a national team that is 12 years removed from its lone gold medal victory, when they blanked Russia 1-0 in the title game in Nagano. Krejci is headed to his first Olympics at 23, and he's got a chance to be a major player for a Czech team that could make some noise if they get past Slovakia in the early rounds. It could be fun to see Krejci's Czechs stare down Chara's Slovaks on the game's biggest stage. Expectations will no doubt be high for the Czech Republic, which won bronze in Turin and has never finished lower than fifth.
6. Can Marco Sturm help Germany improve?
Of all the Bruins headed to Vancouver, Sturm is probably the one with the least at stake. He knows what he's getting into, as a veteran of two Olympics already, and he knows not to expect much with a German national team that hasn't won a medal since 1932. The Germans finished eighth and ninth in the two Olympics Sturm played in — a medal is probably out of the question this time out, but can he at least help the team take a step forward? At age 31, he might be looking at his last chance. It would be a nice story if he helped the Germans to a decent finish.
For the casual Bruins fan, it's tough to endure the two-week break brought on by the Olympics, as the team is red-hot and eager to get back out there with momentum on its side. But for the avid follower of these B's, the next two weeks will be a sight to behold. The Bruins wear yellow every time they take the ice, but it would be a pleasure to see one return home to Boston wearing gold.
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