The men’s ice hockey tournament in the Sochi Olympics starts today! As fans of ice hockey, we wanted to make our own analysis and predictions of the tournament. We have also gathered a “media dream team” (check out our other blog post) consisting of interesting players and personalities. We will follow the players in online news and social media channels, blogs included.
We believe there’s six countries that have a good chance to win the gold. There are two others that we believe could reach the medals, so don’t count them out of the competition! Here we’ve analyzed those eight countries in total. We go through the countries’ story going into Sochi, we analyze their style of play with emphasis on their attacking and lastly we tell you what are their biggest obstacles for success.
Here’s our ranking and analysis:
- Czech Republic
THE PLOT: The motherland of ice hockey! Once again, Canada has the most impressive roster of all the teams in the tournament. Canada was the champion in it’s own tournament in Vancouver and is now the only country that has one eight gold medals! (Soviet Union gathered seven)
STYLE OF PLAY: Canada’s style of comes naturally for all their players, it is deep in thei roots. Canada plays hard and attemps to move the puck up the ice as fast as possible. Canada rarely passes the puck own. Canada also knows how to play physically.
THE CHALLENGE: Canada’s biggest challenge is once again playing on a larger ice surface. It’s easy to accidentally waste energy in a rink that is about 15 per cent bigger in ice surface than what the players are used to in North America. However, Canada does know this is the biggest challenge. Their coach Mike Babcock commands a team that plays perhaps the most European style of hockey in the NHL (the Detroit Red Wings).
THE PLOT: Sweden has a strong culture of success in ice hockey. Sweden’s roster is going through a generation change. It isn’t a big concern for them as there are several emerging stars in the younger crop of Swedes as well. Sweden won gold last time the tournament was held outside North America, 2006 in Torino.
THE STYLE OF PLAY: In the recent years, Sweden has introduced a new style of play that consistently attacks fast up ice. They also do aggressive forechecking*. Their purpose is to attack and push when the opponent is weak and poorly organized.
THE CHALLENGE: According to some coaches, Sweden’s consistent “pushing” leads to them being even more unorganized and outmatched than the opponent. However, having a strong team, a strong culture of winning and playing in a large rink might make Sweden even favorites over Canada. However, being a Finn, I can’t rank them number one.
THE PLOT: The Olympics at home and a skilled team with numerous star players: everything is set up for a glorious success story for Russia! Russia’s history in the Winter Olympics began in Lillehammer in 1994. It has a silver from 1998 and a bronze from 2002. Russia has won some World Championships, is now their time on the Olympic level?
THE STYLE OF PLAY: Russia’s style of play could be described as varied. Sometimes Russia is encourage to more of a “defend and counter-attack” style, sometimes attempt to play a more attacking style, controlling the puck. The current coach Zinetula Bilyaletdinov relies on disciplined defending. The Russian team probably has the most individual skill in the whole tournament. If they can utilize their skill and their high level of passing, no team can stop them.
THE CHALLENGE: Home advantage and star players are the key issues as well. The pressure is huge. Russia has had tournaments where the team hasn’t played as a team but as a group of individuals. Will there be a Team Russia now? Here, their captain Pavel Datsyuk plays a big role as well. This is why we chose him to our team comprising of the most interesting players.
THE PLOT: Perhaps surprisingly, Finland is the only team to win a medal in both of the previous Olympic hockey tournaments. It also has won the most medals since 1998 when the NHL players returned to the Olympics. Finland has never won gold in the Olympics, though it came close in 2006 in Torino.
THE STYLE OF PLAY: Finland usually plays a tightly-knit team game in international tournaments. Expect Finland to adapt to the opposition and the situation in the game. At one point Finland might attempt quick attacking and at another point slow the game down, attacking simultaneously with the whole 5-man unit.
THE CHALLENGE: Cohesion. Finland lost some of their key players, like Mikko Koivu and Valtteri Filppula, just before the Olympics. This changed the team’s plans a lot. Finland also has players from three generations. Many of them haven’t played on the same team before. Goal-scoring is always more or less of a problem, whereas goaltending is not. Teemu Selänne and Tuukka Rask are in an interesting position and a major role.
THE PLOT: USA is always a dangerous opponent in ice hockey. It is always one of the top candidates to win medals. It hasn’t won an Olympic gold since the Miracle on ice in 1980. In the recent years, it won silver in both of the tournaments in North America: Salt Lake City and Vancouver.
THE STYLE OF PLAY: The US plays a very similar game to Canada. In it’s game, the foot speed plays a big role.
THE CHALLENGE: USA is always a strong candidate for success and a it has a high quality roster. The only thing that the US is lacking is a strong culture of winning in hockey. It’s also had troubles outside the North America. It won silver in both of the recent tournaments in North America (Salt Lake City 2002, Vancouver 2010). However, in Nagano (1998) and in Torino (2006) it ranked 6th and 8th, respectively.
6. THE CZECH REPUBLIC
THE PLOT: “The golden generation” that won the gold in Nagano has retired or are playing their final years of professional hockey. There are several younger players on their roster, but not as many as the Czechs would hope. This doesn’t mean that they wouldn’t still be a dangerous opponent.
THE STYLE OF PLAY: The Czechs are masters at passing the puck fast. There is skill on the team, but they are often engaged to defending fiercely as well. The Czechs can take any opponent by surprise with a quick but controlled counter-attack.
THE CHALLENGE: All the elements are there, but will there be enough quality and drive?
THE PLOT: Slovakia reached the semifinals in the previous Olympics four years ago in Vancouver. The expectations were lower then and they are lower now. Vancouver reminded everyone of the fact that Slovakia is always an opponent that cannot be underestimated!
THE STYLE OF PLAY: Their style of play is quite similar to their neighbours, the Czechs. The Slovaks are usually very committed to their team. They are especially dangerous in the attacking zone.
THE CHALLENGE: Is there enough depth, especially among forwards? Goaltending is not the issue, nor defending. The leading character in the defense is Zdeno Chara, who we have in our own “Team Adaptive” as well, comprising of interesting players in the tournament.
THE PLOT: Switzerland has been a major player in youth’s tournaments for years. Until last year, this didn’t capitalize on adults’ level. Last spring Switzerland was the Cinderella story of World Championships Tournament, winning silver first time since 1935 (and a medal first time since 1953). In the Olympics, Switzerland has two bronzes in ice hockey from 1928 and 1948.
THE STYLE OF PLAY: Switzerland is probably the most interesting team regarding their system: it is so different from everyone else. The Swiss have clearly invested in skating in their hockey education. Their style of play maximizes this. The Swiss are skating circles around the opponents, wreaking havoc by forming a sort of a “controlled chaos”. The Swiss play a good passing came and employ a merciless forecheck*.
THE CHALLENGE: There aren’t many clear goal-scorers in Switzerland’s team. The style of play is very risky that produces a lot of goals to both ends. However, they have nothing to lose. They might easily surpise “bigger” countries.
*Forechecking: when a team doesn’t have the puck and it attempts to acquire it back. Forecheck can be both aggressive or passive. In aggressive forecheck the team gives the opponent pressure, tries to block the puck-carriers passing lanes and acquire the puck early. In passive forecheck, the team usually sets up a tight formation in the middle ice and tries to guide the puck-carrier to a tight spot where he is out-matched.