Under different circumstances, the storyline of the 2010 Olympic men's ice hockey tournament would be whether the Swedes could repeat as gold medal winners. But that doesn't fit in with the "Can Canada win on home ice/Will they beat the Russians?" narrative, so Team Sweden has been pushed to the background -- something they're rather OK with.
Last Seen in 2006: Watching 12 other nations play Olympic hockey because, alas, it did not qualify. Which is OK, because beating Sweden in 2002 pretty much made the Belarusian decade.
NHL Players: Four.
Most Fascinating Players: The great news for Belarus? That Andrei Kostitsyn of the Montreal Canadiens will be accompanying the team to Vancouver, despite rehab on a surgically repaired knee. If he can go, he'll add a significant offensive weapon up front. As it stands, his younger brother Sergei and Mikhail Grabovsky of the Toronto Maple Leafs are the other NHLers at forward. ... Ruslan Salei, who had three points in six games in 2002, will be an anchor on the Belarus blue line. ... Konstantin Koltsov was taken No. 18 overall in the 1999 draft by the Pittsburgh Penguins. That you've probably never heard of him tells you how that worked out. But Koltsov is one of those ex-NHLers thriving in the KHL, to the tune of 24 points in 46 games this season.
Goalies: Andrei Mezin has played in 39 games for Dymano Moscow in the KHL this season. Vitali Koval posted a .912 save percentage in the 2008 World Championships. Neither of them is the type of goalie who will steal a tournament game or two for Belarus.
Make or Break Factor: They're in a bit of a pickle. The goaltending isn't stellar. The scoring isn't there. So they can't win the 1-0 game and they can't win the 6-5 game. They need one of those two facets to improve mightily in the tournament.
Fashion Grade: A. Simply glorious. It's colorful, has great lines and sports a dazzling logo on the front. Winning a medal would just clash with it.
Medal Chances: Luckily, winning a medal isn't going to happen anyway. Tough group and the team just doesn't have enough to compete up front. They are good on the blue line, which means they can hang for a while with better teams, however.
Last Seen in 2006: Losing in the gold medal game to rival Sweden, 3-2, and earning the silver.
NHL Players: 18.
Most Fascinating Players: Teemu Selanne, one of the best offensive players in the nation's history, is pushing 40 but is stoked to play in his fourth Olympic tournament. He led all scorers in 2006 with 11 points. ... Second to Selanne that year was Saku Koivu, now with the Anaheim Ducks. He and brother Mikko are solid two-way players. ... Defenseman Kimmo Timonen plays a ton of minutes and is the backbone of a Finnish defense that plays with finesse rather than brute force.
Goalies: Perhaps the strongest area of the team. Miikka Kiprusoff (Calgary Flames) has a 2.20 goals-against average and a .924 save percentage this season, and should be the starter. Niklas Backstom of the Minnesota Wild has been battling injuries, but can easily play a No. 1 role when healthy. Then there's Antero Niittymaki; all he did in 2006 was post a 1.34 goals-against average and a .951 save percentage.
Make or Break Factor: Scoring. They're not deep in the sniper department nor the playmaker department, at least in comparison to other medal contenders. But they do have the potential to score with consistency, especially if Selanne finds another gear in his last Olympics.
Fashion Grade: B-plus. Can't go wrong with the blue, and the logo looks great. But we prefer the old school jerseys to the newer model.
Medal Chances: Definitely in the mix with that goaltending and a defense that can rag the puck. But it'll come down to their forwards creating goals with their transition game if they're going to challenge for a medal.
Last Seen in 2006: Finishing 0-3-2 in the preliminary rounds and failing to advance to the medal round.
NHL Players: Seven, now that Jochen Hecht of the Buffalo Sabres has joined them as an injury replacement.
Most Fascinating Players: Winger Michael Wolf could be a breakout player in the tournament. He has 12 points in 23 games internationally, and has been a leading offensive player in the Deutsche Eishockey League. ... Marco Sturm has 18 goals this season for the Boston Bruins. ... Former NHL defenseman Uwe Krupp is the coach, which is all sorts of awesome.
Goalies: The presence of Thomas Greiss in goal gives Germany a shot to surprise. The San Jose Sharks backup goalie has played well when facing high shot totals, and could be the type of keeper that can carry this team to an upset.
Make or Break Factor: This is a tournament on an NHL-sized rink, but the majority of Germany's players compete on larger, international ice surfaces. Krupp understands how to play on a smaller rink; can his players follow though on the system?
Fashion Grade: A. What a conundrum -- this jersey is clearly one of the most intimidating sweaters of the tournament, worn by one of the least intimidating teams in the tournament.
Medal Chances: Slim to none. Greiss makes this a competitive team, but the chances for a German upset are remote with that lineup.
Last Seen in 2006: Partying on the ice after winning the gold medal over Finland.
NHL Players: 19.
Most Fascinating Players: The team is stacked with them. How will Daniel and Henrik Sedin fare while playing for their home country on their home ice in Vancouver? How will the health of superstar center Peter Forsberg hold up, and can other key players remain healthy? Can a defense that still features standard-bearers like Nicklas Lidstrom and Mattias Ohlund improve with the addition of players like Henrik Tallinder, Douglas Murray and Johnny Oduya? One thing's for sure: Watching a potential Nicklas Backstrom/Henrik Zetterberg duo would be worth the price of admission.
Goalies: He's had a couple of hiccups, but Henrik Lundqvist has been in the same kind of pre-Olympic roll that he had before helping Sweden to gold in 2006. He's the king and he's the key. Jonas Gustavsson and Stefan Liv are the reserves.
Make or Break Factor: There is some turnover from the 2006 roster, and the question is whether this new mix of talent can produce the same kind of results.
Fashion Grade: A. Simply the most distinctive jersey in the tournament.
Medal Chances: Quite good, even if they've been left out of the Canada/Russia super powers conversation. The Swedes deserve to be in it, and could become the first country to repeat as gold medalists since the Soviet Union in the 1980s.