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2014 Winter Olympics Men’s Ice Hockey Preview and Prediction

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2014 Winter Olympics Men’s Ice Hockey Preview and Prediction
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Alexander Ovechkin will have a lot of pressure on him to perform in his home country at the Olympics …

COMMENTARY | The 2014 men's ice hockey tournament starts on Wednesday, February 12 at the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.

NHL players are just now making the trip to Sochi as the NHL season is put on hold for the next two-and-a-half weeks.

Canada claimed gold on its home turf four years ago in Vancouver. Can the Canadians repeat, or will another country reign supreme?


Group A

Russia (Earns bye)
Slovakia
United States (Group A winner)
Slovenia

Playing in your home country brings a lot of pressure and expectations, just ask the Canadians. Russia has the weight of the world on its shoulders as it looks to improve on its sixth-place finish in Vancouver.

The Russians are stacked up front with the likes of Alexander Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin, Ilya Kovalchuk and Pavel Datsyuk, but lack depth on the blue line.

Semyon Varlamov started out hot for the Colorado Avalanche helping them win 14 of their first 16 games, but has since regressed and currently sports a 2.48 GAA and .924 save percentage. I expect Varlamov to get the start over Sergei Bobrovsky, who has been very inconsistent this year.

The United States were one goal away from capturing gold in Canada, and I expect they will make another run at this year's Olympics. Despite not inviting Bobby Ryan or Kyle Okposo to the team, the Americans have a lot of offensive firepower and grit up front.

The goalie trio of Ryan Miller, Jonathan Quick and Jimmy Howard is the second-best goalie lineup at the Games and, if Miller can recreate his 2010 tournament magic, it will be hard to score goals against the Americans.

Slovakia has an opportunity to do some damage, but is not a favorite to win the group. Marian Gaborik will not suit up for Slovakia, but Tomas Tatar's performance with the Detroit Red Wings is something to keep an eye on as he heads to Sochi.

Slovenia has just one NHLer in Anze Kopitar, which doesn't bode well for them. They'll be at the bottom of the Group A standings.

Group B

Finland
Canada (Group winner)
Norway
Austria

It goes without saying that Canada is going to dominate group play. Despite not having Steven Stamkos, the Canadians still have a ton of firepower with Sidney Crosby, Martin St. Louis, Jonathan Toews, Corey Perry and more.

Canada's weak point is going to be at the goalie position. If Roberto Luongo ends up starting, will we see regular season Luongo that dominates the competition, or will we see playoff Luongo, who lets in soft goals and can't seem to find his groove?

Finland has the best goalie trio in Kari Lehtonen, Antti Niemi and Tuuka Rask, but lacks any real firepower up front. Teemu Selanne will play in his sixth and final Olympics as he is set to retire after this season.

Mats Zuccarello has been great for the New York Rangers with 43 points in 58 games, but will be the only NHLer for Norway.

Austria sports a couple of high-profile NHLers in Michael Grabner and Thomas Vanek, but won't be able to keep up with Canada and Finland.

Group C

Czech Republic
Sweden (Group winner)
Switzerland
Latvia

Sweden looks to be the favorite heading into preliminary play with all but one player coming from the NHL. That one player is Red Wings defenseman Jonathan Ericsson's brother Jimmie Ericsson.

However, the Swedes are missing Johan Franzen and Henrik Sedin. Gustav Nyquist, who has 24 points in 33 games for the Red Wings, replaced Franzen on Team Sweden.

Henrik Lundqvist will start in net for the Swedes, which are the most complete team in the Olympics.

The Czech Republic have some offensive firepower in Jaromir Jagr, David Krejci and Milan Michalek, but the goalie position will be in issue. Ondrej Pavelec is 18-22-4 with a 2.97 GAA and .901 save percentage for the Winnipeg Jets this season.

The Czech Republic made a questionable call inviting Martin Erat, who scored his first goal in almost a year Saturday, February 8 for the Washington Capitals, over Jiri Hudler, who has 43 points in 58 games for the Calgary Flames.

Switzerland will take third in the group behind the play of goalie Jonas Hiller. Other than Hiller, the Swiss have nothing to get excited about. Latvia will occupy the final spot in Group C.

Medal Round

The three group winners and the team with the best record of the non-group winners get a bye in the medal rounds. So the No. 5 seed will play the No. 12 seed, No. 6 seed will play the No. 11 seed, etc.

The winners of those games will face the teams who earned byes in the quarterfinals. This is where it becomes a single-elimination tournament where one bad bounce can send you home early.

Medal Predictions

Gold: Sweden

Silver: United States

Bronze: Russia

Despite the wealth of talent on its team, Canada will not medal at the 2014 Winter Olympics. But how is that possible? They have the greatest players in the NHL and hockey is the country's sport.

Yes, but Canada hasn't fared well overseas in recent Olympics. It finished fourth in Nagano in 1998 and seventh in Turin in 2006. And even though the Canadians have some of the best players in the world, they are also missing some of the best players in Stamkos, Claude Giroux, Logan Coutoure and Joe Thornton.

Plus, the goalie situation for Canada is worrisome. Both Mike Smith and Carey Price have had roller-coaster seasons, and if Luongo starts to slide, I'm not sure either goalie can pick up the slack.

Sweden is the most complete team in the Games, and that will carry them to a gold medal in Sochi.

Russia has home-ice advantage, but lack of depth on the blue line and in net will only get the Russians to a bronze medal.

The United States have a lot of firepower and great goaltending, but they'll fall short for a second consecutive Olympics.

Tom Mitsos is a Michigan native who writes about the Detroit Red Wings for the Yahoo Contributor Network. He also co-hosts a Red Wings Podcast called The Octopod, and is a high school sports reporter at MLive Media Group. You can follow Tom on Twitter

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