The 2014 Sochi Olympic Games are a little under a year away and on Sunday the men's hockey qualification finally came to an end.
Already qualified were USA, Canada, Russia, Sweden, Finland, Slovakia, Czech Republic, Switzerland, and Norway. September and November featured two separate pre-qualifying tournaments that led to the final set of games this past week that determined the last three spots in the Sochi tournament.
In the end it would be good news for the likes of Thomas Vanek, Michael Grabner and Anze Kopitar, among others, as Austria, Latvia and Slovenia would qualify.
The Austrians only needed a single point from their game against Germany and got it in a 3-2 overtime loss. Germany will miss out on the Olympic hockey tournament for the first time since 1952. Austria returns for the first time since Salt Lake in 2002.
Latvia (Hail Arturs Irbe!) also lost 3-2 in overtime, but the point was enough for them to qualify for their fourth straight Games. The team is coached by former Jack Adams Award winner Ted Nolan and features former NHLer Sandis Ozolinsh on defense. Here's what the celebrations were like in Riga:
Slovenia won their opening two games against Belarus and Denmark and that was enough for them to qualify for the first time. Anze Kopitar's brother played in the qualifying tournament and the team is coached by their father. Upon learning of the good news, Kopitar was ecstatic, even though he didn't watch, according to LA Kings Insider Jon Rosen:
“There was a live stream. I just didn’t want to watch it, because usually if I watch it, I’m too nervous, or something not good is happening. I just stayed away from it and then told my mom – she was watching it – and I told her, ‘when it’s all said and done, just shoot me a text, either ‘yes’ or a ‘no’.’ That was pretty much it.”
Now that all 12 teams are officially in place for the Sochi tournament, the groups are now set. From the IIHF:
Group A: Russia, Slovakia, USA, Slovenia
Group B: Finland, Canada, Norway, Austria
Group C: Czech Republic, Sweden, Switzerland, Latvia
The full set of games is scheduled, for now, to be released sometime in May.
The NHL, NHLPA, IIHF and IOC have yet to hammer out a deal for the league to send its players to Sochi, but things are leaning that way. The sides will meet later this week in hopes of getting closer to a resolution.
Follow Sean Leahy on Twitter at @Sean_Leahy