Canada: There will be no surprises here — Canada is the favorite to win gold in Sochi. Team Canada is returning 11 players who captured the gold medal in the 2010 Winter Olympics. Team Canada has perhaps the most talented group of centers ever assembled, and expect it to pay dividends.
With Crosby, Toews, Getzlaf and Bergeron controlling the play, Canada has a perfect combination of offensive ability, defensive responsibility and size, which will make it hard for other teams to match up against.
The big change in Canada’s roster from 2010 is the goaltending. In Vancouver, Canada was able to win despite its shaky goaltending. This year, Montreal Canadians goaltender Carey Price has the ability to anchor this team and lead them to gold.
Sweden: This team has a stacked roster in every facet of the game. Henrik Lundqvist is one of the best goalies in the world and is good enough to carry this team to the gold medal. And although all-star Henrik Sedin will miss the games due to an injury, Sweden still has enough offensive talent to dominate opponents. Sweden has perhaps the most balanced defense of the tournament led by former Norris Trophy winner Erik Karlsson and heavy-hitter Nicklas Kronwall. Sweden has a complete roster set to make a deep run in the Olympics.
Russia: There is no room for error for this year’s Russian team. The home crowd will accept nothing less than gold from their team. Russia also has a star-studded group of forwards, led by Alex Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin and Pavel Datsyuk.
In 2010, Russia failed to medal, mainly because of their aging goaltending. The Russian goalies then had a combined .898 save percentage. This year, though, reigning Vezina Trophy winner Sergei Bobrovsky will compete with Semyon Varlamov, who has been one of the biggest surprises of this NHL season.
While the Russians may have the best goaltending in the tournament, their defense is not nearly good enough to shut down teams like the United States. Expect Russia to compete for bronze.
United States: Team USA has an interesting roster. General manager David Poile has put together a group of mainly defensive-minded forwards, along with some scorers. On the back end, youth and strong skating dominate this defense corps. Speedy defensemen will be needed to skate on the Olympic ice, which is 15 feet wider than NHL ice. But the eight U.S. defenseman average just five years of NHL experience and only three have competed in the Olympics before.
The collection of offensive-defensemen along with the number of defensive-forwards is a big risk by Poile. This roster appears good enough to compete for gold, but if things go wrong, could also miss the medal round entirely.
The one thing the Americans can be confident in is their goaltending. Jonathan Quick has been one of the most consistent goalies of the past three seasons and has been nearly unbeatable in the playoffs and big games. Team USA is also returning goalie Ryan Miller, who gave up only 1.35 goals per game in 2010 against the world’s best. Poile has built a roster to directly compete with Canada’s offense in a hopeful gold medal game rematch.
Prediction: The tournament is not all about these three powerhouses — expect a couple of dark horse teams, such as Finland and the Czech Republic, to make runs.
Ultimately, defending champion Canada will prove to be the best team in the world once again, this time with a gold medal win over Sweden, while the U.S. will place by beating Russia for bronze.