Sunday, February 9, 2014

Olympic Hockey Preview: Group B

Photo: Petr David Josek/AP
Today we dive into Group B:

Austria: At long last Austria is in the Olympics. That's great news for soon to be ex-Islander Thomas Vanek. Vanek and Co. will appreciate that fact for all of 10 seconds before realizing the fact they have powerhouses Finland and Canada in the preliminary round. Alongside Vanek, Michael Grabner (NYI) and Michael Raffl (PHI) are the only other NHL players on the roster. In order for Austria to put up any fight, they are going to need Vanek to average around...oh...lets say five goals a game. Yeah, that's probably not going to happen.

Canada: If you like to use the phrase "Dream Team", then please go ahead and use it here. One look up and down Canada's roster and you wonder how this team might not win every game 6-0. Problem is, other teams in this tournament are pretty stacked too. So winning will not come easy for the Great White North. If Canada has one Achilles heel, its their goaltending. Roberto Luongo, Carey Price, and Mike Smith will represent Canada in goal, and all have their question marks. However, if they can get one of them on a hot streak, its hard to pick against this team to win the gold medal.

Finland: Friday, Finland took a huge blow when it was announced that Valtteri Filppula and Mikko Koivu would miss the Olympics due to injury. The injuries now leave the team lacking a bit up front and more will be expected of veterans Teemu Selanne and Olli Jokinen. The Finns are very strong in net as they carry three efficient goaltenders (Tuuka Rask, Antti Niemi, and Kari Lehtonen) into the games. Finland will need their goaltending to be outstanding and some younger players (Mikael Granlund, Aleksander Barkov) to step up and fill the void left by Filppula and Koivu.

Norway: With all respect to Norway, but when you think of them, you are reminded that they were the turning point for the 1980 Miracle on Ice hockey team. They haven't really boasted any big moments in Olympic hockey and 2014 sure doesn't seem to be a big moment for them either. In a group with Canada, Finland, and Austria, the Norwegians bring a group to Sochi that includes only one NHL player (Mats Zuccarello-NYR). The probable result for Norway is a quick exit, but hey, you never know what could happen.

Team of 18,001 predicted order of finish: Canada, Finland, Austria, Norway

Follow Giles on Twitter @gilesferrell

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