2002 finish in Salt Lake City, Utah: 4th Place 2006 finish in Torino, Italy: Did not qualify 2009 finish in World Championships: 8th Place
Preliminary Round Schedule (Group C): February 17 – vs. Finland February 19 – vs. Sweden February 20 – vs. Germany
Head Coach: Mikhail Zakharov NHL Roster Players: Sergei Kostitsyn (MTL)
X-Factor: G Andrei Mezin Mezin back-stopped Belarus’ upset of Sweden in 2002, and has to be spectacular for them to pull off a similar feat.
Team Outlook: This developing hockey nation was the darling of the ’02 Games in Salt Lake, just missing out on a medal. But without two of their three NHLers (Andrei Kostitsyn and Mikhail Grabovski) this time around, it will be tough for Belarus to compete at the level they’d like. One thing going for them is that seven of their 20 players are on Dynamo Minsk of the KHL, meaning there could be instant chemistry. In the end, though, I don’t see Belarus being much of a factor in Vancouver.
--- Team Germany
2002 finish in Salt Lake City, Utah: 8th Place 2006 finish in Torino, Italy: 10th Place 2009 finish in World Championships: 15th Place
Preliminary Round Schedule (Group C): February 17 – vs. Sweden February 19 – vs. Finland February 20 – vs. Belarus
Head Coach: Uwe Krupp NHL Roster Players: Christian Ehrhoff (VAN), Marcel Goc (NSH), Thomas Greiss (SJ), Jochen Hecht (BUF), Dennis Seidenberg (FLA), Marco Sturm (BOS), Alexander Sulzer (NSH)
X-Factor: D Christian Ehrhoff Ehrhoff will have to have a great tournament for the Germans to pull off an upset. He should rack up a lot of points on the blue-line.
Team Outlook: Are the Germans a sleeper team in this tournament?? They just might be. They have 7 solid current NHLers, and San Jose’s improving backup in Greiss. Goals may be hard to come by for them, but a defense-first mindset could help them upset one of the ‘Top 7’. Their group includes Sweden and Finland, the two finalists from 2006. Uwe Krupp’s bunch is fully capable of knocking off the Finns in pool play, as they could be looking ahead to their duel with Sweden two days later. Nonetheless, I expect the Germans to be very competitive in Vancouver, and won’t go away quietly.
--- Team Latvia
2002 finish in Salt Lake City, Utah: 9th Place 2006 finish in Torino, Italy: 12th Place 2009 finish in World Championships: 7th Place
Preliminary Round Schedule (Group B): February 16 – vs. Russia February 19 – vs. Czech Republic February 20 – vs. Slovakia
Head Coach: Olegs Znaroks NHL Roster Players: Oskars Bartulis (PHI), Karlis Skrastins (DAL)
X-Factor: F Kaspars Daugavins The Binghamton Senator is having a solid season, but will have to find the score-sheet a lot for the Latvians to be remotely competitive.
Team Outlook: The Latvians have some of the more rabid hockey fans, but they may not be cheering much once the games start next week. Latvia was unfortunately put in the ‘group of death’, which could result in them not getting a ‘W’ in these Winter Games. They only have two current NHLers, and the rest of the roster is relatively inexperienced at the international level. Any win would be a shocker, really, as their prelims include three legit medal contenders.
--- Team Norway
2002 finish in Salt Lake City, Utah: Did not qualify 2006 finish in Torino, Italy: Did not qualify 2009 finish in World Championships: 11th Place
Preliminary Round Schedule (Group A): February 16 – vs. Canada February 18 – vs. United States February 19 – vs. Switzerland
Head Coach: George Kingston NHL Roster Players: Ole-Kristian Tollefsen (UFA/NHL)
X-Factor: G Pat Grotnes In three Olympic qualifying contests, Grotnes compiled an impressive 3-0 record.
Team Outlook: Norway is one of the more interesting teams in this tournament. It’s their first Olympic appearance since 1994, and they only boast one NHLer – who was just traded and waived on the same day! 21 of their players were together in last spring’s World Championships. The Norwegians don’t stand much of a chance, but I’ll still be very interested to see what they can do on this stage.
--- Team Switzerland
2002 finish in Salt Lake City, Utah: 11th Place 2006 finish in Torino, Italy: 6th Place 2009 finish in World Championships: 9th Place
Preliminary Round Schedule (Group A): February 16 – vs. United States February 18 – vs. Canada February 20 – vs. Norway
Head Coach: Ralph Krueger NHL Roster Players: Jonas Hiller (ANA), Mark Streit (NYI)
X-Factor: Hnat Domenichelli He is having a solid season in the Swiss League, and is going to be counted to step up amongst their group of forwards.
Team Outlook: In 2006, Switzerland pulled off one of the biggest shockers in Olympic history, shutting out Canada 2-0 to deny their Gold Medal dreams. They won’t be overlooked this time around, but should be a better team with Hiller in net. If Anaheim’s net-minder is at the top of his game in Vancouver, they could beat some good teams. They are talented on both sides of the puck, but aren’t strong enough to contend for a medal. Still... the Swiss won't be able to sneak up on anyone this year, and can beat you if you aren’t ready for a challenge.
--- This year’s bottom-feeder sleeper: Germany In the last two Olympic seasons, David has beaten a Goliath. In 2002, Belarus topped Sweden… and Switzerland stunned Canada in 2006. Will it happen this time in Vancouver?? I believe it could, and the Germans are not a team to be overlooked. They have some experienced NHLers along for the ride, along with an unknown goalie talent in Thomas Greiss. If I had to pick one of these five countries to ‘shock the world’ this year, it’s Germany.
*Final predictions will be revealed on February 16th.
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