Now that the group stage is over, we have gotten a feel of what the countries’ teams look like with limited time to skate together. It seems sort of foolish to throw out a prediction with no film or physical proof these players can play with each other (I had Sweden before the start of the tournament for what it’s worth).
There have been no big upsets to date, but seeing the struggles of Slovakia has put an interesting twist for the preliminary round which starts tomorrow.
Here is a quick look at the play-off games…
Slovenia vs. Austria- Slovenia upset Slovakia in the group stages, and they played Russia hard as well. With only one NHL player on the roster (Anze Kopitar of the Los Angeles Kings), I would be surprised if you cared much about this team. On the simple fact of seeing what they have in the last three games, along with Austria, who also is limited in NHL talent, not having a convincing game to show in the tournament, I like Slovenia to advance.
Russia vs Norway- Don’t look into this one too far. Russia is one of the four best teams at the tournament and just played in the toughest group of the three. Norway does not stand a chance. I like Russia big here.
Switzerland vs Latvia- They met in the group stages and Switzerland beat Latvia 1-0. Another two teams without much NHL talent, but where I like the Swiss is in net. Jonas Hiller is the kind of goalie that makes power-house teams get a little nervous. If he gets hot, watch out for a big upset in the quarterfinals. Give me Switzerland in this game.
Czech Republic vs Slovakia- Three not so anticipated games and then one special rivalry between the Czechs and the Slovaks. These are two teams that aren’t fully equipped with NHL talent, but they certainly have a good amount of talent. Much criticism was given to the Czech Republic for their semblance of the team. Players like Jiri Hudler, Radim Vrbata, and Roman Polak all didn’t make the final roster, while other players from non-NHL teams received the invitation.
With no game to really hang their hats on, both teams are looking for something positive to take out of the 2014 Olympics. While I believe Slovakia has a few more talented players on their roster (Zdeno Chara, Marian Hossa), I feel that the Slovaks lack the foot speed to hang around with the likes of Ales Hemsky, Jakub Voracek, Milan Michalek, and other Czechs who can skate with the best of them. With the larger ice surface this can greatly benifit faster teams, and even though I expect it to be close, I’ll take the Czechs here.
This sets up for a quarterfinals schedule of…
United States vs Czech Republic
Sweden vs Slovenia
Canada vs Switzerland
Finland vs Russia
More on this tomorrow…