The 2014 Men's Olympic Hockey tournament kicks off Wednesday at 12 p.m. (our time) in Sochi, Russia. With the NHL in shutdown mode until February 25th's game between Carolina and Buffalo, let's take a look at the nuts and bolts of the twelve-day chase for gold and the planetary bragging rights that come with it. The Florida Panthers have two players to keep an eye on, rookie center Aleksander Barkov (Finland) and veteran forward Tomas Kopecky (Slovakia). Sean Bergenheim received a late invite to be an injury replacement for the depleted Finns, but decided to bypass the Games (in what had to be a gut-wrenching decision) to rest up and concentrate on remaining healthy for not only the remainder of this season, but for the rest of his career.
Where's it held?
Sochi, Russia. A heavily-guarded resort city on the Black Sea with iffy plumbing.
Games will be played at either the new 12,000-seat Bolshoy Ice Dome or the smaller 7,000-seat Shayba Arena.
The twelve countries playing will be split into three groups of four for the preliminary round, where they will face each of the other teams in the group once. The top nine teams in the IIHF World Rankings qualified automatically, while the three others (Austria, Latvia, and Slovenia) gained entry by each winning a four-team qualification tournament.
Group A consists of: Russia, Slovakia, Slovenia, and the United States.
Group B consists of: Austria, Canada, Finland, and Norway.
Group C: Czech Republic, Latvia, Sweden, Switzerland
The preliminary round begins on February 12th and ends on February 16th.
What happens next?
Unlike past tournaments, no one is going home after the preliminary round. This will give the minnows a chance at making an improbable run to Olympic glory.
After the preliminary round, the three group winners and top second place team will be seeded 1-4 and receive a bye to the quarterfinals.
The eight other teams will be seeded 5-12 and will face off in a one-game playoff round with the winners advancing to the quarterfinals. The four playoff games will take place on February 18th.
The four playoff survivors will be paired up, depending on seed, with the top four teams from the group stage in the quarterfinals, which will take place on February 19th.
The four teams that advance from the quarterfinals will meet in the semifinals on February 21st.
The losers of their respective semifinal games will hook up for the Bronze Medal on February 22nd, while the winners will meet for the Gold Medal on February 23rd.
Where can I watch and at what time?
The NBC family of networks has you covered, with the vast majority of games being broadcast by NBCSN, with USA Network and MSNBC helping out on some of the preliminary round action. MSNBC will also handle one of the playoff round games on the 18th. Our local start times for games are 3 a.m., 7:30 a.m. or noon, depending on the day, through the quarterfinals. The semifinal games will be at 7 a.m. and noon on Friday, February 21st. The Bronze Medal game will be on Saturday, February 22nd at 10 a.m., while the Gold Medal game will be the one and only tilt on NBC proper at 7 a.m., February 23rd. The first two games of the tournament are on February 12th, at noon. The Czech Republic will face Sweden, and Latvia will take on Switzerland, with one game on NBCSN and the other on USA Network.
The U.S. team will play all of its preliminary round games at 7:30 a.m. EST as follows:
2/13 Slovakia (NBCSN) - 2/15 Russia (NBCSN) - 2/16 Slovenia (NBCSN)
Team Canada will play all of their preliminary round games at 12 p.m. EST time as follows:
2/13 Norway (USA) - 2/14 Austria (NBCSN or USA) - 2/16 Finland (USA)
Preliminary round games and times for Barkov and Finland as follows:
2/13 Austria, 3 (NBCSN) - 2/14 Norway, 12 (USA or NBCSN) - 2/16 Canada, 12 (USA)
Preliminary round games and times for Kopecky and Slovakia as follows:
2/13 U.S., 7:30 (NBCSN) - 2/15 Slovenia, 3 (NBCSN) - 2/16 Russia, 7:30 (USA)
Who's going to win?
In three words, I don't know, but it should be a great tournament. The U.S. and Canada are sending extremely strong teams, and it would be an absolute blast to see them hook up in the Gold Medal game again like they did in Vancouver. However, I don't see that happening. I think with the games taking place on the larger international-sized ice surface, only one of them will make it to the end, and I give the Canadians the edge. My guess is they will face either the host Russians, who will be dying to strike gold on home ice, or the always right there Swedes. I'm predicting that Canada will deliver a golden repeat with a tough win over Sweden. It would also be great to see Barkov or Kopecky (or both), return to Sunrise with a medal, so let's root them on too, regardless of what country we are all individually pulling for.