The men's Olympic hockey tournament gets started today at 12 p.m. EST from Sochi, Russia, with preliminary round action from Group C. Defending World Champions Sweden will take on the Czech Republic at the Bolshoy Ice Dome, while Latvia will square off with Switzerland at Shayba Arena. USA Network will have television coverage of the game between the Czechs and Swedes. We can also watch games online at nbcolympics.com.
Czech Republic vs. Sweden
The Czechs will have their hands full with a Swedish side that is one of the most complete teams in the tournament. The Swedes have a roster stocked with NHL talent with one just exception, defenseman Jimmie Ericcson. Henrik Zetterberg, Niklas Backstrom, Gabriel Landeskog, Alexander Steen and Daniel Sedin lead the balanced Tre Kronor offense, while "King" Henrik Lundqvist will start in goal. Watch out for injury replacement Gustav Nyquist, who comes into the Games on an offensive roll.
Jaromir Jagr, Tomas Plekanec, and KHLer Roman Cervenka will start out as the top line for the Czechs, while David Krejci and Patrik Elias will provide secondary scoring. The veteran-laden club features quite a few players from the domestic Extraliga, so they aren't quite as deep as the favored teams in the tournament. Jets goaltender Ondrej Pavelec will be a healthy scratch, but is slated to start the Czech's second game against Latvia, meaning KHLer Jakub Kovar or one-time Panther Alexander Salak will get the call versus the Swedes.
Lativa vs. Switzerland
Switzerland surprisingly took the silver at the last World Championship, but with everyone sending their best for the Olympics, don't look for a repeat. The Swiss team should get off to good start today against minnow Latvia. Switzerland's best weapon is goaltender Jonas Hiller of the Anaheim Ducks, while the offense boosts NHLers Damien Brunner, and Nino Niederreiter. Mark Streit and Roman Josi will lead a very solid Swiss blue line.
Latvia earned a feel-good Olympic berth by getting past France, Great Britain and Kazakhstan in a qualification tournament, but they are expected to be bounced out in the first playoff round. The Latvians only have only NHL player, Buffalo rookie Zemgus Girgensons, on their roster. Former Panther Janis Sprukts (remember him?), who played 14 career games with the Cats, is among the forward brigade. Goaltender Edgars Masalskis, who plays for HK Poprad in the Slovak league, will be facing a lot of rubber and will need to be razor sharp just to keep the Latvians from getting blown out.
Also worth noting, the AHL All-Star Game will take place tonight. The best of the AHL will take on Farjestad BK of the Swedish Hockey League in St. John's, Newfoundland. No players from the San Antonio Rampage were selected to the AHL roster. The All-Stars took last night's skills competition 18-17.