VANCOUVER – Months before the start of the 2010 Olympics, IIHF.com writer Lucas Aykroyd predicted Canada would win the gold medal game in men’s hockey by a 3-2 score.
Impressive foresight? In fairness, Aykroyd also predicted Mike Green would score the winning goal (the Washington Capitals defenceman didn’t even make the Canadian team), and had Sweden and Russia winning the silver and bronze medals. Oops.
It all goes to show how tough it is to anticipate what’ll happen when the top-12 hockey nations clash in the world’s greatest international tournament.
That said, Aykroyd, who has covered every Winter Olympics and IIHF World Championship since 2000, is offering another long-range forecast for the 2014 Winter Games. History, current trends, available talent, and a little bit of intuition are all factored in. Just like last time, these predictions are solely the writer’s and do not reflect any official views of the IIHF.
Wednesday, February 12
Game 1: SWE 3, CZE 2: Zetterberg paces Tre Kronor with three points, Czechs limited to six shots in third
Game 2: SUI 4, LAT 1: Hollenstein scores twice, Ozolins earns first Olympic point since 2006
Analysis: Remarkably, the well-organized Swedes haven’t lost an Olympic opener since 1964 (3-1 to Canada), and that streak should continue here, with Tre Kronor taking the edge over the Czechs in goal and on defence. Switzerland, coming off a historic silver medal performance at the 2013 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship, should handle the Latvians with relative ease in their first-ever Olympic meeting. Latvia has lost six out of its last eight World Championship games with the Swiss, dating back to 1999.
Thursday, February 13
Game 3: FIN 4, AUT 0: Four different scorers as Rask debuts with 18-save shutout
Game 4: RUS 8, SLO 2: Kovalchuk, Radulov combine for seven points in opening romp
Game 5: USA 4, SVK 2: Ryan pots late winner on PP in hard-fought affair
Game 6: CAN 5, NOR 1: Three-goal second period paces defending champs to victory
Analysis: Under new head coach Erkka Westerlund, expect the Finns to play stifling defence much like in 2006, especially against lesser opponents like Austria. The host Russians will be charged up, and the game should be out of reach before Slovenia gets on the board. Notwithstanding the presence of Zdeno Chara, the Americans bring a little more in every department than the Slovaks. Canada will likely look out of sync early on the big ice before downing Norway with experience and skill.
Friday, February 14
Game 7: CZE 4, LAT 1: Czech PP clicks twice in third as Latvians have penalty trouble
Game 8: SWE 4, SUI 3 (overtime): Swedes squander 3-1 lead, but Karlsson’s OT blast fools Hiller
Game 9: CAN 8, AUT 2: P.K. Subban notches flashy hat trick, Vanek held pointless
Game 10: FIN 5, NOR 2: With second helper, Koivu passes Kharlamov as all-time OG assists leader
Analysis: The only “surprise” of the day is how hard the Swiss push Sweden in their rematch of the 2013 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship final. Canada’s offence comes to life, but the coaching staff still voices concern over the team’s on-ice cohesiveness.
Saturday, February 15
Game 11: SVK 5, SLO 3: Slovenes give gutsy effort but can’t stop Gaborik on two breakaways
Game 12: RUS 5, USA 2: Energized Russians score three PP goals, Miller replaces Quick in third
Game 13: SUI 2, CZE 1: Relentless Swiss prevail with late pair, Czechs waste Jagr’s first goal
Game 14: SWE 5, LAT 0: Sedins dominate, Lundqvist gets shutout as Latvia loses third straight
Analysis: The Slovenes are crafty enough to give Slovakia a headache – the two Central European countries faced each other in the 2008 Relegation Round of the World Championship – but the top-level Slovak skill will decide things. On home ice, Russia simply must beat the Americans after losing 8-3 to them in the 2013 World Championship quarter-finals. (Not to mention the 1980 “Miracle on Ice” and the 2002 Olympic semi-finals in Salt Lake City.) Sean Simpson’s Swiss crew has proved its work ethic can defeat traditional “Big Seven” powers, and they could stun the Czechs as they did in 2006. Versus Latvia, the Swedes should be on cruise control.
Sunday, February 16
Game 15: NOR 3, AUT 2 (shootout): Zuccarello’s deft dangling the difference in shootout
Game 16: RUS 7, SVK 5: Malkin scores winner; Halak, Bobrovsky both pulled in wild tilt
Game 17: USA 6, SLO 1: Kessel, Parise tally twice apiece as Americans coolly bounce back
Game 18: FIN 4, CAN 2: Physical Finns frustrate Canada, Rask shines with 41 stops
Analysis: The goaltending and defence for both Russia and Slovakia is suspect; thus, we witness the polar opposite of Slovakia’s thrilling 2-1 win in 2010, capped by Pavol Demitra’s shootout beauty. Likewise, Canada faces tough questions in net after dropping its first major round-robin challenge despite playing its best so far. Will it be Roberto Luongo or Carey Price in the elimination games? The Finns get a full 60 minutes from everyone for the third straight time and stun the favored Canadians. Suomi is motivated by the last hurrah for Teemu Selänne and Saku Koivu.
Standings After Preliminary Round
Group A: Russia (1), United States (2), Slovakia (3), Slovenia (4)
Group B: Finland (1), Canada (2), Norway (3), Austria (4)
Group C: Sweden (1), Switzerland (2), Czech Republic (3), Latvia (4)
1D Russia (3 W, 0 L, 20 GF, 9 GA, 9 pts.)
2D Finland (3 W, 0 L, 13 GF, 4 GA, 9 pts.)
3D Sweden (2 W, 0 L, 1 OTW, 12 GF, 5 GA, 8 pts.)
4D Switzerland (2 W, 0 L, 1 OTL, 9 GF, 4 GA, 7 pts.)
5D Canada (2 W, 1 L, 15 GF, 7 GA, 6 pts.)
6D United States (2 W, 1 L, 12 GF, 8 GA, 6 pts.)
7D Czech Republic (1 W, 2 L, 7 GF, 6 GA, 3 pts.)
8D Slovakia (1 W, 2 L, 12 GF, 14 GA, 3 pts.)
9D Norway (0 W, 2 L, 1 OTW, 6 GF, 12 GA, 2 pts.)
10D Austria (0 W, 2 L, 1 OTL, 4 GF, 15 GA, 1 pt.)
11D Latvia (0 W, 3 L, 2 GF, 13 GA, 0 pts.)
12D Slovenia (0 W, 3 L, 6 GF, 19 GA, 0 pts.)
In the Qualification Playoff Games, 5D plays 12D (winner is E1), 6D plays 11D (winner is E2), 7D plays 10D (winner is E3), and 8D plays 9D (winner is E4).
Russia, Finland, Sweden, and Switzerland receive byes into the Quarter-Finals.
Qualification Playoff Games
Tuesday, February 18
Game 19: CAN 7, SLO 0: Crosby’s four points lead champs in easy victory
Game 20: USA 5, LAT 3: Stastny scores pair, Gudlevskis makes 37 saves in losing cause
Game 21: CZE 6, AUT 2: Czechs control from start, Krejci earns three assists
Game 22: SVK 3, NOR 2: Kopecky bangs in winner, Norwegians keep it close till third
Analysis: As in 2010, there will be no upsets in the Qualification Playoff Games. Still, teams such as Latvia and Norway have more grit and experience from elite-division World Championship and Olympic play, and will likely push their higher-seeded opponents harder than their counterparts from Austria and Slovenia.
In the Quarter-Finals, Russia (1D) plays Slovakia (E4), and winner is F1; Finland (2D) plays the Czech Republic (E3), and winner is F2; Sweden (3D) plays United States (E2), and winner is F3; and Switzerland (4D) plays Canada (5D), and winner is F4.
Wednesday, February 19
Game 23: FIN 2, CZE 0: Mikko Koivu scores early and Rask gets second goose egg
Game 24: RUS 6, SVK 1: Slovaks can’t contain Malkin-Datsyuk combo as hosts rule
Game 25: SWE 3, USA 2 (OT): Landeskog gets ugly OT winner as Tre Kronor advances
Game 26: CAN 4, SUI 2: Weber a physical force, Luongo makes 31 saves in tight QF win
Analysis: Finland has played for a medal at three out of the previous four Olympics featuring full NHL participation (1998, 2006, 2010), and its superior goaltending could yield a replica of its 2-0 QF win over the Czechs in 2010. Similarly, expect a near-mirror image of the 2012 World Championship final with Russia filling Slovakia’s net again. The Russians just can’t afford the disgrace of losing a second straight Olympic quarter-final, not in Sochi. It should be a magnificent netminding duel between the U.S.’s Jonathan Quick and Sweden’s Henrik Lundqvist – Tre Kronor gets the edge here over the Americans, who have only won one Olympic quarter-final on European ice (4-1 over host France in 1992). Canada will be ready for the Swiss and will beat them, but, following the trend established since Switzerland’s 2-0 win in Turin in 2006, it’ll be anything but easy for Mike Babcock’s boys.
In the Semi-Finals, Russia (F1) plays Canada (F4) and Finland (F2) plays Sweden (F3).
Friday, February 21
Game 27: SWE 3, FIN 1: Zetterberg gets second tournament winner, Lundqvist stones Jussi Jokinen on penalty shot
Game 28: RUS 4, CAN 3 (OT): In most dramatic and bitter semi-final in Olympic history, Toews ties it up late, but Kovalchuk’s laser wins it on Canadian turnover
Analysis: Tre Kronor has only lost twice in 11 previous Olympic meetings with its great Nordic rival. Greater composure, flair around the net, and championship-winning experience will be the keys to a Swedish win over Finland. Meanwhile, with due respect to the Canadians’ depth and talent, it’s hard to favor them against Russia on the big ice at the Olympics. Remember that until thumping the Russians 7-3 in the 2010 quarter-finals, Canada hadn’t defeated their archrivals at the Winter Games since 1960. Also, after completely disintegrating in Turin, Canada got its international game back in gear by icing excellent teams at the IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship, winning gold in 2007 and losing by just one goal in the 2008 and 2009 finals. In contrast, Canada has currently lost four straight World Championship quarter-finals dating back to 2010, and hasn’t gotten enough support from its veteran stars at the tournament. That’s just not laying the right groundwork. Yevgeni Malkin and Alexander Ovechkin will be ravenous for post-Vancouver vindication, Russia’s KHL stars will perform better on the big ice, and sheer desperation should carry them through.
Bronze Medal Game
Saturday, February 22
Game 29: CAN 5, FIN 2: Bergeron’s playmaking keys Canada to 3-0 lead, late Finnish rally falls short
Analysis: Canada has endured some tough times internationally since winning in Vancouver, with no World Championship medals and no World Junior titles. Despite the motherland of hockey’s historical tendency to underachieve in bronze medal games, Babcock’s leadership group will summon up the will to win here. Unlike in 2010, the Finns won’t be able to come back from a 3-0 deficit to take third place.
Gold Medal Game
Sunday, February 23
Game 30: SWE 4, RUS 1: Karlsson’s rush yields golden goal, Lundqvist’s heroics stymie hosts
Analysis: Could the Russians let it all slip away after reaching the final in Sochi? Based on history, it’s a distinct possibility. Ever mercurial, Russia has established a clear pattern at the last four Olympics of losing an elimination game right after an emotional victory. It will be difficult to contain their emotions after taking revenge on Canada. Russia also hasn’t won a senior men’s tournament on home ice since the 1986 IIHF World Championship, despite icing near-Olympic-calibre teams at the 2000 Worlds (St. Petersburg) and 2007 Worlds (Moscow). The Swedes, meanwhile, are riding high as the defending World Champions. They boast a cornucopia of NHL players who, like Erik Karlsson, can shine in a big-ice situation. And with arguably the world’s best goalie in Lundqvist, this is their time to rule again, as in Turin.
6. United States
7. Czech Republic
Tournament All-Star Team
Goal: Henrik Lundqvist, SWE
Defence: Erik Karlsson, SWE
Defence: Shea Weber, CAN
Forward: Henrik Zetterberg, SWE
Forward: Yevgeni Malkin, RUS
Forward: Ilya Kovalchuk, RUS
Best Forward: Yevgeni Malkin, RUS
Best Defenceman: Erik Karlsson, SWE
Best Goalkeeper: Henrik Lundqvist, SWE
Tournament MVP: Henrik Lundqvist, SWE