Now that the preliminary round has been completed, let's assess what we've seen and re-rank the 2014 Sochi Olympics hockey power rankings. In doing so I have essentially forecasted the week ahead (but not the two medal games).
1. Russia - The funny thing is of all the teams I still do not like their roster that much - their defense is thin and their superstars, aside from Pavel Datsyuk, have a weak track record in big games. And Datsyuk is less than 100% healthy.
But I do like their path. They should roll over Norway then they should be able to get by the depleted Finns. If everything goes according to my forecast they would have to face another depleted team in Sweden in order to get to the gold medal game. That is, in theory, an easier path than the other pool.
I also like the odds. And by that I mean no team in the NHL Olympic era has ever gone undefeated en route to a gold medal championship. Sweden, Canada and USA are all going to try to do just that in 2014. I always say it is so hard for anyone to win 6 consecutive games in 9 days in a tournament of this calibre. Odds are every team will lose once. In picking Russia as the team to beat I am essentially holding true to this belief and that Russia has suffered their loss.
2. USA - I actually think USA has had the best tournament so far. While Russia exposed them at times in the preliminary round, the big ice has not been a big concern for the Americans. They should be able to handle the winner of the Czechs/Slovaks match, and then, presumably, would have to take on Canada in the semis. Big ice should be no big factor in the much anticipated North American showdown as essentially it will be a NHL contest.
I would like nothing more to name USA at the top of my ranking but that showdown with Canada prevents me from doing so. That is an incredibly tough task to accomplish just to compete for gold. More on that in a second . . .
3. Canada - I would like to name Canada as #2 or even #1a with USA, but again, both teams can't advance. And since I can't forecast which of these two teams will win, I essentially have to rank Russia as #1.
I do think Canada has the best team. They have played very well defensively and they are incomparable down the middle and on the blue line. But their lack of offensive chemistry is of big concern to me.
Facing adversity from the Finns was a good thing, and they will likely face more of that from the winner of the Swiss/Latvia match-up. I suspect Switzerland does advance, and despite their serious offensive woes they are a serious threat to upset anyone in this tournament. I would hate to play them.
That being said, Canada is better off in the big picture by fighting through Switzerland than beating up Austria.
4. Sweden - I started the tournament favoring the Swedes but injuries to Henrik Sedin and Henrik Zetterberg leave them weak down the middle. They have had the easiest path so far, and that continues in the quarterfinals when they play either Slovenia or Austria. Still, I think they have a loss coming and I'm forecasting it coming to the Russians.
5. Finland - Finland's injuries down the middle leave them really weak. They were outclassed by Canada in the preliminary round but they almost got the win because of their air-tight defense. They expertly kept Canada out of the scoring zones and will try to do that all week. Despite their roster losses, their game plan has not changed.
6. Switzerland - Their defense is so strong but they have almost no offense. They can upset someone - and it very well might be Canada - but I can't see them going all the way. Even if they got by Canada, they'd still have to upset USA just to get to the gold medal game.
7. Czech Republic - The Czechs have been a non-factor and will remain so. But they have enough veterans to advance into the quarters - but not much further.
8. Slovakia - Slovakia has been arguably the most disappointing Olympic hockey team in 2014. They had their measure of redemption against Russia in the last preliminary game.
9. Latvia - The Latvians played the Swedes hard and should battle Switzerland in an all out grudge-match. All out except for goals.
10. Austria - No one expected much from Austria but their dysfunctional relationships - namely unhappy captain/wannabe-coach Thomas Vanek. They won't get far. But they can redeem themselves by beating Slovenia.
11. Slovenia - The Slovenians have had a successful tournament as is. They certainly can beat Austria but they may have to do so without a fully effective Anze Kopitar - their only NHLer. He left the game against the US to go to hospital with some sort of illness.
12. Norway - Thanks for coming Norway. There will be no Miracles in Sochi.