I can't wait for the Winter Games and for Olympic Hockey. I also can't wait for the curling, either.
The format for hockey this year is as follows: 12 teams, divided into groups of 4 teams. The preliminary round consists of round-robin play within each group. After that, all 12 teams will be ranked 1st thru 12th. The top 4 teams will receive a bye to the quarterfinals. The remaining 8 teams will be put into 4 one-game playoffs, with the winners of those games advancing to the quarterfinals. Then it's a normal, single-elimination tournament.
Here are the groups:
A: USA, Canada, Switzerland, Norway
B: Russia, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Latvia
C: Sweden, Finland, Belarus, Germany
And here are my previews:
All 23 players on the roster are in the NHL, which is nice. But there's not too much star power at forward. Phil Kessel and Ryan Malone are up there, but there's a lot of solid, not great guys. USA's advantage could be their depth with so many NHLers, and that should get them through the early stages of the tournament. They also have three solid goalies in Tim Thomas, Ryan Miller, and Jon Quick.
Équipe Canada (Team Canada):
Canada boasts some serious star power. They also have al l23 roster spots occupied by NHL players. Just some of their big name players: Sidney Crosby, Jarome Iginla, Joe Thornton, Dany Heatley, Martin Brodeur, and Roberto Luongo. Their blue-line is a bit on the old side, with Pronger and Niedermayer still back there, so they could be susceptible to some of the faster European sides.
Only 2 NHL players on this team, but one of them might be a big difference maker. Jonas Hiller of the Ducks propelled his team past the Sharks in last seasons' playoffs, he also helped for a 7 game series with Detroit. The other NHLer is Mark Streit of the Islanders. The Swiss are young and can skate, so they could pose a problem. Don't be shocked if they score some early upsets before being filtered out of the tournament.
Isbjørnene/The Polar Bears (Norway):
Norway isn't known for their hockey prowess, and it's an achievement for them just to get to Vancouver. Ole Kristian Tollefsen is the only representative from the NHL on the roster. 11 players come from the Swedish League. Norway is young, inexperienced, and not too talented. They'll lose all 3 of their round-robin games, then be easily ousted in the elimination stage.
Big Red Machine (Russia):
The Russkies haven't won Gold since 1992, but before then, they were THE dominant for in the Olympics. There's some serious talent on their roster, with guys like Alexander Semin, Ovechkin, Malkin, Datsyuk, Kovalchuk, Afinogenov, and evgeni Nabokov in net. But the Russians might lack some depth. 9 players aren't from the NHL, although Russia's KHL is probably the 2nd best league in the world. Sergei Fedorov is one of those KHL representatives.
The 1998 Gold medal winners remain strong, but I don't think they're strong enough to contend. Guys like David Krejci and Tomas Kaberle can make plays, but the Czech lack both depth and firepower. It will be fun to once again watch Jaromir Jagr play. He's the only player from that '98 team who is on the roster for '10.
Jaroslav Halak of the Canadiens is capable of blistering hot streaks. He'll have 6' 9" Zdeno Chara helping him out in front, and guys like Marian Hossa and Marian Gaborik scoring goals. The Slovaks do lack some depth, so expect fireworks in early rounds, followed by eventual disappointment.
You should just call this team Dinamo Riga, because 15 of the 23 roster spots are occupied by players from that particular Latvian team in the KHL. There's also 2 NHL and 2 AHL representatives. But Latvia should compete with Norway for biggest pushover of the tournament.
Tre Kronor/Three Crowns (Sweden):
The reigning Gold medal winners still have some serious talent on their side. Zetterberg, the Sedin twins, Holmstrom, Backstrom, Alfredsson, and Lidstrom all return. Henrik Lundqvist can be a wall in net. Sweden's speed can get them past teams like Canada, and their puck-skills are uncanny.
Leijonat/The Lions (Finland):
Finland and Sweden were close to even in the '06 Olympics, and the Finns return 14 players from that squad. They don't have the same fire-starting names as the Swedes, but they have more depth. They might also be the most motivated team in the tournament. Finland has never won Gold in this event.
White Russians (Belarus):
The Kostitsyn brothers are Belarussian, they along with Ruslan Salei of the Avalanche are the only NHLers on the team. They'll do better than Latvia or Norway, but much not better.
Deutsche Eishockey-Nationalmannschaft (Germany):
German hockey has progressively improved over the years, and the Krauts now have 6 NHL players on their roster, including some pretty good ones like Marco Sturm, Dennis Seidenburg and Christian Ehroff. They can make it to the quarterfinals with a decent draw, and could threaten some of the big boys in the tournament.
USA, Canada, Sweden, Finland, Russia, Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Germany advance to the quarterfinals. Finland and Russia will make deep runs, and whenever these two teams meet, the winner of that game will win the Gold.
I say Russia will win gold, Canada silver, Finland bronze