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Belarus Olympic Preview Staff
February 14th, 2002

Controversy has surrounded the NHL's participation in the Olympic games.

Many feel it's a traditional spot for amateur athletes, while others feel the condensed NHL schedule to accommodate the Olympics has hurt the season, and caused many an injury.

For Calgary Flames fans, it's simply a nice break from a woeful two months of losing hockey, and a chance to cheer for a winner again. and it's writing staff takes a look at all the teams as well as offering up a prediction on who will be wearing what on medal day.

The Teams

The Olympic tournament pits eight teams in two pools in a round robin tournament that sees all eight teams graduate to the medal round. Essentially the round robin portion exists to seed the teams into first round match ups.

Below are the teams sorted by pool. Click on the name of teach team to read a detailed profile of each squad.

Handicapping the Tournament

Each Calgarypuck writer makes an attempt to make sense out of the tournament, and pick his choices for gold, silver and bronze medals.

With six top teams vying for three spots, there are essentially six "Dream Teams" and with it a wide variety of combinations for the three medal spots.

Aaron McCracken

Let's get one thing straight - I'm a Canadian and I want nothing more than my home country to win the gold medal against the U.S. in Salt Lake City. Actually, that's a lie. I want nothing more than Canada to win gold and the U.S. to lose every game in front of its home crowd. But I don't think that's going to happen.

Talent wise, I think Canada has the best overall team. The Czechs may have the best goaltender, but up front I think they're weaker than four years ago. The Russians probably have the hottest goaltender, but injuries and notable player absences will hurt them. Sweden and Finland are both talented teams, but I don't think they're deep enough to be considered medal favourites. That leaves the USA, a group with lots of scoring talent but with some notable concerns about defence. In any other year, the US would be only a marginal contender. But this year, they're playing on home ice, and America's spirit and patriotism may be at all all-time high. And as you've probably heard ad nausem already, the USA has won hockey gold in both previous Winter Olympics held on home soil.

While the Olympic tournament features the best hockey players in the world, that doesn't mean the team with the best players is a given to win. The talented Slovakian team failed to win a game in the preliminary round, having been beaten by teams that stuck to a system and worked together. And while the Olympic game is similar to NHL game, what's on the line is completely different. Players aren't competing in a financially-driven market for a Stanley Cup, performance bonuses, or their next contract; the Olympics is about competing for your nation's pride.

In picking my winners, I first looked at the make-up of the teams to determine how they might finish in the round-robin. I see Canada and Russia each winning their pools, with the U.S. and Czech Republic each coming second. I think these four teams will all win their quarterfinal games, setting up an interesting scenario for the medals: Canada vs. the U.S; Russia vs. the Czech Republic.

I think the Czech Republic will make it to the final in a low-scoring semi-final game decided by a shoot-out. And, as much as it pains me to say it, I think the U.S., based on the strength of their team effort and desire to win, will defeat Canada in a heartbreaker. Canada will go on to take the bronze in a convincing win over Russia, although if I'm proved wrong and they finish higher, I'll gladly admit my mistake.

The U.S. will ride their semi-final win and will go on to defeat the Czechs to take the gold medal. I'm making this prediction because I believe that heart and desire will play a major role in determining a winner among these elite hockey nations. Past Olympic history has proven that the home nation will often exceed expectations (the Americans are already close to matching their Nagano medal totals), and I think the U.S. will be anxious to make up for their 1998 embarrassment in a big way. The home crowd will be the determining factor, as the red, white, and blue will win gold in 2002.

Marc Ciampa

Hard to believe it's been four years since Trevor Linden scored in the dying minutes of the third period to help lift Canada to a 1-1 draw against the Czech Republic in the Olympic semi-finals.

Four years since Joe Nieuwendyk and four of Canada's supposed best shooters were foiled by Dominik Hasek in the shootout and shattering the dream of winning Olympic Gold.

Four years since Wayne Gretzky sat on the bench, watching helplessly as his team failed to put a puck past the Czech netminder.

If there's one thing that won't change in the 2002 Olympics, it will be that Gretzky will still be watching as the rest of Team Canada decides the outcome. Only this time, it will be by choice. Gretzky has taken upon the ominous, thankless task of being the front man in assembling this year's Canada squad. They are heavily favoured to take home the Gold medal. But will they?

The pressure for Canada to win is enormous; perhaps it will end up being too much for the team to carry on its shoulders. In the end, I think the team will be unable to rise to the occasion once again. A number of other teams in the tournament will have nothing to lose when facing Canada. Despite the team's veteran leadership and impressive depth, they won't be able to get it done.

BRONZE: Canada

A step up from the 1998 Olympics, but Team Canada will still fall short in these Games. It will essentially all depend on when Canada will end up facing Russia, who I think will be the eventual tournament victors. Canada will defeat the United States in the Bronze Medal Game. The downfall for the Canadian team will be their blueline. Defence will be such a key factor in this tournament and, quite frankly, beyond Blake, Pronger and Niedermayer Canada's defence is very slow. The Russian forwards will have a field day beating them to the outside.

SILVER: Sweden

Sweden is a real dark horse in the tournament. They have a system in place (the "Torpedo") and several key front line forwards, including Markus Naslund, Mats Sundin and Daniel Alfredsson. They will also be on a mission following 1998's disappointing finish and have a solid goaltender in Tommy Salo to lead the way. Not to mention, their defence is as strong and skilled as anyone's in the tournament with Ohlund, Johnsson, Jonsson, Lidstrom and Norstrom among others.

GOLD: Russia

Russia will return to the Gold Medal podium for the first time in ten years. The team has everything it takes to be a contender for the top prize in Olympic hockey superiority. Up front, the number of weapons is has is impressive: Pavel Bure, Yashin, Kovalev, Zhamnov, Fedorov and Kovalchuk. While the defence isn't quite as physical, especially with the injury of Yushkevich, Nikolai Khabibulin has been the best goaltender in the NHL this season and he will show everybody why in this tournament.

Other Predictions: Czech Republic will finish a disappointing fifth, and Finland will finish sixth. Two advantages the Czechs had going for them in Nagano was (a) they played a very tight defensive system that was perfected due to the number of non-NHL players they had on their roster and (b) they caught a number of opponents by surprise. Neither factor applies this time around. While they are still strong in goal, Hasek is a step slower than he was four years ago and will likely be facing a lot more quality scoring chances this time around. Their defence is unimpressive, with the exception of Roman Hamrlik, and up front they are very ordinary beyond Jagr, Hejduk and Elias. Mario Lemieux will prove why he's the world's best hockey player and lead the tournament in scoring.

D'Arcy McGrath

Expectations are a bitch.

Basketball's American "Dream Team" can leisurely take the court and guarantee themselves Gold in each Olympic games they attend. Other countries have players, but no other country has the depth.

In hockey, a completely different story.

As was the case four years ago in Nagano, six "Dream Teams" take the ice in Salt Lake City when the Championship Round commences tomorrow.

Six teams, six relatively equal chances for success, with on marked difference.


Citizens from all competing countries feel in their hearts that they "could" win Gold at the 2002 Olympics ... Canadians on the other hand feel they "should" win Gold, and with that comes a tremendous load of pressure for Wayne Gretzky and his cohorts.

In past Canada Cups and the 1996 World Cup the pressure was the same, but the playing field wasn't quite as even. Hockey has exploded on to the world stage, and while I won't admit that all the skill is over seas, only a fool would fail to admit that there is no longer one or even two hockey superpowers.

So how will this tournament shake out? Will Dom Hasek or Nikolai Khabibulin single handedly carry their team to Olympic Gold? Will post-September 11th fervor in the United States carry the Americans to a win on home soil? Will the absence of Patrick Roy prove to be the Achilles heal for the Canadians ?

We'll find out soon.

Meaningless Round

First off ... don't believe a word of this "first three games are meaningless" nonsense being bandied about in the media.

Nothing ... nothing could be further from the truth.

With six top teams aligned with three each in two pools, finishing last in a pool would mean three straight wins over top teams to achieve gold ... something no one will accomplish.

Getting to first in the pool is a huge key, yielding a quarterfinal date with a team like Belarus over the Americans , Fins or Russia ns.

My Picks

I'm going to go against the two esteemed writers above and say ... Yes, Canada will win Gold in Salt Lake City.

For two reasons.

One ... I love Gretzky's "send the best" principal in picking this team. No matter how hard I look up and down the Canadian roster I just can't seem to find Rob Zamuner. As I look again I also don't see the existence of a self-serving general manager making sure his NHL interests back home get a shot in the arm. No Eric Lindros thrust into a captaincy role to make the Flyers better for the stretch drive. No Glen Sather led '96 World Cup "thank you" to a quartet of old Oilers, past their prime and not deserving of overt ice time.

Two ... as a web site that covers the Calgary Flames, this group is well over due for some cheering, and on ice success. The Flames are heading for a seventh year of futility, so another shoot out loss for Canada is simple unacceptable.

The Canadians are deep at all positions, with skill on the ice at all time. Personally I'd rather have Steve Yzerman as the checking line center, knowing that if the puck turns over he's as likely to bury it as the guy that he's supposedly checking.

I don't buy the goaltending as a weakness, Patrick Roy was in Nagano and they didn't win there. Curtis Joseph and Martin Brodeur as options are a cut above Mike Richter and Jani Hurme for example. While I'll admit that Dominic Hasek is a factor that can't be overlooked, and that Nikolai Khabibulin is the hottest goaltender in hockey, the margin between these two and the best of Canada's two just isn't that large.

Finland will surprise in the other pool, going 3-0 in the round robin and moving on to the semis after disposing of Germany in the quarter-final.

The gold medal match up will have Canada besting the Russia n's, with the Swedish squad beating their rival Fins for the bronze.

Dominic Hasek and the Czechs will struggle in this tournament, with the element of surprise just a dot on the horizon. The Czech team has more players in the NHL this time around, meaning their cohesion will be on a level playing field with the rest of the teams. The fact that Robert Reichel and Jaromir Jagr are well off their games this season should mean their offence will sputter.

The United States will be great up front but there aging defence and inconsistent goaltending will result in an early exit from the competition. Their lodging furniture will emerge unscathed.

Rick Charlton

It doesn't get any better than this.

The race for gold in Salt Lake City will be the most competitive tournament in hockey history.

There have been other tournaments of interest in the past, of course, but even the great Canada Cups of the 1980's never had the quality of depth we'll be seeing in Salt Lake.

The great hockey powers of the day have become thoroughly integrated the last ten years, with little in the way of mystery among the major participants.

There was a time when the Swedes ( Swedish View ), Czech's and Russia ns were something of an enigma - not only in our view of them but vice versa as well.

In those days these types of gatherings were often a clash of hockey styles and temperaments, a periodic coming together which produced spectacular and gut-wrenching hockey simply because the participants knew little of each other.

But there is no mystery to Mats Sundin for Curtis Joseph. The Dominator knows all the quirky tricks that Steve Yzerman can offer. Nik Khabibulin has faced Eric Lindros a hundred times before, as has Mike Richter. When Tony Amonte is barreling in on Chris Pronger it will seem like old times.

This will be different, but no less brilliant in the quality of play we will see.

Strangely, it will be the venue itself, aside from a large ice surface that will cause most of the player's consternation.

Many, if not all, of the American and Canadian players have played on the large ice surface before and while rusty, the experience will hardly be new.

But the absence of the red line in this tournament will be just as much a mystery to most of the NHL veteran Europeans as it is to the Canadians and the Americans . And the European NHL'ers have spent so much time in North America now that it must be difficult to step back and break the North American habits they've developed.

Amid all those impressions is one startling fact - this might be the last, great chance for Canada to end a 50 year drought for Olympic hockey gold.

The pressure will be large on any of Russia , the USA, the defending gold medallists Czech's as well as the Swedes ( Swedish View ).

But Canada needs to win this tournament more than any other country primarily because it seems unlikely the NHL will go through the hassle of shutting itself down again for future Olympiads. Which means Canada may never again have a chance to assemble a team this good for a shot at Olympic gold.

It's now or never for Canada .

And the best team in this tournament, top to bottom, comes from the frozen north.

It's actually an easy call. Canada for gold.

The Americans are not Canada 's strongest opponent in this tournament but the USA always turns in an outstanding performance when the Olympic tourney is on their home turf and will surely find a way to kick, scratch and claw their way into a memorable final with Canada .

Russia also has an outstanding team for the large ice surface but internal wrangling means only tournament best goaltending of Nik Khabibulin will take them to the bronze. - Salt Lake Center


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