Kovacevic: Olympic men's hockey medal predictions
SOCHI, Russia — There isn't much in life that's less gutsy than picking Canada to win the Olympic hockey tournament. Our friends north of the border have enough NHL talent to stock two medal-winners, not one. Besides, if you pick Canada and they lose, nobody wags a finger because it tends to surprise everyone.
I'm picking Canada.
Here are my full medal predictions:
I could gush over Sidney Crosby, Jonathan Toews, Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, Shea Weber and all the other superlative talents. I could recite Crosby's quote the other day when asked which five players he'd choose in an Olympic shootout: “Um, everyone?” I could suggest that Canada's greatest challenge here will be its own chemistry in training stars to become role players and accept lesser ice time. I could even recall how a big part of this group emerged victorious in Vancouver.
Instead, I'll simply point out that, as Canada opens the tournament Thursday against Norway, coach Mike Babcock's projected healthy scratches will include Marty St. Louis, the NHL's reigning scoring champ, and P.K. Subban, the NHL's reigning Norris Trophy winner as top defenseman.
That's just not right.
There's always been one goalie who rises above in the Olympics, and nobody's better poised for that than Henrik Lundqvist. He's got the character, the ability and, maybe most important, a group of players in front of him bred to take defense seriously.
The big ice has long been kind to the Swedes in international play, and their volume of skilled, two-way forwards — Daniel Sedin, Henrik Zetterberg, Daniel Alfredsson – will be enough to overcome the injury losses of Henrik Sedin and Johan Franzen.
This gold-medal final would be spectacular, by the way.
BRONZE: United States
I'm not wild about the lack of size or the mobility of the defense, but the grit level is off the charts. With Ryan Kesler, Dustin Brown, David Backes and other in-your-face types all over the roster, the Americans will quickly form the identity Dan Bylsma seeks — “Toughest team to play against in the tournament” — as well as the camaraderie that's essential in such a short span. Nothing unites a hockey team like an evening filled with post-whistle pushes and shoves.
Some are doubting the Americans' scoring, but I don't see that. Here's something that might surprise: The top forward line of James van Riemsdyk, Joe Pavelski and Phil Kessel enter these Olympics with more NHL goals this season (84) than any line used by any national team in practices this week. And Max Pacioretty, Patrick Kane and Kesler (73) aren't far behind.
The Russians will be a blast to watch with Evgeni Malkin and Alexander Ovechkin and all those snipers, but they'll be exposed soon enough for an abysmal defense, after which the bickering, per history, will take over. The Finns would have been among my medalists on goaltending alone, but injury losses up front will leave them pressing to score. The Czechs and Slovaks could have a little fun but neither has anywhere near the depth to hang. The rest will keep company with Anze Kopitar and the Slovenes.