Men’s Olympic hockey gets underway Wednesday with a pair of Noon EDT games. The Czech Republic skates against one of the favorites, Team Sweden, and Latvia goes up against Switzerland.
In a surprising twist, Czech coach Alois Hadamczik has chosen KHL goalie Jakub Kovar over the Winnipeg Jets’ Ondraj Pavelec. Then again, if you saw Pavelec’s performance in the NHL this season, maybe it’s not such a big surprise. The team is captained by Montreal Canadians center Tomas Plekanec, while a pair of New Jersey Devils teammates, Patrick Elias and Jaromir Jagr, will don the assistant captain ‘A’ on their uniforms. (Elias captained the 2010 Olympic squad)
Jagr will turn 42 on Saturday, but he’s not the oldest player on the team. That honor belongs to former NHLer Peter Nedved who celebrated his 42nd birthday in December. The team will count heavily on its younger players though to make it to the medal round. In addition to Plekanec, Team Czech is counting on the Flyers’ Jakub Varocek, the Lightning’s Ondrej Palat, Ottawa’s Milan Michalek, Phoenix’s Martin Hanzal, and Boston’s David Krejci to put the puck in the net.
The Czech blue line will be anchored by veterans Michael Roszival (Blackhawks), Marek Zidlicky (Devils), and former NHL defenseman Tomas Kaberle.
Team Sweden has won the gold medal twice in the last 20 years. They captured the 1994 top spot when Peter Forsberg pulled a remarkable move out of his bag of tricks to defeat Canada in a shootout and captured the 2006 medal behind the goaltending of then 24-year old Henrik Lundqvist.
The team, coached by Pars Marts is chock full of NHL talent. In addition to the Rangers’ Lundqvist, the team has goalies Jhonas Enroth from the Sabres, and the Red Wings’ Jonas Gustavsson. The squad is captained by Detroit Red Wings’ standout Henrik Zetteberg, while his teammates – defenseman Niklas Kronwall and right winger Daniel Alfredsson – will sport the assistant captain jerseys.
You should remember the name Jimmie Ericsson. Why? The 33-year old Swedish Hockey League player is the only non-NHL player on the roster. Though standouts Johan Franzen and Henrik Sedin will miss the games due to injuries, the team still has plenty of NHL firepower in Daniel Sedin, Alexander Steen (28 goals, 6th best in the NHL), and Henrik Sedin’s replacement Nicklas Backstrom (NHL 3rd best 45 assists). Manning the defense are Johnny Oduya, Erik Karlsson, Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Henrik Tallinder, and Alexander Edler.
It’s no wonder that team Sweden sits at 9/2 odds, behind Canada and Russia and ahead of the US, to capture the 2014 Gold Medal. Let the games begin.