Group C: Sweden, Switzerland, Czech Republic, Latvia
The Olympics are finally here, which means that it’s time for Olympic hockey. In this four article series, Anthony Pucik breaks down each Group in the tournament, as well as predicts who will earn the gold in Sochi. In article number three, the third and final group: Group C.
Last, but certainly not least, is Group C which is highlighted by team Sweden. Sweden is another gold medal favorite heading into Sochi, and will be joined in this group by Switzerland, Czech Republic, and Latvia. A bit more balanced a group than Group B, Sweden is still the clear cut favorite to win this group, and it has a lot to do with the fact that they are extremely similar to team Canada.
Taking a look at Sweden, they are the second most complete team in these Olympic games. They have a patented offense with Daniel Sedin, Henrik Zetterberg and Loui Eriksson leading the way, and great secondary scoring from players like Nicklas Backstrom, Daniel Alfredsson and Gabriel Landeskog among others. They are also sound defensively, with a mix of both offensive and defensive blue liners like Niklas Hjalmarsson and Erik Karlsson that will provide both scoring abilities and an aid to their goalies. And between the pipes, a goalie like Henrik Lundqvist doesn’t let in many easy goals and will be tough to beat, especially with great blue line help from the Swedish defense.
If Sweden would run into any problems, it will be if Lundqvist gets hurt at any point in Sochi. Jonas Gustavsson and Jhonas Enroth are good backups, but they are not exactly top teir NHL goalies like Lundqvist. Without Lundqvist, Sweden would struggle between the pipes against must better, more talented opponents. Lundqvist, however, is healthy and isn’t showing any signs of injury, so Sweden doesn’t seem like they have anything to worry about. With Lundqivst and their top to bottom talented team, I believe the Swedes will win every game in their group, earning nine points.
Next up in Group C is the Czech Republic. For the Czechs, their offense is what is going to carry them through these Olympic games. Players like Patrik Elias, Michael Frolik, David Krejci and Jaromir Jagr will lift the Czech Republic offensively and keep them in games against some more talented opponents. They are going to need to be good offensively, though, because their defense isn’t very impressive. Zbynek Michalek and Marek Zidlicky are two of the Czechs best defenseman, but even they won’t be able to handle themselves against teams with top tier scoring that goes deeper than the Czech Republic’s first defensive pair. The Czech Republic will run into problems against a team like Sweden, but will have no problem handling Latvia. They will lose a close game in a shootout to Switzerland, though, earning them only four points coming out of groups.
Moving over to Switzerland, their biggest asset would have to be Jonas Hiller. Hiller is having a great season for the Ducks, and is going to be relied on for the Swiss against teams with more offensive talent like Sweden and the Czech Republic. What Hiller can’t do, however, is provide Switzerland with depth which they are severely lacking both offensively and defensively. After Damien Brunner and Nino Neiderreiter, there aren’t many names that pose a threat to opposing defenses on the offensive side of the puck for the Swiss. It’s the same defensively, because after Roman Josi, Mark Streit and Rafael Diaz there aren’t many names who would be able to step up and defend NHL caliber players very well. The Swiss’ lack of depth will hurt them against Sweden, but shouldn’t be a problem against Latvia. Their shootout victory over the Czech Republic will get them five points in the group.
Now, saying last but least might be a little harsh, but Latvia is one of the weakest teams at Sochi. Kaspars Daugavins and Herberts Vasiljevs are the only two players on the team who have had any NHL experience in their careers, so their knowledge might be able to help their fellow Latvians in their preparation. But preparation can only get you so far, and the Latvians simply don’t have the talent to stack up with the players in their group, or any of the best Olypmic teams. It won’t be an easy road for Latvia, and I see them losing all of their games in the group stages and earning zero points.
Continue to follow Anthony's Olympic hockey preview on WFUVSports.org.