So for both the men's and women's hockey teams and brackets it's really showtime now.
On the Woman's side we are down to the two medal games - Canad vs USA for the Gold and Finland vs. Sweden for the Bronze. These will be two really good games between two evenly matched sets of opponents so they should be a blast to watch. I'm calling them as follows: Gold) USA; Silver) Canada; Bronze) Finland. My reasoning well between USA and Canada - I'm being a "homer" no logic or reasoning applied. Between Finland and Sweden - I thought Finland looked better against Canada then Sweden did against the USA... just simple application of who I think is the hotter team right now also in the prelims the Swedes gave up 15 GA while the Finns only surrendered 8; the Swedes had a goal differential of -5 and the Finns had a goal differential of -1.
The men's tourney moves to the single elimination phase with the top four teams: USA, Sweden, Russia and Finland getting first round byes. At this point the possibility that a hot goaltender could propel virtually any of the 12 teams past one of the others and even perhaps into the medal round cannot be ignored. The first round games are: 5) Czech Republic vs. 12) Latvia; 6) Canada vs. 11) Germany; 7) Slovakia vs. 11) Norway; and 8) Switzerland vs. 9) Belarus. Taking these match-ups one at a time:
5) Czech Republic vs. 12) Latvia - This should go to the Czechs and it's unlikely they will look past the Latvians given the large number of guys on the Czech team who play in the KHL. They know the Latvians will play team hockey as a cohesive unit, but the Czech's just have too much talent. They also have a pretty hot goaltender in Tomas Vokoun who only yield 5 GA in the prelims while they played a pretty tough group of opponents; in the prelims the Czech's beat the Latvians 5-2, I don't think the game will be that close this time, but that's why they settle things on the ice and not using computer models or video games.
6) Canada vs. 12) Germany - Perhaps even an easier choice on paper, but the big question is can the Canadians get over the fact they even have to play this game AND avoid looking past the Germans to the Russians in the Second/Quarterfinal Round? I think the answer to that is an unquestionable yes because throughout the tournament thus far the Germans have been unable to generate much offense at all. They were outscored in the prelims 12 - 3 or by an average of 3 goals per game. With just 5 current or former NHL'ers on their roster and anchored by an young AHL goaltender the Germans will be taking on a roster that has an NHL salary cap hit of $160+M in Team Canada. I'll be rooting for the underdog because ... well you just have to ... but that just isn't going to happen, especially not at Team Canada Place. The USA beating the Canadians in their last game may lead to both Germany AND Russia's worst nightmare....
7) Slovakia vs. 11) Norway - To me the Slovaks could end up being a sort of Cinderella team and get through the quarter-finals as long as they don't look past the Norwegians and I don't think they will. Despite being outscored 19-5 in the preliminaries, Slovakia will look to the 4-5 overtime loss that Norge achieved in their final game of the preliminary round to ensure they stay focused. The Swiss took Canada to overtime in their game 2 and the Norwegians took the Swiss to overtime in their final game of the qualifying round. The Slovakians can look at all that and know Norwegian goalie Pal Grotnes is better than the 14 goals he gave up against the USA and Canada might otherwise lead them to believe. In the end the Slovaks with guys like Zdeno Chara, Marian Gaborik, Marian Hossa, Milan Jurcina, Jaroslav Halak, a team that took the Russians to overtime and won, will make it through to the quarter-finals, if not beyond...
8) Switzerland vs. 9) Belarus. Here's where I wouldn't be surprised to see the one minor upset. With a core team built from the best players from the KHL's Dynamo Minsk complimented by the likes of Sergei Kostitsyn from the Montreal Canadiens unless Jonas Hiller has another excellent game in net for Switzerland, the Swiss "mojo" might well run out before they reach the quarter finals. In fact given the way the Swiss played against Norway and comparing that to how the Belorussians played in their bracket against Sweden, Finland and Germany, I'm predicting the boys from Minsk advance while the Swiss end their run.
If I'm right that means the second/quarter-finals will be:
1) USA vs. 9) Belarus
2) Sweden vs. 7) Slovakia
3) Russia vs. 6) Canada
4) Finland vs. 5) Czech Republic
... and wow those will be 4 really, really good games to watch, if they happen. Of course if a "Cinderella" team gets through the first round that will only make the story better and more interesting. I can't imagine why the NHL would ever, even think about not playing in Soochi, nor would I ever even think why NBC wouldn't make sure that all these games are covered both in their entirety live and in prime time replays on at least one of their cable networks as a choice for we hockey fans here in North America...