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First off, a big congratulations to the Big Red Machine, winning gold on home ice. Canada's 14 gold medals, if you haven't heard for the millionth time now, is the most by any country in Winter Olympics history. It's no small feat, and as cliched as it sounds, Canada's success has really united its people from coast to coast. The importance of "Own The Podium" was not lost in the eyes of the government and this is great news for the traditionally under-funded Canadian athletes, with the federal budget expected to double its annual contribution. With such initiatives from the Canadian government expect more and more gold medals for Canada's trophy case. It seems only fitting anyway, amidst the Molson, HBC, and Tim's commercials that we should be good at "conquering winter." Sure, the Americans won more medals, but we can always say we won the most golds, and perhaps the ones that mattered to us most. In both men's and women's hockey the Canadians were victorious over their southern rivals, even though the women's post-game celebrations drew the ire of the IOC. But, as Roy MacGregor says, "so what?"<img src="http://media.nj.com/star-ledger/photo/-da5f91bb0cd558bd_large.jpg"class="imageFloatRightFramed"> The USA-Canada game was one for the history books and I don't remember Salt Lake even coming close to receiving as much hype as it did. If Gary Bettman still doesn't understand why NHL players need to be in Sochi, then I'm not sure if anything in this world will convince him. Hockey in North America is reaching its peak, with USA Hockey introducing a slew of new stars. Hockey Canada has always had a steady stream of quality talent, but Sidney Crosby has garnered the most attention since Wayne Gretzky. The gold medal game drew the highest TV ratings since the 1980 USA-USSR game and it shouldn't surprise anyone that a vast majority of the American viewers were from the north. However, let's hope that the high viewership in cities without NHL franchises, like San Diego, doesn't give Bettman any funny ideas. Some, however, remain quite pessimistic about hockey's staying power in the States. Of course, it doesn't help Bettman that none of USA's marquee talents play on Southeast Division teams. The days of European dominance, and questions of whether the North American development programs are heading in the right direction or not, are over. Jaromir Jagr, Peter Forsberg, and the stars of yesteryear don't dominate the NHL anymore. Finland and Sweden have probably seen the last of their stars from the '90s, while Russia is re-thinking their strategy and selection process. So disappointing was their performance this year that their Olympic Committee head Leonid Tyagachev has resigned after pressure from President Dmitry Medvedev. Just one day after the Closing Ceremonies, the NHL was right back at it again. I must admit, and I'm sure I'm not alone here, that I was suffering from the Olympic hangover and didn't even realize the NHL had resumed playing until I saw the boxscores. If there was any drawback to the Olympics, and this is a minor one, to say the least, was the somewhat uneventful trade deadline. Despite featuring a record number of players, I felt that most of the moves were lateral moves at the very best, with GMs trading for the sake of trading. Here's some winners and losers... The clear winners, I think, were two playoff teams: the Kings and Capitals. With such a young team, Dean Lombardi made an astute move and got veteran leader Jeff Halpern. The price may have seemed a little steep for the journeyman centre, with Teddy Purcell and a third rounder going the other way, but with the Kings' organizational depth it was something they could afford. I think the Capitals missed some of Chris Clark's presence so they got former Canuck Scott Walker and the underrated Eric Belanger. Milan Jurcina returns to Washington and they also got Joe Corvo as well, and the price wasn't bad. The Capitals really made themselves a contender in this one and I have a feeling they'll top Pittsburgh this time around, despite getting Alexei Ponikarovsky. The Pens just don't seem to be playing as well this year - perhaps the novelty of not having Michel Therrien behind the bench is wearing off a little. Phoenix was surprisingly active during the deadline but I think the bigger story is their success, not their acquisitions. There was, I think, a clear loser on this day and I think that's the Oilers. The 'Canes unloaded what players they didn't need, but at the end of the day the Oilers were still saddled with the same group of players they began the season with. Only two trades materialized for them: shipping Lubomir Visnovsky to Anaheim for Ryan Whitney and then Steve Staios to Calgary for Aaron Johnson and a pick. Unless Johnson impresses, he probably won't be back next year while Whitney's signed through 2013. Whitney perhaps isn't the type of player that brings a new attitude to the locker room, something that Steve Tambellini has been wanting to do, but the Oilers had to take some salary back. Some people wonder why the Oilers struck a trade with the Flames, but I really think that speaks to the futility of the Oilers' position. They obviously didn't have Calgary in its mind as a trading partner, but the lack of interest from other teams, or the reluctance to part with picks and prospects, probably pushed the Oilers to them. They have some immovable assets there. It's a long road ahead for the Oilers. The sweeping changes didn't come and the team will probably make more noise at the draft. Sam Gagner may be the only player really worth keeping but it's a shame he has to toil there. <img src="http://profile.ak.fbcdn.net/object2/1850/125/n55157749204_7654.jpg"class="imageFloatLeftFramed">The Canucks made some depth moves, acquiring Yan Stastny, Andrew Alberts, and Sean Zimmerman. Zimmerman probably won't see any NHL time in his career, Stastny's a call-up at best, while Alberts is a decent depth defenseman. Seeing as how Kevin Bieksa is still out with an injury and Willie Mitchell's status unknown, Mike Gillis didn't make any moves to shore up the blueline. I was personally pulling for Dan Hamhuis, but the Predators elected to keep him for the rest of the year despite his impending free agency. Gillis' big move last year was getting Mats Sundin, but nothing this year. It's perhaps a vote of confidence from Gillis for this team, but it's still missing some pieces before it's a contender in a tough conference. But of course, I'll still be cheering for the blue and green. Back to the NHL we go!
What an absolutely dominant performance by Canada last night in a 7-3 rout of Russia, the performance we've been looking for since the opening game against the Norwegians. After a close shave against the Jonas Hiller-led scrappy Swiss squad and a disappointing loss against the rough and tumble Americans, the Canadians responded with two convincing wins. The key last night wasn't so much that Mike Babcock completely outcoached Vyacheslav Bykov, or that Alex Ovechkin, Ilya Kovalchuk, Alex Semin, and Pavel Datsyuk were next to ineffective, or that the Russian holes on defense were completely exploited, or that Evgeni Nabokov played one of the weakest games in his career (and will no doubt be subject to some ribbing by the Sharks' quadruplets). The key last night was that the Canadians got an extra game to fine tune their chemistry and were able to ice four complete lines. It was quite surprising, but also quite comforting, that even when Sidney Crosby and Scott Niedermayer were held off the score sheet the Canadians were still able to pull of such a convincing win. The Canadians were able to execute, scoring a number of tic-tac-toe plays in which Nabokov had no chance, including a partial two-on-one break led by Jonathan Toews off a Mike Richards pass that led to a beautiful Rick Nash goal. That line was clearly the best line last night, not only completely shutting down the Russians' top line but also scoring. Ovechkin and Semin combined for 6 shots and -4 on the night. It's hard to single out who didn't play well last night, but Patrice Bergeron logged less than five minutes and Chris Pronger continues to play mediocre hockey. He's nowhere near Niedermayer's class. When I did my last pre-Olympics post I did mention, and Pierre LeBrun did as well, that the Russians' KHL contingent could be a drawback. I think last night it was pretty clear it was a mistake. The Russians' KHL players combined for -12 last night, with captain Aleksey Morozov logging just under twelve minutes of ice-time. Sergei Gonchar, Ovechkin, and Datsyuk, all of whom play in the NHL, both logged more than 20 minutes. I thought it was a curious decision not to take the KHL's leading scorer Sergei Mozyakin, instead taking Alexander Radulov and Sergei Zinovyev, both of whom finished in the minus. Zinovyev played just 8:49, the least out of any Russian forward. <img src="http://d.yimg.com/a/p/sp/getty/8b/fullj.a8f3670ece6600bb7eec1ce1d04972f6/a8f3670ece6600bb7eec1ce1d04972f6-getty-95659033mh128_ice_hockey_qu.jpg"class="imageFloatLeftFramed"> The physical play, once again, was set by the Canadians and the Russians didn't have anybody to counter. While Ovechkin's hit on Jagr was quite entertaining, the Russians couldn't keep up. Before the Olympics began I did see that as a potential problem, and which is the main reason why when I made my picks I made sure Evgeny Artyukhin was on that squad. I do agree that this win, by far, was the most convincing in this tournament even though face-offs could use more work. However, I think more interesting happenings were occurring outside of the Russia-Canada match-up. Didn't I say the Finns would be in the mix? Miikka Kiprusoff made 31 saves for the Finns who will play the US in the other semi-final. The win wasn't an easy one to swallow - Pavel Kubina stopped checking Niklas Hagman to retrieve his helmet only to allow him to score the eventual game-winner. Kubina had lost his helmet during play and under international rules playing without a helmet could result in a minor penalty. The rule created some controversy, including Hagman's own admission that it's a "stupid rule." Either way, from the looks of things the Finns may very well finish with the bronze. The Finland-USA game should be a well-fought one and really could go either way, but I'll have to go with the 1980-inspired Americans and Ryan Miller on this one. I think the biggest storyline of the night, however, was Slovakia's upset of Sweden. The defending champions won't medal in this tournament, despite relying on a veteran squad. Led by Pavol Demitra's three points, who is playing the best hockey I've ever seen him play, and Jaroslav Halak, the Slovaks are have already achieved their highest finish at the Olympics. Henrik Lundqvist made just ten saves in the loss, and coach Bengt-Ake Gustafsson continued to rely on his veterans, even if they're essentially playing on one leg: Daniel Alfredsson logged 19:28, Henrik Zetterberg 18:58, Johan Franzen 17:46, and Peter Forsberg 16:07. On the other hand, the NHL's highest scoring duo was surprisingly limited to secondary roles, to me especially, as Henrik Sedin finished with 13:43 and Daniel Sedin with 13:23. Meanwhile, Patric Hornqvist, Loui Eriksson, and Nicklas Backstrom all logged more ice-time than the twins. Gustafsson's reliance on players based on age seems to be extreme at best. I didn't get to see much of the game, but it seems as though the Sedins played well enough but failed to execute. The Slovaks have an uphill climb with Canada next, especially when they're firing on all cylinders. Halak has been amazing but the Canadians are clearly the best team in the tournament now. Expect the gold medal game to be a re-match between the US and Canada and it will be a barn burner.
Many people have touted this tournament as the "best of the best." Sweden begins their quest to defend gold. It will be Alexander Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby's first foray in the Olympics, carrying on their rivalry from their day jobs. It is, for the first time ever, played on Canadian soil with all-stars from the best professional league in the world. It's hard to find arguments to disagree with all these things, and should the two heavyweights, Russia and Canada, face-off in the final, expect a much-hyped, much-awaited re-match in Sochi in 2014, should Gary Bettman and the International Olympic Committee come to an agreement. The key match-ups, including Czech Republic-Slovakia, Finland-Sweden, Canada-USA, and Canada-Russia, will no doubt draw the biggest crowds. The big names have already been spoken for, but here are some other things to keep an eye out for (in no specific order). 1. Sweden's youth... or lack thereof. Head coach Bengt-Ake Gustafsson went with a veteran heavy lineup, hoping that some of the winning experience from 2006 will translate to the same result. While there are no Crosby or Ovechkin-type heavyweights in their lineup on offense, the Swedes always play a smart and complete hockey game. Whenever you have Nicklas Lidstrom patrolling the back end and Henrik Lundqvist in net, you have a good chance of winning. But the youthful enthusiasm of young stars must not be overlooked. True, sometimes the atmosphere can overwhelm and throw inexperienced players off their game, but they also do provide energy and spark on the bench. Sometimes, veterans can develop a bit of a "been there, done that" attitude that is ultimately detrimental to the team. 2. The Sedins... at the top of the world. The Sedins have established themselves as bona fide top liners in the NHL. For that, they deserve a pat on the back for really giving the Canucks really good bang for the buck after signing identical extensions. But now, they're on the top line for the defending gold medalists and will be relied on heavily. No longer can they hide behind the shadows of Markus Naslund, Peter Forsberg, or Mats Sundin. Now is the time to show the world what they can really do. They ended their road trip with their heads in the clouds, including a terrible showing in a 6-2 loss in Minnesota. The pressure on them, especially from hockey mad Sweden, is massive. We'll have to see how they respond. 3. Russia's KHL contingent and leadership roles. I noted before that Russia's promise to take a significant number of KHL players might come back and bite them in the butt, and Pierre LeBrun at ESPN agrees. Leadership has always been somewhat of a problem for the Russians because their individual play is absolutely brilliant, and it did come as a surprise to me when Aleksey Morozov was named as captain. Morozov has not played on North American ice since 2004 and has been penciled in on the fourth line. While Ovechkin and Ilya Kovalchuk will serve as the alternates, it's a little curious to me that key veterans like Pavel Datsyuk, Andrei Markov, Sergei Gonchar, and Sergei Fedorov won't have letters on their chests. The argument is that it's "just a letter" and perhaps Canadians just pay a little too much attention to who wears the 'C', but I wonder who will really lead this team. 4. Finland - the team everyone forgets. The Finns aren't flashy, nor do they wish to attract a lot of attention to themselves. What they do, however, is play a tough, gritty game that always seems to catch other teams off-guard. For Saku Koivu and Teemu Selanne, wearing the 'C' and the 'A' respectively, this may very well be their last tournament, and it may be the coming out party for players like Valtteri Filppula and Sami Lepisto, both entering the prime age of their careers. Miikka Kiprusoff and 2006 tournament MVP Antero Niittymaki will man the pipes. Keep in mind that the Finns have won silver and bronze in the past three tournaments. If any team has a shot at upsetting a medal favourite, it's these guys. <img src="http://4.bp.blogspot.com/_fw7iF68JR8k/Rx1O6ALIuBI/AAAAAAAAHP8/Ge5SpxoGXKo/s320/nhl_g_gretzkylemieux_195.jpg"class="imageFloatLeftFramed">5. The kids are alright. It's been a long, long time since the NHL, and international hockey overall, has showcased this many young and talented players. For Crosby and Ovechkin, age 22 and 24, respectively, this may already be the defining moment of their careers. Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux were only 26 and 22 at the 1987 Canada Cup. The Americans haven't had this much talent since the early 1990s and have just 4 players born before 1980's Miracle on Ice. Brian Burke went on record to say that they picked Jon Quick over Craig Anderson in the end because of his age. Steve Yzerman chose youth over experience with Jonathan Toews and Drew Doughty, the only player born after 1988 in the tournament. This may perhaps be the biggest tournament they will ever play in their lives. Bonus. Flashback: 1996. Remember when Sergei Fedorov scored 107 points and won the Selke? Remember when Ziggy Palffy scored 43 goals? Remember when Jaromir Jagr scored 62 goals and had 149 points? Those numbers are still staggering. 14 years ago, these three players were at the height of their popularity and dazzled the world with their immense skill. Today, they are little more than relics of the old guard, expected to more lead than score. This is their ultimate swan song - the chance to represent their country in the most prestigious tournament in the world. Let the games begin.
It will be only another three days before the Olympic torch enters BC Place and it will be exactly a week today when Canada will step onto the ice to show the world what they can really do after a devastating seventh place finish at Turin. The Games coincide with what has been traditionally the toughest stretch in a grueling 82-game NHL season, in which the travel and general wear and tear catch up to players, resulting in injuries to key players. For the 12 teams that will take part, some of them have already named roster replacements, while others are awaiting word on their original selections' health before making any changes. Szymon Szemberg of the IIHF has notified teams that they have until February 15, the day before the first games, to make changes. <img src="http://cdn.bleacherreport.com/images_root/image_pictures/0002/4984/random_key_38803_file_st.louis.martin.1_feature.jpg"class="imageFloatRightFramed">The return of Dan Boyle is a big sigh of relief for Canada because he's a truly underrated defenseman with amazing skating and puck-moving ability. A lot of people credit Vincent Lecavalier and Brad Richards for Tampa's 2004 win, but Dan Boyle and Martin St. Louis were equally vital. The big news today, however, is Ryan Getzlaf's sprained left ankle. He is listed as day-to-day and may very well heal in time for the Games but with these type of injuries it is impossible to tell how long he will be out for. Getzlaf was in crutches after the game but X-rays were negative and he will undergo further testing today. Should Getzlaf not be able to make the trip, who takes his spot with Corey Perry? Well, I think it's quite obvious that will be Eric Staal, who has 34 points in 29 games since December and plays a fairly similar game. For those concerned with handedness, Staal is a lefty while Getzlaf a righty, but the new replacement could fill that void. For me, there are two players that Canada can take and they're both from right shots: Steven Stamkos or Martin St. Louis. Jeff Carter (also a righty) may creep into the conversation here and may get the nod because of his size, but Stamkos is having a far superior season. My personal choice would be St. Louis because I think his strong play this season has been overlooked and he is an Olympian vet, so throwing him into this situation won't be anything he can't handle. On a roster that is full of centreman, having St. Louis, a natural winger, could help. Scott Niedermayer isn't having a good season either and all eyes will be on him to right his game and lead the team. As a winner at every single level, Niedermayer isn't a stranger to pressure. With a strong supporting cast that is by far, I think, the best in the tournament, Canada's defense should be one of few worries of the coaching staff. Canada's defense has a little bit of everything - speed, size, skill, strength, and even youth in the highly regarded Drew Doughty. The big head scratcher for Mike Babcock and company is to figure out which players get the big minutes and which ones sit. A lot has been made about goaltending as well, with Martin Brodeur, Roberto Luongo, and Marc-Andre Fleury struggling. Brodeur, Canada's undisputed #1, has allowed more than 3 goals in his last 5 games with a 2-3 record during that stretch. The Devils blew a 2-0 lead last night against Philadelphia. Luongo had a fantastic game in Boston but lost his previous game and was pulled in Toronto. Fleury has allowed 13 goals in his last 3 games and had a save percentage far below his usual .906 mark in that stretch. Is it fatigue? It could very well be with all three goalies heavily relied upon by their respective teams. Some argue that coaches, especially ones with Olympic commitments like Jacques Lemaire, should rest his starters in preparation for the Olympics but that won't happen - the NHL is their day job and they're paid to win, so naturally it's their only focus until the opening game against Norway. Either way, Canada is walking into the tournament with their three best goalies, even if they are currently being outplayed by Steve Mason and Marty Turco. Exactly who the hero will be remains to be seen. <img src="http://www.cbc.ca/gfx/images/sports/photos/2008/10/30/bogosian-zach-081010.jpg"class="imageFloatLeftFramed">USA has already lost two of their original selections. Paul Martin is out with a broken arm and won't be 100% by the start of the Games and Mike Komisarek is going to have season-ending shoulder surgery. Brian Burke swiftly announced Ryan Whitney and Tim Gleason as his replacements. While Whitney hasn't exactly had a stellar season, he is logging almost 25 minutes a night for the struggling Ducks while Gleason will replace Komisarek's defensive zone presence. While I like the majority of USA's roster, I would've picked Matt Greene (Grand Ledge, MI) and Zach Bogosian (Massena, NY) instead, to continue Burke's trend of a youth movement, even though it's not like Whitney (26) or Gleason (27) are that old. Greene has been vital to the Kings' success and is their best defensive player. While Bogosian has really cooled off and has just 20 points with -13, he is the future of USA's defensive corps along with Erik and Jack Johnson. If anything, Bogosian will be USA's seventh man and it would perhaps do him some good to just soak up the atmosphere. The USA are underdogs, but it's the way they like it. Just ask Mike Eruzione and the 1980 squad. <img src="http://www.cbc.ca/sports/columns/newsmakers/gfx/evgeni-malkin-250.jpg"class="imageFloatRightFramed">Russia will perhaps be Canada's biggest challenge because their offense is, by far, the best in the tournament. When Ilya Kovalchuk and Evgeni Malkin play on your second line, you have an embarrassment of riches in the goal-scoring category. However, there are two things to note. First, I think Russia shot itself in the foot when they announced that half of their roster will be made up of players from the KHL. I think hockey politics took the front seat here because Russian officials were much too eager to show the world that the KHL is on par with the NHL, but let's face it, the world's best players are in the NHL. If the Russians win gold, then they have a point, but if they lose, it shows that the NHL is still the superior league. Second, defense remains the big issues because their top two defenseman, Sergei Gonchar and Andrei Markov, are both known more for their offensive talents than defense. The Russians can outscore anybody, but the question is whether or not they are good enough in the defensive zone. Talented forwards Alexei Kovalev and Alexander Frolov were the notable absentees, and even if their consistency at the NHL level is suspect, they are top performers for Russia - Kovalev has 10 points in 14 games for Russia in two Olympics and Frolov has 15 points in 16 games in two World Championships. Sergei Mozyakin, one of the top performers in the KHL year-in and year-out, was also another omission. Semyon Varlamov has been out since December with a groin injury and his replacement will be Alexander Eremenko, the fourth goalie at camp, but the issue is largely irrelevant because Evgeni Nabokov and Ilya Bryzgalov are the clear 1-2. The Swedes may be hit by injuries the hardest, with both veterans Tomas Holmtrom and Niklas Kronwall questionable for the tournament. Let's not forget that despite his selection to the roster, it is still not 100% sure whether or not Peter Forsberg will play. Assuming that all three will be unavailable, Johan Franzen, who recently returned from injury, will get the first looks. Forget about Mikael Samuelsson - even if he's asked he's already said he'd say no. If Franzen isn't ready, than the Swedes could go with more checking ability in Fredrik Sjostrom, or scoring ability by reaching into their own backyard and pick Johan Davidsson from HV71 Jonkoping of the SEL. The captain and team's leading scorer for the past two years, Davidsson is having another strong season and gives the Swedes another representative from the SEL despite not having played at the international level since the 2007 World Championships. Since former Washington Capital and coach Bengt-Ake Gustafsson (son Anton is in the Caps' system) has been adverse to selecting younger players, Victor Hedman, who wasn't even on the original shortlist, probably won't be picked. Instead it may very well be Alex Edler, who I felt should've belonged in the first place, or another Red Wing in Jonathan Ericsson, or Chicago's underrated Niklas Hjalmarsson. Whatever the case, Sweden will almost undoubtedly be in play during the medal rounds due to their incredible chemistry. Daniel and Henrik Sedin are expected to anchor the top line in front of their home crowd while Henrik Zetterberg and Daniel Alfredsson will form the second. Finland will make some noise because like Canada and USA, they will benefit from a smaller ice surface with their North American style of play. Tuomo Ruutu and Niklas Backstrom are both on the injured reserve and it seems unlikely either will make the trip. While they are very good NHLers, especially Backstrom, it won't hurt them significantly. Miikka Kiprusoff will man the pipes while Antero "Sushi Roll" Niittymaki will back him up and is more than capable of handling the load, having won MVP honours at Turin. Nashville's Pekka Rinne will most likely be the third string. Jussi Jokinen and Lauri Korpikoski would be my first choices as Ruutu's replacement, both versatile players but lack Ruutu's physical play. There will be a good chance that the games will be decided by shootouts and Jussi Jokinen may be the best in the league, along with Jonathan Toews. The scrappy Finns are considered underdogs in this tournament but do have the ability to make some noise. Teemu Selanne and Saku Koivu, the leading scorers at Turin with 11 points each, are both returning. Neither the Czechs nor Slovaks have any injuries, the only medal round threats to not have any. It works in their favour, but they face a very steep uphill climb in the tough Group B (Russia, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Latvia). The Slovaks, who finished fifth in Turin, are headlined by a healthy duo of Marian Gaborik and Marian Hossa, while Zdeno Chara continues to patrol the blueline. There is no obvious strength on the Slovak squad, but there's no obvious weakness either. If the goaltending holds up with Jaroslav Halak and Peter Budaj, the Slovaks have a good chance of finishing in the bronze medal game. The team is headlined by a big batch of veterans, including Jozef Stumpel, Pavol Demitra, and Miroslav Satan. Gaborik is the Slovaks' youngest forward and he is 28. Like Sweden, the Slovaks will lean on veteran leadership, good goaltending, and timely scoring to get them through the tournament. For 37-year old Ziggy Palffy, who came out of retirement in 2007, this will most likely be his last opportunity to win a medal. A veteran-heavy team may not necessarily be a bad thing - for one, the team could fall flat on its face like Canada in 2006 or be a surprising contender like USA in 2002. Given the talent pool it seems unlikely the Czechs will finish third again, although it's not out of the realm of possibility. Like the Slovaks, the Czechs don't have any weaknesses, but rather just a solid, well-rounded team. What gives the Czechs an edge over rest of their competition, however, is their ability to score. The undersized Tomas Plekanec will be the team's top centreman, but what the team lacks in depth down the middle is more than made up for on the wings with Martin Havlat, Patrik Elias, Milan Michalek, Martin Erat, Tomas Fleischmann, and, of course, Jaromir Jagr. To be honest I though the Czechs would stock up on some more firepower because that's their obvious strength, but instead chose to exclude Jiri Hudler, Vaclav Prospal, and even Milan Hejduk, a curious decision to say the least. Tomas Kaberle, Marek Zidlicky, Filip Kuba, and Pavel Kubina makes up a nice defensive corps, while shot-blocking machine Zbynek Michalek (271 in 2008-09 was 33 more than second place Brett Clark, another underrated defenseman) will be the shut-down man. There will be no Dominik Hasek to confound shooters, although Tomas Vokoun is certainly no slouch. Odds to win Gold: Canada (1:2), Russia (2:1), Sweden and USA (6:1), Czech Republic (12:1), Finland (18:1), Slovakia (40:1) Go Canada Go!