Organized Sports is a recurring sports column named for a seminal DC avant-hardcore song by the equally stupid and brilliant (to me, “equally stupid and brilliant” pretty much just means “brilliant”) band Void. Take from that what you will.
As of yesterday, the Sochi Olympics Men’s Hockey Tournament reached its halfway point with the conclusion of the preliminary round of pool play. Thus far, we’ve already witnessed an instant classic game in the United States’ shootout win over Russia/coming out party for St. Louis Blues’ not-quite-star TJ Oshie, but there have been a couple of other really tight contests as well, including Canada’s final win in overtime over Team Finland and Russia’s second shootout, a winner against a resurgent Slovak team.
As great as these games may have been, though, they were not elimination games. The preliminary round eliminated no teams, only serving as seeding for the elimination tournament. The winner of each pool received a bye for the first round of the elimination tournament, leaving Sweden, Canada and the United States safe, along with Finland, the second place team with the best record and goal differential, until the quarterfinals.
Because I like to predict things in order to see how wrong I can be, let’s guess how the tournament will play out after the jump, shall we?
First Elimination Round
8 Slovenia vs 9 Austria
Slovenia and Austria have the honor of playing for the right to face top-seeded Sweden in the quarterfinals. Austria has had a solid tournament for their reputation on the world hockey stage, as they are anything but a power, though they feature at least one bonafide NHL star in longtime Buffalo Sabres scorer Thomas Vanek. Slovenia, on the other hand, has already won quite a victory, in that this is their first time qualifying for Olympic competition, and they upset longtime Olympic qualifier Slovakia in the first round. Slovenia’s best player, Los Angeles Kings superstar Anze Kopitar, is ill, though, and will not be at his best in this game, leaving Austria as the victor.
My Pick: Austria moves on to face Sweden
5 Russia vs 12 Norway
Russia’s overtime loss to the United States and having to go to a shootout to defeat Slovakia lowered them below Finland and forced the host country to play in the elimination round. They should have no trouble with 12-seeded Norway, who while they play hard do not have the skill, speed, or goaltending to keep up with a perennial powerhouse.
My Pick: Russia moves on to face Finland
6 Switzerland vs 11 Latvia
Switzerland is not a traditional hockey power, but in the past decade they’ve begun supplying more and more players to the NHL, and in the international game are known for their solid defensive structure. In most international play, they do not have the benefit of excellent Anaheim Ducks goaltender Jonas Hiller, but in this tournament, they do, making them an easy favorite over Latvia and a potentially tough match for Canada in the quarterfinals.
My Pick: Switzerland moves on to face Canada
7 Czech Republic vs 10 Slovakia
The two countries once joined behind the Iron Curtain now face each other in the elimination round. Neither team started out well, but both have strengthened their game near the end of the preliminaries, with the Slovaks moving past their starting goaltender, Blue Jaroslav Halak, who’s played terrible, to take the Russians to a shootout in the final game of pool play, and the Czech Republic defeating Latvia. Behind old-ass Olympian Jaromir Jagr, the Czech Republic should take this game and move on to face the USA.
My Pick: Czech Republic moves on to face USA
1 Sweden vs 9 Austria
Sweden earned the number one seed with dominant play, and thus far they have looked the toughest of all the teams in terms of being good from the goaltender (2006 Olympic hero Henrik Lundqvist) out. This’ll be an easy one for them.
My Pick: Sweden moves to semifinals
4 Finland vs 5 Russia
Here is where I believe the pressure gets to the Russians. Other than the game against the United States, they haven’t looked like a cohesive team, whereas Finland has looked quite good, taking favorites Canada to overtime. We’ve reached the point of the tournament where a hot goaltender can steal one, and I think Tuukka Rask has more potential to do that than either of the Russian goaltenders who we’ve seen play.
My Pick: Finland moves to semifinals
3 Canada vs 6 Switzerland
Out of all the lesser teams in the tournament, this is the one I believe Canada least wanted to face in the quarterfinals. As I mentioned before, a hot goaltender can steal a game when it gets to the elimination round, and while Canada is by far the most talented team out on the ice in terms of forwards and defensemen, I don’t trust their goaltending from Carey Price or Roberto Luongo one bit. I’m calling the big upset here, with Jonas Hiller stealing this one for Switzerland and leaving the defending Gold Medalists out of medal contention.
My Pick: Switzerland moves to semifinals
2 United States vs 7 Czech Republic
The United States have played their letdown game after the Russia win, not looking as cohesive as they should have against Slovenia in the final game of pool play, so they should be ready for this one and handle the Czechs to move on to medal contention.
My Pick: United States moves on to semifinals
1 Sweden vs 4 Finland
This has to the potential to be the best game of the tournament that no one in the United States watches, since we’re fully into speculation mode at this point. This will be a low-scoring affair despite both teams’ abundance of high-flying skill players and scorers, because of the goaltenders. In a goalie duel, I’ll take King Henrik in a pinch, so I think that Sweden will be on to the Gold Medal game.
My Pick: Sweden advances to Gold Medal game
2 United States vs 6 Switzerland
The Swiss upset is the best thing that could have happened to the United States, who, no matter how much they might have wanted to avenge 2010’s Gold Medal Game loss to the Canucks, will be glad not to have to play them at all this tournament. It’s another close one, with Jonas Hiller keeping the Swiss in it, but the USA sneaks by and into the Gold Medal Game.
My Pick: US advances to Gold Medal game
4 Finland vs 6 Switzerland
In the Bronze Medal Game, Switzerland comes out exhausted and Finland comes out ready, and Teemu Selanne gets a medal in his sixth Olympics. For all their valiant efforts, the Swiss fall short but are the breakout upset stars of the tournament for their win over Canada.
My Pick: Finland wins the Bronze
1 Sweden vs 2 United States
The Gold Medal Game is another goaltender duel, and in his spotlight King Henrik outplays, barely, Jonathan Quick of the Los Angeles Kings for his second Gold in three Olympics. The US wins Silver again.
My Pick: Sweden takes Gold, USA takes Silver
We’ll check back next week to see just how wrong I was!