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Olympic Ice Hockey – Vancouver 2010 Preview

February 6, 2010

On Friday the Winter Olympics begin in Vancouver – the fastest team sport in the world kicks off a few days later.

This is the first year since NHL players have been eligible to play that the Olympic competition takes place in a city with an NHL team. The Vancouver Canucks have set off on a mammoth road-trip (14 matches in 6 weeks) as a result of their rink, the 18,810 capacity General Motors Place, being prepared for several of the matches – albeit renamed because of Olympic sponsorship rules. Some games will also be played at the 7,000 seater UBC Winter Sports Centre

The men’s tournament has three groups of four teams and gets underway on Tuesday 16th February. Each team plays each other once and the four teams accruing the most points qualify for the quarter finals, as the remaining eight teams battle for the other four spots. From there, the playoffs begin to determine the gold medallist.

General Motors Place will be known as Canada Hockey Place for the tournament - flickr

Group A
United States

The highest ranked team in Group A is Canada (2nd). The USA are 5th, Switzerland 7th and Norway 11th. In a 3-game group it is difficult to pick a winner though it is likely that Canada, going for their 8th goal, will finish top. Their squad is composed entirely of NHL players, captained by defenceman Scott Neidermayer alongside Jarome Iginla, Chris Pronger and 22-year-old Stanley Cup-winning captain Sidney Crosby.

Canada superstar Sidney Crosby

Group B
Czech Republic

Russia are ranked the highest in the world and have a formidable squad. They have never won an Olympic gold since starting in 1993 (though the Soviet Union dominated before this) but this year have forwards Alexander Ovechkin, the 60-goal Washington Capitals superstar, Evgeni Malin of 2009 playoff winners Pittsburgh Penguins, and Ilya Kovalchuk, New Jersey Devils left-winger. And that’s not even mentoning the wealth of Russian league talent at their disposal.

Russia's Alexander Ovechkin

The Czechs, ranked 6th, won gold in 1998 and also boasting several NHL stars. Slovakia and Latvia are 9th and 10th in the world respectively.

Group C

Sweden (3rd), won gold last time and should battle it out for top spot with Finland (4th) here. Belarus (8th) are making their third Olympic appearance and have yet to win a medal. Their players come from the NHL, Belarussian and Russian leagues. Germany (12th) are the lowest-ranked team in the tournament after dropping two places from last time. Their squad is composed primarily of those from their home league, though Boston Bruins’ Marco Sturm and Jochen Hecht of Buffalo Sabres are two of their NHL contingent.

Coverage of the ice hockey, and indeed the rest of the Winter Olympics, is on BBC and Eurosport.

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