1. The United States of America
Obviously, if you are American then the US team, led by head coach Dan Bylsma and captain Zach Parise, should be your #1 rooting interest.
2. The Kingdom of Norway
Norway has that underdog appeal that you have to love as they face off against powerhouse neighbors Sweden, Finland, and Russia.
3. The Republic of Slovenia
Despite boasting Los Angeles Kings star Anže Kopitar, the Slovenian team will be lucky to make a deep tournament run in Sochi, the nation’s first ever Olympic ice hockey tournament.
4. The Swiss Confederation
A respectable team, the Swiss have improved in talent over the past few years. The team’s strength comes in the form of Jonas Hiller, who is normally between the pipes for the NHL-leading Anaheim Ducks.
5. The Czech Republic
The Czech team hosts some of the oldest players in the tournament, veterans Jaromír Jágr and Petr Nedvěd. This Czech squad may not be considered to be in medal contention, but they are a talented bunch that could play spoiler to the Russians, Americans, Canadians, or Swedes.
6. The Republic of Finland
The Finnish team earned a bronze medal in 2010, and being back on European ice should favor the team, which has yet to take home a gold medal despite making the podium in five of the last seven Olympic Games.
7. The Republic of Latvia
If you were wagering on any team to not make the podium, Latvia would probably be the team to choose. Despite a long hockey tradition in the small Baltic state, only one NHL player is on the roster: Buffalo’s Zemgus Girgensons. That being said, Latvia does have the only current NCAA hockey player in the tournament on the roster: Ralfs Freibergs of Bowling Green State.
8. The Slovak Republic
Much like the Czech team, Team Slovakia boasts a talented roster with a lot of NHL and KHL talent, highlighted by the team’s captains, Zdeno Chára of the Boston Bruins. Slovakia will need some luck being grouped with both the United States and Russia, but this is not a team to be taken lightly.
9. The Republic of Austria
The Austrians are grouped with both the Finnish and Canadian teams and will have trouble taking Thomas Vanek deep into the tournament.
10. The Kingdom of Sweden
Sweden is a perennial international powerhouse that last medalled in 2006, taking gold. Being back on the large ice of Europe should favor the Swedish team, led by captain Henrik Zetterberg.
11. The Russian Federation
The Russians have a lot to prove. Since the fall of the USSR, the Russian team has only taken home two Olympic medals (a silver in 1998 and a bronze in 2002). In the group stage, Russia will be the stiffest competition for your American team.
Canada’s biggest hurdle will be adjusting to the larger international ice surface. While favored to win gold, the last time a Canadian team won gold outside North America was 1952. The last time they took a medal outside the United States was at Lilihammer in 1994 (a silver). Will captain Sidney Crosby be able to lead this Canadian team to glory?
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