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The flights have arrived. Rooms have been booked. Lineups have been set. The only thing left is to play some hockey! The 2014 Men’s Olympic Hockey Tournament begins today at noon.

Who will be taking home Olympic hockey gold?

The men’s tournament appears to be a four team race:
United States, Canada, Russia, Sweden

Canada is strong but not dominant away from North America.

Canada is without a doubt the most skilled team from top to bottom. Their lineup has no weaknesses. They are solid defensively and offensively stacked with big name players who are accustomed to coming through in the clutch. Canada is so deep that even when top line players are injured, there is another star to take his place (see St. Louis replaces Stamkos). But their two Olympic gold medals in recent years came in Vancouver and Salt Lake City, UT.

No longer underestimated, are the Americans tough enough to win it all?

U.S. has an albatross on its neck, and its name is Canada. After the heart breaking loss in 2010, the attitude in the American locker room is “redemption.” The selection committee shook things up with the 2014 lineup, hoping to spark new life into the team. The Americans no longer have the surprise advantage. They must once again play gritty yet smart hockey to make it back to the podium. Thirteen players return from the 2010 team. Dustin Brown, Ryan Callahan, Zach Parise and Brooks Orpik should be up to the task!

The U.S. team begins its quest in the preliminary round tomorrow, beginning at 7:30 am EST. Their first three games are shown here:

Will host country pressure be too much for the Russians to handle?

As the host team, Russia has the most pressure on its shoulders. Many players and officials have openly stated that anything short of a gold medal in hockey would be a disappointment. But do they have enough to win? Defense will be a problem for the Russians. This means that they will have to score a lot to win. No doubt they have the talent, with the likes of Datsyuk, Ovechkin and Malkin. History shows that these guys do not perform together at their best on the big stage. Will 2014 be different?

Can Sweden really win it all?

Like Canada, the Swedes have an NHL star-studded lineup. The Swedes have also been hit with the injury bug at their top line. Unlike Canada, however, they do not have the star power to substitute. Losing Henrik Sedin is going to cause immediate problems that they will have to remedy right away. Their strength is their defense, and defense wins championships. If the Swedes can control the tempo and puck possession, they can make it to the gold medal game.

In the end, Canada has the strongest chance of winning it all. They should at least be in the gold medal game. Who will they face? United States. That’s right! The men’s team will scratch and claw their way back to the championship game. And with recent experience and success, they should once again give the Canadians all they can handle.

Written by Brad Abbott