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Hockey Tue Feb 16 2010

Hawks players in action as Olympic hockey begins

Men's Olympic hockey begins this afternoon, and the NHL is on hiatus until the conclusion of the tournament and the games. However, a half-dozen Blackhawks players are playing for their home countries, and 4 of them will be on the ice today.

First at 2 p.m. CST, Patrick Kane will join with the rest of the U.S. team to battle the Swiss, led by Anaheim Ducks goalie Jonas Hiller. Then at 6:30 p.m., Jonathon Toews, Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook will play for the host Canadians as they take on Norway. Hawks forwards Marian Hossa and Tomas Kopecky will compete for the Slovakian national team tomorrow.

The U.S. will face a tough test in Switzerland. While the Swiss only have 2 NHL players on their national team, they have the added benefit of time to practice and gel together, and beat the U.S. team 4-3 in overtime in the 2009 World Championships. The Swiss also had a huge pair of upsets in the 2006 games over Canada and the Czech Republic, with the noticeable difference of Hiller in goal now over Martin Gerber in '06.
The U.S. squad has a decided talent advantage, but first game rust with an unfamiliar team and a strong performance by Hiller could spark another upset.

Patrick Kane will be making his first Olympic appearance, and the team has a decidedly younger bent with Kane, along with NHL stars Zach Parise, Phil Kessel, Bobby Ryan and Joe Pavelski. Kane hurt his knee in Sunday's Blackhawks game, but was able to score the winning goal in the shootout and participate in Monday's U.S. team practice with no ill effects. This year is a changing of the guard in many ways for the Americans, as many former long-term U.S. teammates were passed over for an infusion of youth and fresh blood. If the squad can put aside their NHL rivalries and become a cohesive unit in time, they could prove to be a darkhorse contender. This afternoon's contest should provide a prime chance to see what kind of U.S. team shows up.

The U.S.-Swiss game airs on USA, starting at 2 p.m., while the Canada-Norway game is on CNBC at 6:30 p.m.

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