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Blackhawks Tue Feb 11 2014
After a pretty successful west-coast trip that returned a 3-1-2 record, the Blackhawks find themselves at the Olympic break with 84 points, tied for second most in the league with divisional rival St. Louis Blues. Now, for the next two weeks, 10 of Joel Quenneville's skaters will represent their respective country in Sochi, Russia, while the rest sip on Mai Tais on much warmer land (Andrew Shaw already seems to have this down).
This is an opportune time for the likes of Bryan Bickell to rest any nagging injuries, and for the coaching staff to reassess any lines that might need tweaking. And although Corey Crawford's snub off Team Canada was a little upsetting, it's a chance for him to take this time to relax and forget about hockey for a little while before the real stretch run to the postseason begins.
As for everyone else, there will be no rest for the weary. Each player made the trip safely, including Patrick Kane, who missed out on the Phoenix Coyotes game in order to attend the funeral of his late grandfather Donald Kane. But before the puck drops for the men's tournament on Wednesday, let's take a look at which Blackhawks players are in, which countries they'll represent and the expectations throughout.
The 10 players selected look like this:
TEAM CZECH REPUBLIC:
There are three groups for the men's hockey tournament, which break down as such:
Scoring in the tournament is a bit different than that of the NHL; meaning, a team receives three points for a regulation win, two points for an overtime win or shootout win and one point for an overtime defeat or shootout defeat. Zero points are awarded for a loss in regulation.
The rink also plays a different role in the Olympic games. Being 15 feet wider in international play, it gives a little more room for quicker skating up and down the ice and more room for setting up shots, especially in the power play. Knowing this, each team is built for speed.
After each team plays in the preliminary games, the seeding process begins, which earns a first-round bye for the top three in each group. Each team is named for seeding from 1D to 12D and placed into a bracket in a tournament format.
Sochi, Russia is ten hours ahead of the Central time zone here in the states. That said, many of the games will air live around 6am locally with rebroadcasts later in the day. The NBC family of networks will air all the games from MSNBC to NBC SportsNet. A handy guide is available on their site, which also you to enter your zip for exact times.
With that said, the first two games come Wednesday, February 12, at 11am, between the Czech Republic and Sweden (GROUP C). At the same time, Latvia takes on Switzerland in GROUP C action. Sweden is expected to take Bronze in this year's Olympics (9/2, according to Bovada) with home host Russia taking Silver (12/5) and Canada taking the Gold (2/1). (The U.S. is listed at 6/1 to win Gold.)
It's no secret the defensive capabilities of Oduya and Hjalmarsson, not to mention Krüger's recent run on the fourth line -- all three joining captain Henrik Zetterberg and a pile of other Detroit Red Wings (Niklas Kronwall, Daniel Alfredsson, Jonas Gustavsson) along with New York Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist for Team Sweden, make for a pretty dangerous and entertaining-to-watch team. The practice lines looked like this, according to Helene St. James of the Detroit Red Wings (@HeleneStJames):
Landeskog-Zetterberg-Steen; Sedin-Backstrom-L.Eriksson; Nyquist-Berglund-Alfredsson; Hagelin-Kruger-J.Ericsson
Team Canada looks like a Murderer's Row on paper with Toews and Sharp playing on the same line, probably second, while Team USA likely will pair Zach Parise-Ryan Kessler-Kane on the second line.
There's always going to be fear for Blackhawks fans everywhere of any injury or fatigue that might occur later in the NHL season from international play. No matter your stance, this tournament will be a lot of fun to watch. Can the Canadians repeat? Will the U.S. break through on foreign soil for the Gold? Will host Russia make good off of the disappointing Vancouver appearance? Time to set your alarm, sit back, relax and watch -- maybe with a Mai Tai or two.