Sochi 2014: Group C Preview

Sweden, Czech Republic, Switzerland, and Latvia. Who's a contender, who's a pretender?

CZECH REPUBLIC

They don't have injured Tomas Hertl, but they were able to plug that Nedved kid in his spot. His teammate Ondrej Palat was born in 1991, nine months after Nedved was drafted second overall by the Canucks. The Czechs are icing one odd lineup. They opted not to take Hudler, Vrbata, Havlat, Fleischmann and Tlusty. They do, however, have the likes of Martin Erat on the team. Their situation in goal is even more interesting, as their lone NHLer Ondrej Pavelec will reportedly not even dress tomorrow against Sweden. Instead they will start Jakub Kovar, who's been playing pretty well for KHL's Avtomobilist Yekaterinburg, posting a .934 Sv% and 1.91 GAA in 44 games. He will backed up by Alexander Salak of SKA St. Petersburg, also playing well this year (.933 Sv%, 1.86 GAA).

LATVIA

Suddenly Ted Nolan's everywhere. He's coaching the Sabres, who we've played 35 times already, and he's coaching the Latvians. Their best-known player is the un-retired former All-Star Sandis Ozolinsh, who they plucked from the golf course to help them qualify. Their actual best player is the excellent Sabres center Zemgus Girgensons, and the roster is sprinkled with fairly decent players in Oskars Bartulis, Arturs Kulda, Kaspars Daugavins and Martins Karsums. I'd say Latvia is the best of the four "just happy to be here" teams, but still getting into the quarters is very unlikely.

SWITZERLAND

The surprising runners-up from the last World Championships, the Swiss clearly plan to from now on be considered part of the big 8. I have them ready to show they're better than the Czechs or the Slovaks at the moment. They play Latvia first, at noon Eastern tomorrow, so we'll see if they have what it takes to be an elite team. Goalie Reto Berra had a hot start for the Flames but has cooled off considerably. His play will be paramount if they are to be taken seriously at this tournament.

SWEDEN

Being taken seriously won't be an issue for the Swedes. Reigning world champions and the #1 ranked team in the world, they are a perfect blend of skill and speed, youth and experience. Even the loss of Henrik Sedin and Johan Franzen does not make me think less of their chances to combine the world and Olympic title. Their blue line is mobile and fluid, their forwards are skilled and precise. Their goalie is the best in the business.

MATCH SCHEDULE

Here is the schedule for all 6 Group C round-robin games, converted to Eastern time. Also, this is the full TV schedule.

DATE TIME GAME
Wednesday, Feb 12 12 noon EST Czech Republic vs. Sweden
Wednesday, Feb 12 12 noon EST Latvia vs. Switzerland
Thursday, February 13 3 am EST Czech Republic vs. Latvia
Thursday, February 13 7:30 am EST Sweden vs. Switzerland
Saturday, February 15 12 noon EST Czech Republic vs. Switzerland
Saturday, February 15 12 noon EST Sweden vs. Latvia

PREDICTED FINISH AFTER GROUP STAGE

Sweden will finish first with 3 wins, Switzerland second with 2, Czech Republic third with 1, and Latvia will most likely be without wins. OT points will be interesting in this group. Sweden will be the only team from this group to earn a direct pass to the quarters, while everyone else will have to enter the qualification playoff.

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