Almost everyone agrees on seven of the eight teams that will reach next week's critical quarterfinals in Olympic men's hockey.
Defending champion Canada, Sweden and the Czech Republic are the most likely medalists when group play starts Wednesday. Russia, Finland, Slovakia and the US are possibilities. And Germany is an in-between team -- ranked just above rank-outsiders Latvia, Kazakhstan, Switzerland and Italy.
Arturs Irbe, a former NHL goaltender who is expected to start for Latvia against the US, spoke for the also-ran teams.
"Hopefully we can play close games and make the teams that are expected to win games against us kind of sweat and get a little nervous," said Irbe, who plays for the Salzburg Red Bulls in Austria. "We definitely do not have the firepower that can just gun down the opposition."
This is the third consecutive Olympics using NHL players. Every team but Italy has at least one NHL player -- Italy is in only because it's the host nation. The rosters of the seven contenders are composed of 90 percent NHL talent -- and the Canadians and Americans have nothing but.
Canada was the overwhelming favorite until last week when Wayne Gretzky -- the team's executive director -- was linked to a gambling investigation.
Probably Canada's best-known personality, Gretzky arrived Tuesday in Turin looking tired and drained.
"I don't like overshadowing anybody." Gretzky said, when asked about the distractions.
Gretzky says he has never placed any wagers with a gambling ring. His wife, Janet Jones, is alleged to have placed gets with a ring led by Rick Tocchet, a former NHL player. He has taken leave of his job as Gretzky's assistant coach with the NHL's Phoenix Coyotes.
"He [Gretzky] has said that he's had nothing to do with this thing," Canada coach Pat Quinn said Tuesday, sitting next to Gretzky at a news conference. "As far as we're concerned, Wayne and his family has our utmost support and respect."
The defending Olympic champion Canadians have ruled recent international hockey, taking the 2004 World Cup and two of the last three World Championships. Their main rival is the Czech Republic, which took gold in the '98 Olympics and won the most recent World Championship.
The favorites share a common thread -- the best goaltending in the field. Martin Brodeur and Roberto Luongo lead Canada, the Czechs have Dominik Hasek and Tomas Vokoun, and Henrik Lundqvist will start for Sweden.
Top clubs have all been hit by injuries. Jet lag will also be a factor the first few days, with many players only arriving on Tuesday -- 24 hours before play begins. Many of the NHL players were stranded by a massive snowstorm that struck the US east coast, closing airports and grounding flights.
Canada will be without top defensemen Scott Niedermayer and Ed Jovanovski, both out injured. Holes in defense could be costly on the larger Olympic surface, where the defense faces more pressure than on smaller NHL rinks.
Sweden, which was upset by Belarus in the 2002 quarterfinals, may see its chances hinge on center Peter Forsberg, who is nursing a groin problem and whose status is uncertain.
All of the contenders have had to call up replacements.
Losers to Canada in the 2002 final, the US may be playing without its hottest goaltender.
The Buffalo Sabres' Ryan Miller was left off the team after breaking his thumb. He didn't recover quickly enough when the team was picked in December. Instead, the goalie picks are Rick DiPietro, Robert Esche and John Grahame.
Most of the contenders have easy openers on Wednesday.
In Group A, Canada plays Italy, the Czechs open with Germany and Finland plays Switzerland.
In Group B, Sweden plays Kazakhstan, Slovakia plays Russia and the US plays Latvia.
The top four teams in each group reach the quarterfinals. The gold-medal game is Feb. 26.
APPROPRIATE RESPONSE: The Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan expressed ‘sincere regret’ for publishing the image on its in-house magazine and Web site A satirical mock-up depicting the Tokyo Games logo as the novel coronavirus has been pulled from online after Olympic organizers branded it “insensitive” and said that it infringed copyright. The design combines the distinctive, spiky image of the coronavirus cell with the blue-and-white Tokyo Games logo. It appeared on the cover of the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan’s magazine. The Tokyo Games have been postponed until next year because of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has left hundreds of thousands of people dead and halted sport worldwide. Club president Khaldon Azhari yesterday said that the club had decided to withdraw the image and remove
Uncertainty grips next year’s postponed Tokyo Olympic Games: Will there be fans or empty stadiums in 14 months? How will thousands of athletes, staff members and technical officials travel, be housed and stay safe amid the COVID-19 pandemic? And the Tokyo Games are not the only event. China, where COVID-19 was first detected, is to hold three mega-sports events in the year after the Tokyo Olympics are set to close. The World University Games in Chengdu, China, are to open, with up to 8,000 athletes, only 10 days after the Tokyo Games close. Next come the Beijing Winter Olympics beginning on Feb. 4, 2022,
The COVID-19 pandemic has stalled young Greek Stefanos Tsitsipas’ burgeoning career, but he remains philosophical about the tennis shutdown. The world No. 6 would have been preparing for the French Open that was originally scheduled to start this weekend, but was postponed to September. While he is missing life on the ATP Tour, Tsitsipas believes that the lockdown has given the planet a breather. “I actually think they should put us in lockdown once a year — it’s good for nature, it’s good for our planet,” Tsitsipas said in an Instagram Live conversation for At Home With Babsi on Eurosport’s Instagram page. “I
When South Korea’s domestic women’s golf tour held its premier event last week — without spectators because of the COVID-19 pandemic — no fewer than three of the world’s top 10 players took part. The country of 52 million people has a disproportionate share of the women’s world golf rankings, providing eight of the current top 20. In a demonstration of their prominence, South Korean women have won at least one major every season since 2010, with coronavirus cancellations perhaps the biggest threat to their run this year. The phenomenon, players and commentators have said, results from driven parents, intense training, a highly