While the men’s Olympic hockey tournament officially began Wednesday with a pair of preliminary-round games, the Pittsburgh Penguins’ representatives had another day to acclimate themselves to their new teams.
Thursday will be different, starting at 3 a.m. Eastern time when Jussi Jokinen and Olli Maatta suit up for Finland against Austria at the Bolshoy Ice Dome in Sochi. At 7:30 ET, the tournament really gets rolling when Evgeni Malkin leads host Russia in its opener vs. Slovenia at Bolshoy.
While most of Russia’s eyes are on the main rink, the Dan Bylsma-led Team USA takes on Slovakia at Shayba Ice Arena also at 7:30. As I wrote yesterday, Paul Martin and Brooks Orpik were paired together in the Americans’ second practice session, so they have a better-than-average chance of teaming up for at least part of group play.
Finally, defending champion Canada starts its gold-medal defense against Norway at noon Thursday at Bolshoy. Sidney Crosby and Chris Kunitz are expected to be on the same forward line, just as they usually are in Pittsburgh.
The Olympic men’s tournament features 12 teams divided into three groups. While each squad is guaranteed to advance to the elimination round, the three group winners and the second-place team with the best record after three preliminary matches will earn byes into next Wednesday’s quarterfinals.
Team USA is in Group A with Russia, Slovakia and Slovenia; the Americans will battle the host country at 7:30 a.m. Saturday before facing Slovenia at the same time Sunday. Canada is grouped with Finland, Norway and Austria, while Group C – which features no Penguins – holds the Czech Republic, Sweden, Switzerland and Latvia.
For full scheduling information, visit NBCOlympics.com.
Larry Snyder and I recorded the latest edition of the Gospel of Hockey podcast Wednesday morning, and as you could expect the Olympic talk was prevalent. We welcomed frequent guest Joe Depto to help us analyze what could make the difference in Sochi, and which teams are likely to make the medal round.
We also looked into whether the NHL will participate in the Olympics in the future, plus the first meeting between USA and Canada in the women’s hockey tourney: