Six of twelve participating countries have announced their rosters, five more (including Canada) will be announced tomorrow (Dec. 30) with the lone holdout being Team USA which will announce during the Winter Classic on Jan. 1. With that in mind here is my take on the rosters so far:
This will be a team to watch. They probably won't win a medal, but they are setup to push some of the top teams. Led by NHLers Oskars Bartulis and Karlis Skrastins, Latvia features 15 players from their KHL entry Dinamo Riga. This will be an underrated team going into the tournament, but cannot be overlooked unless top teams want to watch the tournament from the sidelines. Those of you who actually play hockey on a regular basis with the same group of guys know how big an advantage that can be. You know their tendencies and where they will be on the ice and what kind of plays they will try to make. Latvia will have very little trouble creating effective chemistry. Watch out.
Only one player on Norway's roster - defenseman Tommy Jakobsen - has prior Olympic experience. Adding to their troubles is that Norway does not have a large presence in the NHL, and they have only one NHL player on their roster. This wouldn't be a problem if they had a lot of players from one team in one league, but their roster is a mixture of players from leagues in Norway, Sweden, Russia, Germany and Finland. What they lack in experience as players is hopefully made up for with coaching. Head coach Roy Johansen played for the Norwegian Olympic teams in 1984, '88 and '92. Don't expect this team to land on the medal podium, but don't expect them to go winless either.
The Slovakian roster is filled with talent. Zdeno Chara and Milan Jurcina on defense, Marian Hossa and Marian Gaborik up front, just to name a few. Almost every player on the roster has played for the National team at some point in the Olympics or World Championships. The one questionmark is between the pipes. Peter Budaj has been a reliable back-up this year for Colorado, but last season he wasn't able to get the job done. Halak was on fire last year when Carey Price struggled, but has not been able to repeat that performance consistently this season. Which one will show up?
Henrik Lundqvist leads what promises to be a solid contender for a medal at Vancouver. The defending Olympic champions roster reads like a who's who of NHL stars with a little bit of grit (okay, Douglas Murray isn't really that little at 250 pounds) rolled in. The questions are who's the Captain (Nicklas Lidstrom or Daniel Alfredsson)? And will the team be fully healed (Alfredsson, Niklas Kronwall, Peter Forsberg and Henrik Zetterberg were all on the injured list at the announcement)?
This is certainly the best goaltending tandem announced so far, and maybe the best in the tournament. Ilya Bryzgalov, Evgeni Nabokov and Semyon Varlamov backstop a team with too much talent. Alex Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin, Pavel Datsyuk and Sergei Gonchar lead the NHL cast, and most of the nine KHL players are former NHL players (led by Ovechkin's former linemate Sergei Fedorov). It's hard not to consider this the gold-medal favorite, but Canada and the US haven't had their say yet.
Like Latvia, Belarus has taken a large group of players from the same team. Seven come from Dynamo Minsk of the KHL. Montreal's Kostitsyn brothers will lead the charge with fellow NHLers Ruslan Salei and Mikhail Grabovski. Don't put them on the medal stand, but don't look past them either.
More to come!
All rosters can be viewed at www.iihf.com