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By UltimateCapper.com Contributing Writer, Mike Ivcic
There’s a reason I wanted to wait until I saw the medal round bracket before making final prediction, and it turns out my reason came true. In the initial column, I predicted that Russia and Canada would meet for the Gold Medal – instead, they will likely meet in the quarterfinals, meaning one of those two teams will not receive any medal at all. That, however, is the lone downside to what has been an excellent tournament thus far, especially if you’re a citizen of the United States. The Americans stunned the Canadians last night, 5-3, to capture the top overall seed in the tournament, and thereby avoid what many considered to be the three best teams in the entire competition (Canada, Russia, and Sweden) until the finals. That break should propel the Americans to at least the semifinals, where they’ll likely draw Finland or the Czechs, neither of which would be pushovers. Meanwhile the three aforementioned juggernauts will duke it out in the bottom half of the bracket. With 18 games down and 12 games remaining, it’s time to readjust the predictions and develop a new idea for who will win it all.
First Quarter: Switzerland vs. Belarus, winner plays United States
The draw could not have set up any better for the Americans. Consensus is that there are seven teams that have the potential to medal and five others just playing to play. As the top seed, the U.S. is guaranteed to draw one of those five lesser teams, including one that they’ve already defeated. That said, both of these countries have scored huge Olympic upsets – Belarus knocking off Sweden in 2002 and Switzerland over Canada in 2006 – both of which came in – you guessed it – the quarterfinals. The Americans cannot afford a let down, and likely won’t against two squads that are simply far less talented.
Prediction: Switzerland over Belarus, United States over Switzerland
Second Quarter: Czech Republic vs. Latvia, winner plays Finland
It’s a good thing the first round and the quarterfinals will be played on back-to-back days, because at least then Finland can hope that some gas is out of the Czech’s tank when they meet the following day. Mikka Kiprusoff will have to be at his best to beat a Czech team that, up until the final day of the preliminary round, looked like the best team in the tournament. They’ll match up with Latvia in the only rematch from a prelim game in the opening round (Czech won 5-2) and should be able to move on with the same relative ease. Neither the Czechs nor the Fins like to play a hard-hitting style of hockey, though, so the quarterfinal game could be wide-open and potentially high-scoring.
Prediction: Czech Republic over Latvia, Czech Republic over Finland
Third Quarter: Slovakia vs. Norway, winner plays Sweden
Since the early 1990’s hockey has basically been dominated by six main countries – Sweden, Finland, Canada, Russia, Czech Republic, and USA – all of which have played for a Gold Medal in the past three Olympics. If there’s one country outside of those six that could make a play for a medal this year, it’s Slovakia. A country that one relied on Peter Bondra and Ziggy Palffy to do nearly everything has nearly reached the status of the other six, especially after their 2-1 shootout win over Russia in the prelim round. That said, the Slovaks will need to prove it on the ice, and they have a favorable quarterfinal opponent in the all-hot or all-cold Swedes. The defending champs may have looked all-hot so far this tournament, especially with their 3-0 win over Finland, but if there’s a major upset to be found at any stage of this competition, this could be it. That said…
Prediction: Slovakia over Norway, Sweden over Slovakia
Fourth Quarter: Canada vs. Germany, winner plays Russia
Just call this the bracket of death. We’ll eliminate the Germans, who needed until the seventh period of play to even score a goal, and simply focus on the best quarterfinal game in Olympic competition in a long time – maybe ever. Canada now has a major question mark in goal – what is the status of Marty Brodeur, and how will Roberto Luongo respond if he is indeed inserted into the lineup – while the Russians simply have to wonder how they managed to play so well in games 1 and 3 and so poorly in game 2. I picked the Russians to win the Gold, and I stick with my pick until they’re out, but you can bet there will be rioting in the streets if Canada finishes these games with a 3-2 record with a shootout win over Switzerland, losses to the U.S. and Russia, and no medal. Vancouver could get very ugly very quickly.
Prediction: Canada over Germany, Russia over Canada
Final Four: Medals
Based upon the bracket as I’ve laid it out, the United States would meet the Czech Republic in one semifinal, while Sweden would meet Russia in the other semifinal. Assuming Ryan Miller continues to perform at the level he displayed last night against the Canadians, the Americans should be able to defeat the Czechs and earn a spot in the Gold Medal game. Likewise the newly-formed line of Alexander Ovechkin and Alexander Semin (two Washington Capitals) and Evgeni Malkin (a Pittsburgh Penguin) should be more than enough to propel Russia to a payback win over Sweden for their ’06 semifinal loss in Turin. It would set up the following scenarios for the medal games:
Bronze Medal Game: Czech Republic vs. Sweden
Gold Medal Game: United States vs. Russia
The defending champs will avoid being left off the medal podium as Sweden will knock off the Czechs and take Bronze. I’ve been saying all along that this tournament will be Russia’s coming out party in preparation for hosting the 2014 Olympics, and I truly believe that they will be looking to become the first country to repeat as Olympic champs since they themselves won three straight as the former Soviet Union and Unified Team in ’84, ’88, and ’92. That said, these games could also be Ryan Miller’s coming out party, and I would expect a thrilling final between these two great rivals. After all, I sit here writing this column on the 30th anniversary of the greatest upset in American sports history, which happened in this very Olympic event between these same two countries.
Do you believe in Miracles?
Silver: United States
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