The Winter Olympics have been underway for a while, but today marks the start of the men's hockey portion of the schedule. We've previewed all of the teams that could be considered medal favorites. Today, we round out our previews by looking at the rest of the field.
Austria will be led by Thomas Vanek and Michael Grabner of the New York Islanders and Michael Raffl from the Philadelphia Flyers up front. Vanek is an offensive dynamites, and there might not be a faster NHLer than Grabner. Both should provide a good portion of offensive flash for the Austrian team. Their goaltending seems to be solid, with one of the better keepers in the Swedish Elite League. They have a very young roster -- nearly half of it is between 25 and 28 years old -- and there aren't a lot of expectations for the Austrians, especially since they barely avoided relegation to even be in the tournament this year.
Buffalo Sabres rookie Zemgus Girgensons is the only NHLer on the Latvian men's team. There with acting head coach Ted Nolan, Girgensons is one of the younger players on an older roster. They have several returning members of the 2010 Vancouver games, including goaltender Edgars Masalskis who helped Latvia make some noise against the Czech team in Vancouver. There probably isn't much chance that they advance in the tournament, but they do have an advantage of a team that's nearly all used to playing on the larger European ice surfaces. Anything could happen in a short tournament like this.
Mats Zuccarello of the New York Rangers provides the sole NHL presence on the Norwegian team. Another country with a fairly young roster (their oldest guy appears to be just a young 37) they've got consistent, familiar coaching to guide them. Roy Johansen has been their coach since 2001, and in a short tournament having a familiar coach, system and philosophy to fall back on can be beneficial. While they've taken their share of licks from the "big boys" like USA and Canada, Norway has given plenty of the other competitors in their field tough matches to get through. Any team seeing them as an easy win might be caught sleeping.
A bit of an unknown quantity, Slovenia enters their first Winter Olympics in history. They are led by coach Matjaz Kopitar and Los Angeles Kings forward Anze Kopitar. Anze Kopitar is the son of Matjaz Kopitar, in case you didn't see the family resemblance there. The biggest surprise on the Slovenia roster isn't necessarily who is there, but who isn't. Anze's younger brother, Gaspar of the Ontario Reign, played for Slovenia during the Olympic qualification round that helped Slovenia get into the tournament to begin with. The younger Kopitar was then left off the roster by his dad (tell me that isn't going to make family dinner awkward.) It's unclear what Slovenia will do in this tournament, but one thing I will say with confidence: as Anze Kopitar goes, the Slovenians are likely to follow.
The Swiss national team has a large contingent of NHL representation. Jonas Hiller of the Anaheim Ducks and Reto Berra of the Calgary Flames lead the Swiss goaltending trio. The forward corps includes Nino Niederrieter of the Minnesota Wild and Damien Brunner of the New Jersey Devils. Niederrieter has found a renaissance of offense in Minnesota. Brunner, struggling with an injury for a while, has had a disappointing year so far in Jersey with only 17 points in 41 games played. Defense sees Yannick Webber and Raphael Diaz of Vancouver, Mark Streit of the Flyers and familiar central division foe Roman Josi. If Switzerland makes any kind of noise at the tournament, it is because Hiller has enough skill to absolutely steal games by himself.