The Men's tournament is separated into three groups of 4 teams. The top 9 teams in the world automatically qualified and the last three spots were earned in a qualification tournament. Teams were seeded according to their World Rankings. In each group, the four teams will play a round robin to determine seeding for the tournament portion. In Round Robin play, teams receive points on a tiered scale with Regulation Wins accounting for 3 points, Overtime/Shootout wins counting for 2 and OT/SO losses counting for 1. All 12 teams advance to the tournament and are seeded by: 1. Higher Position in Group, 2. Higher Number of Points, 3. Goal Differential, 4. Goals Scored. This means that the 3 first place teams will get the top 3 seeds and the 2nd place team with the most points will get the 4th bye. The groups are:
Group A: Russia, Slovakia, USA, Slovenia
Group B: Finland, Canada, Norway, Austria
Group C: Sweden, Czech Republic, Switzerland, Latvia
The Women's tournament functions much like the Men's except only 8 teams are participating and only 6 will advance to the knockout stage. The two group winners will get byes into the semi-finals.
Group A: USA, Canada, Finland, Switzerland
Group B: Russia, Sweden, Germany, Japan
All the pressure will be on the host nation Russia to bring home gold in hockey. As was true with Canada in Vancouver, the prevailing attitude at the games will be that the host nation would rather win Gold in Hockey than any other medals at the games. Russia hasn't medalled in Men's Hockey since 2002 and hasn't played in the Gold Medal game since 1998 when they lost to the Czech Republic. In fact, while the USSR dominated the Olympics, winning 7 of 9 Golds from 1956-88 and the "Unified Team" won Gold in 1992, the Russians have been unable to reach the pinnacle since. There are 7 countries that could realistically find their way to the medal stand. Group A is going to be brutal in round robin play with a stacked Russia team, the defending Silver Medalist US squad and a Slovakia team with NHL stars at every level (Marian Hossa, Zedeno Chara and Jaroslav Halak). Canada and Finland should be the class of Group B with Sweden and the Czechs leading Group C. Full rosters can be found here. For Pens fans, Crosby and Kunitz are playing for Team Canada, Orpik and Martin for Team USA, Malkin for Russia and Olli Maatta and Jussi Jokinen for Finland.
In the Women's tournament, it's really all about two teams: Canada and the United States. The two have been involved in brawls the last few times they have played, so circle the February 12th game on your calendar. The US and Canada have medalled in Women's Hockey in each of the 4 Olympic Tournaments so far since it was added as an event in 1998 with Canada winning 3 Golds and a Silver and the US winning 1 Gold, 2 Silvers and 1 Bronze. For those keeping track at home, the US and Canada have met in 3 of the 4 Gold Medal Games. The Scandanavian nations (Sweden and Finland) have been the only other countries to medal in Women's Hockey - Finland has played in the Bronze medal game each year. This tournament is hard to predict with the three medalists from Vancouver (Canada, US, Finland) all landing in one round-robin group. They all should advance to the knockout stage and the team that gets the bye will have a huge advantage. I'll pick Canada and the US to play for Gold once again with Finland edging Sweden for Bronze.
The United States has the talent to medal in both Men's and Women's hockey. The Men's team is mostly the same as the group that finished second in Vancouver with Zach Parise and Patrick Kane leading the offense. The biggest question will be who Dan Bylsma puts in goal - Ryan Miller or Jonathan Quick. The danger for the US will be in the seeding. If they get taken to overtime by either Russia or Slovakia they could wind up as low as 3rd in the group which would put them 7th in the bracket and mean a quarterfinals matchup with Canada or Sweden.
The US Women's team faces a similar predicament. With the three medalists all in one group, if they don't win the group they will have to play in the quarterfinals which could mean a semi-final date with Canada rather than meeting them in the Finals.
Canada and Sweden should run through their groups and should only be challenged by Finland and the Czechs. Assuming both run the table, they will be the top 2 seeds in the tournament. I'm assuming Russia, the Slovaks and the US all have at least 1 overtime game which will put them on the low side of the seeds. Russia will have the home crowd behind them and it would be an epic final between them and Canada. I'll pick the Canadians to repeat on the Men's side with Russia and Sweden also medalling. It would be silly to pick against Canada and the US on the Women's side, so I won't.