This is the final segment in my "Get to Know a Small Hockey Nation" preview for Vancouver. A quick recap, in Part 1 I looked at Group A with Norway's 1 NHLer, Mark Streit's Switzerland and a brief look at the qualification process. In Part 2 I looked at Dinamo Riga, errr, Latvia in the Group of Death, B. Now I conclude with Group C's Germany and Belarus. They will be competing against Finalnd and Sweden. Wait, what happened the last time Belarus and Sweden met in the Olympics? Oh yeah... This!
Tommy Salo could cure Cancer and AIDS tomorrow and he'd still be known for letting in that goal and Mike Milbury making him cry during arbitration (BTW, a couple things about that clip: 1 - You'll notice while all the other Swedes are standing around looking at the puck trickle in, Kenny Jonsson is diving head first into the net trying to clear the puck. That's just the kind of player he was. Also I don't think you could find a game more beloved by Finnish and Norwegian hockey fans than this one, you can tell by the Finnish pop song playing in the clip). While Group B is undoubtedly the Group of Death with Russia, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Latvia, Group C will probably be a tough group to get through too.
Again, if any knows more about these teams then I do or would like to add their own analysis, please do in the comments. I wanted these to be interactive and informative (and maybe a little bit humerus/snarky), so please feel free to contribute or call me a dumb ass if you don't like my analysis. And I fully admit to an Anti-Swedish bias. Those pansies suck.
IIHF Ranking: 12
Last Olympics: 2006
How Qualified: Defeated Austria, Slovenia and Japan in Hannover
Medals?: 1 (Bronze, 1932)
NHLers?: 6 - Marco Sturm (Bos), Thomas Greiss (SJ), Dennis Seidenberg (Fla), Marcel Goc (Nas), Jochen Hecht (Buf), Christian Ehrhoff (Van)
Goalies: Gone is the venerable Olaf Kolzig, the starter for Germany the past two Olympics. Thomas Greiss gets off the bench in San Jose and steps into the crease for Germany. The current Shark will be backed up by former Shark prospect Dimitri Patzold, currently playing for Ingolstadt in the DEL. The third keeper is Augsburg's Dennis Endras.
Defense: This is probably Germany's strongest group with the Canuck's Christian Ehrhoff and Florida's Dennis Seidenberg anchoring a veteran group. Christopher Schmidt and Jason Holland are two Canadian born-Germany qualified d-men who will add size and North American experience to the side. this is a very tall group, with only Jakob Ficenec under 6'.
Forwards: Of all the lesser teams profiled, Germany has potentially the best group of forwards. NHLers Jochen Hecht, Marco Sturm and Marcel Goc are joined by Buffalo prospect Phil Gogulla and young power forward Marcel Muller (6'4"/212; 21 years old; undrafted) It is also a relatively young group with 4 of the 13 over the age of 30. They have the scoring depth to compete with Finland and Sweden.
Key Player: Thomas Greiss - Evgeny Nabokov's heir apparent will get his chance to shine on the big stage in Vancouver. In his limited time in San Jose this year he has put up respectable numbers (2.51/.919% in 11 Games) and with Nabokov likely leaving via free agency at the end of the year, Greiss will likely try to use this stage to cement his spot as the Sharks' future number 1.
Player to Watch: Christian Ehrhoff - The Canucks blue liner will be playing on home ice in the tournament. Vancouver has suited Ehrhoff as he is on pace for a career season offensively as he already has a career high in goals (11). While he has had success for Vancouver, this will be his first appearance in the German National side since the last Olympics in 2006.
Outlook: I am going to pick the surprise here and say Germany finishes 2nd ahead of Sweden and behind Finland. Uwe Krupp's team has a good mix of veterans and youth and has plenty of players who are currently in the NHL/AHL or have played in North America. This combined with the two Scandinavian powers in transition years, this is a prime opportunity for Germany to strike. Out of all the "Minor" nations in the tournament I believe Deutschland will be uber alles.
IIHF Ranking: 8
Last Olympics: 2002
How Qualified: Automatic (Top 8 IIHF Ranking)
4 1 - Ruslan Salei (Col), Mikhail Grabovski (Tor, injured), Andrei Kostitsyn (Mtl, injured), Sergei Kostitsyn (Mtl)
Goalies: Andrei Mezin, hero of 2002, returns for what is likely his final Olympics. Mezin is having a decent year for Dinamo Minsk in the KHL, posting a line of 2.61/.901% over 36 games. He will be backed up by youngster Maxim Malyutin and his regular backup for Minsk Vitaly Koval.
Defense: Well, even before Salei went down with a back injury this was a thin group. Salei was the only returning member of the blue line from the 2002 team, with the rest of the group being fairly young. The defense will now be anchored by big man Nikolai Stasenko (6'5"/235) of the KHL's Amur Khabarovsk. UPDATE: Salei has recovered from back surgery, is healthy and will play. Obviously, this will help the defense, as Salei will liekly get ~25 minutes a game and take preasure off his young comrades.
Forwards: This was to be Belarus' strength with the Kostitsyn brothers, Grabovski and former Pen's prospect Konstantin Koltsov, but injuries have decimated the group. The offense will now be put squarely on the shoulders of Koltsov and Sergei Kostitsyn. This is also a smallish group of forwards that mights get over powered by the defenses of Sweden, Finland and Germany.
Key Player: Andrei Mezin - With Belarus' weak defense, Mezin will need to be in top form to give his country a shot. He's been on this stage before in 1998 and 2002, but his lines in the Olympics aren't pretty (3.54 GAA in 1998, 5.42/.868% in 2002).
Player to Watch: Nikolai Stasenko - He's got the size NHL teams crave at the blue line, and his contract with Khabarovsk is up at the end of the year. Similar to my Latvian player to watch, Lauris Darzins, if he has a good tournament he might get himself an NHL contract, or a heft pay-raise in the KHL.
Outlook: 4th behind Finland, Germany and Sweden. Well, the magical 2002 team this is not. Many of the players from that team have moved on or retired. Belarus is also decimated by injuries to
three two of their key players, Salei, Grabovski and Andrei Kostitsyn. Even with those three two, the rumored infighting between the Kostitsyn brothers and Grabovski looked to derail Belarus' campaign before it even started.
Well, I hope you've enjoyed this journey. Hopefully this has helped you not scratch your head as Canada pummels Norway in the opening game or if one of these teams pulls a 2002 Belarus and Henrik Lundquist is forced into seclusion for a horrendous mistake that costs Sweden a chance at a medal (We can only hope).
One last thing, I would like to thank Dom for supporting this series and putting the first post on the main page and to commentor BenHansa for his comments on Part 1 about the Swiss team and a lesson in German.