(Fox Sports) – The Winter Olympics are three months away but hockey lovers are already buzzing.
Hockey is one of the key sports in those Olympics and Canada, the sport’s birthplace, hosts the games this time around.
The NHL, the sport’s most popular league, is in its opening stages yet hockey fans and pundits are eagerly anticipating the Olympics in Vancouver, British Columbia.
So far there have been many Olympic prognostications that have seen deep thinkers come up with many theories.
Many of them however are overlooking the fact that this year’s hockey tournament is tough to call with so many variables that any one of five teams could win gold.
Canada is certainly among those countries that could succeed. Aside from home advantage the Canadians are set to offer no hole in their line-up and offer unparalleled depth from their defense right up to their attacking players.
Canada can use much of the same team that earned silver in the World Ice Hockey Championship this year in Switzerland. Among the players used were Shane Doan, Dany Heatley and Chris Mason.
The only problem is the scrutiny on the team will be so intense and the pressure to win it all so immense that the result could be catastrophic.
Finland is another contender as it boasts one of the hottest goalies in the NHL. Miikka Kiprusoff is proving this season he can again be the main man between the pipes.
Then again goalies Niklas Backstrom and Antero Niittymaki have been playing well too. Finland, the silver medallists from the 2006 Games in Turin, feel they have unfinished business.
On the other hand depth is a concern and their long-time leaders, Teemu Selanne and Saku Koivu, are past their primes.
Russia meanwhile looks strong with all of its star power. In Alex Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin and Ilya Kovalchuk Russia may have the three most dynamic forwards in the game. Goaltending, with Evgeni Nabokov, Semyon Varlamov and Ilya Bryzgalov, is also a strong suit.
Their biggest problem is their defense features some high-end talent that is not iron-clad. Also the health of Andrei Markov and Sergei Gonchar could limit their contributions.
Sweden is in the mix thanks to Henrik Zetterberg and Nick Lidstrom who are champions and know how to win when it counts. In addition Henrik Lundqvist can be the best goalie in the game when he’s on point.
Yet the defending champions have lost some of their upper-end mojo. Mats Sundin has retired and, even if Peter Forsberg is healthy enough to play, few see much of an impact from the 36-year-old.
As for the US their hopes start and end in goal with Ryan Miller and – should he not be in top form – Tim Thomas. Either is capable of carrying this team a very long way and if the young forwards and blue-liners step up, gold isn’t out of the question.
However the team’s overall experience and depth are concerns. A bad bounce could easily rattle the US. On paper, the Americans are a dark horse, but games aren’t played on paper.