With the puck set to drop shortly on the Olympic hockey tournaments in PyeongChang, South Korea, here’s what you need to know.
The 2018 Olympic men's hockey tournament may be the most talked about in quite some time, mostly due to what won’t be making an appearance in PyeonChang: NHL players.
While perhaps the most fun part of the lead-up to the Games—debating just who would end up on any given country’s roster—is over, we can now move on to measuring up the teams filled with former North American pros, KHL veterans and up-and-coming prospects. It will be hard to bet against any of the traditional power teams, especially with the Russian contingency (known as Olympic Athletes from Russia due to the country’s doping ban) featuring players like Pavel Datsyuk and Ilya Kovalchuk. Sweden has never been truly star-dependent and should be its usual team game-oriented self, while Canada has no shortage of hockey talent born within its borders.
As for the women, the year 1998 will be a big factor when it comes to PyeongChang: The U.S. won the inaugural tournament that year, making it the last time any team other than Canada took home gold. The Americans were :55 from ending that drought in Sochi four years ago, but fell victim to a collapse the players still refer to as “heartbreaking” and “gut-wrenching.” While the U.S. and Canada have been the dueling gold favorites in the first 20 years of Olympic women’s hockey, the rest of the world has showed signs that it's catching up—witness upstart Finland’s win over Canada at the 2017 World Championships.
The women’s bracket begins on Feb. 10 and will feature eight countries vying for the top of the podium, with two groups of four teams whittling themselves down to a four-team single-elimination round. Medals will be handed out in the final two games on Feb. 22. The men’s tournament gets its start on the 14th, with 12 teams in three groups opening up the first stage of play, with eight teams advancing to single-game, bracket-style competition. The third-place game takes place on the 24th, with the gold-medal finale the following day. A full schedule can be found here.
For the most part, players—and fans watching at home—can expect a lot of the same hockey they’re already familiar with, though there are a few notable changes when it comes to the Olympic rulebook. For starters, the ice surface is wider, the rosters are bigger and the trapezoid area behind the net that NHL fans have learned to deal with is gone. While the game clock starts at zero and counts upward, don’t worry. it’ll stop at 20:00.
For more background on the Olympic hockey tournament in PyeongChang, here’s SI’s Rookie’s Guide from December.
In the January 29-February 5 Olympic Preview issue of Sports Illustrated, our expert Brian Cazeneuve gave his medal predictions. Here are his picks for ice hockey:
In six Olympics, Team Russia has yet to strike gold.
The U.S. and Canada have met for gold in all 18 world championships.
Check out Brian’s medal predictions for all 102 events in the magazine.