Once upon a time, the Olympics were the only time the world’s best athletes faced each other in many sports. That’s not true in most sports these days, but it applies to men’s hockey. The men’s World Championship takes place during the NFL playoffs, thereby depriving the tournament of most of the world’s best players. And those tournaments play a big role in the rankings that we need to take with a whole bunch of salt.
The women’s competition is a little easier to predict. The best players are all available for international events, and the USA and Canada keep playing each other. They’re also unquestionably the top two teams in the world. Finland has finished third in 10 of the 15 World Championships and two of the four Olympics. Russia finished third in 2013 and is playing at home.
Into the boards we go …
Also considered: Finland, USA
2013 world ranking: Sweden, Finland, Russia, Czech Republic, Canada, USA, Switzerland, Slovakia
2013 World Championships: Sweden, Switzerland, USA, Finland, Canada, Russia, Czech Republic, Slovakia
2010 Olympics: Canada, USA, Finland, Slovakia, Sweden, Russia, Czech Republic, Switzerland
Also considered: Russia
2013 world ranking: USA, Canada, Finland, Russia, Switzerland, Sweden, Germany, Slovakia
2013 World Championships: USA, Canada, Russia, Finland, Switzerland, Germany, Czech Republic, Sweden
2010 Olympics: Canada, USA, Finland, Sweden, Switzerland, Russia, China, Slovakia
Canada: Sidney Crosby (C, Pittsburgh), Ryan Getzlaf (C, Anaheim), Steven Stamkos (C, Tampa Bay – injury concern), Corey Perry (RW, Anaheim), Martin St. Louis (RW, Tampa Bay), Duncan Keith (D, Chicago), Drew Doughty (D, Los Angeles), P.J. Subban (D, Montreal), Carey Price (G, Montreal), Roberto Luongo (G, Vancouver)
Czech Republic: Jaromir Jagr (RW, New Jersey), Jiri Hudler (C, Calgary), David Krejci (C, Calgary), Patrik Elias (LW, New Jersey), Radim Vrbata (RW, Phoenix), Marek Zidlicky (D, New Jersey)
Finland: Mikko Koivu (C, Minnesota), Valtteri Filppula (C, Tampa Bay), Jussi Jokinen (LW, Pittsburgh), Olli Jokinen (C, Winnipeg), Saku Koivu (C, Anaheim), Kimmo Timonen (D, Philadelphia), Tuukka Rask (G, Boston), Antti Niemi (G, San Jose)
Russia: Alex Ovechkin (LW, Washington), Evgeni Malkin (C, Pittsburgh), Pavel Datsyuk (C, Detroit), Ilya Kovalchuk (LW, SKA St. Petersburg), Alexander Semin (RW, Carolina), Andrei Markov (D, Montreal), Alexei Emelin (D, Montreal), Sergei Bobrovsky (G, Columbus)
Slovakia: Marian Hossa (RW, Chicago), Zdeno Chara (D, Boston), Jaroslav Halak (G, St. Louis)
Sweden: Henrik Lundqvist (G, NY Rangers), Daniel Sedin (LW, Vancouver), Henrik Sedin (C, Vancouver), Henrik Zetterberg (C, Detroit), Nicklas Backstrom (C, Washington), Erik Karlsson (D, Ottawa)
USA: Patrick Kane (RW, Chicago), Zach Parise (LW, Minnesota), Ryan Kesler (C, Vancouver), Phil Kessel (RW, Toronto), Ryan Suter (D, Minnesota), Ryan Miller (G, Buffalo), Jonathan Quick (G, Los Angeles)
Canada: Marie-Philip Poulin (2013 World Championship leading scorer and MVP), Catherine Ward (top-scoring defenseman at 2013 Worlds), Hayley Wickenheiser (20-year veteran), Gillian Apps (bruiser). Had some turmoil with coach Dan Church stepping down in late December.
Finland: Jenni Hiirikoski (2013 World Championship defensive award), Noora Raty (140 saves at 2013 Worlds), Michelle Karvinen (team-leading three goals at 2013 Worlds)
Russia: Nadezhda Alexandrova (2013 World Championship goaltending award; 98.63 save percentage at Worlds), Yekaterina Smolentseva (three goals at 2013 Worlds), Anna Shibanova (active defenseman)
USA: Brianna Decker (six goals in 2013 Worlds), Amanda Kessel (six assists in 2013 Worlds), Jessie Vetter (starting goalie)