All right, we know. There won’t be NHL players in the 2018 Olympics. A refresher on why can be found here. While we’re still lamenting the loss of talent, we’d be remiss to miss out on the tournament entirely. There are still plenty of reasons to tune in. Since you should watch too, your friends at ESPN decided to help out by creating the ultimate Olympic viewing guide.
When will games be played, and where can I watch?
The women’s tournament runs from Feb. 10-22. The men’s tournament runs from Feb. 14-25. Games will be played at the Gangneung Hockey Centre, (which seats 12,000) and the Kwandong Hockey Centre (6,000).
The games will be broadcast on NBC and its various networks, including NBCSN. Each event will also be available for live streaming and on-demand viewing on NBCOlympics.com. Since PyeongChang is 14 hours ahead of the Eastern time zone, you’ll notice some inconvenient start times.
When are the gold-medal games?
The women’s gold-medal game is Thursday, Feb. 22 at 12:10 a.m. ET.
The men’s gold-medal game is Sunday, Feb. 25 at 12:10 a.m. ET.
Who is playing?
The women’s tournament includes eight teams. Pool A features the top four teams, headlined by gold medal favorites Canada and the U.S. (more on them later) plus Finland and the Olympic Athletes from Russia (OAR).
Pool B has Sweden, Switzerland, Japan and Korea. South Korea qualified as a host, but weeks before the tournament it was announced that through a special agreement with the IOC and the IIHF, 12 North Korean players will join the team to form a unified Korean team.
You’ll notice Group A is stacked, so the top two teams in that division will get byes to the semifinals. The bottom teams in Group A will face the best two from Group B in the quarterfinals.
Both the men and the women use the same scoring system: three points for a regulation win, two points for an overtime or shootout win and one point for an overtime or shootout loss.
The men’s field is 12 teams:
Group A is Canada, Czech Republic, Switzerland and South Korea
Group B is Olympic Athletes from Russia, the U.S., Slovakia and Slovenia
Group C is Sweden, Finland, Norway and Germany
Each team will play three round-robin games. Then the winner from each group, plus the team with the second-best record will advance to the quarterfinals. Everyone else will move to qualification contests. The winners of those games will meet the other group in the quarterfinals.
Is it the same format as an NHL game?
Kind of. The one thing you’ll notice is a larger ice surface. The Olympic hockey rink is roughly 200 feet long by 98 feet wide — about 10 feet wider than an NHL venue. Just like the NHL, we’ll have three 20-minute periods. And if it ends in a tie? Well, here’s what will happen:
In the preliminary round and qualification round, overtime is a five-minute sudden-death period, followed by a shootout.
In the quarterfinals, semifinals and bronze-medal game, overtime is a 10-minute sudden-death period, followed by a shootout.
In the gold-medal game, overtime is a 20-minute sudden-death period, followed by a shootout.
Who do we think are the favorites?
On the women’s side, it’s undoubtedly Canada and the U.S.
Since the women’s tournament was introduced in 1998, these countries have met in the gold-medal game (except for 2006, when Canada faced Sweden). The Americans are looking for revenge after the 2014 final, where they squandered a two-goal third-period lead before falling in overtime. Ten Americans return from the Sochi squad.
You might remember the U.S. team fought for equity last spring, and even threatened to hold out for the World Championships. For an update on how that affected the players, read this profile of one of the team’s star players, Amanda Kessel.
For the men, we think the Olympic Athletes from Russia are an early favorite. Their roster is stacked with talent — headlined by former NHLers Ilya Kovalchuk and Pavel Datsyuk — thanks to the KHL taking a 33-day Olympic break. In fact, most elite European leagues paused for the Olympics or accommodated its players wishing to attend.
The Canadians boast experience — Team Canada features 2,140 NHL points and 5,444 NHL games among their Olympians. (It’s by far the most in the 2018 crop, but consider the Canadians in Sochi featured 8,400 NHL points and 12,936 NHL games).
Meanwhile the Swedes could be a dark horse, with many talented European-based players including Rasmus Dahlin, a 17-year-old prodigy widely considered a generational defenseman and the presumed No. 1 pick of the 2018 NHL draft.
Do the American men have a shot?
Well, of course there’s always a chance. It would be a big upset if Team USA took home gold or silver (not a “Miracle on Ice” level of an upset, but still pretty big). Bovada has set the Americans’ odds at 10-1, which puts them at sixth in the books. According to Bovada, the Olympic Athletes from Russia are first at 1-1, followed by Canada (9-2), Sweden (9-2), Finland (8-1) and Czech Republic (9-1).
Who the heck are these Team USA players?
Team USA opted for experience, primarily choosing players who were standouts in European professional leagues. Some of them are players you might remember from the NHL (like one-time 48-goal scorer Brian Gionta), while others didn’t quite make it to the show (Chris Bourque, son of Hall of Fame defenseman Ray Bourque, is a longtime AHL player).
There are four current college players on the roster, including Boston University’s Jordan Greenway, the first African-American to represent Team USA in hockey at the Winter Olympics. Team USA decided not to play some of its rising stars who were eligible, such as 19-year-old Buffalo Sabres prospect Casey Mittelstadt or Harvard defenseman Adam Fox (also 19).
The trio in goal includes Ryan Zapolski, David Leggio and Brandon Maxwell. Here’s much more on each of them, including how they found out they made the team.
These are games I’m personally recording on DVR
Feb. 11 Women’s group A preliminary: United States vs. Finland 2:40 a.m. ET
This will be our first look at the American women. Finland will prove a good early test; the team is coming off a bronze-medal finish at the 2017 World Championships.
Feb. 12 Women’s group B preliminary: Sweden vs. Korea 7:10 a.m. ET
We’re very curious to see the unified Korean team. Read this profile of Caroline Park, an Ivy League med student who will take time off for the Olympics. Within, she also shares her thoughts on her team being used as a political statement.
Feb. 12 Women’s group B preliminary: Japan vs Switzerland 2:40 a.m. ET
The Japanese women’s team — nicknamed Smile Japan — was a darling of the Sochi Games, making the tourney after a 16-year absence and genuinely looking excited to be there (plus they had awesome celebrations).
Feb. 18 Men’s Group A preliminary: Canada vs. South Korea 7:10 a.m. ET
Let’s see how good this Canadian men’s team is. Also, I’ll be following Mike Testwuide, who flamed out as a Flyers prospect and became a serendipitous Olympian — for South Korea.
Feb. 18 Men’s Group C preliminary: Sweden vs. Finland 7:10 am
Ah, two games at once. Thank goodness for DVR. Can’t wait to see Dahlin play. Our prospects expert, Chris Peters, has been raving about him.
These are the games I’ll even wake up at any hour to watch live
Feb. 14 Women’s group A preliminary: United States vs. Canada 10:10 p.m. ET
Do I even need to explain? A good appetizer for the inevitable gold-medal rematch.
Feb. 17 Men’s Group B preliminary: Olympic Athletes of Russia vs. United States 7:10 a.m. ET
No, it’s probably not going to be as intense as the showdown in Sochi, but it’s still USA versus Russia (politically correct name be damned). Of course my eyes will be glued.