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It’s time for hockey to take to the ice

Tue., Feb. 16, 2010

VANCOUVER, British Columbia – At most Olympic events, you can’t tell the players without a scorecard, but the men’s hockey tournament is a different story. The NHL is taking a break in the middle of its season, and hockey’s biggest names will play in the Vancouver Games.

The preliminary round begins today, and the U.S., Canada and Russia will all be in action. Their games will be aired on CNBC and USA, and although the knockout round doesn’t start until next week, intensity will be at a fever pitch from the beginning.

“You do whatever you can” to win, said Steve Yzerman, Canada’s executive director.

Yzerman played for Canada’s gold-medal team in 2002, when the hockey- obsessed country won its first Olympic title in 50 years. The Canadians fell all the way to seventh at the 2006 Games and will be under pressure to win big on home ice.

Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin, the NHL’s two top players, are the biggest stars here as well. Crosby is being counted on to lead Canada back to the top. Ovechkin and the Russians will try to end their own slump. Since the breakup of the Soviet Union, Russia’s best finish was a silver medal in 1998.

Somehow, Sweden has managed to stay under the radar despite winning the gold in 2006.

“I think it’s a good thing everyone’s talking about Canada and Russia,” Sweden’s Nicklas Backstrom said. “We can be underdogs and maybe surprise some teams.”

The Americans are bringing an inexperienced team to Vancouver, but goaltender Ryan Miller could give the U.S. a shot at only its second medal since winning gold in 1980. The U.S. won silver in 2002.

The U.S. and Canada are in the same group, meaning no matter what happens, they’ll play Sunday in a TV-friendly showdown.

The men’s figure skating short program will also take place today. NBC plans prime-time coverage of it, along with women’s snowboardcross, the men’s Alpine super-combined and women’s speedskating.

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