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Olympic hockey medal picks for the men's and women's tournaments

From ESPN - February 12, 2018

The women's Olympic hockey tournament began Saturday and runs through Feb. 22 -- and it's "gold or bust" for Team USA, which has finished second to archrival Canada at the past two Games. Even though the men's tournament, which starts Wednesday and runs through Feb. 25, does not include NHL players this time around, there are still plenty of reasons to tune in. Here are our picks as to which teams will take home the hardware in both tournaments.

Greg Wyshynski: Having already established that an NHL-led American team would have captured gold in Pyeongchang, I now cast a melancholy glance at the men's tournament and see the Americans sans any medal. Sigh.

Canada should win Group A, while the Olympic Athletes from Russia and Sweden should win their respective groups. Assuming the sorta-Russians throttle their group and finish with the top seed in the medal round, that would set up a Canada-Sweden semifinal if the favorites win out. Which means the winner would likely play the KHL-player-rich OAR for gold, while Sweden defeats whomever advances to the bronze-medal game. (Hopefully a total off-the-board surprise and not, say, Finland.)

My pick here is Canada. Not only because this is a well-coached group led by Willie Desjardins, but because I assume they are going to have enough speed and just enough offense to hang with the better teams in this tournament.

But most of all, the pick is Canada because that is the only answer to the following question: What scenario could play out in the 2018 men's tournament that would drive me into a spiral of hockey sadness? The U.S. failing to medal, while Canada not only wins a third-straight gold but crafts a faux-"Miracle On Ice" legend for beating a heavily favored "Athletes From Russia" team, would be that scenario.

Emily Kaplan: Despite sporting a neutral flag and not being able to hear their national anthem on the podium, let's not fool ourselves: this is a Russian team playing a good brand of Russian hockey. With a skilled sniper in Ilya Kovalchuk, an elite two-way center in Pavel Datsyuk (both four-time Olympians) and talented goalies -- two of whom could make their mark in the NHL soon -- no team boasts the experience or talent of the Russians. In a tournament where everyone is adopting the underdog role, the Russians will buy in too: besides the sting of the sanctions, they are looking for redemption after falling flat in front of the home crowd in Sochi. The Swedes will take silver in yet another coming out party for presumed No. 1 2018 NHL Draft pick Rasmus Dahlin, while the Canadians, who boasts a combined 5,544 games of NHL experience (an average of 222 games per player), take bronze.

Chris Peters: I do not think there's any doubt that the Russians are the top team on paper. It would be really difficult for anyone to beat them. Sweden is probably the next best team on paper, but there's something about Finland and the structure it plays with that makes me believe they may have the best shot against the Russians. In pre-Olympic prep, Finland beat Russian and Canadian teams that had many now-Olympians on it.. The Finns have a solid goalie in Mikko Koskinen, a legit sniper in 18-year-old Nashville Predators prospect Eeli Tolvanen and a commitment to team defense that makes them so difficult to play against. It's a swing-for-the-fences kind of prediction, but I think Finland is fairly well-positioned to pull off the upset.

As for the fate of Canada and the U.S., I have the Canadians losing to Sweden in the bronze-medal game and Team USA also getting dispatched by a more skilled Swedish team in the quarters (yes, I attempted to map out the whole tournament, and yes I am an unabashed international hockey geek). That said, I think both the Americans and Canadians are going to give every team they play against a challenge. I do not blame you if you do not want to set your alarms for the early-morning games, but I think you will still enjoy watching when you have the chance.

The U.S. has lost its last four games to Canada, but I like the Americans to win their first gold medal in 20 years for two reasons. The first is adversity. This team has not gelled as well as one would hope. There are problems offensively, which makes the decision to leave Alex Carpenter home all the more baffling. But I will take an American team that's been staggered a little bit before Pyeongchang than one that believes a gold medal is preordained, every time.

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