NHL

New York Rangers, NHL Prepare for 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics

Rick Osentoski – USA TODAY Sports

As February draws near, so do the 2014 Sochi Olympic Games, and with it comes Olympic ice hockey. This is one of the those times that all hockey fans look forward to, but it only comes every four years. The Olympics provide a platform for hockey game play that can only be matched briefly by the NHL All-Star game. However, while the All-Star Game only happens once a year, the Olympics provide a few weeks of the best possible hockey, a fan’s dream.

Part of the magic of Olympic hockey stems from the fact that, like all Olympic sports, it combines the thrill of the sport with the camaraderie and pride of rooting for your country; but, it also brings together teams of NHL superstars, which creates the highest skill level of hockey in the world. This year brings what should be yet another great month of Olympic hockey, with some of the best in the world battling it out for the gold medal.

After Canada won the gold in thrilling fashion in Vancouver four years ago over the United States, there is much debate as to who will take home the gold in Sochi next month.

The New York Rangers will be sending multiple players to Sochi soon to compete for Olympic gold. Among those who received the coveted call from their country are Derek Stepan, Ryan Callahan and Ryan McDonagh for the United States, Rick Nash for Canada, Mats Zuccarello for Norway and Carl Hagelin and goaltender Henrik Lundqvist for Sweden.

Around the league many other big name stars will be headed to Sochi to compete. Some players to watch will be Russia’s Alex Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin. Canada’s captain and alternate captain Sidney Crosby and Johnathan Toews respectively; the United States Phil Kessil and Patrick Kane and Sweden’s goalie Lundqvist and star forward Valterri Filppula.

One of the biggest stories to watch will be the United States goalie situation. The head coach of the US Olympic team, Dan Bylsma, has kept quiet on the matter of which of the three goalies – Johnathan Quick, Ryan Miller or Jimmy Howard – will be the starter for the team when the Olympics start next month.

Under normal situations, Quick would be the obvious choice, but he is struggling this season and he has been injury prone this year. However, Howard has been fighting injuries this season as well. Although Miller has not posted a great record this season, this can be contributed to lack of goal support from the struggling Buffalo Sabres.

Whoever Coach Bylsma chooses to be the starter for the Americans, you can be sure that they will have great support in net from their goaltender. If the Americans can mesh together and play at the level they did in Vancouver they should be headed back to the gold medal game, perhaps with a different outcome this time around.

Another story to watch will be if the injured Tamba Bay Lightning star Steven Stamkos will lace up the skates for Team Canada when the Olympics roll around next month. After suffering a broken leg in November from colliding with the post, Stamkos has just returned to a light contact practice recently.

While normally not having Stamkos would be a huge blow to a team, considering Stamkos is arguably the best player in the world, this will not phase Team Canada as they have several other star players waiting in the wings that can replace Stamkos, and Team Canada will barely skip a beat.

Stamkos has stated that he wants to play at least one game in the NHL before he decides whether or not to play in Sochi, however, if he cannot return to the NHL before the Olympic break, there is still a sizable chance that Stamkos laces up for Canada in Sochi. While having Stamkos would be a tremendous morale boost to Team Canada, playing without him will only barely affect their chances at a gold medal with all the other talent they have.

Regardless of your home country, or your favorite NHL teams and players, everyone enjoys the excitement and entertainment of Olympic hockey. The Americans have not won gold in a while, this year might be their time.

Cody Reiber is a New York Rangers writer for RantSports.com. “Like” him on Facebook or add him to your network on Google+.