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Olympic hockey bracket breakdown - Canada wins gold, USA silver in game for the ages

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As the euphoria over Team USA's victory Sunday night starts to wear off, eyes now turn to the road ahead. Now that they've earned the #1 seed for the single-elimination games that begin tomorrow, how does the 2010 Men's Olympic hockey bracket shape up for the Americans?

Especially considering the 30th anniversary of the Miracle On Ice earlier this week, it's a great time to ponder such questions...

Note: This bracket will be updated as the tournament proceeds. In Tuesday's action, Switzerland eliminated Belarus in a shootout, and Canada knocked off Germany 8-2. The Czech Republic gave up a 2-0 lead to Latvia, but won in overtime to advance. Slovakia also gave up a lead before beating Norway 4-3.

Note 2: In quarterfinal action, the USA beat Switzerland 2-0 despite phenomenal goaltending from Jonas Hiller for the Swiss. Canada steamrolled Russia 7-3 as 13 different skaters recorded a point. Finland fought past the Czech Republic 2-0, and Slovakia surprised the defending champions, Sweden, with a 4-3 win.

Note 3: The US demolished Finland 6-1 in the first semifinal to earn a spot in the Gold Medal Game, while Canada hung on for a 3-2 victory over Slovakia.

Note 4: Sidney Crosby's overtime winner gave Canada the gold medal over Team USA, 3-2.

The top half of this bracket is definitely where the US wanted to be. On Wednesday, they defeated Switzerland, which eliminated Belarus via a shootout in the qualifier round. Finland gutted out a tough 2-0 win over the Czech Republic, and while they are a strong team backed by elite goaltending, Finland is beatable. The Finns will also get defenseman Joni Pitkanen back for the semifinal game, after his suspension for a head shot on Sweden's Patric Hornqvist.

Basically, the US has to win one truly tough game to earn a spot in the Gold Medal Match on Sunday. Given the way they're playing, and how the team is built upon youth and speed, I like Team USA's chances to make it there. In these Olympic games you don't have the long TV timeouts like you see in NHL play, and that places an even greater premium on players who can still give an all-out effort in the waning moments of a game (like Ryan Kesler diving to swat that empty-net goal home against Canada).

2010 Olympic Mens Hockey Bracket
Playoff Qualifier 1 Quarterfinal 1
#8 Switzerland
#1 USA
#9 Belarus #8 Switzerland Semifinal 1
Playoff Qualifier 2 Quarterfinal 2 #1 USA
Gold Medal
#5 Czech Republic #4 Finland #4 Finland
#1 USA
#12 Latvia #5 Czech Republic #6 Canada
Playoff Qualifier 3 Quarterfinal 3
#7 Slovakia #2 Sweden Bronze Medal
#10 Norway #7 Slovakia
Semifinal 2 #4 Finland
Playoff Qualifier 4 Quarterfinal 4 #7 Slovakia
#7 Slovakia
#6 Canada W 8-2 #3 Russia #6 Canada
#11 Germany #6 Canada

The bottom half of this bracket, however, is comparable to a Group of Death in soccer's World Cup. Three of the heavy gold medal favorites (Sweden, Canada, and Russia) are here, along with a dangerous Slovakian team that already upset the Russians last week.

Sweden fell in the quarterfinal to Slovakia, which moves on to the semifinal against a Canadian team that appears to have regained its swagger by beating Germany 8-2 and Russia 7-3.

One can't help but wonder, however, if the Canadians will have a difficult time summoning the energy to bring their best effort in the semifinals after that emotional high from the Russia game. That's why I originally picked Sweden to make it through into the Gold Medal Game from that side of the bracket; but as we see, things can change quickly in a single elimination tournament featuring the best players in the world.

So who will win the gold? I'll save my pick until later in the week.

No matter what, however, join us Nashville hockey fans at the Gold Medal Game Viewing Party on Sunday at 1:30 p.m., organized by Jeremy & Codey from Section303.com, and hosted at Bleachers Sports Grill in Franklin. Thom Abraham talked about how the festivities are shaping up on his radio show, and you can hear the segment via the following link:

Gold Medal Game Viewing Party on Thom Abraham Show 20100226

The Nashville Predators resume their home schedule after the Olympic break with 10 home games in the month of March. For discounted tickets to any Nashville Predators home game, follow this link and use the special offer code "PREDS".

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