SOCHI – If it's not Canada, it could be the inspired bunch from the host-country. If it's not the Russians, it could be the Swedes, Finns, Czechs or Americans.
The gold-medal winner likely will come from this group in Sochi, but forecasting the Olympic champion in the men's hockey tournament has never been easy. Since the participation of NHL players in 1998 there have been three different winners in the Czech Republic, Canada, Sweden and Canada again in four Winter Games.
It's a short-term event and things can go wrong in a hurry for the top teams. A hot goaltender can steal a game in the medal round and all of a sudden a favourite is sitting on the sidelines.
Just ask Hockey Canada. Were the Canadian teams that won gold in Salt Lake City in 2002 or in Vancouver in 2010 any better than the 1998 group that was stoned time and time again by Dominik Hasek in Nagano?
Just ask Sweden about 2002, when goalie Tommy Salo surrendered that fluky late-game winning goal off his bean from 70 feet out off the stick of Belarus defenceman Vladimir Kopat.
Who would have thought Switzerland could have pulled off its surprise run to the final at the world championship last spring?
Like the sophisticated watches the Swiss are known for, the hockey team's timing was impeccable. It peaked at the perfect moment for wins over the Czech Republic and United States in the quarterfinal and semi-final, respectively, only to lose to Sweden in the finale.
So, with all that in mind, what country will give Canada the biggest challenge in its gold-medal defence at the 2014 Winter Games? Here are the odds as of Monday night from bodog.ca.
• Canada 19-10 (about 2-1)
• Russia 12-5
• Sweden 9-2
• USA 6-1
• Finland 11-1
• Czech Republic 12-1
And, if you like to play the long odds:
• Switzerland 25-1
• Slovakia 33-1
• Norway 200-1
• Latvia 400-1\
• Austria 750-1
• Slovenia 1,000-1