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SOCHI, February 12. /ITAR-TASS/. Day 5 of the 2014 Winter Olympics, which kicked off last Friday in Russia’s resort city of Sochi, will jumpstart the much anticipated men’s ice hockey competition with two Group C matches on Wednesday night.
The rules of the Olympic ice hockey competition and qualification standards for national teams remained unchanged since the previous Winter Olympics in Canada’s Vancouver in 2010. Twelve national teams will be competing for the Olympic medals in Sochi.
Nine teams entered the Games according to their top positions in the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) world ranking for 2012. Three more teams were seeded based on their performance in the 2013 qualifying tournament. The three teams are Latvia, Austria and Slovenia.
The teams are divided in three groups. Olympic hosts Russia was placed in Group A along with the United States, Slovenia and Slovakia. Group B includes Canada, Finland, Norway and Austria, while Group C deploys Sweden, the Czech Republic, Switzerland and Latvia.
The remaining eight teams proceed to the qualification playoff round, in which they will play for four more places in the quarterfinals. The four losing teams in the playoff round will be ranked 9 through 12 in line with their ranking after the preliminary round.
The four winning teams in the quarterfinals will proceed to the semifinals. The four losing teams in the quarterfinals stage will be ranked 5 through eight, according to their preliminary round ranking.
The two semifinal matches will determine two winners, who will face each other on February 23 in a match for the Olympic gold. The losing teams in the semifinals will hit the ice for the bronze medal match on February 22.
Each team is allowed to bring for the Olympics 25 players including three goalkeeprs. According to IIHF regulations, only 20 field players and two goalkeeprs are allowed for the playing time in each match.
The overall teams’ roster for the Olympics in Sochi consists of 300 players with 149 of them playing for the National Hockey League (NHL). Teams from Canada and the United States are packed with NHL players only. The least number of NHL players is in the teams from Slovenia, Norway and Latvia, with each having one NHL player. The Continental Ice Hockey League (KHL) is represented by 48 players in different teams. The Latvian team has the largest number of KHL players lining up 14 of them for the Sochi Games.
Reigning Olympic ice hockey champions Canada is widely considered to retain the title in Sochi, but sports experts say that Russia, Sweden and the United States have no lesser chances of winning the Olympic gold.
This Olympics tournament brings together almost all the best world ice hockey players. Some of them did not turn up at Sochi due to sustained injuries. The stars of the upcoming tournament include Canada’s Sidney Crosby, who currently tops the list of NHL best players and was the one to score the winner in the final match of the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver. Two NHL players on the Russian Olympic squad, namely Alexander Ovechkin (Washington Capitals) and Evgeni Malkin (Pittsburgh Penguins), are also among the top ten of NHL players ranking list. NHL’s managing authorities permitted its players to play at the Winter Olympics starting from 1998, but doubts recently surfaced that the league’s players will be participating in the Olympics following the Games in Sochi.
Sochi Olympics ice hockey matches will be held at the Bolshoy Ice Dome with the 12,000-seat capacity and the Shayba Arena with the 7,000-seat capacity.
The Olympic ice hockey competition in Sochi will begin with Sweden vs. Czech Republic and Latvia vs. Switzerland encounters on Wednesday night. Both matches start at 21:00 local time (5:00 p.m. GMT).