Photo Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

A Flames guide to the 2018 men’s Olympic hockey tournament

The 2018 Winter Olympic Games begin on Friday in Pyeongchang, South Korea. But because of some disagreements between the National Hockey League and the International Olympic Committee, hockey fans will have to settle for watching players from European clubs face off instead of the likes of Mark Giordano and Sidney Crosby.

Or you can watch the women’s tournament, which will probably be excellent.

But for those of you who are hellbent on getting the most out of the men’s tournament this year, here’s a Calgary Flames-tinted look at the upcoming games.

The format

The Olympic tournament is a bit different from other international events like the World Championships or World Cup of Hockey. The 12 qualifying teams are split into three pools of four teams each:

  • Pool A: Canada, Czech Republic, Switzerland and South Korea
  • Pool B: Olympic Athletes from Russia, Slovakia, Slovenia and United States
  • Pool C: Finland, Germany, Norway and Sweden

After a round robin within each pool (Feb. 14-18), the three pool leaders (and the best second place team) are re-seeded with byes into the quarterfinals and the remaining eight teams are re-seeded and playing qualifying games for the remaining quarterfinal positions (Feb. 20). From there, it’s a single elimination for the quarterfinals (Feb. 21), but the four teams that reach the semi-finals (Feb. 23) will survive and play for the bronze (Feb. 24) and gold medals (Feb. 25).

The NHL-less effect

The elephant in the room during the tournament is the absence of NHL players. Here’s the current International Ice Hockey Federation World Ranking:

The teams that have been most dependent on NHL talent are probably Canada, the United States, Finland and Sweden – though Russia’s lost a few strong players as well. The result of pulling the NHLers out of the tournament is effectively leveling the playing field. Russia’s probably the toughest group to play against, especially in terms of having players on their roster that casual fans have actually heard of, but the gap between the remaining teams isn’t huge.

South Korea will likely get trounced, but we’ll probably see the most competitive (and chaotic) Olympic men’s tournament in decades.

Flames connections

If you’re ready to embrace the chaos, here are a few Flames connections on various Olympic rosters:

Canada: Rene Bourque, Mason Raymond and Linden Vey all played for the Flames at various times. Kevin Poulin played in Stockton in 2015-16 (on an NHL deal), while Cody Goloubef is a current Stockton Heat defender (on an AHL deal).

Czech Republic: If you love obscure ex-Flames, you’ll love the Czechs. Roman Cervenka, Roman Horak and perennial seventh defender Jakub Nakladal are on their Olympic team.

Finland: Former Flames starter Karri Ramo is on the Finnish team.

Germany: David Wolf was technically Brad Treliving’s first signing and played three games with the Flames once upon a time.

South Korea: Korean forward Mike Testwuide was very briefly a Flames farmhand, as he played for Abbotsford after the Flames acquired him from Philadelphia for Mitch Wahl.

Sweden: Staffan Kronwall briefly dressed as a Flames depth defender.

Switzerland: Former Flames Jonas Hiller and Raphael Diaz are on the Swiss national team.

United States: Former farmhand (and one-time Flame) Chad Billins is on the American team.

If you’re thinking that almost all of these Flames connections are from the Bob Hartley regime, you get an insight into the level of player the Flames used to have – if you take away all the NHL players, there are tons of ex-Flames at the Olympics.