On February 16th, 276 players will suit up for 12 teams, trading their paychecks for patriotism, as the 13 day 30 game tournament for men's ice hockey supremacy at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver begins. An overview of inner-workings of the Olympic affair lies below.
The journey to Vancouver started two years ago with the top nine teams in the 2008 IIHF World Rankings automatically advancing and the remaining three earning their spot through a 20 team qualification tournament. The Olympic dozen were then arranged into three groups:
Group A: Canada (2), USA (5), Switzerland (7), Norway (11)Format
Group B: Russia (1), Czech Republic (6), Slovakia (9), Latvia (10)
Group C: Sweden (3), Finland (4), Belarus (8), Germany (12)
The 2010 Olympic tournament format has each team playing their group members once in a preliminary round for a total of three games a piece, collecting points in line with the IIHF's three point system (3pts regulation win, 2pts overtime/shootout win, 1pt overtime/shootout loss, zero pts regulation loss).
Upon completion of the preliminary round, teams are reseeded 1 through 12 by group position (i.e., group winners occupy 1st, 2nd, and 3rd, group runner-ups take 4th, 5th, and 6th, etc.) and points. The tiebreaker for teams finishing with the same number of points is (i) head-to-head winner, (ii) better goal differential (GF less GA), (iii) most goals scored, and (iv) 2009 IIHF World Ranking.
The tournament then shifts to a single elimination format with the top four teams (group winners plus the highest ranked group runner-up) advancing directly to the quarterfinals and the remaining eight nations playing in a qualification round (5-12, 6-11, 7-10, 8-9). Qualification champs then faceoff against the awaiting quarterfinalists (1 vs 8-9, 2 vs 7-10, 3 vs 6-11, 4 vs 5-12) with winners advancing to the semifinals (1 or 8-9 vs 4 or 5-12, 2 or 7-10 vs 3 or 6-11). Victors of the semifinals vie for gold leaving the defeated to duel for bronze.
Overtime & Shootout
If a score is tied at the end of regulation, a 4 on 4 sudden death overtime period ensues. The extra frame varies in length by round, providing 5 minutes in preliminary play, 10 minutes during qualifications, quaterfinals, semifinals and the bronze medal game, and 20 minutes for the gold medal match.
If teams are tied at the end of overtime, each coach selects three skaters to take penalty shots in a shootout. The team with the most goals after the six skaters have shot is declared the winner. If no team has an edge after three rounds, the shootout continues on a sudden death basis until one team scores during a round when the other does not.
2/16: USA-SWI, CAN-NOR, RUS-LAT
2/17: FIN-BEL, SWE-GER, CZE-SLO
2/18: USA-NOR, SWI-CAN, SLO-RUS
2/19: BEL-SWE, CZE-LAT, FIN-GER
2/20: NOR-SWI, LAT-SLO, GER-BEL
2/21: RUS-CZE, CAN-USA, SWE-FIN
2/23: Qualifications (5-12, 6-11, 7-10, 8-9)
2/24: Quarterfinals (1 vs 8-9, 2 vs 7-10, 3 vs 6-11, 4 vs 5-12)
2/26: Semifinals (1 or 8-9 vs 4 or 5-12, 2 or 7-10 vs 3 or 6-11)
2/27: Bronze Medal
2/28: Gold Medal
Since the NHL agreed to share its players with the Winter Olympics, six unique nations have made the finals (CZE-RUS, CAN-USA, SWE-FIN) yielding three distinct champions (CZE 1998, CAN 2002, SWE 2006). The league has yet to offer its talent to the 2014 Games in Sochi.
2010 Olympic hockey schedule and scores are available here with standings here.