Canada, hockey's cradle, hasn't won an Olympic gold medal in the sport since 1952 and, worse, hasn't won a medal of any color since getting a bronze in 1968. That drought should end when the home team wins the gold in Calgary. Blessed with a sharp young goaltender, Sean Burke (page 162), big, smothering defensemen and innovative coaching, Team Canada (at right) stunned the Soviet Union 3-2 in the Izvestia Cup tournament in Moscow in December; the victory was the first against the Soviets in the U.S.S.R. by a Canadian team since 1972. Coach Dave King frustrated the Soviets by putting his offense on the back burner in favor of foiling Team U.S.S.R. big guns. He did this by creating congestion in the neutral zone, the area the Soviets use to set up their attack.
The U.S.S.R., the gold medal winner in six of the last eight Olympics, is in trouble. Opponents like King have figured out how to slow the Soviets, and coach Viktor Tikhonov has failed to change his team's tactics in turn. Furthermore, the U.S.S.R. lacks the sort of dominant goaltender that Vladislav Tretiak, now retired, was for more than a dozen years. After the Soviets' big line of center Igor Larionov and wings Vladimir Krutov and Sergei Makarov, which remains one of the most formidable in the world, there's a pronounced dip in offensive talent. This will probably be the last Olympics for the Larionov line as well as Tikhonov and premier defense-man Viacheslav Fetisov. But beware the cornered Bear.
At worst, Sweden should take home the bronze medal. Coach Tommy Sandlin's team has lost only three times in its last seven games against the Soviets. Winning the gold at the 1987 world championships earned the Swedes a berth in the Olympic A group, which should be a direct route to the medal round of six. Sweden's strongest competition for bronze could come from Czechoslovakia. Goalie Dominik Hasek is superb, but the country's best young players—Petr Svoboda, Petr Klima and Michal Pivonka—are playing in the NHL.
Team U.S.A. has a potent offense but may be undone by its defense. Three of coach Dave Peterson's best defenders are Brian Leetch (page 168), Scott Young and Greg Brown. But Leetch is a defenseman in name only, Young is a converted winger and Brown, 19, is the team's youngest player. The Yanks must get an early-round win or tie against the Soviets or Czechs to have a realistic medal shot. The odds aren't great. Then again, they weren't any better in 1980.