The list for hopeful Olympic hockey nations are out for the 2014 Games in Sochi, Russia-- and boy howdy is it quite the list, male and female alike. Now, for the men's side of things-- the top-nine team in the IIHF ranks automatically qualify, while the women's side have the top-six already in. That leaves only three spots for the men's side and two spots for the women's side to get spots.
The men's side has 32 countries that have declared for the Games-- leaving 23 countries vying for three spots. The women's side has 24 countries declared, 18 countries for two spots there. These are the 2011 Final Rankings and could be close to what we see for the 2012 Final Rankings. Click to enlarge (that's what she said??)
So, while the list is pretty straight-forwards-- the wide array of interesting markets could be intriguing to some, especially if we get some kind of upset special in one of these qualification rounds. For the women's side-- you can bet the Asian nations of China and Japan are always up there when it comes to getting into the Olympics, but never sleep on the Germans or Kazakhs either. If you want to go really out there-- I wouldn't sleep on Hungary either. They dominated the U18's this year, boosting themselves to the top level, which could play out well for qualifications.
The men's side could be a little more crazy, especially depending on how the top-nine play out. Sure, we can pretty much pencil in the top six-- yet, those 7 through 9 and the other three could get crazy-- especially in the qualifying round. The Belarussians are always hard and would want to play close to home, the Kazakhs are always a dark horse and would have the proximity motivation, but France and Denmark could also play the role of spoilers in all of this. Latvia and Slovakia are the stalwarts, too-- but you know one crazy bounce and it all changes.
There's one more tournament to go, the World Championship, which will probably make or break some nation's hope for an easy in to the Olympics. Considering there's already 16 teams there, there's a lot that could get shuffled around very quickly should a slip-up happen. Still-- we're two years away and the Olympic hype is already getting started.