2014 Winter Games Set To Start In Sochi

BY LUIS GRONDA
Staff Writer

This week marks the beginning of the 2014 Winter Olympics, a sporting event that showcases world-class athletes competing at the highest level of winter sports.

This year’s games will be held in Sochi, Russia, a resort city in southern Russia located just off the Black Sea, bordering Georgia.

Among the most popular sports played at the Winter Olympics include men’s and women’s hockey, figure skating, snowboarding and ski jumping.

New York Rangers captain Ryan Callahan is a member of the U.S. men's national hockey team.

New York Rangers captain Ryan Callahan is a member of the U.S. men’s national hockey team.

For hockey, many of the countries playing in the games will comprise of players from the National Hockey League, including the United States, Canada and Russia, who are looking to capture the gold on their home ice.

If you watch the NHL on a daily basis, you will see a different game during the Olympics. Some of the major differences include a bigger ice surface. The average size of an NHL rink is 200-feet-long and 85-feet-wide; for European rinks, it is 210-feet-long and 98-feet-wide.

While fighting is commonplace in the NHL, in international hockey, it is almost non-existent because you are ejected from the game if you fight. In the NHL, it is only a five-minute major penalty.

The American men’s team faces a tough road to, at the minimum, repeat their silver medal performance from the Vancouver games in 2010.  Canada, once again, will bring a strong team to the games. And then there are other contenders like Sweden and Russia.

The U.S. will bring back several players who were on the team four years ago, including goaltender Ryan Miller, forward Patrick Kane and defensemen Ryan Suter.

The New York Rangers will be well-represented on Team USA, with Ryan Callahan, Derek Stepan and Ryan McDonagh all going to Sochi. New York Islanders forward Kyle Okposo did not make the team, which many considered a notable omission from the roster. Team USA’s first game will be Feb. 13 against Slovakia.

Canada will also boast a star-studded roster, including Sidney Crosby, Steven Stamkos and New York Islanders forward John Tavares, and is looking to repeat as gold-medal champions.

Moving from hockey to figure skating, the women’s team will also try to bring home the gold. Ashley Wagner headlines the group of skaters. The 2012 and 2013 U.S. champion is competing in her first Olympics.

The group also includes Mirai Nagasu, who represented USA during the Vancouver games, and Gracie Gold, who finished second at the 2013 figure skating championship.

Shaun White is one of the most popular winter athletes, and he will represent USA at the Winter Olympics once again. The 27-year-old snowboarder is a two-time gold medalist, winning first place in the half pipe in 2006 and 2010.

Besides White, other American snowboarders at the games include Chas Guldemond, Eric Willett and Kelly Clark, who won gold during the 2002 games in Salt Lake City and took home the bronze in 2010.

Ski jumping was added to the Winter Olympics for the first time this year and Sarah Hendrickson will lead the women’s team that is expected to compete for the gold. Hendrickson secured the overall title for America at the 2012 World Cup for USA, winning nine out of the 13 cups at that competition.

Other aspects of the games to watch out for include the Jamaican bobsled team, who were made famous by the 1993 cult film, “Cool Runnings,” and the Norwegian Curling team, whose stylish pants made them an Internet sensation in 2010.

Reach Luis Gronda at (718) 357-7400, Ext. 127, lgronda@queenstribune.com, or @luisgronda.