Canada, Sweden favorites in Beijing

2021-03-10 12:07:01

Sidney Crosby #87 of the Pittsburgh Penguins skates with the puck against the New York Islanders during their game at Nassau Coliseum on Feb 28, 2021 in Uniondale, New York. Crosby is expected to star for Team Canada at the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics. [Photo/Agencies] WARSAW-Canada and Sweden will be favorites to win the men's ice hockey title at the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics, and pandemic restrictions could work in favor of less-experienced teams, former NHL player Mariusz Czerkawski has told Xinhua. "Obviously, Canada, Sweden, and the team with Russian players will be very strong in any case. If the competition is played without NHL stars, teams like the Czech Republic, Finland, Germany or Switzerland will have their chance to get to the final," the Pole said. Czerkawski is considered Poland's greatest-ever ice hockey player. Now 48, he spent 12 seasons in the league, making his debut in 1994 and playing for the likes of the Boston Bruins, New York Islanders and Edmonton Oilers. After surpassing 30 goals in a season for the Islanders, he earned a selection for the 2000 NHL All-Star Game. Czerkawski played at the 1992 Winter Games in Albertville, France-the last time Poland reached the Olympic hockey tournament. Things are again looking up for the Poles after they surprisingly won a preliminary qualification phase for Beijing 2022 by beating the Netherlands, Ukraine and Kazakhstan. "The Polish team played very well. In the crucial game against Kazakhstan, they were effective in defense," said Czerkawski. "The goalie, John Murray, delivered a great performance, while his teammates took over 50 shots to prove that they had an advantage. "No one could have predicted that scenario. I regret we couldn't continue the momentum as every competition afterward was suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic." Poland will have to upset the odds again if it is to claim the sole 2022 ticket up for grabs at a qualifying event in Bratislava in August, when it will face Belarus, Slovakia and Austria. "We're in a really tough group, and we aren't favorites to secure the spot for the Olympics. However, the team has already achieved a positive result," Czerkawski added. He reckons hockey has suffered for the absence of spectators during the pandemic. "We feel a lack of excitement without the fans in the stands as the supporters create a good atmosphere," he said. "It's hard to find full motivation when you play behind closed doors. Like other disciplines, ice hockey became even more unpredictable due to the pandemic. The strong teams know how to play under pressure and it's maybe a little easier for the less experienced sides to spring a surprise in front of empty stands." Xinhua