Yes, there are 12 teams in the men's hockey tournament. And yes, Norway or Latvia or possibly even Austria or Slovenia could make some of the nations at the equivalent of the adults' table sweat at various points in the proceedings. In fact, we expect it will happen just as it did in Vancouver. So here's a look at the other squads that will fill out the Sochi schedule.
Five things to watch
1. Let's give Norway its due. In Vancouver, they played hard and took Switzerland to overtime in the preliminary round before bowing to Slovakia 4-3 in the qualification game. Mats Zuccarello has emerged as an important part of the New York Rangers attack and will shoulder a significant burden offensively for Norway. The fact that he's had success against other top NHLers makes him an important figure for the Norwegians. Keep an eye on Patrick Thoresen, who has NHL experience mostly as a checker but has evolved into a scorer at the KHL level.
2. How exciting is this tournament going to be for Los Angeles Kings forward Anze Kopitar, who will join the rest of the Slovenian national team in their first-ever Olympic tournament? The team is coached by Kopitar's father, Matjaz. Given that many members of the Slovenian team play in lesser European leagues, there isn't much chance of an upset happening, but count on Kopitar to make his presence known as his countrymen celebrate this unique opportunity.
3. Another team that will be reveling in the Olympic moment will be Austria, which had to beat Germany in a qualification competition held in Germany to earn a spot in Sochi. The Austrians might actually have a little more depth than, say Norway or Slovenia given that their roster boasts three NHLers, including proven NHL sniper Thomas Vanek, who has spent much of the last month talking about his future with the New York Islanders and the likelihood he will be traded for a second time this season by the March 5 trade deadline. Michael Grabner and Michael Raffl of the Flyers are the other two NHLers on the Austrian squad.
4. Zemgus Girgensons is the only NHLer on the Latvian roster. The Buffalo Sabres prospect was the 14th-overall pick in the 2012 draft, and it's hard to imagine a better classroom in which to learn your trade, especially after muddling through the hellish season the Sabres have endured thus far. He'll be familiar to Latvian head coach Ted Nolan who, of course, took over as Sabres head coach earlier this season. Girgensons played last spring for Latvia at the World Championships, but a third of the team plays together for the Riga-based entry in the KHL, so there will be some continuity there. NHL fans will recognize the Latvian flag-bearer and team captain, former NHL defenseman Sandis Ozolinsh, who at 41 is headed for his third Olympics. The Latvians always come prepared to these tournaments -- and well-supported by their vocal fans -- and though they may not chalk up many wins, they'll make opponents work for their victories.
5. OK, is there a Belarus in the group? You know what we mean. In fact, we watched the replay of Vladimir Kopat's long, fluttering shot that seemed to hit Sweden's Tommy Salo on the top of the head before dribbling into the net to send Belarus into the semifinals against Canada and knock out one of the top teams in the 2002 Olympic tournament in Salt Lake City. Hard to imagine, but if we had to pick a team capable of it we'd go with the Norwegians.