As you might be aware, there are some things going on almost halfway across the world in Sochi, Russia right now known as the Winter Olympics. As you also might be aware, there are hockey players in the National Hockey League that are at this event right now, all of whom will begin playing Olympic hockey at some point in the next two days. And as I do hope you're aware, five of those NHL players happen to belong to the Flyers.
What you may or may not have already realized is that none of those five players -- Andrej Meszaros, Michael Raffl, Mark Streit, Kimmo Timonen, and Jakub Voracek -- play for teams that you can really consider much of a favorite at the games. Canada, the odds-on favorite? Nope, no Flyers there (lol). Team USA, the land of the free and the home of the brave? Nah. (Sorry, Adam Hall.) Russia, the home team? No, though that's not really surprising given that the Flyers, uh, don't currently have any Russians. Sweden? Nope, neither of the Flyers' two Swedish blueliners got a call. So we're left rooting for the underdogs. (Then again, if you don't have a Flyer on your team, are you really much of a favorite?)
The outlook for the other eight teams, five of which each have on Flyer on them, may not be the brightest. On the plus side -- as you'll see shortly -- every one of the Flyers in Sochi figures to play a pretty important role for their respective teams. On the eve of Olympic competition, let's go through each Flyer who will be playing in the next few days, and talk about (a) where they stand relative to their team and (b) where their team stands relative to the field, and whether they have any sort of chance to make some noise in the tournament.
Players listed alphabetically. All times listed below are Eastern time. Yes, there are some 3:00 a.m. start times in there.
Andrej Meszaros (Slovakia)
Schedule: 2/13, 7:30 a.m. vs. USA; 2/15, 3:00 a.m. vs. Slovenia; 2/16, 7:30 a.m. vs. Russia
How important is he to his team? In his third straight Olympics, Mesz figures to play a fairly prominent role as a top-four defenseman. Reports from Slovakia's practice yesterday had him skating on the team's second pairing with KHLer Ivan Baranka. Without knowing for sure, I assume Slovakia's plan is to run Zdeno Chara out there on the ice literally as much as is humanly possible, and then probably a bit beyond that. I have no idea if they plan to give Chara's current partner on defense -- Andrej Sekera of the Carolina Hurricanes -- all of those minutes as well, but chances are Mesz will get some minutes here and there with the hulking Bruins blueliner, and he'll probably get some power play time as well.
Does his country have any chance? Four years after the Slovaks played in the bronze medal game in Vancouver they've got a puncher's chance, no doubt. If their plan is to go as far on Chara's back as they can, they could probably do worse. And even if that is the plan, there's some other talent on that team -- several NHL forwards and a legitimate starter in net in Jaroslav Halak.
Michael Raffl (Austria)
Schedule: 2/13, 3:00 a.m. vs. Finland; 2/14, 12:00 p.m. vs. Canada; 2/16, 3:00 a.m. vs. Norway
How important is he to his team? Raffl, along with Thomas Vanek and Michael Grabner (both of the New York Islanders -- for now, at least), is one of just three Austrians currently in the NHL. I can't pretend I know a ton about the non-NHLers on Team Austria, but you have to figure he'll be one of the team's more prominent players and will get a lot of minutes. So he's pretty important, even for a guy skating in his first Olympics.
Does his country have any chance? I mean ... never say never and all that. But it does seem mighty unlikely that the Austrians come out of group play with more than one win (if that), and you figure they'll get a tough draw in the first round of elimination play. Maaaaaaaybe with some luck they could win in that first round, but anything more than that is almost certainly asking too much.
Mark Streit (Switzerland)
Schedule: 2/12, 12:00 p.m. vs. Latvia; 2/14, 7:30 a.m. vs. Sweden; 2/15, 12:00 p.m. vs. Czech Republic
How important is he to his team? Like Meszaros, Streit (who also will be playing in his third straight Winter Olympics) should get good minutes in his team's top-four on defense while on a team with some NHL players and some playing in Europe. What appears to be a report about the Swiss practice yesterday has Streit paired off with Raphael Diaz of the Vancouver Canucks on the team's second pairing. He'll play a fair bunch there, and will almost certainly play on their top power play unit as well.
Does his country have any chance? It's tough to say. There are some good players on that team, and Jonas Hiller in net is capable of stealing a game or two and taking them places. But they're likely not anything more than a darkhorse. One that will definitely have to be taken seriously -- they've won two games in each of the last two Olympics, and one that could easily match or even exceed that mark this time around -- but not one that's likely a threat to medal.
Kimmo Timonen (Finland)
Schedule: 2/13, 3:00 a.m. vs. Austria; 2/14, 12:00 p.m. vs. Norway; 2/16, 12:00 p.m. vs. Canada
How important is he to his team? He was named one of Finland's assistant captains, he's in his fifth straight Olympics, and he's probably the best defenseman on Team Finland. He's pretty important. He was on the team's top pair with Sami Vatanen of Anaheim in their practice yesterday, and will likely get decent ice time in all situations for the Finns. He's their rock, and will be leaned on as such. (Which is certainly a warm thought for all Flyers fans concerned about Timonen down the stretch this year, but I digress.)
Does his country have any chance? Definitely, and probably moreso than any of the four "favorites" mentioned above. Finland has medaled in two straight Olympics. They've got good players everywhere on the ice, and they've got what's just about indisputably the best goaltending in the tournament in Tuukka Rask, Antti Niemi, and Kari Lehtonen. They've got a very good chance of getting out of group play with only one loss (which, I suppose, is to say nothing of the possibility of an upset of Team Canada?), and that could set them up for a decent run at a third straight medal.
Jakub Voracek (Czech Republic)
Schedule: 2/12, 12:00 p.m. vs. Sweden; 2/14, 3:00 a.m. vs. Latvia; 2/15, 12:00 p.m. vs. Switzerland
How important is he to his team? He's a top-six forward, and one of the better offensive players on the team. He skated with Boston's David Krejci and Tampa's Ondrej Palat on the team's second line in practice, which -- if that holds in-game -- sadly means we may not see Voracek and Jaromir Jagr on the same line. (I know they both play on the right wing. Just go with it.) But yes, he'll be fairly important in his first Olympic games.
Does his country have any chance? A decent one, I'd say? The Czechs' defense (featuring former Flyers blueliner Lukas Krajicek!) and goaltending are iffy, but they've got good players on all four of their forward lines. They may have to get in some shootouts to get things going their way, but they could find themselves in decent position if they take care of business in the group round and win the two games they should.
For more on the Sochi Winter Olympics, see SBNation.com's main hub.