The NHL draws the best hockey talent from around the world. Every four years, during the 2014 Winter Olympics, these international stars return to their home countries to play for the gold. While this means that fans have to take a break from watching their favorite teams play each other, it doesn't mean they have to stop watching their favorite players. This year in Sochi, Russia, of the 100 players in the final four teams in the running for the gold, the United States, Canada, Finland and Sweden 89 of them are NHL players.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, all of Team USA hockey's 25 man roster is from the NHL, and this year, they are in it to win it. You may remember Team USA's heartbreaking loss to Canada at the Vancouver Olympics in 2010. If you don't, here's a recap:
The U.S. was undefeated in Olympic tournament play going into the gold medal match with Canada. Down by one goal at the end of the second period, Team USA was able to tie it up in the last period, sending the game into overtime. After seven minutes of overtime play, Canadian Sidney Crosby scored on U.S. goalie Ryan Miller, winning the game for Canada - it was his only goal during the game.
Naturally, after coming so close four years ago, the United States is determined to bring home the gold this year. To do so, they have assembled a team of top-notch talent from across the NHL, five of whom are among the top 20 goal-scorers in the league (Patrick Kane, Phil Kessel, Max Pacioretty, James van Riemsdyk and Joe Pavelski). Team USA has only won two gold medals in Olympic hockey, the last one being the spectacular "Miracle on Ice" game in 1980.
As a right wing for the Chicago Blackhawks, Patrick Kane is not only a current Stanley Cup champion, but also the reigning Conn Smythe Trophy winner. This isn't Kane's first go around with the Stanley Cup, either. In 2010 he scored the winning goal in the finals during overtime to beat the Philadelphia Flyers. With the second-highest scoring record in the NHL, Kane is ready to take home the gold this year after coming so close in 2010.
Another high-scoring forward from the NHL, Kessel can be seen playing for the Toronto Maple Leafs during the NHL season. He spent his formative years training under Bob Suter, a member of the 1980 Miracle on Ice team of amateur and collegiate players who beat the greatest hockey power of their time, the Soviet Union. Kessel has already proved to be the leading scorer in the 2014 Winter Olympics, accumulating four goals and three assists in only three games.
As the current Olympic champions, Canada is back to defend its gold medal. Unfortunately, their history of Olympic play outside of North America is not reassuring - they haven't won a medal outside of North America since 1952. That is a 60-year trend that the team will have to compete with going into Sochi, which, by the way, is not in North America. The team seems confident in its chances, being led by captain Sidney Crosby, who is often hailed as the next Wayne Gretzky, or as we like to call him, Wayne Nextzky. The team is rounded out by a solid defense. In fact, the Canadian defense is so good, they've been outscoring the forwards.
Often referred to as "The Next One" - a spin off of Canadian hockey legend Wayne Gretzky's nickname, "The Great One" - Sidney Crosby is determined to lead Team Canada to another gold medal victory. A center for the Pittsburgh Penguins, during the 2008-09 season he became the youngest person to win the Stanley Cup. Along the way, Crosby has picked up many game day superstitions, such as not calling his mother and eating a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
A defensive player for the San Jose Sharks, Vlasic has been making quite a name for himself so far during tournament play. A Montreal native, he is in his eighth season with the NHL, which is quite an accomplishment considering he is only 26 years old. His pairing with teammate Drew Doughty has been getting a lot of attention for the way the two seem as though they have been playing together for years. Doughty is a defense player for the Los Angeles Kings and is currently the leading Olympic scorer on Team Canada with four goals.
After pushing home team Russia out of competition, Finland has risen to become a force to be reckoned with. Its roster features 14 NHL players, including Mikael Granlund of the Minnesota Wild, Lauri Korpikoski of the Phoenix Coyotes and Tuomo Ruutu from the Carolina Hurricanes. Team Captain Teemu Selanne of the Anaheim Ducks led the Fins to a 3-1 win over Russia. This could be the beginning of a Cinderella story for the Finnish team as they advance through the ranks to potentially play Olympic favorites Canada and the USA.
The Boston Bruins goalie made 37 saves during the Olympic men's hockey match, ending Russia's chance of winning gold and closing the game with a 3-1 victory. Rask leads the league with the most shutouts this season and comes in 4th with his save percentage.
Teemu Selanne, nicknamed "The Finnish Flash," proves age is just a number. At 43, the Anaheim Ducks' right winger looks to help push his country's team into the gold medal match. Selanne scored 76 goals in the 1992-93 season, and holds the league record for most goals by a rookie. Now a six-time Olympian, with two bronze medals, and a silver medal under his belt, Selanne is also the all-time leader in scoring at the Olympic ice hockey tournament.
Sweden looks to become the second repeat champion at the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi. Ranked No. 1 in the world, after their 2013 World Championship win, it's clear the Swedes will be a tough team to beat. Stacked with more than 20 NHL players, including Erik Karlsson, Gabriel Landeskog and Oliver Ekman-Larrsson, Sweden is predicted to take the gold medal.
The 41-year-old Detroit Red Wings forward and Selanne may be considered the old-timers on the ice, but each holds their own. Alfredson led Sweden in scoring in the 1998 Olympic Winter Games with two goals and three assists in four games.
"King Henrick," goaltender for the New York Rangers, is no stranger to the Winter Olympics either, having led Team Sweden to their second Olympic gold medal. Lundqvist is the only goalie in league history to record 30 wins in each of his first seven seasons.
One thing's for certain the final four Olympic men's hockey teams are stacked with serious skill, and a roster of the NHL's best. Who do you think will take home the gold?
NBA All-Star Weekend is jam-packed with fun activities for the whole family. If you can't make it to Sunday's NBA All-Star Game, don't think you have to miss all the fun. All-Star Weekend is scheduled for Feb. 13-16 in the city of jazz, New Orleans. The weekend is comprised of various events such as the NBA Jam Session, the Dunk Contest and, of course, the actual All-Star Game itself. Check out the NBA All-Star Weekend lineup!
Friday: The All-Star Jam Session
The All-Star Jam Session is a general name that refers to a whole host of events taking place all weekend. The Jam Session gives fans the opportunity to get in on the action with activities ranging from clinics to interactive courts. Not only will this event give you the opportunity to show up your friends in the skills challenges, but it also provides the chance to get NBA players' autographs and boogie down with the mascots.
A ticket to the All-Star Jam Session also includes entry to general events such as the NBA All-Star Practice (because even professionals who make millions of dollars need to perfect their skills) and the NBA Development League All-Star game, which is like a game with future all-stars, so basically time travel.
However, the event with the most potential to be highly entertaining is the All-Star Celebrity Game, and it is free with the purchase of your Jam Session ticket. The opportunity to watch U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan tip off against Victoria's Secret model Erin Heatherton? Yes please! Other celebrities competing in this year's game are Nick Cannon, comedian Kevin Hart and actors Columbus Short and Jesse Williams.
Saturday: NBA All-Star Dunk Contest 2014
You won't want to miss the NBA Dunk Contest. Where else can you see full-grown men defying gravity in the name of depositing an orange rubber ball in a tiny metal hoop? This is the stuff that dreams are made of. The dunk contest will be held on Feb. 15 and could feature superstar triumvirate Paul George, John Wall and Damien Lillard. The news was originally reported by ESPN's Marc Stein, though neither the NBA nor the players themselves have confirmed. Still, a fan can dream, right?
Over the past few years the NBA has gotten into the habit of pitting new young players against each other in the dunk contest, a good tactic for familiarizing the public with the NBA's future, but not a great one for putting on a really exciting event. Behind us are Vince Carter's elbow dunks of 2000 and Dwight Howard's superman dunks of 2008, not even to mention Michael Jordan taking off like a majestic bald eagle from the free-throw line in 1988. At least, so we thought. Should George, Wall and Lillard be confirmed contestants in this year's competition, we may finally be getting back to the golden age of trick dunking, and all for half the price of Sunday's game.
Sunday: NBA All Star Game 2014
This is it - the big kahuna. Scheduled for Feb. 16, this game assembles the best of the best from the NBA to compete against one another for one night only. This year's showdown will feature the following rosters:
For the Eastern Conference:
Heading up the Western Conference:
Don't miss a moment of the excitement; score your NBA All-Star Weekend tickets!
Baseball fans everywhere have something to get excited about before the MLB season even starts. Spring training not only offers fans an excuse to escape the winter weather, it's the perfect way to gear up for the season. You get an inside look at how the players prepare for the season by watching their workouts and all of the preseason games.
You can see your favorite teams take the field in places like Arizona or Florida, depending on who you would like to watch. The Cactus League can be found in the The Grand Canyon State, and lets you cheer for teams such as the Los Angeles Angels, the Chicago White Sox, the Cincinatti Reds or the Colorado Rockies. If you happen to be in the Sunshine State, conversely, head to Lee County to see your favorite Boston Red Sox players or check out Tampa, where you'll be able to cheer on the New York Yankees at Steinbrenner Field. Other teams in the Grapefruit League include the Minnesota Twins, the Philadelphia Phillies, the Miami Marlins and more.
Spring Training is a grand tradition, helping fans get closer to the game while enjoying the sunny weather. This is one chance baseball fanatics have to get closer to their favorite players, with the average Spring Training stadium holding only 9,300 fans. Before and after games and workouts, you have the opportunity to line up for autographs from your favorite players.
When you have some time between games, there are plenty of attractions nearby in both Arizona and Florida. For example, if you're planning on watching the Anaheim Angels take the field, you can check out the ASU Art Museum or explore the Mill Avenue Shops, which is home to various stores, cafes and restaurants.
Join the New York Yankees in Tampa, where you can catch action on and off the baseball diamond. While Steinbrenner Field is an attraction in itself, lots of other area entertainment isn't far away. For instance, Adventure Island is nearby, and lets baseball fans get happily drenched on their choice of water rides spanning 30 acres.