The Men’s Ice Hockey tournament is the sports-betting highlight of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympic Games. Take a look as we breakdown Group A in order to deliver our value hockey picks for the preliminary rounds and beyond.

NHL Picks: Olympic Men's Hockey Future Odds

Top FIVE Tournament Favourites: Canada +180, Russia +200, Sweden +550, USA +700 and jointly Finland and Czech Republic at +1300.

Tournament format: The preliminary round serves up group action with teams within each group facing off against one another. The top four teams from the preliminary round advance into the quarterfinals while the remaining eight teams will play a sudden-death playoff for the other four spots in the quarterfinals.

Let’s breakdown the Group A to determine how each tam could stack up when all is said and done in the preliminaries

Group A analysis with both odds to win outright and to win Group A

Russia +200, -222 to win Group A

Image previewNaturally, home advantage underscores Russia’s overall odds of +200 to win outright in the Men’s Ice Hockey tournament at the Sochi Games; however, that is not enough to make them the outright hockey betting favourites in the competition over defending Gold medallists and top favourites Canada. Not even when that home advantage contains an added “big ice” advantage, which has proven to be a challenge for North American teams including Canada and USA to overcome.

The Russians however are the runaway favourites to win group A across sportsbooks. Listed at -222 at Bet365, they have the group firmly cornered in their camp, priced well ahead of credible threats USA and Slovakia, two teams coming off solid 2010 Vancouver Olympics accounts. They have made no secret about their intentions in these Games: Gold or Bust. And underscored those by winning gold at the 2012 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championships, beating underdogs (and surprise finalists) Slovakia 6-2 in the final. Their last Olympic medal was a bronze in 2002 Salt Lake City.

Slovenia +200000, +74900 to win Group A

Slovenia are not only the group’s underdogs at outlandish +74900 hockey odds, they are also the competition’s quintessential underdogs at hallucinatory +200000 hockey odds. Slovenia are making their first-ever appearance at the Games in this event, which is an honour in itself and one that many sports bettors and pundits alike believe will be the highlight of their appearance. The team boasts NHL star Anze Kopitar and is coached by his father. That’s about all they bring to the table unfortunately, besides national pride and heart. They’ll have all to do to take the measure of this group.

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Slovakia +4000, +1000 to win Group A

Slovakia have made great strides on the world hockey stage, especially over the last four years, finally emerging out of the shadow of Czech Republic (and, to some extent, moving beyond their legacy as part of the former Czechoslovakia) in order to become a credible threat in their own right. They enjoyed a stellar Vancouver Olympics and while they finished fourth overall their most memorable account was a great semi-final clash with Canada, where they gave the eventual champions a serious run for their money.

A small nation with big dreams, Slovakia proved their 2010 run was no fluke when they captured the Silver medal in the 2012 IIHF Ice World Championships. Yet, in spite of these positive accounts and great strides, the Slovakians are being severally underestimated in group action at the expense of the top two favourites in this group: Russia and USA. As well, in the competition proper where they are a distant +4000 hockey bet to win outright.

USA +700, +200 to win Group A

Image previewThe Americans finished runners-up to Canada at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, in a highly entertaining, nerve-wracking final that could have gone either way until Sydney Crosby scored the overtime winning goal.

Having come so close to Gold at the 2010 Games, the Americans will be looking to build on that experience in Sochi in order to go one step further. Indeed, they are listed as the second favourites to win Group A at +200 at Bet365 as well as the fourth overall favourites to win the competition. But in order to come through on their fancied hockey odds they’ll need to overcome the challenge of the international-sized ice, something they’ve struggled to do in the pasts.

Group A Betting Predictions: Most hockey bettors have Group A down to a two-horse race between Russia and USA, an opinion that coincides with the hockey betting odds in this section. For our money however, while we do agree it’s a two-horse race, we’re putting it down to Russia and Slovakia.

Russia are the correct favourites to win this group at -222 at Bet365 and, therefore, they are the smart hockey pick as well. The only intangible that could see the Russians undone in group betting is the weight of expectation, which is tremendous make no mistake. It remains to be seen whether it becomes a burden or asset. As mentioned above, most would have USA as the alternate hockey pick to upset Russia for top spot in this group or finish second. In our opinion, dangerous floaters Slovakia offer better value for your money because they are familiar with big ice hockey, which gives them an advantage over USA.

Group A Picks: 1. Russia, 2. Slovakia, 3. USA, 4. Slovenia 

Who will win the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics Men’s Hockey?