The Men’s Hockey Tournament at the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics is almost upon us, so join us as we breakdown the odds to win outright and deliver our best hockey picks for your consideration.

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 (the winners of each group and the best second placed team) 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.

Canada tops the hockey betting charts as the hot favourite at +180 for Gold at the Sochi Olympics, which would mark their second straight Gold in as many Olympics. However – and this is very interesting – odds on the ‘Winning Continent’ stand in stark contrast to this overarching market. North America is listed at +130 while the Rest of the World is listed at a whopping -170. Seems like a bit of a conundrum.

Now, this could be down to the fact that only two of the twelve teams competing represent North American – USA (listed at +700 to win outright at Bet365) and Canada – and, therefore, the balance of the scale tips largely towards the remaining ten teams from Europe. Majority rule, so to speak; hence, the favourable odds on teams outside of North America. Or, this could be, symptomatic of an important caveat that hockey bettors should bear in mind: international-sized ice.

That Canada have won two of the last three Olympic Gold medals underscores their favourable odds at +180 at Bet365 to some extent but when both came on North American soil – or rather NHL-standard sized ice – surely the shine comes off their odds. Fact is North American teams do struggle on international-standard ice, which is 61m x 30m and slightly wider than their NHL digs at 61m x 26m. Case and point: Canada finished seventh in 2006 Torino (while USA finished eighth). Another thing worth noting is the fact that since the Soviet Union’s domination of the event, no team has managed to win back-to-back Gold medals.

Russia are nipping at Canada’s heels at +200 to win the tournament and, by and large, they are the popular hockey pick to win outright. To finish top three, they are tipped at -286 at Bet365.

Home advantage underscores the inclination towards Russia finishing atop the podium mainly, as well the team’s quality and depth on offense. Oh, and this is the medal that Putin has his heart set on most. Not for nothing does Putin get what he wants (no pun intended).

The last time Russia won Gold at the Olympics was 22 years ago and their last turnout was arguably one of their worst in recent memory where they finished sixth overall. In 1998, they won Silver. In 2002, they won Bronze. In 2006, they finished fourth after losing 3-0 to Czech Republic in the Bronze medal game. So they’ll have all to do to resurrect the old glory days of the Soviet Union, make no mistake.

Sweden are deemed the third favourites in the competition, largely down to their top ranking in the world – an extension of their 2013 IIHF World Championships victory. They were also Gold medallists in Torino eight years ago. Given their weight class they are credible threats for the coveted golden prize but with a slew of fresh injuries hitting the squad, they will have all to do to reach the medal round. If you are looking to back the Swedes in Winter Olympics betting markets, take them at -143 hockey odds to finish top three – which is a more likely outcome than winning the whole thing appears to be.

USA ring in as the fourth overall favourites at +700 across sportsbooks to win it all and they are listed at +120 to finish top three. These fancied odds are largely down to their last Olympic performance where they finished with a Silver medal in Vancouver after giving Canada a run for their money.

Given their lack of success outside of North America however, where they have proven beatable, these odds smack of disingenuous. Just like Canada, USA will struggle with the big ice. What’s more, they’ve fallen into a rather tough Group A with Russia and Slovakia. Right from the start odds are stacked against them, so it remains to be seen how ready they will be for the elimination rounds.

Finland are severely underrated at +1300 hockey odds given they rank second in the world rankings and have medalled at four of the last five Olympics including a Bronze at Vancouver. Standing against Finland – and perhaps going some way towards explaining their large odds to win outright – is the fact that they’ve never won Gold at the Olympics. Having never done so doesn’t mean they won’t ever win it. Does it?

This is a quality outfit with some of the best goaltending to offer in the tournament, which could be the decisive factor on the larger ice that promotes more offense. If you are on the fence with the Fins, back them at +200 hockey odds instead to finish top three at Bet365; after all, they’ve medalled in four of the last five Olympics.

Dangerous floaters in the tournament include Czech Republic, listed on par with Finland at +1300 to win outright or thereabouts depending on your choice sportsbook. The Czechs won Gold in 1998 Nagano and Bronze in 2006 Torino, marking two medals in the last four Olympics. With veterans Jaromir Jagr and Petr Nedved leading the charge for a podium finish, the Czechs can be best backed on your hockey picks for a top three finish at +220 at Bet365 as well.

Slovakia are the other dangerous floaters in the tournament that hockey bettors should spot. Despite a fourth-place finish in Vancouver and a runner-up finish at the 2012 World Championships, sportsbooks are writing them off at +4000 to win outright and at +700 to finish on the podium. While the former is a stretch, the latter certainly isn’t. Building on the great strides they’ve made in the game it’s very possible Slovakia would emerge into the top three at Sochi.