Olympics-Men's ice hockey at the Sochi Olympics

Reuters

Jan 28 (Reuters) - The following is a factbox of the men's ice hockey tournament at the Sochi Winter Olympics:

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THE COMPETITION

Feb. 12-23

Teams: Group A - Russia, Slovakia, United States, Slovenia

Group B - Finland, Canada, Norway, Austria

Group C - Czech Republic, Sweden, Switzerland, Latvia

Each group winner plus the best second-placed team advance to the quarter-finals while the remaining eight teams will play a qualification game.

Each quarter-final winner advances to the semis with the winners playing for the gold medal, and the losers the bronze.

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HISTORY

While ice hockey's beginnings are the subject of great debate, the British are generally credited with introducing the sport to North America when soldiers stationed in Nova Scotia played the earliest games.

Ice hockey joined the Olympic programme at the 1920 Antwerp Summer Games and four years later moved to the Winter Games.

Canada (eight) and the former Soviet Union (seven) have dominated the Olympic ice claiming 15 of the 22 gold medals.

Professionals were allowed to compete in the Olympics for the first time at the 1998 Nagano Games where the Czech Republic taking a surprise gold.

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THE VENUES

Bolshoy Ice Dome - Capacity: 12,000

The eye-catching design of the Bolshoy Ice Dome is based on the image of a frozen water droplet.

Shayba Arena - Capacity: 7,000

The Shayba Arena takes its name from the Russian word for puck. A symbolic ice hockey puck was laid at the foundation of the arena during construction.

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THE CONTENDERS

Canada heads to Sochi once again a threat to win the gold medal just as it did four years ago on home ice in Vancouver where Sidney Crosby, captain of this year's team, scored the overtime winner.

No team will be under more pressure than Russia. Once the undisputed superpower of international ice hockey, Russia's dominance faded following the breakup of the Soviet Union.

Winners of six of seven Olympic titles from the 1964 Innsbruck Games to Calgary in 1988, the last traces of Russia's hockey empire were seen at the 1992 Albertville Winter Games when a "Unified Team" of former Soviet republics took the gold.

The United States has not won gold since the 1980 Lake Placid Olympics but should be among the contenders again after runner-up finishes at two of the last three Winter Games. (Reporting by Steve Keating in Toronto; Editing by Frank Pingue)

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