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Final three Pyeongchang Olympic men’s hockey spots set to be filled

Anze Kopitar

TORONTO, ON - DECEMBER 11: Anze Kopitar #11 of the Los Angeles Kings skates in the warm-up prior to playing against the Toronto Maple Leafs during an NHL game at the Air Canada Centre on December 11, 2013 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. The Kings defeated the Leafs 3-1. (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)

Claus Andersen

The 2018 Olympic men’s hockey field of 12 teams will be complete by the end of this weekend.

The last three spots will go to winners of three round-robin qualifying tournaments in Europe that run from Thursday through Sunday.

The Olympic Channel will stream the action.

The current Olympic men’s hockey groups (world ranking in parentheses):

Group AGroup BGroup C
Canada (1)Russia (2)Finland (3)
Czech Republic (6)USA (4)Sweden (5)
Switzerland (7)Slovakia (8)Qualifier
South Korea (23 -- host)QualifierQualifier

Those three qualifiers will be the winners of these three tournaments this weekend:

Tournament 1Tournament 2Tournament 3
Belarus (9 -- host)Germany (10)Norway (11 -- host)
Denmark (13)Latvia (12 -- host)France (14)
Slovenia (15)Austria (17)Kazakhstan (16)
Poland (20)Japan (21)Italy (18)

All of the Olympic medal contenders are among the nine nations already in the Pyeongchang field, but a few notables are vying for spots this weekend.

Belarus memorably upset Sweden in the 2002 Olympic quarterfinals and wound up fourth in Salt Lake City. It last competed in the Olympics in 2010. Belarus’ biggest competition in its qualifying tournament may be Slovenia, which won two games at the Sochi Olympics and is led by Los Angeles Kings All-Star Anze Kopitar.

Like Belarus, Germany also last played at the Olympics in 2010. More recently, it beat the U.S. at the World Championship in May, behind New York Islanders goalie Thomas Greiss. To get to Pyeongchang, Germany must top a group that includes host Latvia, which made the last four Olympics and beat Switzerland in Sochi.

Norway hosts the group with the least amount of recent Olympic experience. None of France, Kazakhstan or Italy made either of the last two Olympics. Norway ought to be favored, then, since it reached the 2010 and 2014 Olympics, though it lost every contest at both Winter Games. New York Rangers forward Mats Zuccarello stars for the Norwegians.

It’s unknown whether the NHL will send its players to the 2018 Olympics.

MORE: Canada holds Soviet-like dominance after another world hockey title