Image (c) Reuters

It's one of the premier events at any Winter Olympics and, just like Vancouver 2010, the men's ice hockey tournament will take place this year in a host nation absolutely rabid for the sport.

A total of 12 teams will lace up skates, but only four nations are considered favorites for medal placement. And of those four, only host team Russia faces the burden of going for gold at home with the eyes of more than 140 million citizens trained on the result.

In addition to the hosts, Canada and Sweden enter as favorites for gold, while the USA should also fight for a podium spot.

Each of these nations has a record-breaking history in the competition, and so we wanted to share our favorite record-breaking moment in the history of each of the four favored teams.

TEAM CANADA

They own the best Olympic ice hockey record of all: the most gold medals won by a single country. On a technicality, Canada's 8 all-time golds could tie it with the USSR, which won its 8th and final title as the Unified Team at Albertville 1992.

However, there's no denying Canada's history of success, whose triumph on home ice at Vancouver 2010 added to golds in 2002 and every Olympics from 1920-1952 (excepting 1936, when oddly Great Britain won the gold in Germany - using a roster of predominantly Canadian-raised players).

You can argue that Canada already holds this record alone, but a win in Sochi would put the argument beyond reasonable doubt.

TEAM SWEDEN

Canada may own the most golds in Olympic hockey history, but Sweden pulled off an unprecedented hockey double in 2006. After conquering Turin 2006, the Swedes won the IIHF world championship just months later, becoming the first ice hockey team to win both Olympic gold and a world championship in the same year since the two competitions split after 1968. As no team pulled it off in 2010, Sweden remains the only nation to have ever done this.

TEAM RUSSIA

Since the breakup of the Soviet Union prior to the 1992 Olympics, Russia has struggled to find ice hockey success as an individual nation. In fact, in the five Olympics competing as Russia, the team has come back with only one silver, one bronze, and three finishes off the medal stand.

But denying the Russian heritage of the USSR teams is like disregarding the history of the British Empire. And no jewel shined brighter for the USSR than legendary goalie Vladislav Tretiak. He remains the most-decorated men's ice hockey player in Olympic history, netminding for three gold medals (1972-76, 1984) and one silver (1980) in his Soviet career.

TEAM USA

Often the bridesmaid and only occasionally the bride, America actually owns the record for falling just short at this competition. Team USA has won the most silver medals in Olympic hockey, finishing second eight times. That's double the next-closest second-place finisher, the former Czechoslovakia. Although you won't find many complaints when it comes to the two golds the U.S. has won, particularly the most famous of all time in the video above.

However, America does technically hold the distinction of appearing in the most men's ice hockey competitions at the Olympics, having sent teams to 21 of the 22 tournaments, one more than Canada and Sweden. The only one they missed was St. Moritz 1928. And for a fun history lesson on why this is "technically" a record, enjoy this recap of the fun at St. Moritz again 20 years later.

Most hockey prognosticators agree that it's the above four teams fighting for the three medals in Sochi, but that's not to shortchange the rest of the competition. Could the Czech Republic - which, when combined with its predecessor Czechoslovakia, boasts as strong an ice hockey heritage as Russia or Canada - crash the party? Will Finland, medalists in five of the last seven Olympics, return to the stand?

Enjoy the competition to find out, then make sure to keep visiting GuinnessWorldRecords.com and to follow @GWR on Twitter throughout the Games for all the latest from Sochi.

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