Following their magical win in Vancouver, Team Canada is returning to the ice in Sochi, Russia to try and bring home gold for the third time in the last four Olympiads.
The last time we saw the Canadian men’s Olympic hockey team they were celebrating winning gold on home ice following a 3-2 overtime win against the rival American team. Etched in many Canadian’s memories, Sidney Crosby’s goal was arguably the defining moment of the 2010 Vancouver Olympics.
Four years later, Crosby will be captain as Team Canada tries to recapture the 2010 magic. But this time around the team won’t have the home crowd behind them as they travel to Russia to take on the rest of the world.
As Canadians we pride ourselves on the strength of our national teams — especially in hockey. The Olympics are extra special with the the world’s best going head to head and bragging rights lasting for four years.
Canada is sending a very talented team and is considered a favourite heading into the tournament. However, the North American players are at a disadvantage overseas since European ice surfaces are longer and wider than those used here. European born players are raised on this ice whereas North Americans will have to adjust to the larger playing area.
The Canadian roster features 11 returning players from the 2010 squad including starting goalie Roberto Luongo and top defencemen Duncan Keith and Drew Doughty.
The biggest problem for this team is often trimming the roster. Every four years many worthy players are left off and this year is no different. That being said, the team seems to stack up very well against the other teams competing for Olympic gold.
Behind the goal line Roberto Luongo, Carey Price and Mike Smith will look to keep any pucks from passing into their net.
Luongo backstopped the team to gold last time around and fans can expect him to be just as good at these Olympics.
Helping goalkeepers keep scoring to a minimum, Jay Bouwmeester, Drew Doughty, Dan Hamhuis, Duncan Keith, Alex Pieterangelo, P.K. Subban, Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Shea Weber will be taking the ice as defencemen.
The defence will be the difference maker for the team. The defencemen need to adjust to the larger ice and how well they adapt could be tell tale of how the team fares in the tournament.
Meanwhile forwards Jamie Benn, Patrice Bergeron, Jeff Carter, Sidney Crosby, Matt Duchene, Ryan Getzlaf, Chris Kunitz, Patrick Marleau, Rick Nash, Corey Perry, Patrick Sharp, Steven Stamkos, John Tavares and Jonathon Toews will rush their opponents looking for scoring opportunities.
The forwards should be able to score; the biggest issue is finding line combinations that work and creating chemistry among the players over such a short period of time.
The rest of the world will also send talented teams to Sochi and you can bet they all want to knock Canada off the top of the podium.
In addition to home ice advantage, Russia has a very powerful offence featuring the National Hockey League’s leading goal scorer Alex Ovechkin. Russia always has a very skilled team but they usually lack defensive play and goaltending. They will need to be carried by their offence, but don’t count them out. At home and looking to avenge its 7-3 loss to Canada in the 2010 Winter Olympics, Team Russia is considered a favourite.
Sweden is arguably the most well-rounded team in the tournament. They are strong in every position and could be Canada’s biggest threat in the tournament. Led by Daniel and Henrik Sedin — both playing for the Vancouver Canucks — this team is solid from top to bottom.
The Finnish team boasts two of the best goalies in the world: Tukka Rask of the Boston Bruins and Antti Niemi of the San Jose Sharks. The pair aren’t likely to allow very many goals scored against them. Finland’s problem will be scoring, as their forwards aren’t as skilled as many of the other countries in the tournament. Finland’s goalies can steal them games, it will just be a matter of how many goals they can score.
The American team was said to make some questionable decisions when selecting the squad that would represent them in Sochi. The defending silver medalists have very fast forwards who should excel on the bigger ice but their defence is fairly young and might not quite be ready for the biggest stage in all of hockey. Returning goalie Ryan Miller should help the inexperienced defence. Many are overlooking the American team, but they could be a dark horse with their skilled and speedy group of forwards.
Canada opens the tournament on Feb. 13 at 12 p.m. vs. Norway. The gold medal game goes Feb. 23 at 7 a.m.
Photo: Christopher Pike