Canada will try to defend its status as Olympic hockey champion in Sochi and it won’t be easy. Canada won’t have the home crowd or small ice surface to their advantage like they did in 2010.
With 78 days until the start of the Sochi Olympics and 40 days before the team has to be named, here are my choices for Canada’s Olympic hockey team in Sochi.
Canada won Olympic gold in 2002 and 2010, but did not receive a medal in both Olympic tournaments (with NHL participation) held outside North America.
Canada will be competing in Group B along with Finland, Norway and Austria.
It goes without saying that Canada will have the best group of forwards in the tournament. Steven Stamkos would be a slam dunk selection for this team, but it looks unlikely that he’ll be able to recover from a broken tibia in time. Stamkos’ loss is Taylor Hall’s gain (Stamkos might be named to the team with the hope that he will be healthy, but ultimately he’ll be replaced). Despite playing on dreadful Oilers teams thus far in his career, he makes the team because of his speed on the big ice and the fact that he is a natural winger (I am naming nine centres to the team).
Patrice Bergeron also makes the team as a faceoff and penalty killing specialist.
The team’s best player and most likely to be named captain, Sidney Crosby, will play with Martin St. Louis who was snubbed in 2010 and young superstar John Tavares. Rick Nash, Jonathan Toews and Mike Richards were arguably Canada’s best line in Vancouver, so they’ll be back.
Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry will have Team Canada mainstay Eric Stall on their wing, despite Stall’s slow start this season (Stall had a poor start to the 2009-10 season as well, but ended up on Crosby’s wing in 2010). The underrated Patrick Sharp, the slow starting Claude Giroux and the young Logan Couture will make-up a dynamic fourth line.
Forward lines are made to be broken, of course, and head coach Mike Babcock is likely to use a few different combinations, just like he did in 2010.
Martin St. Louis — Sidney Crosby — John Tavares
Rick Nash — Jonathan Toews — Mike Richards
Eric Staal — Ryan Getzlaf — Corey Perry
Patrick Sharp — Claude Giroux — Logan Couture
Image: Mike Hewitt / Getty Images
The main topic of discussion concerning Canada’s defencemen is which way they shoot. Drew Doughty, PK Subban, Shea Weber and Alex Pietrangelo are all locks to make Team Canada – and they are all right-handed. That’s bad news for some other quality right-handed defencemen who don’t make my Team Canada, including Brent Seabrook, Kris Letang and Dan Boyle.
Canada will start the tournament playing four right-handed defencemen in their top six, but will have enough left-handed d-men on reserve in case it becomes an issue. Jay Bouwmeester sneaks into the top six, given his strong start to the season (16 points, +10, 24 TOI in 20 games), his smooth skating and his familiarity with Blues teammate Alex Pietrangelo.
Canada’s extra defencemen will be a pair of good skating, defensively responsible left-handed defencemen: Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Dan Hamhuis. Vlasic and Hamhuis make the team because they are low risk players that are also good puck movers.
Duncan Keith — Drew Doughty
PK Subban — Shea Weber
Jay Bouwmeester — Alex Pietrangelo
I’m ready for the backlash, Canucks fans: at this point, Carey Price is my starting goalie in Sochi. Price gets the nod over Roberto Luongo (at least at this point) because he’s played better. Price has a .935 SV% and a 2.05 GAA to this point of the season. If Price is less than stellar, Roberto Luongo will be ready to take over as he did in 2010.
Truth be told, the number one goalie decision is a two horse race and the goalie that is playing the best in the lead-up to the tournament will get the first shot at the job. That makes January a very important month for both Price and Luongo.
Team Canada veteran Joe Thornton is getting snubbed by me. I didn’t think Thornton had a great tournament in 2010 and his foot speed becomes more of an issue on the big ice surface. Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin are having excellent seasons, but don’t make the team because they’re in need of natural wingers. Milan Lucic is a lock for this team on NHL-sized ice, but his effectiveness drops on international-sized ice. Kris Letang is a victim of his poor start to the season and the fact that he’s right-handed.
Canada enters the 2014 Olympic hockey tournament with the best team on paper. They will be able to roll four strong lines and three strong defence pairings unlike any other country. Goaltending will be a concern, but it is good enough to win with.
If Canada can come together as a team as I expect, they should win gold. But it won’t be easy.
Do you agree or disagree with any of my selections? Let me know in the comments below.
Feature image: Bruce Bennett / Getty Images