Team Canada will arrive in Sochi for the 2014 Olympics with a massive bulls-eye on their backs as every other country competing will be looking to knock off the defending Olympic champions. History is certainly not on the side of the Canadian squad either. The last team to repeat as gold medalists in Olympic ice hockey was the Soviet Union in 1984 and ‘88. But the Canadians definitely have the talent to pull the feat off, even if many other countries will have no shortage of skill players representing them in Sochi too.
A lot has been made of Canada’s perceived weakness on the bigger international ice surface. After all, the Canadians won in 2010 on the smaller North American surface in Vancouver, but flamed out on the bigger surface in Turin in 2006, finishing seventh. But go back one more Olympics to 2002 in Salt Lake City, and you’ll find the ice surface was actually enlarged to the standard international size. As you may remember, Canada won gold that year. I’m not really sure why we’re comparing a team in 2006 to a team in 2014 because they’ll be made up of entirely different players, but the point stands that this narrative that Canada can’t win on the big ice is largely fictional.
At any rate, Canadian head coach Mike Babcock has reiterated he will emphasize speed with his team to make sure there won’t be any problems getting his players from Point A to Point B on the big ice. He’ll have plenty of younger players with spades of skating ability to choose from when he comes up with a 25-man roster. Players who are likely to make their first Olympics appearance for Team Canada include Steven Stamkos, Claude Giroux, John Tavares, Taylor Hall, Kris Letang, Alex Pietrangelo and P.K. Subban. The team will look different than 2010’s version, but will definitely feature plenty of youthful exuberance.
Canada was gifted a very easy draw for their group, as they’ll face Finland, Austria and Norway in the round robin. This can be seen as either a good thing or a bad thing. It might be good for Canada to ease into the tournament, developing chemistry with each other while not having to face tough competition. Or it could end up hurting them in the end if they suddenly have to face a very tough opponent in the quarterfinals while they’re still on cruise control from group play. Either way, Babcock and the rest of the coaching staff will be doing everything they can to have their charges running at full cylinders when the elimination games come around.
Here’s how I would put Canada’s 25-man roster together:
- There are stacked forward groups, and then there is Team Canada. I’m giving Taylor Hall a top-six spot because his speed and scoring ability from the wing are a great asset. He should thrive playing with two offensive dynamos in Giroux and Tavares. I love that third line. They’re all big, hard to handle on the forecheck and can create a ton of offense too. I went with Neal and Sharp on the fourth line instead of Richards and Carter because I like their blend of grit and scoring ability, and they’re both full-time wingers with their NHL clubs. Richards was effective in a bottom six role in Vancouver, but doesn’t have the scoring ability, while Carter can score, but I don’t think is suited to the fourth line. Joe Thornton and Ryan Getzlaf are left off simply because there are too many good centres and I don’t think they can skate as well as these guys.
- Babcock went on record to say he wants an equal blend of right-shooting and left-shooting defensemen on his roster, so he may not like this one. Keith is the only defenseman in this group who shoots left. If Babcock is really stubborn, he’ll probably go with Marc Staal or Jay Bouwmeester because they shoot left, but I don’t think it matters too much. Most of these guys have skating ability as an asset so they should thrive on the big ice.
- I don’t feel great about these goalies, but nevertheless, here we are. It’s difficult to judge Luongo’s season last year because he only played nine games. He still boasts a .919 career save percentage, but whether or not he wins the starting job will probably come down to how well he does in Vancouver at the start of this season. Crawford had a very good year, holding the fort down for the Stanley Cup-winning Chicago Blackhawks. Price will need to rebound from a tough year to win a spot, but at this point, I trust him more than Mike Smith, who’s been fairly inconsistent.
Now that we’re at the end of our Olympic roster projection series, here’s how I rank the seven teams we’ve profiled:
Click the links to see how I projected each team’s roster, and vote in the poll at the end of each article. We’ll tabulate the poll results and publish a final ranking for the seven teams at a later date.