Biggest Questions Facing Canadian Olympic Hockey Team at 2014 Winter Olympics

Jonathan Willis@jonathanwillisNHL National ColumnistJanuary 9, 2014

TORONTO, ON - JANUARY 7: Executive director Steve Yzerman with head coach Mike Babcock during the announcement of the Canadian Men's Olympic Hockey team at the Mastercard Centre ahead of the Sochi Winter Olympics January 7, 2014 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.  (Photo by Abelimages/Getty Images)
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When Steve Yzerman and the rest of the Hockey Canada management group announced the roster for that nation’s entry at the 2014 Sochi Olympics, they answered the question of who would represent that country. But a host of other questions remain unanswered and ultimately won’t be until the tournament is over.

TURIN, ITALY - FEBRUARY 19:  Martin St-Louis #26 trains before the men's ice hockey Preliminary Round Group A match between Finland and Canada during Day 9 of the Turin 2006 Winter Olympic Games on February 19, 2006 at the Torino Esposizioni in Turin, Ita
Robert Laberge/Getty Images

The biggest one right now is whether Canada will miss the offensive talent it left behind. It is impossible to avoid controversy entirely because of how many options are at the disposal of the national team. Right now, the spotlight is on players like Claude Giroux, Martin St. Louis and Joe Thornton, all exceptional scorers whose names will certainly be brought up if the Canadian entry has any struggles scoring early on. Younger players like Tyler Seguin and Taylor Hall will also get play in hindsight if they have strong second halves, much like Steven Stamkos did in 2010.

Of the players who are going, it is the team’s top two goalies facing the most pressure. Canada has some history of goaltending trouble in international play, and there is no Patrick Roy on this roster, no undisputed master of the position to calm the nerves of anxious fans.

VANCOUVER, BC - FEBRUARY 28:  Roberto Luongo #1 of Canada reacts during the ice hockey men's gold medal game between USA and Canada on day 17 of the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics at Canada Hockey Place on February 28, 2010 in Vancouver, Canada.  (Photo b
Harry How/Getty Images

Roberto Luongo has a sterling resume that includes a gold-medal win in 2010 (when he stepped in for a faltering Martin Brodeur), but at some point in his career, he was branded as a player who chokes under pressure, and it’s a label he can’t seem to slip. Carey Price is coming off a bad 2012-13 season and is an unknown internationally at the senior level.  

Among the skaters, the big question is one less about talent and more of whether Team Canada has built a team that can successfully manage the transition to the big ice. It’s not hard to spot the pattern in Canada’s Olympic performances since the NHL started sending talent off to the tournament; when the Olympics have been held in North America, the Canadians have won gold, and when held overseas, the team hasn’t medaled.

VANCOUVER, CANADA - APRIL 04:  Head coach Ralph Krueger of the Edmonton Oilers looks on from the bench during their NHL game against the Vancouver Canucks at Rogers Arena April 4, 2013 in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. Vancouver won 4-0. (Photo by J
Jeff Vinnick/Getty Images

A sample size of four isn’t nearly big enough to come to any firm conclusions, and judging by the interviews given by the coaching staff, Canada has leaned heavily on ex-Edmonton Oilers bench boss Ralph Krueger, a veteran of high-level European hockey, in preparing for the transition. Even so, the fear is that players used to playing in NHL rinks will hit a learning curve in Sochi, a learning curve that may be disastrous for the team’s fortunes.

Another related factor is officiating. For the most part, Yzerman and Co. (smartly) didn’t build a roster heavily influenced by "crash and bang" North American-style hockey, but even so, the referees that Canada sees at the tournament will primarily be drawn from top European leagues, where the standard for what is and is not a penalty can differ sharply from what NHL players are familiar with.

The questions facing Canada, then, are less about the calibre of player being produced by the country and more about the specific fears of NHLers successfully transitioning to a different style of game in a short time period. Given that the other teams in the tournament (save the Americans) will be playing in a system that, for the most part, they grew up playing, those concerns are understandable.

They are also unavoidable.