After winning gold in the 2010 Vancouver Games, Team Canada is once again favored to top the podium in Sochi. In order to do so, however, the Canadians will have to overcome a number of tough challengers such as host Russia, a talented Sweden squad and the defending silver medalists in Team USA.
From a skill and depth perspective, there isn't a single team that can match Canada. Seeing as Canada could field a second team that would be competitive within the Olympic tournament, it should come as no surprise that Team Canada is considered an unstoppable juggernaut by some.
Canada's reputation hasn't been consistent with its output, though. Canada hasn't medaled outside North America since the 1994 Lillehammer Games, and it hasn't won gold outside North America since the 1952 Oslo Games. That also happens to be the last time that the Canadians repeated as Olympic champions.
It can be argued that there has never been a deeper field of contenders than there is in Sochi, so Canada has its work cut out when it comes to retaining Olympic supremacy. Here is a look at the road Canada will have to take in order to win gold once again along with a breakdown of the roster.
|Opponent||Date||Time (ET)||Time (GMT)||TV|
|Norway||Thursday, Feb. 13||12 p.m.||5 p.m.||USA|
|Austria||Friday, Feb. 14||12 p.m.||5 p.m.||USA|
|Finland||Sunday, Feb. 16||12 p.m.||5 p.m.||USA|
|Quarterfinals (if necessary)||Wednesday, Feb. 19||TBA||TBA||TBA|
|Semifinals (if necessary)||Friday, Feb. 21||TBA||TBA||TBA|
|Bronze-Medal Game (if necessary)||Saturday, Feb. 22||10 a.m.||3 p.m.||NBCSN|
|Gold-Medal Game (if necessary)||Sunday, Feb. 23||7 a.m.||12 p.m.||NBC|
Choosing one strength that Team Canada has above all others is an exercise in futility due to the depth throughout its roster, but no team is capable of rolling four lines quite like Canada.
With that said, the conversation starts with center Sidney Crosby. There is no question that Crosby is the best player in the world, and he will look to captain Canada to gold. That is a responsibility that Crosby doesn't take lightly, according to the Pittsburgh Penguins' official Twitter account:
“Playing for Team Canada, playing in the #Olympics is a great opportunity. Being name the captain is definitely an honor" –Sidney Crosby— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) January 19, 2014
Even if Crosby doesn't play up to an elite level, Team Canada has plenty of firepower. John Tavares, Rick Nash and Jonathan Toews are all prolific scorers, and even the supposed role players like Patrice Bergeron and Jamie Benn are capable of taking games over. Perhaps the one concern is the absence of Steven Stamkos, who will be replaced by Tampa Bay Lightning teammate Martin St. Louis due to injury, per Hockey Canada:
Canada has enough depth to overcome the loss of Stamkos, but it's a big loss nonetheless. Stamkos is the league's most prolific goal scorer over the past three seasons along with Alex Ovechkin, and he would have been a force on the Olympic-sized ice. As good as Canada's forward corps is, few of them are pure goal scorers like Stamkos. It will be interesting to see if Team Canada can collectively make up for his absence.
Most teams in this tournament only go two pairings deep in terms of quality defensemen, but Canada will feature four pairings that any other country would kill for. Team Canada reads like a gathering of Norris Trophy candidates with Shea Weber, Duncan Keith and Drew Doughty leading the way. Add in rock-solid defenders like Jay Bouwmeester, Dan Hamhuis, Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Alex Pietrangelo, and it's easy to see why Canada is favored to win it all.
The most interesting piece of the puzzle, however, is Montreal Canadiens rearguard P.K. Subban. Few players in the NHL are more polarizing than Subban. He is beloved for his offensive flair and nonstop motor but reviled for his defensive lapses. Subban can be one of the most dynamic players in hockey when he is on his game, but he can be mistake prone too, as seen in this video courtesy of the NHL on Twitter:
If Team Canada head coach Mike Babcock can strike the right balance in terms of Subban's usage, he can be a major asset to the team. That likely means limited time at even strength and none while shorthanded. Subban is a power-play specialist who excels at gaining the zone and has a rocket shot from the point. For that alone, Subban is a guy worth watching in Sochi. The rest of Canada's defense is steady enough that bringing Subban along was worth the risk.
The biggest reason why anyone is giving Team USA a chance to compete for gold is the combination of Ryan Miller and Jonathan Quick between the pipes. At the same time, goaltending is the biggest excuse being made for why Canada may not repeat. Carey Price, Roberto Luongo and Mike Smith have all had a measure of NHL success, but their inconsistency is a major concern. Price and Luongo figure to be the two starting options while Smith looks on, but both Price and Luongo have experienced wild swings in play over the past few weeks.
After allowing four or more goals in five straight games, Price enters the Olympics having given up two or less in five straight. Essentially the opposite has been true for Luongo, which seemingly gives Price the edge. Luongo did lead Team Canada to gold in 2010, though, which means Babcock may have some measure of loyalty toward him. Although he hasn't made it public, Babcock has already chosen his initial starter, according to Sportsnet Hockey Central:
Babcock: I know who I think I'm going to start in goal for Game 1. Will discuss with assistant coaches.— Hockey Central (@SNHockeyCentral) February 4, 2014
Regardless of whom Babcock picks, it may ultimately be the wrong decision. It's entirely possible that Canada doesn't have a goalie capable of handling the pressure. Even though Luongo technically did so four years ago, he looked extremely shaky at times, and he is starting to enter the latter part of his career. Canadian hockey fans are hoping that talent at forward and defense will negate any goaltending problems, but it's nearly impossible to hide the last line of defense.
Team Canada Prediction
When push comes to shove, the big question relates to whether or not Canada can reign supreme yet again. It would be blasphemous to dismiss Canada completely, but it certainly isn't crazy to suggest that it might fall short. It's important not to underestimate the other teams in the tournament because at least five teams are capable of winning it all if you add Finland to the core four of Canada, Russia, Sweden and Team USA.
Much of Canada's 2010 team is making the trip to Sochi, including Babcock. The Detroit Red Wings head coach seems to have the demeanor necessary to handle the pressure, and Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Duncan Keith remains impressed by the way he handled the team in Vancouver, per Dan Rosen of NHL.com.
Everything was laid out there for us when we got to the Olympics. We were very well-prepared in what we wanted to accomplish on the ice as far as our systems and the way we wanted to play as a team. It was also communicated to us very clearly about what the other team's tendencies were, how they played their systems and the players on their team. That was one thing that stood out for me was how well prepared we were as players.
How will Team Canada fare in Sochi?
That obviously bodes well for Canada, but all the preparation in the world can't account for the opponents' desire and will to win. No matter how you slice it, Canada will probably have to go through two of Russia, Sweden and the United States to win gold. Assuming Russia wins Group A, but the United States captures the fourth and final first-round bye in the elimination bracket, Canada and Team USA could conceivably play in the semifinals.
The United States beat Canada once in 2010 and gave it all it could handle in the gold-medal game. It can be argued that Team USA is better this time around, and it will be determined to end its European medal drought. With that in mind, look for Canada to fall short of its ultimate goal but come away with a bronze medal by defeating the Swedes.
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