With a proud tradition of excellence and another stacked roster in Sochi, the men's Canadian Olympic hockey team has its sights set on the gold medal again.
Team Canada has taken home eight golds in the history of Olympic hockey, which was actually introduced at the 1920 summer games in Antwerp, Belgium.
The Canadians were able to defend their home ice in 2010 at Vancouver, and now their stiffest competition figures to be host country Russia, which is led by NHL superstar Alex Ovechkin. But Canada's roster features arguably the deepest group of talent from top to bottom, highlighted by its strength down the middle.
Here's a peek at the upcoming group stage schedule for the Canadian side followed by a look at three players who will play major roles in the team's Olympic fortunes.
|Canada Men's Hockey Group Stage Schedule|
|Thursday, Feb. 13||12 p.m.||Norway|
|Friday, Feb. 14||12 p.m.||Austria|
|Sunday, Feb. 16||12 p.m.||Finland|
Sidney Crosby, Forward
Sid the Kid is at it again for the Pittsburgh Penguins during the 2013-14 season. Now it's time to see if he can carry that success over to international ice for Team Canada. With 78 points (28 goals, 50 assists) in 58 NHL contests this year, Crosby is a favorite to win his second career Hart Trophy.
The 26-year-old isn't known for being outspoken, but as Pierre LeBrun of ESPN.com noted, he's taken up a strong leadership role for his country heading into these Winter Games.
He takes over as captain from Scott Niedermayer, whose example in Vancouver four years ago left a clear impression on Crosby.
"The biggest thing I learned from a guy like Scotty is that he didn't really say that much, he just said the right thing at the right time," Crosby said. "The way he carried himself and his whole demeanor that he had, his quiet confidence, it was really something that was felt throughout the whole room."
According to Helene Elliott of the Los Angeles Times, Crosby has only played on international ice three times. At 100 feet, it's 15 feet bigger than NHL rinks and will certainly be an adjustment, but Crosby is the best player in the world at the moment.
He also has Olympic credentials, as his overtime wrist shot sent Team Canada to a 3-2 overtime gold medal-winning victory against the United States at the 2010 Winter Games.
There are plenty of stacked offensive teams in the men's tournament, but with Crosby's unmatched ability to set up his top-flight teammates and score, Canada's attack might be the most potent of them all.
Carey Price and Roberto Luongo, Goalie
If there's one position on Team Canada that's under the microscope it's at goalie, where Roberto Luongo and Carey Price are expected to share duties between the pipes.
But it doesn't sound like the duo has any hard feelings about the split responsibilities, as CBC Sport reported that the pair and fellow goalie Mike Smith are sharing a room at the Olympic village.
Looking at the NHL save percentage rankings at the Olympic break, Price (eighth, .925) and Luongo (t-18th, .917) have had varying degrees of success this year.
So who's the better bet for Canada?
In his seventh season for the Montreal Canadiens, Price has been hit-or-miss since he was selected to the national team in early January. That month, he finished with a 5-5-1 record and an unsightly .891 save percentage. But he's starting to show signs of improvement in the past couple of weeks, as he has two shutouts in that span and a .960 save percentage in five February contests.
In fact, Price's Canadiens outdueled Luongo's Vancouver Canucks on Thursday, 5-2, as Luongo has struggled recently, per Iain MacIntyre of Canada.com.
This is Luongo’s third Olympics, but he goes having lost his last five starts — part of the Canucks’ seven-game losing streak — and hasn’t allowed fewer than three goals in any of them.
"Just enjoy it, man,” Luongo said of his mindset. "That’s how I approached it four years ago and that’s how I intend to approach it this time around. It’s not about Roberto Luongo, it’s about representing Team Canada and doing whatever you can do to help the team win a medal for your country."
At the moment, it appears Price has the hot hand, but MacIntyre reported coach Mike Babcock is expected to pick a No. 1 by the third contest after giving a start each to Price and Luongo.
Duncan Keith, Defenseman
Sure, there is plenty of offensive firepower for this Canadian squad at the front of the attack, but it doesn't stop there.
Leading the deep crop of Canadian blueliners is Duncan Keith, who is a prime candidate to win his second career Norris Trophy, per Dan Rosen of NHL.com, as the league's top defenseman.
While he and Brent Seabrook have created a quality tandem for the Chicago Blackhawks on defense, Keith's ability to contribute on offense has also raised a lot of eyebrows. In Sochi, Keith is expected to give Canada an elite starting defenseman duo with Shea Weber.
Once Keith gets a head of steam while pushing with this Canada attack, watch out.
But with such potent opposing offenses like the ones possessed by Russia, the United States and Sweden, Keith's main responsibilities as an aggressor will be put to the test. With an uncertain goalie situation behind it, Team Canada's defense will be crucial to winning the gold.
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