Why 2014 Gold Is Canada's Greatest Olympic Men's Hockey Achievement

Steve MacfarlaneFeatured ColumnistFebruary 23, 2014

Winslow Townson/USA Today

Maybe that summer ball hockey wasn't such a bad idea after all.

Team Canada's gold medal at the 2014 Sochi Games men's hockey tournament was unprecedented. These games weren't being played in Salt Lake City, Utah, or Vancouver, B.C.—the North American sites of its two previous gold medals in the last four Winter Olympics.

It wasn't supposed to have that same kind of success on the bigger ice surface, which changes tactics from the tighter confines of NHL-sized arenas. Canada fell flat in Turin during the 2006 Olympics, where it missed out on a medal altogether.

In Sochi, Team Canada proved it could play on any surface, against any opponent, and commit to the style of game necessary to be the best in the world.

The gold medal Canada claimed in a 3-0 win over Sweden that never seemed in doubt might not have the same sort of luster that comes with winning on home ice in Vancouver four years ago, but it's a much greater achievement.

In fact, the 2014 gold-medal performance is Canada's greatest hockey achievement at the Olympic Games.

The last Canuck team to win it all on international ice was also the same one to win back-to-back gold medals, when the Edmonton Mercurys claimed the gold in 1952 in Oslo, Norway.

Julio Cortez/Associated Press

With an uncertain goaltending situation featuring Carey Price and Roberto Luongo as the top options, talk before the tournament pegged Canada as the most talented team everywhere but between the pipes, and that's typically the worst spot to show weakness.

But Price was up to the challenge—aided by a team that was committed to doing what it had to in front of him to ensure it could stifle offenses more experienced and dangerous on the ice surface that features 15 extra feet in width and a blue line much closer to the net than the NHL design.

The result was just three goals against in six wins in Sochi. Canada never even trailed for a minute in the tournament. Let that thought sink in for a few minutes: The world's best offensive players used defense to win the Olympic hockey tournament.

Mark Humphrey/Associated Press

With shutouts over Sweden in the final and the U.S. in semifinal, the Canadians didn't even allow a goal in more than 164 minutes following the first period of the quarterfinal against Latvia—the longest shutout streak of Price's career.

Price was rewarded with the title of Best Goalkeeper thanks to his tournament-best .972 save percentage and 0.59 goals-against average. He was quick to credit the players in front of him.

Jonathan Toews, who opened the scoring Sunday, also credited the team's dedication on the CBC broadcast:

I think anyone knows the talent and ability this team has. I think huge credit goes to our commitment to playing the team game and the will to win. People were doubting whether we could score goals in the tournament. It’s easy for a group like that to go press and try to create offense and get away from our game plan. But we stuck with it every single night, and here we are on top of the podium. It feels pretty good.

The summer ball hockey was a strategy employed by head coach Mike Babcock at August's orientation camp. The team wasn't allowed to get on the ice because of insurance reasons, but Babcock knew he'd have to ingrain the style of play necessary overseas into his players' minds early.

Turns out it was a pretty effective teaching tool.

Matt Slocum/Associated Press

But more impressive than his coaching tactics was the way the players stayed true to those teachings. Talent takes you only so far, as the United States found out with a disappointing finish that saw it miss out on a medal four years after making it to overtime in the gold-medal game against Canada in Vancouver.

With three gold medals in the last four events, Canada has established itself as the dominant force of NHL-era Olympic Games. The first team to go undefeated in the tournament since the Soviet Union in Sarajevo in 1984, Team Canada also became the only repeat champion since NHL players joined the fun in 1998.

With so many great teams gracing Canada with gold in the past, it would be tough to suggest this one was the best it has ever iced.

As a team, though, it accomplished the most.