Four years ago, the Canadians made their most embarrassing hockey performance in history. They finished in seventh place, despite having some great NHL talent on their team.
They suffered in 2006 for two reasons. Their coaching was not up to par, and their chemistry was questionable.
As we have learned since then, Wayne Gretzky is not nearly as good of a coach as he was a player. And, as we have been shown over and over again throughout Olympic history, chemistry is one of the biggest factors in whether or not a team wins or loses.
Fortunately for Canada, both issues have been addressed for the 2010 Olympic campaign. Mike Babcock has now taken control of the bench, and Steve Yzerman made sure that chemistry was a fundamental factor when picking the team. This led to a few players that were on the team in 2006 to miss the cut.
Now, they have to make sure they don't get complacent, like they did against Switzerland.
To me, there are four things that every Gold Medal team needs. They need to have depth, chemistry, solid goaltending, and veteran leadership. Every team that finishes in the top half of the standings will have at least two of these. To win the Gold Medal, you need to be solid in all four areas.
Right now, the two teams that are being favored to win the Gold Medal are the Canadians and the Russians. Really, a game between these two teams would be a toss-up. But, there is a slight advantage to the Canadians.
On the top line, the Canadians and Russians are equal, but the lower lines are where the Canadians look better. Depth is the biggest advantage Canada has over Russia. The KHL players that Russia is putting on the ice do not have the talent of the NHL players that they will be facing.
After losing to the Russians in the World Championships, the Canadians will not want to lose again. They're definitely not going to want it to happen on their home soil. The Russians will have to deal with a determined Canadian team that will come after them with a lot of pressure.
Again, both teams are extremely good and both are capable of winning the Gold Medal. But Canada simply looks better. Their depth is better, their chemistry better, their coaching is much improved since 2006, and their determination to win the Gold Medal is unmatched. These factors are going to be difficult for the Russians to overcome.
See my Olympic Medal Predictions