NHL Participants: 25 (all)
2010 Finish: Gold medallists
IIHF Ranking: 5th
The defending champion Canadians head to Sochi without the benefit of home ice advantage that they had in Vancouver 2010, but still with one of the most formidable rosters in the competition. Expectations are once again astronomical, with only a gold medal serving to satisfy the hockey-mad Canadian populace.
FORWARDS (with expected line combinations): Kunitz-Crosby-Tavares ; Sharp-Toews-Carter ; Perry-Getzlaf-Marleau ; Benn-Bergeron-Nash ; Duchene, St. Louis
In spite of the injury exclusion of 60 goal-man Steven Stamkos, the Canadians ice what should be considered the most formidable group of forwards in the entirety of the tournament. The focal point is obviously golden boy Sidney Crosby, who is again enjoying an MVP-caliber season with the Pittsburgh Penguins. He will likely be lined up with New York Islanders superstar John Tavares, who could be the most underrated player in the tournament. Vancouver 2010 ‘best forward’ and Chicago Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews figures to have an even larger role for the Canadians, and will be counted on at both ends of the rink. And watch out for that ‘third line’, which features 2 of the top-5 in NHL scoring on the season, in Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry of the Anaheim Ducks. From Crosby right on down to the 14th forward, this is truly a formidable and dynamic forward group.
DEFENSE: Keith-Doughty ; Hamhuis-Weber ; Bouwmeester-Pietrangelo ; Vlasic-Subban
Though they ice the deepest forward group in the entire tournament, it could safely be argued that the blueline is where the Canadians truly shine. So deep is their D corps, that defending Norris trophy winner for best NHL defenseman P.K Subban is expected to be the number 8 guy on the roster. The top pairing of Duncan Keith and Drew Doughty is perhaps the most formidable on the roster, with both players going through career-best seasons. Canadian head coach Mike Babcock is adamant about playing left-handed and right-handed pairings together, so expect an unheralded lefty like Dan Hamhuis to play alongside all-World righty Shea Weber on the second pairing. The all-St. Louis Blues third pairing figures to be an outstanding stay-at-home duo. Truly, the Canadians have enviable and un-matched depth along the blue line.
GOALTENDERS: Price, Luongo
Here’s where it gets a bit dicey for Team Canada. Defending gold medal goaltender Roberto Luongo of the Vancouver Canucks returns to the Canadian net, and as the incumbent he figures to get the first game start. Luongo is going through another excellent statistical season with the Canucks, this despite the myriad struggles of the club. Montreal Canadiens starter Carey Price is the second part of the tandem, and figures to get some serious consideration for the starting position. He is also having another excellent season for his club, but is largely inexperienced at the international level, and will thus need to earn the belief of coach Babcock. Calling this Canada’s ‘weakness’ is a unfair statement, and is only made largely due to the fact that, compared to defense and forward, it isn’t as top-heavy in terms of world-beating talent.
BOTTOM LINE: The Canadians have to be considered co-favorites alongside the Russians, and ice what is, on paper, the best roster make-up. As always, it will be interesting to see how these superstars gel, though particular attention was paid to icing players in NHL club duos (Kunitz-Crosby, Sharp-Toews, Perry-Getzlaf).
Vancouver 2010 was a once in a lifetime gold for the Canadians, and a repeat performance will be an extremely difficult task. Much of the Canadian performance will rise and fall on the play of their goaltending duo, and it is incumbent on one of Price or Luongo to seize the reins as the team’s starter. It will be clear to all who the team’s starter is, by who Babcock chooses to go with in the third round robin game against Finland.
Betting on Canada in Olympics outside of North America is tenuous; they are 2 gold medals from 4 NHL Olympics, one of which was in the United States, and the other of which was played in Canada. In Japan 2014, they finished fourth, while Torino 2006 saw a dreadful 7th position. Sochi represents a unique opportunity for the Canadians in that it gives them the chance to snatch gold from under the noses of their forever rivals, the Russians. Expect big things again from the hockey nation, though their road to gold will certainly be much less friendly this time around.
GROUP B PREDICTION: 1st
OVERALL PREDICTION: Silver medallists