Canada’s Men’s Hockey Team Will Win Olympic Gold: Here’s Why
Every four years, Canadian hockey fans wait impatiently for the announcement of Canada’s hockey roster. In the end, regardless of the names on the back of the sweaters, the expectation is always the same—a gold medal.
Historically, Canada has fared well at the Olympics, but they are hardly the unbeatable force that many hockey fans label them to be.
Canada’s hockey teams have a proud Olympic history, one which has seen Canada bring home two bronze medals (1956, 1968), four silver medals (1936, 1960, 1992, 1994), and seven gold medals (1920, 1924, 1928, 1932, 1948, 1952, 2002).
A little quick math tells us that Canada has earned 13 medals in total. That means Canada failed to medal (never mind bring home the gold) on 10 occasions.
What it all means is this: Regardless of expectations, Canada is no “lock” to win the gold, or a medal of any color, for that matter. With that in mind, what should Canadian hockey fans be expecting from this group of NHL players turned Olympians?
First, let’s take a look at Canada’s roster:
Forwards: Patrice Bergeron, Sidney Crosby, Ryan Getzlaf, Dany Heatley, Jarome Iginla, Patrick Marleau, Brenden Morrow, Rick Nash, Mike Richards, Corey Perry, Eric Staal, Joe Thronton, Jonathan Toews
Defense: Dan Boyle, Drew Doughty, Duncan Keith, Scott Niedermayer, Chris Pronger, Brent Seabrook, Shea Weber
Goaltenders: Martin Brodeur, Roberto Luongo, Marc-Andre Fleury
Up front, Canada will ice one of the most intimidating rosters of all-time.
Sidney Crosby, Rick Nash, Patrick Marleau, Joe Thornton, Dany Heatley, and Jarome Iginla are expected to lead Canada offensively, with Mike Richards, Brenden Morrow, and any of Eric Staal, Ryan Getzlaf, and Corey Perry taking on the task of shutting down Canada’s opponents.
Patrice Bergeron—who recently sustained a hand injury—and Jonathan Toews can play in all situations, solidifying their spot on this team, which underlines their value in a short tournament such as the Olympics.
The strength in Canada’s forwards lies with their abilities to play in all areas of the game and in any conceivable situation. Staal, Richards, Getzlaf, and Perry can easily move up to the first or second lines in a pinch. Likewise, Nash, Iginla, Thornton, and Crosby can be played on the third line and even kill penalties if need be.
Canada has the luxury of icing an offensive lineup that boasts scoring prowess, physical play, grit, skill, speed, and leadership. On the surface, there are no weaknesses—Canada will ice a very balanced attack—which should serve them well at the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver.
Canada struggled to score goals at the 2006 Olympic games in Turin, scoring just 15 times in six games, finishing seventh overall. Canada scored 22 goals in six games during their gold medal effort in 2002 in Salt Lake City.
Goals are at a premium at the Olympics. With that in mind, if Canada is to be successful in 2010, the forwards will have to find the back of the net on a regular basis—especially if Canada plans on beating the likes of Russia and Sweden, two teams that are poised to score at will.
On paper, Canada’s top six forwards are as good as any other country’s. The trick is converting that perceived strength into results. Canada’s position of biggest strength comes in the form of their bottom six forwards, which, in my opinion, are the best in the world.
Canada’s special teams will be very strong—especially the power play. Scoring will be tough to come by, but Canada should emerge as one of the strongest offensive teams. Defensively, Canada’s forwards should provide the biggest challenge for opposing countries—keeping them at bay and winning the battles in the corners.
Ranking The Forwards
Overall offensive rank—Second (Russia first)
Overall defensive rank—First
Canada’s defense boasts a unique combination of skill, toughness, and speed. Veterans Chris Pronger and Scott Niedermayer are expected to be the main cogs in Canada’s last line of defense, while youngsters Drew Doughty, Duncan Keith, and Brent Seabrook should inject a measure of energy.
Dan Boyle and Shea Weber cannot be overlooked. Weber is one of the game’s best hitters, while Boyle brings a tremendous amount of offense to the fold.
Much like Canada’s offense, Canada’s defense is a position of strength. While each defenseman brings certain intangibles to the team, there is not much to choose between any of the seven—an argument can be made for all seven to be dressed on any given night.
Once again, Canada’s depth is a huge advantage and, in my opinion, gives Canada the edge as the best defensive corps in the world.
Pronger, Weber, Seabrook, and Keith (sometimes Niedermayer) should be given the duty of shutting down the opposition—both five-on-five and on the penalty kill—with Niedermayer, Doughty, and Boyle chipping in offensively, especially on the power play.
Canada’s defense will perform at a high level in all areas of the game. The added offense from the back end will be a difference-maker on most nights. Given Canada’s offensive troubles in the past, their defense will have to be excellent—failure to keep the likes of Russia and Sweden at bay may very well cost Canada a chance at the gold medal.
Ranking The Defenses
Overall defensive rank—First
Overall offensive rank—First
Canada’s goaltending is also a position of strength. Martin Brodeur—arguably the best goaltender in NHL history—is expected to get the nod as Canada’s starter. His cool demeanor, tremendous reflexes, competitive spirit, and uncanny ability to seemingly always be in position put Brodeur head and shoulders above any other goaltender in the world.
Sweden’s Henrik Lundqvist, Finland’s Miikka Kiprusoff, Team USA’s Ryan Miller, and Russia’s Evgeni Nabokov are all excellent goaltenders. That said, at the end of the day I suspect most hockey fans would take Brodeur in net in a one-game playoff, which is why I feel Brodeur is still the game’s best.
Canada boasts two well-rounded backups in Roberto Luongo and Marc-Andre Fleury. Luongo is widely regarded as one of the games premier back-stoppers and is more than capable of stepping up if Brodeur should falter. Fluery, who back stopped the Pittsburgh Penguins to a Stanley Cup victory in 2008-09, is an easy going goaltender who lacks ego, making him the perfect teammate and another candidate to lead Canada if Brodeur falters.
It’s tough to predict which goaltender will be the best at the Olympics. Miller has been hot all season long, while Nabokov has been exceptional for the San Jose Sharks. Mental toughness will be a huge factor, as will experience.
For that reason, I have to give the nod to Brodeur, making him my pick as the Olympics’ best goalie.
We can argue the merits of Lundqvist’s gold medal effort with Sweden in 2006 and the strength of the team in front of him, but when you look at the total package—abilities, experience, mental toughness, past accomplishments, and strength of team defense in front of him (including the forwards)—Brodeur gets the nod, hands down.
Further, if any of Lundqvist, Kipprusoff, Nabokov, or Miller goes down there is likely to be a noticeable difference in quality if their countries need to call on their second or third string goalies—once again, Canada’s depth is a factor when considering the tournament’s best.
Ranking The Goaltenders
Overall goaltending rank—First
Canada’s depth at every conceivable position is what puts this country’s hockey team above all others. Russia will bring a great offensive lineup (maybe the best ever), but they lack defense. Sweden will bring a more balanced attack, but their roster is not as impressive as Canada’s.
Team USA, Finland, the Czech Republic, and Slovakia will all ice decent rosters, but on paper, none of them compare to Canada’s roster, much less Sweden’s or Russia’s.
The final piece of the puzzle may be the advantage of playing at home in Vancouver. The Pro-Canadian crowd should give Team Canada a boost, especially in those tough close games.
Capturing a gold medal in 2010 will be no easy task, but Canada has all the tools to make it happen and, for that reason, Canada remains the favorite to win it all at the 2010 Olympic games in Vancouver.