2010 Olympic Hockey: Team Canada Primed for Success?
The 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver are just over a week away and all eyes will be riveted on Canada Hockey Place for the men’s Olympic hockey championships.
Teams from twelve countries spanning the globe will do battle to try and claim the gold medal for their respective nations. The teams representing the USA, Canada, Sweden and Russia will be loaded with NHL talent and should be considered the odds on favorites to medal. The Czech Republic and Finland also will be fairly well represented as well.
Teams like Germany, Belarus, Norway (which has never won a medal since hockey became an Olympic sport in 1920), Slovakia, Latvia and Switzerland are more the have nots when it comes down to things.
In the coming days I plan to take a look at what the major powerhouse countries’ rosters look like, along with a potential prediction of what to expect as far as their medal chances.
We’ll start this whirlwind trip with the Canadian Olympic team, which was put together by Steve Yzerman. Remember that the roster is fluid and players can be swapped out up until 24 hours before the first game is played.
CANADIAN OLYMPIC TEAM ROSTER
Between the Pipes
Arguably one of the best goaltending trios to be on one team at one time. It might be difficult to rotate playing time between the three to avoid rust and controversy.
It’s the double edged sword of having so much homegrown talent to choose from: you can pick and choose at will, but you run the risk of having more top guns than you actually need or can use.
Martin Brodeur was a virtual lock for playing on the Canadian team. Even at age 37, he’s been dominant this season.
The league record holder in wins, shutouts, minutes played, games played, and postseason shutouts hasn’t seemed to miss a beat after having elbow surgery that cost him a large chunk of the 2008-09 season.
Brodeur has been a clutch goaltender since he came into the league way back in 1991-92. If there was one game that my team had to win in order to claim a medal, or a playoff series, or even to make the playoffs…I’d want him between the pipes. No question about it.
Roberto Luongo is well versed in international play, having spent the 2004 World Cup and the 2006 Torino Olympics as the backup to Brodeur. Luongo has won gold in two World Championships along with a silver in 2005 when NHL players were fully available due to the lockout.
He has been stellar in international play, going 12-2-3 with a 1.99 goals against average with three shutouts in 18 career appearances. Those are numbers you can’t overlook when push comes to shove. Luongo has the credentials to be a number one.
Marc-Andre Fleury is the youngest of the trio and might be more of Canada’s ace of the future. Fleury also is the defending Stanley Cup Champion netminder, having backstopped the Penguins to a gritty seven game vanquishing of the Detroit Red Wings.
He’s yet to make an appearance in international competition as far as World Cup, World Championships or Olympic play goes. He was a member of the silver winning Canadian teams at the World Junior Championships in 2003 and 2004. That makes him third in experience on the international scene. He’ll probably be back in 2014 when the Olympics land in Sochi.
On the Blueline
The team has a mix of veterans and youth working for it. There is plenty of talent and leadership that runs from top to bottom on the depth chart.
It will be interesting to see how the pairings play out, if veterans are going to match up with youth, or if youngsters will be on a pairing.
The greybeards of the blueline are led by Scott Niedermayer. Niedermayer has 29 games of international play under his belt, with six goals and seven assists on the ledger.
He’s also the only player to ever win every major North American and international championship in his career.
That run encompasses the Memorial Cup, World Junior Championships, World Championships, Olympic gold, the Stanley Cup and the World Cup. That kind of experience is something that can’t be substituted for or bought by any other means.
Chris Pronger is also a rock on the blue line. He has 27 games of international experience, with a goal and five assists on his resume. Couple that with gold medals in the World Junior Championships, World Championships, and Olympic gold in 2002 and you have a top two pairing that other countries simply can’t rival if they wanted to.
This will be his fourth Olympic Games as well, having been a member of the 1998, 2002 and 2006 teams. Having that kind of experience on the larger international surface is a major key when it comes to defensive coverage.
The rest of the defense crew starts with 33 year old Dan Boyle, an offensive defenseman with the San Jose Sharks. Boyle played in the 2005 World Cup and was selected to the 2006 Olympic team but did not participate in any of the contests.
There is current speculation by commentators that he would be paired with Pronger, leaving Niedermayer to skate with one of the younger Team Canada defensemen. Expect a lot of Boyle in power play situations on the point.
The other members of the blueline committee are hard hitting Shea Weber of the Nashville Predators, Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook of the Chicago Blackhawks and Drew Doughty of the Los Angeles Kings.
All have seen limited action in international play, be it in the World Junior Championships or the World Cup. Under the tutelage of Niedermayer and Pronger, one would expect for there to be no real issues as far as defensive zone play.
Crashing the Net
The forwards are an overall younger group than what one might have expected. Jarome Iginla is the elder statesman at age 32.
In fact other than Iginla, only three other forwards (Brenden Morrow, Joe Thornton, and Patrick Marleau) are at least 30 years of age.
Of the thirteen forwards that are on the roster, eight are 25 or younger which shows that Canada has a rock solid nucleus of talented forwards for the next couple of Olympic Games.
To be perfectly frank, the conversation of the forwards for the Canadian team starts with Sidney Crosby.
The All World pivot has already won a Stanley Cup, an Art Ross Trophy, a Hart Trophy, a Lester B. Pearson Trophy, three All Star Selections, a gold and silver medal in World Junior Cup play and a World Cup scoring championship.
In his nine games in the World Cup, he tallied 8 goals and 8 assists for 16 points. With the talent he has to work with on this team, it would be surprising for him to have a disappointing stretch.
Crosby will have no shortage of snipers to dish the puck to, including Columbus’s Rick Nash (24 goals this season, two 40 goal campaigns in his career), Dany Heatley of San Jose (30 goals this year, two 50 goal seasons and two 40 goal seasons to his credit), and Patrick Marleau (four 30 goal seasons, including a career high tying 38 so far in 57 games this season.)
Thornton is another talented pivot who can spread the puck around to other scorers as evidenced by his 15 goals and 56 assists so far this season. Iginla may be the elder statesman of the forward committee, but he also has a string of eight consecutive seasons in which he’s scored at least 31 goals. Included in that stretch are a pair of 50 goal campaigns and a 40 goal season.
There is no shortage of goal scorers on the roster. The remaining forwards are extremely capable, but not marquee names or scorers. Expect players like Mike Richards, Jonathan Toews, Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, Patrice Bergeron and perhaps even Eric Staal to be third and fourth liners this time.
Canada is always one of the deepest, talented teams in Olympic hockey. That’s why the 7th place finish at the 2006 Olympics in Torino is so puzzling given the talent base.
Was it a matter of too much talent leading to ego clashes? Was it too many chiefs, not enough indians? Perhaps there weren’t enough pucks to go around?
It’s hard to tell, but a repeat performance is unlikely here in Vancouver with the fan support.
Either way, with the amount of talent that the country boasts factored in with the home crowd one would be hard pressed to bet against the Canadians for gold this time around.
To think that they would be held off the podium all together would be farfetched. I predict no worse than silver for the hosts provided that they can coexist, sending the fans home happy.