So now that we’ve seen who Team Canada general manager Steve Yzerman selected for our men’s hockey team for the Sochi Olympics we can all breathe a sigh of relief…………………………..but we’re Canadians and there is nothing fun about that. We love our game and are passionate about it. If we weren’t then we’d have little to say about the players selected and go on our merry way. This is the beauty of being Canadian, we don’t just talk about the players on the team we talk about the players left off the team. So I’m going to put my two cents into this selection starting with our goalies.
Carey Price, Roberto Luongo and Mike Smith are going to be representing us barring an injury next month. There wasn’t a whole lot of controversy although I wouldn’t have put Smith on the team. Nothing against the Phoenix Coyotes net minder but I’d be a little nervous if Price and Luongo went down to injury during the tournament and we’re left with a goalie that has little experience playing in a critical situation. Phoenix isn’t exactly a hockey power and Smith himself hasn’t even played in 20 playoff games in the National Hockey League. That being said, Smith isn’t likely to see a second of ice time. Luongo and Price will be fighting it out for the #1 position and the other one will be the back-up. Look, I know a lot of people were uncomfortable with Luongo on the team. However there wasn’t much more pressure a goalie could face than the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver on home soil. Luongo was there, he performed relatively well and he helped Canada to a gold medal. 4 years later it appears he may be on the back nine of his career, but I think he has a few years left in the tank and he is still capable of winning this tournament for us. However he may not have to. Price knows all too well the position of playing a pressure cooker of an environment while in Montreal. When you are living in a fishbowl and can’t go to the grocery store to buy a toothbrush without people knowing then you are prepared for anything. Not to mention Price is among the elite goalies in the NHL. When he’s on his game he’s stellar. I’d have replaced Smith with someone more proven like Marc-Andre Fleury. I realize he’s had some poor playoff showings since he won the Stanley Cup with the Penguins in 2009 and he is known for his hot and cold streaks but he does have the experience, being on the Olympic team in 2010 and in the NHL for a decade. He would have made a good third string goalie. Either way, Canadians need not worry. Yet we always do. People forget this but in 2002 before the Salt Lake City Olympics there was a bit of a concern about our goaltending then too. Patrick Roy bowed out before the team was selected and we ended up going to Salt Lake with Martin Brodeur, Curtis Joseph and Ed Belfour. Joseph had never won anything, Belfour won a Cup with Dallas in 1999 but always had a reputation as an erratic goalie and Brodeur had won a pair of Cups with New Jersey at that time yet was always hampered with the reputation that he was more a product of New Jersey’s system and that they won in spite of him. It was a silly thing to get ourselves worried about; Brodeur performed brilliantly after Joseph had a poor first game and the rest is history. So relax Canadians, we’ll be fine between the pipes.
On defense we picked some of the usual suspects: Duncan Keith, PK Subban, Shea Weber and Drew Doughty. The issue I have is that the selection committee was so focused on picking 4 right handed shooting defensemen and 4 left handed shooters. Personally I think that logic works so long as you don’t leave a better defenseman at home, but instead Dan Boyle, Brent Seabrook and perhaps even Kris Letang are staying at home in favour of Dan Hamhuis and Marc-Edouard Vlasic. That bothers me a bit because Hamhuis and Vlasic were likely picked so that there are 4 left handers along with Keith and Jay Bouwmeester (who I thought was a legitimate choice). I think we’ll miss Boyle and Letang’s superb ability to rush the puck up the ice especially since we’ll be on a slightly bigger Olympic ice. I realize Subban and Doughty can do this just as well but you can never have enough offense from the back end in my opinion. Seabrook is just a warrior and the type of player that does the little things to win – hence the two Cups with Chicago. I suspect he was left off because of lack of foot speed. I just feel the idea that there needed to be an equal balance of left handed and right handed shots was silly, at the expense of inferior defensemen. In the 1976 Canada Cup – now named the World Cup – we had for the better part 5 defensemen we used that tournament. They were: Bobby Orr, Larry Robinson, Denis Potvin, Guy Lapointe and Serge Savard. This was the first best-on-best hockey tournament and we won despite our defensemen all being left handed shots. The famous 1972 Canada vs. Russia series featured approximately 6 defensemen who played most of the 8-game series. They were: Lapointe, Savard, Brad Park, Bill White, Pat Stapleton and Gary Bergman. All of them aside from White shot left. Even Rod Seiling who played the next highest amount of games shot left. Again, we won. Personally I think Yzerman and co. were overthinking things too much.
Onto the forwards and this is where it gets hairy. This crop of forwards are better than any other country that we’ll be facing. Right away the first omission was Martin St. Louis. This is a guy who has won two scoring titles with the most recent one happening 9 months ago, who is still an elite player at 38 years old, has a heart of a lion and has more skill in his left hand than most players can dream about. He’ll be a Hall of Famer when all is said and done yet Yzerman didn’t pick him despite knowing full well what he can do on a sheet of ice since as General Manager of the Tampa Bay Lightning he is privy to watching him every night. It didn’t make any sense to me at all. Yzerman himself was foolishly cut during the 1991 Canada Cup tournament despite putting up 155 points just two years earlier. He was a superstar, perhaps a top 5 player in the world at this time, and somehow there wasn’t any room for him on this team. Yet the same thing happened to St. Louis and it makes little sense. I understand the inclusion of Matt Duchene and Patrick Marleau since they have incredible speed and mark my words we will be a very fast team out there, but I was a little skeptical about the Jamie Benn selection considering we left off a much better Eric Staal who can do everything Benn can do and better and was on the 2010 team. I also can’t see why Claude Giroux couldn’t sneak his way onto this team considering Chris Kunitz was selected and I don’t care what they’ll tell you, he was picked because he is a linemate of Sidney Crosby in Pittsburgh and they are hoping their chemistry will translate into the Olympics.
Look, my prediction is Canada is still winning gold. It won’t be easy, but there should be a couple of easy games to start out against Norway and Austria before a much more competitive match against Finland. We beat Norway 8-0 in 2010 and these first two games should be a cakewalk to get our feet wet. If we beat all three teams including Finland we’ll face a relatively easy match in the quarter final before a much tougher match in the semi-final and then of course the gold medal game if we get there – and I think we will. However if we lose we’ll be able to point to some very good players being left at home for some suspect choices. I am just praying that I am some dope sitting behind a computer that doesn’t know what he’s talking about and Yzerman and coach Mike Babcock turn this team into one that translates into a winner.
Tags: Bill White, Bobby Orr, Brent Seabrook, Canada Cup, Chris Kunitz, Claude Giroux, Dan Boyle, Denis Potvin, Duncan Keith, Eric Staal, Finland, home, Jamie Benn, Kris Letang, Larry Robinson, Martin St, Mike Babcock, New Jersey, NHL, Norway