What to expect from Team Canada at Sochi

During the second week of February, hockey fans will take a break from their regular NHL routines and look forward to the Olympics in Sochi. Forget the controversy, security problems and financial corruption worries surrounding the 2014 edition of the Winter Olympics; every sports fan in Canada will be looking forward to hopefully seeing Team Canada defend their Olympic title from 2010.

Team Canada is stacked with talent all over the ice and certainly has the depth and ability to come out with a gold medal again. The only concern is that team Canada has underperformed over the years in Olympics held outside North America, possibly because of time conflicts with the NHL and thus lack of team preparation. To put a bit of perspective on their struggles in that department, the last gold medal outside of the continent came in 1952.

Player-wise team Canada is blessed with an impressive amount of talent. The team has two of the best three goalies in the NHL with Roberto Luongo and Carey Price showing tremendous form during this season with their respective teams. Healthy competition in that department should see both goaltenders push themselves to the limit and show high levels of performances and concentration. Defense will be led by Shea Weber, captain of the Nashville Predators and tremendously efficient player on both ends of the ice. His ferocious right-handed first-timer will be a huge asset on the power play and he will bring toughness at the blue line to guard elite players such as Ovechkin, Plekanec or Patrick Kane. The forward line will be led by team-captain Sydney Crosby. Crosby possesses an amazing array of talent. He sees the open ice better than anyone in the NHL and can glide past players with tremendous ease. The other forwards are all leaders for their teams and are players feared by opposition defensemen. From Tavares and Toews, to Stamkos and Perry, these players are coveted by all NHL teams and will be constant threats.

The only concern for team Canada will be distribution of roles. With a pool of such talented players, it’s difficult to see how certain players will adapt to smaller roles. Those players are big-minute players for their hockey clubs. The game of hockey is a team game with plenty of teams relying on their fourth liners for example, to perform a particular task within a game. For example, players Ryan Getzlaf who has been having a career year for the league-leading Anaheim Ducks might not be a first-liner player for Team Canada. Another example is PK Subban. The Norris trophy Winner from last season barely made it into team Canada but is seen like a potential game-changer. However, he isn’t expected to lock in big minutes or long shifts like he does for the Montreal Canadians. He is probably not expected to play big Power Play minutes to use his powerful one-timer since the right-handed slot will be filled by Weber most of the time.

In this context, it is the role of the coach to let his team players know their roles and feel valued within the team. Team Canada has a forward-thinking coach in Mike Babcock who should be able to perform this task and create a team spirit within his group. Again, there is nothing wrong with having competition for places as long as roles are well defined.

In conclusion, I’ll be surprised if such a team doesn’t come out with Olympic Gold when they come back to North America. No team can offer such a constant goal threat nor such a solid core of defenseman and goaltenders. The only issues will be Team Russia and Alex Ovechkin. If Ovechkin is in form, Team Russia can use the energy from their local fans as a springboard to success, then they might, just might, be able to threaten Team Canada.

Jad Antoun

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