Team Canada Sochi 2014: The Named and the Unnamed

Team Canada, 2014 Sochi.

Team Canada, Sochi 2014 Preview. Image Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

After a lengthy, boring introduction that almost put general manager Steve Yzerman to sleep – possibly contributed to his momentary loss of concentration at the podium – Team Canada announced its highly anticipated roster in Toronto, Canada, today. I’ve never seen Twitter more active – my timeline refreshing thirty new messages every few seconds.

For awhile now it has been known and generally accepted that some very talented Canadian players would not make Team Canada the Sochi edition simply because there were too many qualified options to choose from. Inevitably, some elite NHL players did not have their names called by Hockey Canada today, but the players who did make the team are deserving. Here they are:

Goaltenders: Carey Price, Roberto Luongo & Mike Smith.

Defence: Jay Bouwmeester, Drew Doughty, Dan Hamhuis, Duncan Keith, Alex Pietrangelo, P. K. Subban, Marc-Edouard Vlasic & Shea Weber.

Forwards: Jamie Benn, Patrice Bergeron, Jeff Carter, Sidney Crosby, Matt Duchene, Ryan Getzlaf, Chris Kunitz, Patrick Marleau, Rick Nash, Corey Perry, Patrick Sharp, Steven Stamkos, John Tavares & Jonathan Toews.

Team Canada’s most noteworthy omissions from the 2014 men’s Olympic hockey team.

There were several shocking omissions from Team Canada’s final roster this morning. The truth is, Hockey Canada was never going to fit all the top Canadian players onto this team; it wasn’t possible because of Canada’s incredible wealth of high-end talent, especially up-front.

Claude Giroux, who is one of the best two-way players in the NHL, and the highest scoring Canadian player since the beginning of the 2011-12 season, did not make the cut. This omission is the most surprising of all, simply because Giroux is an elite offensive player with strong defensive instincts, good wheels (needed on the big ice), and a trustworthy track-record of performing strongly in high-pressure situations (see his Stanley Cup playoffs numbers and beating of Crosby/Malkin in the first round of the 2012 playoffs).

Tampa Bay Lightning captain – 2013 Art Ross winner, Martin St. Louis was not selected to the surprise of many. St. Louis plays on Yzerman’s club team, leading most to believe the affiliation would help him earn a spot amongst Canada’s top fourteen forwards.

Joe Thornton – who currently leads the NHL in assists, and is one of the best face-off men in the game, was not chosen to the team. Fellow Shark, Logan Couture, was also left off Team Canada, despite his emergence as one of the top forwards in the Western Conference, and awe inspiring performance in the 2013 Stanley Cup playoffs, when he outshone teammates Thornton, and Patrick Marleau (named to the team).

Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle – electrifying and youthful – were not selected either. Hall is having a breakout season, despite the poor play of his team, the Edmonton Oilers. Eberle has displayed a knack for scoring important goals in previous tournaments as a member of Team Canada, however, his track record of heroic last-minute breakthroughs was not enough to earn him team entry this time around.

Milan Lucic’s case for Team Canada at Sochi has been a hot topic of conversation all season; some believing the Bruin power-forward’s game won’t translate well on the big ice, others insisting the opposite. Perhaps his skill-set is too niche for this team. I understand both arguments; believe both have merit.

James Neal is second to only Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin for points-per-game in the NHL this season. While that stat is very impressive, the fact his teammates are ahead of him in PPG suggests the stat could be inflated. Either way, Neal is one of the purest goal scorers in hockey; has an unbelievably lethal shot. He could’ve easily made the team, but likely lost out to Los Angeles Kings forward Jeff Carter who possesses similar qualities.

Carolina Hurricanes captain Eric Staal was another surprise non-selection, considering he played strongly for Canada at the 2010 Games in Vancouver, and is still in his prime.

Tyler Seguin – who probably never had a chance this year – was likely thought to be too young and unrefined defensively to make this team. That being said, boy if they’d have let him loose on the big ice he would’ve been a treat to watch. His time will come in future Olympics, assuming the NHL continues sending its players beyond this tournament.

The right-side options on Team Canada’s blue-line were plentiful, leading to the non-inclusion of two-time Stanley Cup champion Brent Seabrook, Penguins rover Kris Letang, and Sharks veteran of the ’10 Games, Dan Boyle. If any of these players shot the opposite way, they’d probably be on the team.

Seabrook is the most surprising omission on defence, considering his excellent playoffs en route to a 2013 Chicago Blackhawks Cup victory, and the impressive season he’s having. I am guessing the logic behind Subban over Seabrook was this: it makes more sense to bring a seventh defenceman with explosive offensive qualities; someone who can jump start the team when needed. The general consensus is that Doughty, Pietrangelo and Weber will take regular shifts on the right-side ahead of Subban.

To put into perspective how deep Canada’s pool of potential Olympians was, some have suggested a second team could partake in the tournament and not look out of place.

With all the rosters announced, Team Canada dominate the on-paper portion of pre-tournament speculation, however, they still face the daunting task of leaving North American soil and winning a gold medal overseas on Olympic sized ice – something Hockey Canada has not been able to do since NHLers began participating at the Olympics back in 1998. They are the favourites and defending champions, but they certainly have something to prove. The hope is, the lessons learned in 1998 (Nagano, Japan) and 2006 (Turin, Italy) will serve Team Canada well in its attempt to claim victory on Russian soil next month against all the charged up European teams that will bring their A games in front of their own crowds.

Regarding previous Canadian failures on Olympic sized ice against ultra defensive European opponents, Ken Hitchcock told The Globe And Mail:

“So when we went there [Turin], part of the responsibility that we have to bear as coaches is, we had never thought that countries wouldn’t fore-check us. And that’s what happened. Three or four countries barely sent one guy in. Some countries sent nobody in. And so they made us skate through them in the neutral zone and we didn’t necessarily have the foot speed to get through. Teams basically backed off. It was hard slogging for us. I’d never seen that before – and you have to make a lot of plays to get through that type of check. It was a real eye-opener in how different the game was, from the small ice to the big ice.”

Quote courtesy of Eric Duhatschek of The Globe And Mail. Read full article here.

The 2006 edition of Team Canada was largely comprised of the same bunch who won the 2004 World Cup of Hockey. The belief is that this current 2014 version of Team Canada was designed to avoid the slowed down, neutral zone tricks of the more familiarized European nations. If Canada can break through the defensive clutter that awaits them in Sochi, their chances of playing in the Gold Medal Game are strong. If not, it will be another disappointing trip across the pond for Team Canada’s men’s Olympic team.