Certainly a country that doesn't need any introduction if you're a hockey fan. A hockey powerhouse. A beautiful country to the north whose denizens are a fun-loving bunch. Think unarmed Americans with health insurance. Reading American news only makes you depressed. Reading Canadian news is decidedly more entertaining. From the great maple syrup heist to the guy who chugged 8 beers and decided to swim to Detroit, Canada is fun.
OLYMPIC HISTORY AND WORLD RANKING
Sochi 2014 will be Canada's 21st Olympic tournament participation, going back to Antwerp in 1920. Canadian men's teams won 8 Olympic golds, 4 silvers, and 2 bronzes, making it the most decorated country in Olympic hockey history. Canada is the defending Olympic champion from Vancouver 2010. It hasn't done too well in World Championships lately, dropping to #5 in the IIHF World Ranking, which was still enough for an automatic berth to Sochi.
PRE-OLYMPIC CAMP ROSTER
Back in July Hockey Canada announced its 47-man pre-Olympic camp roster. Here's who was on it:
Goaltenders: Corey Crawford; Braden Holtby; Roberto Luongo; Carey Price; Mike Smith
Defensemen: Karl Alzner; Jay Bouwmeester; Dan Boyle; Drew Doughty; Mike Green; Dan Hamhuis; Travis Hamonic; Duncan Keith; Kris Letang; Marc Methot; Dion Phaneuf; Alex Pietrangelo; Brent Seabrook; Marc Staal; P.K. Subban; Marc-Edouard Vlasic; Shea Weber
Forwards: Patrice Bergeron; Jeff Carter; Logan Couture; Sidney Crosby; Matt Duchene; Jordan Eberle; Ryan Getzlaf; Claude Giroux; Taylor Hall; Chris Kunitz; Andrew Ladd; Milan Lucic; Brad Marchand; Rick Nash; James Neal; Corey Perry; Mike Richards; Patrick Sharp; Eric Staal; Jordan Staal; Martin St. Louis; Steven Stamkos; John Tavares; Joe Thornton; Jonathan Toews
Hockey Canada made it clear that the list above wasn't exclusive and that players who weren't invited to camp could still make the team. In the end the following factors will play into it: player quality, position need, tenure, current form, and injuries. As always, there are many ways to slice this pie, but here's who I think ends up on the team:
Goaltenders: Carey Price; Roberto Luongo; Jonathan Bernier
Other than Carey Price, everyone on the camp invite list is having a fairly underwhelming first month of the season. Based on current play, they should at least consider Josh Harding, but I doubt it because Luongo is the incumbent and he's a great shootout goalie, and you need that in the Olympics.
Defensemen: P.K. Subban; Marc-Edouard Vlasic; Dion Phaneuf; Drew Doughty; Jay Bouwmeester; Alex Pietrangelo; Brent Seabrook; Shea Weber
Canadian defensemen were harder to eliminate than forwards, this is how good they are. In the end, if you can only take 8 guys, these are the guys.
Forwards: Sidney Crosby; Jonathan Toews; Steven Stamkos; Patrick Marleau; Logan Couture; Martin St. Louis; John Tavares; Patrice Bergeron; Matt Duchene; Ryan Getzlaf; Corey Perry; Chris Kunitz; Milan Lucic; Jason Spezza
This was easy-peasy, took me exactly 30 seconds to narrow this list down to the required 14, when I realized there's no Spezza on my list, so I had to kick out Jumbo Joe to make room for him. So much for tenure. Still too many centers, not enough wingers.
MEET THE COACHES
Mike Babcock is reprising his role as head coach as are his two associate coaches Ken Hitchcock and Lindy Ruff, who will be joined by Claude Julien as a third associate coach. This lineup really doesn't need a commentary. Babcock is the best coach on the planet.
STRENGTHS AND WEAKNESSES
Strength: This is an exceptional lineup that is ridiculously strong on offense and defense. They will roll four lines of forwards that could each be the top line on any team other than Russian. Their defensemen are stupidly good in both zones. Coaching is a strength as well.
Weaknesses: If this team has any weaknesses, it will be the goaltending unit. A chain is only as strong as its weakest link. There's is no clear #1 goalie here, but we'll see how the form fluctuates in the next two months. Also, as I mentioned above, they have too many centers and some guys will be playing out of position on bigger ice, so it will be felt. Familiarity is another thing to consider. This is not an All-Star game, and they will have one or two practices together before they play Norway on February 13.
Canada has been drawn in Group B, along with Austria, Finland, and Norway. They first play Norway, then Austria followed by Finland. They'll cruise past the first two, but Finland will be another story. That game will decide which of these two teams will get a top 4 ranking after group play and earn a bye to the quarterfinals. Even if they have to play a qualification playoff game, Canada will obviously make it to the quarters and the semis, but I don't think they make the finals and take a loss in the bronze medal game to a team with stronger goaltending.
Thanks for reading, and we'll keep chugging right along. Next up is Czech Republic.