Team Canada begins their Men’s Hockey schedule at the Olympics this afternoon with a pair of Montreal Canadiens on their roster. Both P.K. Subban and Carey Price will be suiting up in their first Olympic Games.
Canada has been successful at Olympics in the past that were held on North American soil, but have struggled when traveling overseas to represent their country. In 1998, Canada traveled to Nagano, Japan and failed to medal, losing the Bronze Medal Game and returning home empty handed. In Turin, Italy in 2006 the Canadians were shutout 2-0 in the Quarterfinal by Russia and finished a very disappointing 8th place.
However, when the tournament was held in Salt Lake City, Utah in 2002 and Vancouver in 2010, Canada won the gold medal both times. Canada is an overwhelming favorite to be on the podium this year, and have a very realistic chance of taking home the gold once again.
Canada is extremely deep at all positions, as Martin St. Louis, the defending Art Ross Trophy winner for top scorer in the NHL, and P.K. Subban the winner of the Norris Trophy as best defenseman, could be the two scratches in game one for Canada. Their top end talent is as good as any country but it is their great amount of depth that will overwhelm their opponents.
The Canadiens have the deepest group of defensemen at this tournament and it is hardly even close. Their first pairing of Duncan Keith and Shea Weber combines offense and defense with physical play and will be see a lot of ice time for Canada. They also have St. Louis Blues teammates Jay Bouwmeester and Alex Pietrangelo as well as Drew Doughty playing with Marc Edouard Vlasic. This leaves Dan Hamhuis and Subban to fight over who will get to dress at all, and it seems Hamhuis has won the first battle.
Subban is third among Canadian born defensemen in NHL points with 39 this season. He was first in points last season with 38 in 42 games and picked up his first Norris Trophy in the process. He is known for his great skating and offensive instincts, but his defensive game has come a long way in the past few seasons as well. Subban did not win the Norris by accident, he is one of the most skilled defenders in the world, and should find his way into the lineup and up the depth chart as this tournament moves along.
Subban won consecutive gold medals when playing for Canada at the World Junior Tournament in 2008 and 2009. He played a small role in ’08 and was held scoreless but had the most points of all defensemen in the ’09 event and was named to the tournament’s All Star team. Subban also represented his country at last year’s World Championship tournament. Oddly, his first game was the quarterfinals and Canada lost to Sweden, so his first game was the team’s final game.
Price has only played for Canada once before in his career but made the most of it. It was in the 2007 World Junior Tournament. Price carried Canada on his back to a gold medal at that event, posting excellent numbers and winning all six of his starts. He was named to the tournaments All Star team, was picked as the best goaltender at the event and won the Most Valuable Player award as well.
Canada is in Group B at these Olympics with Norway, Austria and Finland. They have a fairly easy schedule when you look at the other groupings, and will avoid other favorites such as the USA, Sweden and Russia during the Preliminary Round.
Canada’s first game is this afternoon when they play Norway. It is a good way to ease into the tournament and begin to find some chemistry on the forward lines and defense pairings. Canada is right back at it tomorrow afternoon when they take on an equally inferior opponent in Austria.
Canada will have a day off Saturday and then finish their preliminary schedule on Sunday against Finland. This will be the toughest team they face but they catch a break as Finland will be without three of their top centers. Both Mikko and Saku Koivu as well as Val Filppula are injured and will miss the tournament. Canada should have no problem waltzing through this group at 3-0 and earning a bye to the quarterfinal.
Subban will begin this tournament as a healthy scratch in the first game, but don’t expect him to be sitting out their final game. Once given a chance, Subban will shine on the big ice in Sochi and show off his blazing speed, amazing shot and great skills with the puck.
Price will get the start in game one and Roberto Luongo will play game two against Austria. It is yet to be determined who will be in net for game three and beyond, but it appears Price has the inside track at the moment. He has been extremely hot recently with the Habs and gives Canada the best chance to win gold. If Carey plays well against Norway, you can bet he will be back between the pipes against Finland and into the medal round.
Canada has struggled at the past two Olympic games on the big ice, but have an opportunity to win it all this year. With Subban’s superior skating and the calm and cool Price in net, two Montreal Canadiens will play a big role in bringing gold back to Canada.