Canadians love their Olympic athletes and teams, but the love and expectations are found no higher than on the men’s hockey team. With the games taking place on home soil with a line-up full of stars, fans are expecting nothing less than a gold medal.
Unfortunately, optimism may be eclipsing realism, as the road to gold is much more difficult than fans are willing to see, or believe.
Standing in the way of world hockey dominance, just like in 1972, are the Russians. Those damn bastards have managed to assemble a world-class star-studded roster that features some of the NHL’s top scorers such as Alexander Ovechkin, Ilya Kovalchuk, Pavel Datsyuk and Evgeni Malkin.
These stars have taken over the top of the scoring tables in recent years, while Canada’s forwards are more of a mix of skill and grit. Led by the likes of Jarome Iginla, Joe Thornton, Dany Heatley, and of course, Sidney Crosby, it is clear that Canada’s offence will be a threat in every game.
Where Canadians have to worry is consistency, as all of Canada’s top forwards have seen off-years in seasons past, whereas Russia’s snipers seem to dominate year after year.
Canadians can take refuge in the fact that Russia has decided to make up half of their roster with players from their domestic Kontinental Hockey League, and that their starting goalie Evgeni Nabokov has been shaky in big games in seasons past.
Canada definitely has the advantage in goal. Martin Brodeur will once again lead the team between the pipes. He has a one-of-a-kind international resume, including a gold at the 2002 games in Salt Lake City. In addition to that, Brodeur is having a stellar year in the NHL, and as many hockey analysts predict: if this will be his last year – he’ll want to go out with a bang.
Both teams have a good mix of international veterans and newcomers heading to the Olympics. Canada is introducing an almost entirely new defense, with players like Dan Boyle, Drew Doughty, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook and Shea Weber getting their first Olympic experience. They will need to prove they can keep up against talented offences not only from Russia, but also from Sweden, Finland, and even the U.S.
For Russia, the opposite will have to be true. Canada’s older guys should meet expectations, but it will be Russia’s veterans who will have to prove they’re still worthy of participating. Players like Sergei Gonchar, Sergei Fedorov and Viktor Kozlov are certainly not considered to be top players in the NHL anymore, and they will need to show they still have the skills necessary to lead their nation to gold.
While Russia and Canada seem to be the two teams who deserve to meet in the finals, the last Olympics proved anything can happen. Canada was expected to win gold, but ended up finishing seventh, behind Switzerland.
So please, watch the games in tremendous support of the boys wearing the Maple Leaf, but don’t put too much expectations on this team, or you might get burned, again.