By Lyle Richardson
Canada’s Olympic men’s hockey roster for the upcoming Sochi Games will be unveiled Tuesday at noon Atlantic. There’s plenty of anticipation among hockey fans over which Canadian NHL stars will be selected to the 25-player roster. Several players are certain to make the cut while notables are considered on the bubble.
While experience and size should be taken into account, speed and two-way skills will be more essential on the larger European rink. The 2006 version of Team Canada discovered that the hard way when they placed out of the medals during the Torino Winter Games.
Here’s my picks for Team Canada, which I believe best address the skills, experience and leadership necessary to win gold in Sochi.
Goaltenders — Carey Price, Roberto Luongo, Marc-Andre Fleury.
Price’s performance this season puts him among the top NHL goalies. He’s also had success in international play on the big ice, backstopping Canada to gold at the 2007 World Juniors Championship (WJC) in the Czech Republic. He’s expected to be the starter when this tournament opens, though he’ll have to jockey with Luongo to clinch that honour.
Luongo has rebounded well this season following a couple of rough seasons in Vancouver. He also helped Canada win gold in the 2010 Winter Games and in two World Championships in Finland and the Czech Republic. He recently suffered a foot injury but it’s not expected to prevent him from playing in Sochi next month.
Fleury wasn’t invited to August’s Olympic orientation camp, but his play this season with the Pittsburgh Penguins ranks him among the NHL’s best netminders. Having played in consecutive Stanley Cup Finals he’s no stranger to big-game pressure. He also saw international action earlier in his career at the World Juniors.
Defencemen — Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Alex Pietrangelo, Jay Bouwmeester, P.K. Subban, Shea Weber, Drew Doughty, Marc-Edouard Vlasic.
This group provides a solid mix of speed, size and skill at both ends of the ice. In Subban and Keith they have two former Norris Trophy winners. Keith, Seabrook, Weber and Doughty were members of the 2010 goal medal squad. Bouwmeester has considerable international experience, which includes playing on two gold medals teams at the World Championships.
Keith and Seabrook are the NHL’s top defense pairing while Pietrangelo and Bouwmeester are right behind them in skills and talent. It’s a no-brainer keeping those tandems intact for Sochi.
Weber and Doughty are among the NHL’s elite blueliners and were standouts on Canada’s 2010 gold medal team. Doughty thrives in big-game situations, be it the Stanley Cup Final or an Olympic gold medal game. Weber’s leadership and bullet shot will make him invaluable in even-strength and power-play situations.
The big ice in Sochi is tailor-made for smooth-skating, big-minute defensemen like Subban and Vlasic. Subban was also a member of Canada’s 2008 and 2009 WJC gold medal squads.
Centres — Sidney Crosby (captain), Jonathan Toews (alternate), Ryan Getzlaf, Patrice Bergeron, John Tavares.
Crosby, Toews, Getzlaf and Bergeron were all members of Canada’s 2010 gold medal team plus they have Stanley Cup championships on their resumes. Tavares is a superstar in his own right who’s seen lots of international action at the junior and senior level. Bergeron can also play on the wing, providing some roster flexibility, if needed. Their strengths in the faceoff circle will be crucial on the power play and killing penalties. All but Bergeron are captains of their respective NHL teams. Crosby is expected to wear the captaincy with Toews as his alternate.
Right wing — Corey Perry, Steven Stamkos, Claude Giroux, James Neal.
Stamkos and Giroux are centres who can also play on the wing. Stamkos’ offensive skills make him an obvious choice, but his presence will depend upon if he’s fully recovered from a broken leg suffered in November. Giroux overcame a slow start to this NHL season and will be a strong presence on Canada’s special teams. Perry is a high-scoring right wing with a championship pedigree who’s also a returning member of Team Canada 2010. Neal has a terrific one-timer and isn’t afraid to use his size to his advantage in the corners and in front of the net.
Left wing — Patrick Sharp, Milan Lucic, Logan Couture, Matt Duchene, Jamie Benn.
Sharp’s versatility, two-way skills and championship background should make him a lock for this club. Lucic and Benn are big, fast, physical players who should adjust quickly to the bigger ice surface. Lucic always elevates his play when it matters most. Benn can also play centre, if required. Couture and Duchene can play centre or wing and both possess solid two-way skills. Duchene also has plenty of experience on the big ice in international tournaments.
Lyle Richardson is a freelance writer with The Hockey News and runs the website Spector's Hockey. His column will appear in The Guardian throughout the NHL hockey season.