© THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Canada's captain Sidney Crosby watches a drill from the bench during a drill at hockey practice at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia on Tuesday, February 18, 2014. Canada's captain for the last gold-medal winning squad, Crosby is a lock to return again at the World Cup.
Hockey Canada is going back to a golden well for the 2016 World Cup.
Twelve of the first 16 players named to the Canadian squad early Wednesday evening won gold at the most recent Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.
Sidney Crosby, Jonathan Toews, Jamie Benn and Ryan Getzlaf front the returning forward group with Drew Doughty, Duncan Keith and Shea Weber back to steady the Canadian back-end. Injured at the moment, but brilliant in Russia and the reigning Hart and Vezina Trophy winner, Carey Price returns as the favourite to assume the No. 1 spot in goal.
“That's a big stage,” Hockey Canada president Tom Renney said of the Olympics. “To be able to deliver on that stage under the circumstances is important. Certainly they have a leg up. That being said you still have to come back to your league and play properly and those guys have done that.”
Injured in 2014, Lightning captain Steven Stamkos was one of four players in the first group named not to play for Canada in Sochi, joined by goaltenders Corey Crawford and Braden Holtby as well as Tyler Seguin, the Dallas Stars centre who's blossomed into one of the league's most feared offensive players.
Seguin seems poised to line up alongside Benn, his Stars linemate, in the fall.
It's little wonder why Canada opted to bring back the core of that Sochi collection, mind-bendingly dominant under head coach Mike Babcock at the Olympics. A defensive gem that held the puck almost without interruption, the Canadians yielded only three goals all tournament while shutting out the Americans and Swedes in the semi-final and gold medal games.
Jeff Carter, Patrice Bergeron, John Tavares and Marc-Edouard Vlasic also return from the gold-winning squad.
Management weighed not only individual talents from that group, but how effectively they meshed with others in Sochi, notably on defence. Keith and Weber formed a dominant top pairing in Russia, backed up by Doughty and Vlasic, the steady San Jose Sharks defenceman.
“We look at the Sochi group and I think that might've been the best defensive group put together for international competition,” Canada's general manager Doug Armstrong said.
Among those not named in the initial wave from the 2014 squad was Corey Perry, the Ducks winger who had only one point at the Olympics and struggled early for Anaheim this season, Avalanche speedster Matt Duchene and Blues defenceman Alex Pietrangelo.
Perry has surged with 26 goals since the start of November (entering play on Wednesday night) and will be considered for the final roster, Armstrong said.
“There's a wealth of riches when you're picking this team and now we had to separate 16 candies out of the barrel,” said Armstrong. “We're gonna add seven more at the end.”
The reigning Hart and Vezina Trophy winner, Price was named to the team despite not having played for the Canadiens since late November because of a lower-body injury.
Armstrong consulted with Price and Canadiens ownership - via Montreal general manager and Canadian assistant general manager Marc Bergevin - to determine their comfort with the goaltender being named to the initial group.
Both, after taking time to consider the matter, gave their blessing.
“Obviously this is a big tournament for hockey,” Armstrong said, “but Carey Price is a huge piece for the Montreal Canadiens so we wanted to make sure that the Canadiens team and ownership was comfortable with the decision.”
Crawford and Holtby are intriguing secondary options to Price, the former a two-time Stanley Cup champion in midst of his best NHL season, the latter on track for a 50-win season.
Canada didn't have to name all three goalies in this first stage, but opted to anyway.
“I think we named three goalies because we believe these are the best three goalies right now for us,” Armstrong said.
Backed by a management team that includes three other NHL general managers - Bergevin as well as the Ducks' Bob Murray and Red Wings' Ken Holland - Armstrong also leaned hard on Lightning GM Steve Yzerman, the executive director of the Sochi squad, for help in the evaluation process and help in delivering bad news to those that missed the cut.
Canada's management team has until June 1 to name the remaining seven players to its roster.
“They only let us name 16, so it's pretty easy,” Babcock said of naming the first group of players, speaking to reporters in Washington D.C. ahead of the official announcement. “You take the 16 you think you should name and you name them. The hardest part is the part to come. Not the first 16. My wife could've done that. It's the rest.”