The passion and pride Canada carries for its homegrown sport of hockey will be given a whole new light during the 2010 Winter Olympics.
Canada’s men’s hockey team may be under immense pressure to bring back gold, but nobody will be more scrutinized then their general manager, Hall of Fame forward and two time Canadian Olympian Steve Yzerman.
“We are very confident in the team we have put together. Hopefully luck is on our side and we will get the goal we want,” Yzerman told CTV “I’ve found this to be a lot of fun.”
Yzerman has spent over a year putting together what he feels is the proper mix of veterans and youth to carry Canada to the gold medal game and coming out on top on home ice.
The winter games are at home in Vancouver and as important as it may be for all of Canada’s Olympians to perform well, it’s even more important for the Men’s Canadian Hockey Team to strike gold.
Last winter Olympics in Turin, Team Canada went in needing to defend its gold medal from the 2002 games in Salt Lake City, but ended up seventh place, the worst showing by the Canadian National team since 1920.
This year, having home ice advantage, the team needs more then redemption, they need to prove they are the premier country for hockey in the entire world.
Yzerman should have a blast watching his selection of forwards, which has plenty of firepower to make games exciting. The one player under the closest examination by the Canadian people is centre Sidney Crosby, who will be in his first Olympic games.
Crosby will be wearing the alternate captain’s “A” on his jersey along with Jarome Iginla, who will suit up for his third Olympic stint.
Canada’s blue line holds just as much defensive skill and offensive ability as the forwards, and is anchored by Captain Scott Niedermeyer and his former teammate Chris Pronger, who was also named an alternate captain.
Hockey’s most important position is something Canada needs not worry about with Martin Brodeur, in his fourth Olympic competition, and Roberto Luongo between the pipes.
The competition is fierce and there is no doubt that Canada will have a bull’s-eye on its jersey’s when other countries visit Vancouver.
One country most competitors will fear the most will be Russia as it boasts five of the most dangerous forwards including Ilya Kovalchuk, Evgeni Malkin, Pavel Datsyuk, Alex Semin, and the two time reigning MVP, Alex Ovechkin, who said he is not worried about the competition.
“When you play in an Olympics or world championship, you don’t look forward to play against one person, you look forward to playing some great teams and winning those battles,” Ovechkin told CTV.
Russia’s weak link is easily their defense, but with world class goaltenders Evgeni Nabokov and Ilya Bryzgalov, it’s almost not even worth fretting over the weakness in the Russian blue-line.
Sweden will be looking to defend its gold medal and is always a country that can be considered a threat. The forwards are headlined by the Sedin twins, Henrik Zetterberg and the return of Peter Forsberg. Sweden also holds one of the top goaltenders in the 2006 Olympics in Henrik Lundqvist and the blue-line is anchored by six time Norris winner Nicklas Lidstrom.
Even Finland, the silver medalists in 2006, won’t be easy in a tournament where a hot goaltender can easily win for a team, and they boast a deadly one-two punch in net with Miikka Kiprusoff and Nicklas Backstrom.
The dark horse of the tournament Team USA is a group of young, speedy talent with a few older vets mixed in for leadership. With only two players on team USA having Olympic experience, the pressure may get to some of the young guns.
All-star Ryan Miller, a goalie who can easily guide this team to victory if he continues his stellar play, will be heavily relied on if USA has any hopes of competing for a medal.
One aspect that must be burning in the mind of Team USA is the fact they were defeated by the Canadians on their home turf in Salt Lake City in 2002, so they will be looking for revenge
Canada is a well rounded team with its perfect mix of grit to shut down the big scorers, speed to out maneuver and fly by opposing teams, and the experience that can help them make a repeat of 2002 in Salt Lake City.
This is no longer the seventh place team that left Turin ashamed, this is a new crop of youth and experience, and in the end can be the team that makes the country of Canada proud of its hockey team.