Expectations for Olympics remain high
Canada’s men’s team will be ‘hard to play against,’ vows general manager Burke
It is crunch time for general manager Sean Burke and the rest of the brain trust at Hockey Canada as they prepare to unveil the team that will defend gold at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang South Korea.
Burke is expected to announce the team on Thursday. At this point, the only thing he’s willing to concede is that the 2018 version will not be able to roll four dominating lines they way the NHL-loaded 2014 team did.
“It would be unrealistic to say we would be able to go out and throw four very highly skilled lines and, as a team, just go out and run ’em over,” Burke said. “That’s not how we’re going to be made up. It’s not the makeup of the players that are available.
“We have speed, we have skill, but our team is going to based around being a harder team to play against. More role players. We want our team to be quick. I think we can do that.”
Former Leafs such as goalie Ben Scrivens, forwards Matt Frattin, Brandon Kozun, P.A. Parenteau, Mason Raymond, Jay McClement and Nick Spaling, and defencemen Carlo Colaiacovo and Jesse Blacker have been with the national team for at least one of five pre-Olympic tournaments. In all, 49 forwards, 27 defencemen and four goalies have suited up since August.
Canada won the most recent tournament, the Spengler Cup, with a team that had an influx of players from the AHL and colleges. Canada beat Switzerland in the final. Those were the only two national teams to participate, with four European club teams also involved.
In earlier tournaments, using largely European-based and KHL-based players:
Canada went 1-2-0 at the Moscowbased Channel One Cup in December, beating South Korea while losing to the Czechs and the Russians.
Canada went 1-2-0 at the Helsinki-based Karjala Cup in November, beating Switzerland but losing to Finland and Sweden.
Canada went 2-1-0 at the Sochi Hockey Open in August, beating a couple of KHL club teams, but losing to the Russian national team.
Canada went 2-1-0 at the Tournament of Nikolai Puchkov in St. Petersburg in August, against exclusively KHL club teams.
“We used every event to evaluate,” Burke said. “We never really got to the point where we had 80 per cent or 90 per cent of our roster. We wanted to take it right to the very end, give as many players as possible a chance to compete for spots.”
Canada’s men’s team opens its Olympic tournament against Switzerland on Feb. 15, at 7:10 a.m. (all times ET), followed by games against the Czechs on Feb.16 at10:10 p.m. and host country South Korea on Feb. 18 at 7:10 a.m. All games are on CBC.
Twelve countries are divided into three groups. Canada gets the Czechs, Swiss and the host South Koreans in Group A. Russia, playing under the Olympic flag due to a doping scandal, the U.S., Slovakia and Slovenia form Group B. Sweden, Finland, Norway and Germany are in Group C. The top four teams — the three group winners and next best based on points — receive a bye to the quarter-finals. The other eight play a one-game elimination round to reach the quarter-finals.
“You have to approach it with an open mind,” Burke said. “If you’re a hockey fan, trying to handicap it, it’s really difficult. I think that’s a good thing. Because if you’re a hockey fan, I think you’re going to enjoy the Olympics because it’s very competitive. And there’s going to be a number of countries that feel they have a chance to win a medal.
“As Canadians, our expectations are always extremely high,” Burke added. “That doesn’t change.”