Hockey in Canada: are our expectations too high?
TORONTO – When it comes to hockey in the minds of Canadians, there is no second place.
In so many international contests, we’re just happy to make the round robin, to be invited to the table. But in hockey, anything other than gold is accompanied with a hefty deal of disappointment. Didn’t even medal? We can’t stomach it.
That sentiment was reinforced Tuesday with the announcement of Team Canada’s men’s Olympic hockey team.
“Our goal [is] easy – finish number one,” said Canadian Olympic Committee president Marcel Aubut on Tuesday.
But are we as a country of hockey fans expecting too much? Well, it depends.
If conventional wisdom says “you get what you pay for,” then Canadians would be right to expect gold in Olympic hockey.
Team Canada ‘s 25-player roster for the 2014 Sochi Winter Games makes a combined professional salary of over $157 million for the 2013-2014 NHL season.
“These players are all millionaires…they are professionals by definition,” said Ryan Kennedy, associated senior writer for The Hockey News. “This is what they do for a living and they’re proud to do it – they’re proud to play for Team Canada,” Kennedy told Global News.
But Kennedy said the situation changes when you look at a tournament like the World Juniors.
“With the World Juniors it’s a little tricky because you’re dealing with teenagers,” said Kennedy. “And if they don’t get gold, for them it seems like the end of the world. But it shouldn’t feel that way for us.”
In the World Juniors, despite world-leading depth of talent, Canada doesn’t necessarily have an advantage over other countries.
One explanation why Canada finished fourth in Sweden this year (losing in the bronze medal game to Russia) is that a number of eligible Canadian players are tied up in the NHL and weren’t released by their teams to compete in the juniors.
“Sweden had more NHLers on its team than Canada did,” said Kennedy.
With the Olympic team, the odds are stacked more favourably.
Team Canada’s roster features 11 players who won gold at the 2010 Vancouver Games, two of the NHL’s top three scorers (Sidney Crosby and Ryan Getzlaf), Stanley Cup winners, and more star centre forwards than you can shake a hockey stick at.
“Canada has a nice advantage where it doesn’t really matter who the opposition puts out, Canada’s probably going to have the better centre on the ice at the time,” said Kennedy.
If say, Crosby, Jonathan Toews and Patrice Bergeron are the centres for your top three lines, your fourth line centre might be someone like Getzlaf, “who is a Stanley Cup winner himself, a huge guy,” said Kennedy. “On any [other] national team he’s the number one centre.”
So are high expectations justified? “Definitely,” said Kennedy.
Team Canada’s executive director Steve Yzerman seemed to temper our excitement if only slightly on Tuesday, stressing that the competition at Sochi will be fierce.
“What other team do we worry about? Every one, honestly,” said Yzerman.
“These countries are all improving. It’s difficult to win…you can’t overlook any opponent anymore, particularly in these tournaments when it’s one-game elimination.”
With so many talented players to choose from, it came as no surprise that Team Canada’s roster included some notable snubs, like Martin St. Louis, Claude Giroux, Milan Lucic, Dan Boyle, Logan Couture, Brent Seabrook and Eric Staal.
“Every one of us in Canada has an opinion on who should be on this team and nobody’s wrong,” said Yzerman. “Nobody’s wrong because they’re all really good players.”
The men’s tournament begins on Feb. 12. Canada’s men’s team will play its first game on Feb. 13 against Norway. The tournament’s gold medal game will be held on Feb. 23.
With files from Global News’ Jamie Sturgeon
© 2014 Shaw Media