Last Year – After rolling through the round robin and getting a bye to the semifinals, Canada met the Russians. After falling behind, the Canadians staged a third period rally forthright ages and we’re a goalposts away from sending the game to extra time and who knows what would have been. However, they couldn’t complete the comeback and they had to settle for the bronze when they shut out Finland 4-0.
# Returnees – 6 – Dougie Hamilton, Scott Harrington, Mark Scheifele, Boone Jenner, Ryan Strome, Jonathan Huberdeau
Jonathan Huberdeau – Ryan Nugent – Hopkins – Mark Scheifele
Jonathan Drouin – Ryan Strome – Brett Ritchie
Phillip Danault – Boone Jenner – Ty Rattie
JC Lipon – Mark MacNeil – Anthony Camara
Scott Harrington – Dougie Hamilton
Tyler Witherspoon – Morgan Rielly
Griffin Reinhart – Xavier Ouellet
Missing Notables – Ryan Murray would have been a top defenseman but was injured prior to the tournament. Charles Hudon was a favorite of Coach Steve Spott’s but a back injury forced him out of the lineup last week and he was replaced by MccNeill.
Watch For – Drouin made the team as a 17 year old and has moved up to the second line on the depth chart. Both he and Halifax linemate MacKinnon could be top 3 picks in the next NHL Entry draft. Drouin has seen his stock skyrocket in the last couple of months and it is not inconceivable that Drouin could turn what was once a two horse race into a three horse racefor the #1 ranking (along with American Seth Jones).
Prediction – Although the performance during the pre-tournament games was underwhelming at best, Canada has demonstrated the penchant for coming up big at the right time. The key will be the ability of either Subban or Binnington to be the clutch goalie that Mark Visentin was unable to be over the last couple of years. Also, discipline was a problem early on for this team, and they need to quickly realize that they aren’t in Canada anymore and the games are called differently.
The schedule lines up favorably in some respects, as their opponents get progressively tougher as they go along. After opening up Boxing Day against the Germans, Canada plays Slovakia on the 28th. Then the schedule gets very difficult as they play the US and Russia on back to back nights, Dec 29th and 30th.
With the offensive firepower, especially on the top two lines, Canada should be able to score against most teams in the tournament. Staying out of penalty trouble and allowing their top players to get regular ice time at even strength will be important, especially against the US and Russia. While getting first in their pool and a bye to the semifinals would help their cause and give them extra rest, this is one year where that isn’t vital. With perhaps the three strongest teams in the field in their pool, a quarterfinal game shouldn’t be the end of the world if they finish second. A third place finish would likely set up a quarterfinal with either Finland or Sweden, which they would rather avoid.
I don’t expect Canada to win their group, and I expect this team will have to take the tough road. However, they are skilled and talented enough to make the gold medal game, most likely against the Russians. And it would be unpatriotic of me to think that Canada can’t beat Russia, even on their own turf.