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OLYMPICS

NHL reaches agreement to send players to Sochi '14 0

By Mike Zeisberger, Toronto Sun

Canada's Sidney Crosby celebrates after scoring the game-winning goal against the U.S. during overtime in their men's ice hockey gold-medal game at the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics February 28, 2010. (REUTERS)

Canada's Sidney Crosby celebrates after scoring the game-winning goal against the U.S. during overtime in their men's ice hockey gold-medal game at the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics February 28, 2010. (REUTERS)

 


 

Four years after his golden goal, Sidney Crosby will indeed get his shot at a repeat In Russia.

With the game’s biggest stars like Crosby having called for a return to the Olympics, the NHL, the players’ association and the International Ice Hockey Federation finally came to an agreement on Friday, paving the way for Sid The Kid and Team Canada to defend their 2010 title in Sochi next February.

Really guys, what took so long? The fans wanted it. The players wanted it. And Crosby, the hero from 2010, wanted it.

At least it’s done, right?

But for Canada, this isn’t going to be easy. Far from it.

We’ve seen this scenario before. Back in 2006, the Canadians were also coming off a gold-medal performance four years earlier only to finish sixth in Turin, Italy.

This will be the fifth Winter Games NHLers have taken part in since they were first allowed to represent their countries in 1998. And there has been a pattern that has developed through the first four, to be sure.

Canada has fared well on this side of the Atlantic, winning both tournaments held in North America — Salt Lake City in 2002 and Vancouver in 2010.

However, they have failed to win medals in two events held overseas, including finishing fourth in Nagano, Japan in 1998 and laying that egg in Turin in 2006.

That one was particularly headscratching. Canada was the only team in the tournament not to allow more than two goals in any game, yet bowed out early because of a sputtering offence.

Canada? Struggling to score? With the cache of offensive talent in this country, that seems hard to believe.

Crosby didn’t play in that tournament, but he did in Vancouver in 2010. And we all know how that worked out.

“It doesn’t seem like three years ago,” Crosby told the Toronto Sun concerning his golden goal against Team USA netminder Ryan Miller that gave Canada the title with a 3-2 victory.

“Everyone that has gone (to the Olympics) knows what the experience is like,” Crosby said. “I see it as something that everyone wants to be part of. It’s great hockey.”

In order to study what went wrong in Turin, Hockey Canada president Bob Nicholson and Team Canada general manager Steve Yzerman have done their homework. Those associated with that 2006 team, such as head coach Pat Quinn, have been interviewed by Hockey Canada officials in order to see what mistakes were made and how they might be alleviated this time around.

The bigger ice surface will be an issue, as will playing in front of hostile fans. There also will be a change in culture and lifestyle, especially with these games being held in Russia.

To that end, led by Alexander Ovechkin, the Russians will be doing everything in their power to win the tournament on home soil. The Americans will be out to avenge their silver medal in Vancouver, while Sweden, Finland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic must also be considered legitimate contenders.

Canada will be in Group B along with Austria, Finland and Norway. Barring an upset — remember Belarus over Mats Sundin’s Swedes in 2002 in Salt Lake City? — the Canadians and Finns should advance.

If there is a Group of Death, pick Group A. The U.S., Russians and Slovaks are all quality sides, with Slovenia filling out the group.

The Czechs and Swedes are the favourites in Group C, although the Swiss could surprise. Latvia rounds out this foursome.

Canada opens the Olympic tournament Feb. 13 against Norway, followed by games against Austria on Feb. 14 and Finland on Feb. 16.

In the end, Canada will aim for gold. Again. So says Crosby.

“I think when you play for Canada, that’s the expectation,” he said.

“I have never been to Russia, (but) obviously everyone knows the history with Canada-Russia in ’72 and ’87 and the list goes on and on. I think that right there, having the opportunity to play hockey in Russia is pretty special ...

“So I think, yeah, you want to go there and find a way to win gold.”

Again.

THE ZIZE'S TEAM CANADA

o many centres? Can the coaching staff of Mike Babcock, Lindy Ruff, Ken Hitchcock and Claude Julien lead Canada to its second consecutive Olympic gold? Let the debates begin ... or continue, as the case may be! Here are my refined picks for the Team Canada roster. Discuss.

Goalies

Roberto Luongo, Canucks: Will he have reported to the Canucks by the time Sochi rolls around?

Carey Price, Canadiens: Should have legitimate shot to be the starter.

Mike Smith, Coyotes: Quietly putting up nice numbers in Arizona.

The Skinny: Cam Ward deserves consideration ... Marc-Andre Fleury’s wobbly playoff performances the past two seasons are alarming ... Can James Reimer turn some heads?

Defence

Drew Doughty, Kings: Remember him sitting on the bench bopping his heads to tunes during the Vancouver Games? Skilled, tough, unflappable under pressure.

Shea Weber, Predators: Delivers big slapshots and big hits.

Duncan Keith, Blackhawks: Delivers offence, defence, whatever you need.

Brent Seabrook, Blackhawks: Familiarity with teammate Keith makes for a key pairing in a short series.

Alex Pietrangelo, Blues: Don’t be surprised if this unique package of size and skill wins a Norris Trophy one day.

Kris Letang, Penguins: Most points of any defenceman during the 2013 regular season.

P.K. Subban, Canadiens: Obviously has the skill but can he keep his emotions in check.

The Skinny: For me, these seven are the easy choices.

Forwards

Sidney Crosby, Penguins: Author of the Golden Goal. Enough said. Give him the captain’s C right now.

Steven Stamkos, Lightning: Best pure goal scorer in the game.

John Tavares, Islanders: Imagine his success with so much talent around him for a change.

Jonathan Toews, Blackhawks: Heart and soul of the team.

Rick Nash, Rangers: The prototype for power forwards.

Claude Giroux, Flyers: Budding superstar.

Ryan Getzlaf, Ducks: Regained his form in 2013.

Corey Perry, Ducks: Can’t bring Getzlaf and not him. Or vice-versa.

Patrice Bergeron, Bruins: Faceoff specialist is one of the toughest hombres in hockey.

Matt Duchene, Avalanche: His speed and ridiculous talents suited to big ice.

Taylor Hall, Oilers: Same as Duchene

Logan Couture, Sharks: Has usurped Thornton, Marleau as best player on San Jose.

Mike Richards, Kings: Has won Memorial Cup, world junior, Olympic gold, Stanley Cup.

Jeff Carter, Kings: Chemistry with Richards valuable in short tournament.

The Skinny: Jordan Eberle (Oilers), Jamie Benn (Stars), Marty St. Louis (Lightning), James Neal (Pens), Jason Spezza (Senators), Matt Moulson (Islanders), Patrick Sharp (Hawks), Chris Kunitz (Pens) are among the candidates who could still play themselves on to the team ... Rugged players like Milan Lucic (Bruins) probably lack the foot speed for the big ice ... There is a glut at centre, but guys like Richards, Carter and Stamkos have all played the wing before. Getzlaf could too.

CROSBY'S KEY TO GOLD

1. “Be more positional. Puck carriers have more time and space on the bigger ice, so you might have to back off a bit more in order not to be taken out of position.”

2. “Protect the middle and keep opponents to the outside. That’s a bit more difficult to do on the bigger ice surface.”

3. “Improve with every game, no matter what size the ice surface is. That’s what we did in Vancouver. That’s what sticks out for me.”

 

Poll

Would you watch an Olympic tournament without NHLers?

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