When Gold is Determined by Silver: Canada’s Men’s Olympic Hockey Team

hocky

I’m not going to lie, when TSN’s James Duthie and the rest of the famed Panel took to breaking down the possible roster of the 2014 Canadian Olympic Team in the winter of 2012, I scoffed.

There they were, dissecting the probabilities of a 23-man roster two years before the team would set skate on ice. It was time for Canada to start thinking about defending their Vancouver 2010 gold medal, they maintained. In actuality, it was way too early for that kind of talk. The NHL hadn’t even decided whether they would allow its players to take the trip to Sochi.

Here we are now, a year and a half later, and only a couple of months before GM Steve Yzerman and his staff open training camp. Predictably, a lot has changed since that victorious winter in 2010. Guys have gotten older and fallen off the map, others have risen out of the ashes or stormed back to relevance from the abyss. But mostly, there have been two Stanley Cup wins since then and this is no small deal. In a league where a team’s—and more importantly for the purpose of this article—a player’s relevance is measured by the amount of Stanley Cup rings on his fingers, those two Stanley Cups validate every worthwhile candidate on those teams. Success deep in the playoffs is a factor that simply cannot be ignored when comparing the best of the best.

It is in this moment that we arrive on a statement that, before June 2013, would have been ridiculed as insanity: Corey Crawford could be the starting goaltender for Team Canada at the 2014 Olympics.

There, I said it. And as much as that statement is indicative of the falling off that’s devastated Canada’s goaltenders, it doesn’t stop it from being true. Yes, the position is no longer the stronghold it’s once been for Canada. The days of Patrick Roy and Martin Brodeur bestowing Canada the best goaltending in the world are gone, and this is the first era in which the country doesn’t reign supreme between the goalposts. Far from it, actually.  2010 silver medalist the United States will go into the tournament with remarkably solid goaltending (Jonathan Quick, Ryan Miller, Jimmy Howard, Cory Schneider, and just for kicks, Timmy Thomas), as will 2006 Olympic champ Sweden with ‘King’ Henrik Lundqvist minding the twine.

This is the harsh and very true reality of pro sports: it revolves around ‘What have you done for me lately?’ And in this era, when any kind of discussion regarding the superiority of a player or a team is pitted against another, the question will absolutely always come to down how many Stanley Cup rings that player or team has accumulated.

It’s what makes arguments between Canucks and Leafs fans so hostile and so unbelievably nauseating (neither of you have won a Cup in the last 40 years, leave it at that) and it’s what makes Canadiens fans so impossible to talk to (we get it, you have a gazillion Cup wins, maybe it’s because for the first 25 years of the NHL you got to play against five other teams while basically controlling a monopoly on every player born in Quebec, the second-biggest province in what was essentially the only country playing hockey).

Nontheless, the Cup question is one that is bound to be asked in the Olympic context, as it’s the default tool for ranking players in a “who’s better” argument. In forming an answer, as far as goaltending goes, you’ve got Crawford, fresh off his Cup win and Luongo—his 2010 gold on Canadian soil going rotten faster than that banana you forgot about under your car seat—as the frontrunners along with Montreal tender Carey Price. The other options have been talked about and disbanded time and time again; Brodeur’s too old now, Mike Smith and Cam Ward aren’t exactly superstars, Marc-Andre Fleury is getting a shrink because he can’t stop a puck when it matters and Braden Holtby…Wait, who the fuck invited Braden Holtby to Team Canada’s Orientation Camp?

Meanwhile, some Canadians will look up and down Canada’s immensely talented roster of forwards and defensemen and frown. It won’t be the same kind of frown that the goaltending elicits, though. Those Canadians will most likely be from British Columbia and they’ll see a handful of players who have done atrocious things to their beloved Canucks. The last three Stanley Cup winners all have serious beef with the ‘Nucks and their fans and, since Cup winners are vaulted into contention on that fact alone, we could be seeing fans on the West Coast gritting their teeth while cheering for their homegrown boys.

Yes, Drew Doughty, Jonathan Toews and Patrice Bergeron are going to make this team, as well they should. But what are those fans going to say if certified Canuck enemies like Mike Richards, Jeff Carter, Patrick Sharp, Andrew Ladd, Duncan Keith, Milan Lucic and/or Brad Fucking Marchand somehow sneak onto this squad? It could very well happen that more than a few of them are named to the team and if it does happen, it’ll be because of their Stanley Cup success.
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