Will the Team Canada roster again beat hockey's strange odds?
The official announcement of the Canadian Olympic men’s hockey roster is still a day away on the calendar, and so the nation holds its breath and sits through its 312th expert-panel analysis of who might be on the team, who might be off. It’s as if we need all this anxiety in order to prove we’re the most self-consciously hockey-obsessed country on the planet.
Maybe we also need it to clear the fumes of yet another medal-free result at the world junior tournament, which crash-landed for Canada on the weekend. That event showed once again what a wobbly, dicey thing hockey is—and what an unsafe place it can be for nationalistic win-or-die attitudes.
No question, Team Canada will be loaded no matter which candidates get named tomorrow, especially at forward. Some idea of just how loaded—on paper—can be gained by comparing the potential lineup to another medal contender’s roster. It’s pretty safe to say, for instance, that some of the players on the recently revealed Team USA wouldn’t even be in the conversation for Team Canada. Who would Dustin Brown or Paul Stastny beat out for a forward slot if they had Canadian passports instead of American ones? How about Brooks Orpik or Paul Martin on defense? Might not even crack the longlist.
But this will amount to jack when the Sochi tournament actually gets played. Let’s say American goalie Jonathan Quick rounds into the kind of form he’s shown in the last couple of NHL seasons—something that’s taking place right now as he returns from injury. And let’s say a crucial Canadian skater like Sidney Crosby struggles for a significant stretch—something that happened during the 2010 Olympics, if memory serves. And let’s say a player like Team USA’s Max Pacioretty suddenly finds the right linemates and goes on a difference-making tear for a game or three—something he’s capable of as a streaky but highly skilled winger.
Then things could easily fail to turn out like the paper says they should, like the self-consciously obsessed nation demands they should, and we’ll be left wondering why darkness has swept across the land, all to the sound of the 461st expert-panel analysis of the future of “Canada’s game”.
Not saying any of this will happen. It could all just as easily go the other way. The point is that when you’re dealing with a sport where winners and losers are routinely separated by a skate deflection or by the millimetres that determine whether a shot goes post-and-out rather than post-and-in, the odds get pretty fluid.