Sochi 2014 starts in early February, and while a number of different athletes are putting the finishing touches on their routines, race plans, jumps, and/or turns, the hockey world is bracing itself for something it only gets once every four years, Olympic hockey. It’s a clash of the titans, a wrestling match with Goliaths (sprinkled with a few Davids, of course), a showcase of the world’s best, and it is right around the corner.
Borrowing the idea from our good friends over at Cardiac Cane, here’s a quick preview at some Vancouver Canucks that will undoubtedly be in Sochi representing their country, some that probably will, and a few that are on the bubble for their respective national teams. During this latest slide for the Canucks, there hasn’t been much to cheer about so I thought I’d do my utmost to take your minds off the Canucks’ standing in the NHL and shift things to the international stage. So, without further adieu…
I imagine the majority of those reading this blog are most interested in Team Canada and the Canucks that may be wearing the maple leaf come February, but in all honesty, that might be the most straightforward decision for those international front offices looking at Vancouver.
Roberto Luongo – Goalie
Critics and fans alike have allotted Roberto Luongo the starting spot that he held at the end of the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. In the summer, during the orientation camp, and before the regular season, many thought this would be a much more populated race including the likes of Carey Price in Montreal, Mike Smith in Phoenix, the recent Stanley Cup winner (and, in my opinion, the rightful winner of the Conn Smythe Trophy for playoff MVP) Corey Crawford in Chicago, and even Braden Holtby in Washington. “Don’t forget Marc Andre Fleury in Pittsburgh!”, they said. Well, we kind of did… Sorry. At this point, Luongo has emerged as the clear favourite to be between the pipes for Mike Babcock when they play their first game in Sochi, posting a remarkably average .914 SV% and 2.30 GAA. Nobody else around the league has stepped up enough to bump Luongo, so barring disaster (or a surge from those mentioned), look for Luongo to start against Norway when Canada begins their quest to defend Gold.
For your viewing pleasure:
Dan Hamhuis – Defense
It’s a log jam on the blue line and still in the conversation is Smithers, BC native. The top 4 or 5 are all but locked up, with Shea Weber, Duncan Keith, Jay Bouwmeester, Drew Doughty, and Alex Pietrangelo claiming those spots, but if there is a bright spot for Dan Hamhuis, it’s the fact that the left side of the position is has openings. Hamhuis has played well so far this season, but will need to put in an extra special effort to make this team ahead of players like Sharks defensman Marc-Edourd Vlasic, who plays a similar type of game and has a leg up on Hamhuis so far in the 2013-2014 regular season.
Team USA surprised a lot of people in 2010, but in doing so have graduated to the elite level and will not be taken lightly this time around. Unless (enter goaltender’s name here) goes on a crazy streak like Ryan Miller did in 2010, they’ll be in tough for that Gold Medal. That being said, both Jonathan Quick and Ryan Miller are capable of those streaks, not to mention young upstarts like Tampa’s Ben Bishop and New Jersey’s Cory Schneider.
Ryan Kesler – Center
Ryan Kesler was a revelation in 2010. Jumping 16 points in production during the season, playing against the top players in the world in the Olympics (while scoring two goals against Canada), and putting the team on his back through a tough Nashville series, Kesler announced his arrival as one of the elite players in the league. Unfortunately, injuries and a few slumps here and there have placed him back in the “he’s just about there” category. He’s all but a lock to make an American team looking for passionate leaders (check) that have been there before (check), but in Vancouver we’re hoping this rejuvenates Kesler to play the type of hockey we saw a couple years ago. Selfish? Sure, but unabashedly so.
Chris Higgins – Left Wing
He might be the definition of “on the outside looking in”, but depending on which direction the Team USA coaching staff wants to take this team, there may be a spot for Chris Higgins. Now, 2014 General David Poile and Head Coach Dan Bylsma will not be able to match the overall skill of teams like Canada, Russia, and even Sweden, they’re more than capable of icing a team that just outworks those top end skill players. With molds like David Backes, Dustin Brown, James Van Riemsdyk, and Ryan Callahan, there is potential for a rough and tough Team USA to come out of Sochi with a medal. Chris Higgins skates well, plays well along the boards, and is a responsible two-way forward. While he’s probably not on the team right now, a hot streak through December and January could establish him as a serious candidate to play as a third or fourth line winger.
Another easy decision for Team Sweden brass, but it’s worth tooting our own horn. Sweden will be good, and with a surprisingly deep blue line, perhaps the best goalie over the last 10 years, goals will be at a premium for the opposition.
Henrik and Daniel Sedin – Center/Left Wing
Did you really expect me to separate these guys? Of course not. I’m a twin, so I’m used to the coupling and I imagine they don’t mind this device when being named to a national team. Having made the Team in 2006 and 2010, there isn’t much left to do but hand these two their boarding passes to Sochi in February. No doubt they’d like to forget a 5th place finish in Vancouver and win a Gold Medal for the second time in three attempts. The Sedins will likely play on the top line for Sweden and it will be interesting to see who they get on their right side (though it probably doesn’t matter). Taking penalties against this Swedish team may prove costly with the Sedins, Henrik Zetterberg, Alex Edler and Erik Karlsson all on the ice at same time.
Alex Edler – Defense
Alex Edler hasn’t had a great year. With only 8 points in 22 games, Kevin Bieksa, Jason Garrison, and (excellent) waiver wire pickup, Ryan Stanton all have more points than him. That being said, he probably hasn’t done enough to dissuade the Swedish national team to take him in February. The booming shot, his high-end skating ability, hulking size, and board play has likely made him a favourite to make the team. As is the case with Kesler, Canucks fans are hoping that this gives Edler a little boost back here in Vancouver. He hasn’t played poorly, but when he shows the flashes of brilliance, we know he’s capable of so much more. Perhaps that’s why he’s mentioned in trade rumours at almost every turn…
So, there you have it. The locks, likely’s, and long shots for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. Personally, I’m a little disappointed Denmark didn’t qualify, as the Canucks would have two more playing on the big ice surface during the NHL hiatus. Jannik Hansen and Niklas Jensen would almost certainly playing alongside each other on the top line for an undermanned, under skilled Danish team. Alas, but they’ll be around if Denmark makes the cut in 2018.