Canada Gold: Cluster of Captains Leads the Way
It's a testament to the depth of Team Canada's talent that its roster includes seven NHL captains.
And yet, the full force of Canadian skill was only subtly evident to most headline writers. Goal scorers were only posting enough production, it seemed, to eke out the victories that many had taken for granted before the puck even dropped. Canadian media members would dismiss a pending foe while interviewing Canadian players and ask about, say, the upcoming game against Finland.
Against this backdrop, the same angst that permeated the Great White North in 2010 -- especially when Canada lost to the USA and narrowly defeated Switzerland -- was making an encore appearance, even though gold was the ultimate reward for the Vancouver games' host nation.
Amazingly, while due credit was given to defensemen Drew Doughty and Shea Weber for bailing out the forwards by scoring key goals, it almost seemed like an afterthought that they were, indeed, defensemen. And along with their fellow blueliners, Doughty and Weber were methodically effective in their own end. They'd only allowed three goals coming into the playoffs.
And there, Team Canada shut out the United States and Sweden. The USA couldn't solve the Canadians' blue line wall, and Sweden was unable to overcome a tight forechecking game.
Yes, the Swedes came into the final without Niklas Bäckström, who tested positive for a substance in his allergy medicine. Yes, it was a tough loss, added to those of captain Henrik Zetterberg, Johan Franzen, and Henrik Sedin. But that's hockey. The Canadians -- and now the Islanders -- lost John Tavares, and besides, the Swedish system is designed to be a plug-and-play. Olympic rosters are frozen at the start of the tourney, so replacements needed to come from within. Unfortunately, the Tre Kronor had no extra forwards; they could only activate Henrik Tallinder, a defenseman.
Chicago Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews decided at the last moment to extend a long shift, surprising the Swedish defense and circling back toward the Swedish net just in time to deflect a perfect pass from Jeff Carter past Henrik Lundqvist, who had virtually zero reaction time on the play.
The breakthrough came after close calls from both teams, such as both Gustav Nyquist and Bergeron hitting posts.
With the 1-0 score looming ever larger as the second period progressed, perhaps it was uncharacteristic impatience from one of the younger Swedes that prompted d-man Jonathan Ericsson to attempt a slalom through defenders at the blue line. Bad idea. Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby scooped up the dispossessed puck, broke away, and put a classic deke-and-backhand past Lundqvist for a 2-0 lead that totally destroyed any plan Sweden had of an organized comeback.
Forced to pinch defensemen and take risks demanded by the game clock, Sweden relied on quick counterstrikes that denied them possession during most of the third period. Ultimately, another giveaway occurred, which led to Chris Kunitz accounting for the game's final tally in the 3-0 shutout. That goose egg was the second in a row for Carey Price.
So, for the first time in the NHL era of Olympic hockey, a defending champion was successful. Crosby and Toews, who had scored in the 2010 gold medal game, had done so again. This time, it was each captain's only goal of the tournament. But, as key cohorts of captaincy, they were tending to the minor details that set examples and contributed to victories.
And when the moment arose for them to step to the fore, they did.