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Canada Finds Itself in an Unusual Role: A Hockey Underdog

That honor is going to the Russians, or the “Olympic Athletes From Russia,” as they’re being referred to as throughout Video games in Pyeongchang, South Korea. Even if they’ve been infamous underperformers at contemporary Olympic tournaments, they’re probably the most professional staff, with the previous N.H.L. stars Ilya Kovalchuk and Pavel Datsyuk.

The Canadian staff, however, is made up of lengthy pictures. Ahead Eric O’Dell, 27, who performs with HC Sochi within the Okay.H.L., was once thought to be the longest shot.

In 2010, he was once having center palpitations, and docs came upon he had a small hollow in his center, which were there since start. O’Dell underwent surgical operation and spent six months at the sidelines improving.

When he confirmed up for a coaching camp in August, no one concept he had a possibility. The coaches concept he regarded extra like a biker than a hockey participant, filled with tattoos and his hair tied again in a ponytail. And at the ice, he was once a less-than-graceful skater and puck handler.


Willie Desjardins was once named the Canada trainer in July, a couple of months after being fired by means of the Vancouver Canucks.

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Grigory Dukor/Reuters

“In his first observe, he didn’t glance superb,” stated Canada Trainer Willie Desjardins, who coached the Vancouver Canucks within the N.H.L. from 2014 to 2017. “Guys are going, ‘This man won’t ever make it.’ However he in the end labored his means onto the staff.”

Normal Supervisor Sean Burke spotted that O’Dell were named captain of his staff in Russia, and suspected there was once extra to him than met the attention.

“You’re in Russia and the fellows don’t talk English,” Burke stated. “Having your captain being an English-speaking Canadian in point of fact says so much about his personality.”

Burke makes use of the phrase “personality” so much in describing this staff, which he stated will epitomize “the Canadian Manner.” Most often that suggests having gobs extra ability than some other staff within the match. This yr that suggests the staff is probably not outworked. Even probably the most professional gamers are prepared to just accept lesser roles.

Handiest two gamers at the roster are with none N.H.L. enjoy, so Burke expects some to hold a chip on their shoulders.

“The N.H.L. is the most productive league on the planet, and I don’t suppose anyone would disagree with that,” he stated. “However Canada nonetheless has a big pool of ability. Attempt to inform them it’s no longer the N.H.L. gamers, it’s no longer the most productive gamers on the planet.”

In naming his staff, Burke pulled in combination bits and items from six leagues, together with 13 from the Okay.H.L., 3 from the American Hockey League and the remainder from the Austrian, German, Swiss and Swedish leagues. Sidney Crosby and Jonathan Toews they aren’t.

Nonetheless, Derek Roy, a veteran heart of 738 N.H.L. video games who now performs in Sweden, has been making ready for these days longer than most of the people suppose.

“Everybody right here has labored their complete lives to get up to now,” Roy stated. “It’s no longer like impulsively in the future they advised us, ‘O.Okay., you’ll play within the Olympics.’”

The Canadian goaltenders are Kevin Poulin, 27, Justin Peters, 31, and Ben Scrivens, 31. Scrivens, who performs for Salavat Yulaev Ufa within the Okay.H.L., has probably the most N.H.L. enjoy of the 3, with 130 begins. However he has bounced round since suffering because the Edmonton Oilers starter throughout the 2014-15 season.

Peters performs in Germany, which isn’t a number of the best 3 leagues in Europe, and Poulin performs even farther from the higher echelon of the game — on a Croatian staff within the Austrian league. Poulin no less than had a 36-save shutout efficiency for Canada in December within the ultimate of the Spengler Cup, a world invitational match.

Defensemen Chris Lee, 37, and Mat Robinson, 31, don’t have any N.H.L. enjoy. On the other hand, Chris Kelly, Rene Bourque and Roy have every racked up greater than 700 N.H.L. video games. The down facet — Kelly, Bourque and Roy are 37, 36, and 34.

“For me, at this age in my profession, I simply sought after a possibility to win one thing giant as a result of I didn’t get a possibility to win a Stanley Cup,” stated Bourque, who performs with Djurgarden within the Swedish league.

Lee and Kelly are the oldest gamers at 37, whilst Christian Thomas, 25, the son of the previous N.H.L. participant Steve Thomas, is the youngest. Hockey Canada officers scouted junior and faculty gamers, however in the long run determined they have been too green and uncooked for this type of giant level.

Even if it’s with out marquee names, the staff isn’t totally missing ability, no less than on paper. Linden Vey, 26, is likely one of the scoring leaders within the Okay.H.L. Kelly, Wolski, Bourque and Mason Raymond have every registered 20-goal seasons within the N.H.L. Roy scored 32 objectives for the Buffalo Sabres in 2007-Eight.

Kelly received a Stanley Cup with the Boston Bruins in 2011; Marc-Andre Gragnani was once named very best defenseman within the A.H.L. in 2010-11; and Bourque was once the A.H.L. rookie of the yr in 2004-05. 3 gamers — Wolski, Gilbert Brule and Quinton Howden — have been first-round N.H.L. draft alternatives. Defenseman Maxim Noreau, 30, was once the staff’s best scorer on the Spengler Cup, with seven issues.

Canada’s different problem, except for a suboptimal roster, is overcoming a loss of staff chemistry and familiarity. In seven pre-Olympic tournaments, Canada dressed a special roster every time.

“The smaller international locations like Switzerland, their pool isn’t as giant,” stated Burke, a two-time Olympian. “So once they get in combination as a countrywide staff, they know who their staff goes to be for probably the most phase.”

The Canadian staff was once in combination for best two weeks sooner than the Olympics, forcing an sped up team-building procedure. For the coaches, that supposed imposing their programs temporarily, and for the gamers, that supposed constructing camaraderie.

“That’s going to be our largest problem,” Desjardins stated. “You’re seeking to do so much in a brief time frame.”

Proceed studying the principle tale

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