Canada is king.
OK, roll your eyes. Say it’s a tired concept. A take. Apply whatever word you’d like.
Then try to prove it’s not true.
Canada has spent nearly two decades on its perch atop the professional hockey circuit, taking gold medals and world titles what seems to be time and time again. While the none of the country’s seven NHL cities have celebrated a Stanley Cup title since Montreal’s 1993 triumph, a majority of the players whose names have been engraved on Lord Stanley’s cup since then are Canadians.
The Canadian dominance doesn’t appear to be slowing down.
During round robin play of this year’s World Cup of Hockey, the Leafs went a perfect 3-0, tearing through it Group A counterparts; Team USA, Team Europe, and Team Czech Republic by a combined score of 14-3. The nearest peers to its plus-11 goal differential is North America and Russia (who Canada plays Saturday night in the WCH semifinal), with plus-three differentials. North America was the closest to Canada’s 14 tallies with 11, five of which were accounted for by Canadian-born players.
The offense has come from everywhere; nine different players account for Canada’s 14 goals, 16 have recorded at least a point. Not a single goal has been unassisted.
Meanwhile, the all-star blue line corps of Drew Doughty, Alex Pietrangelo, Jay Bouwmeester, Brent Burns, Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Jake Muzzin, and Shea Weber has made work easy for best-in-the-world netminder Carey Price, who has stopped 61 of the 63 shots that have come his way.
The disaster for Canada that was the 1998 Nagano Games – the first Winter Olympics the NHL sent players to – in which the Canadians failed to win a medal ceded itself to the run of dominance for the country on the international stage. Following those Games, all parties involved got together, aired grievances, buried the medal it didn’t win and moved on, devising a plan and moving forward.
The plan has led to three golds in four Olympics since, only at Torino in 2006 did Canada fail to win gold. The Canadians have also won the IIHF World Championships (a much more watered-down version of the WCH) five times since 2003, after having won it just twice in a 40-year span from 1962-2002.
Lots could happen over the next week between now and when a champion will be crowned, which could happen as early as Thursday. Canada will need to win as many games as they’ve already won to win that crown.
But based off what we’ve seen, there’s no reason not to expect more of the same.
How Canada wins: The X-factor for the Canadians is its fourth line of Joe Thornton, Ryan O’Reilly, and Matt Duchene. Duchene might very well be the most important player on this squad, tied with Sidney Crosby and Jonathan Toews for the team lead with four points. No team can counter Canada’s fourth line. From there, the Canadians just need the best players to be the best players. You know, establish the play, get pucks deep, be heavy on the forecheck, all that stuff.
How Russia wins: The offensive firepower the Russians bring speaks for itself. Starting with Evgeni Malkin, Alex Ovechkin, Vladimir Tarasenko, and Evgeny Kuznetsov and working its way down to Pavel Datsyuk, Artem Anisimov, Vladislav Namestnikov, and Nikita Kucherov, its your typical explosive, high-octane Russian lineup. But the player who decides whether Team Russia lives to play another (up to three) days? Look no further than Sergei Bobrovsky. Bobrovsky is an intriguing case; we’ve seen the best (2013 Vezina Trophy winner) and we’ve seen him at his worst (.908 save percentage in 37 games in 2015-16). It’s been Bobrovsky at his best in this tournament, stopping 91 of 96 shots in three round robin games, in which Russia went 2-1. Any hopes of Russia pulling the upset begins with Bobrovsky playing at the level he’s played during this tournament.