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Expectations high for deep, talented Canada

Tuesday, 02.16.2010 / 11:22 AM / Features
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Expectations high for deep, talented Canada\r\n
Nothing less than an Olympic gold medal will be tolerated by Canadian fans at the 2010 Winter Games.
Brodeur will start Thursday vs. Switzerland.
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In case you haven't heard, there's just a little bit of pressure on Team Canada to win Olympic gold in Vancouver.

"That makes sense," goalie Marc-Andre Fleury told NHL.com.

Indeed it does, considering an entire nation of prideful hockey fans will be breathlessly watching every game, hoping and praying that their boys can reclaim world domination in a sport Canadians invented, for cryin' out loud.

How the Canadians handle the pressure they will face in Vancouver will go a long way in determining how well they do.

Canada arguably has the deepest and most talented roster in the tournament, but some would say it had that in 2006 as well -- and Canada finished seventh.

That was bad, but even a silver medal would be considered disappointing this time around, because there is no sugarcoating the fact that Canada has to win gold.
It's not a stretch to think they will, either.

Goalies

Mike Babcock can line up Martin Brodeur, Roberto Luongo and Fleury in a row, put a blindfold on, spin around 10 times and point. No matter who his finger is facing, Babcock will have made a quality decision.

Luongo will be between the pipes against Norway in Tuesday's opener. Brodeur will start Thursday's matchup with Switzerland.

Brodeur is the NHL's all-time leader in wins, shutouts and minutes played. He has been Canada's goalie at the previous two Olympics, winning gold in 2002. He also owns three Stanley Cup rings, and at 37-years-old remains arguably the best in the world at his trade.

Luongo has Olympic experience from 2006 and would be playing in his home city. Fleury is coming off a Stanley Cup championship, but he's the youngest of the three and is considered to be third on the depth chart heading into the tournament.

Brodeur is the likely choice, but Babcock really can't go wrong with whoever he picks.

Defense


Canada's captain, Scott Niedermayer, is back. He didn't play in Torino four years ago due to injuries, but he won gold in Salt Lake in 2002. He's the proud owner of four Stanley Cup rings, and even though his offensive numbers are down this season, he's still one of the best skaters in the world and one of the most respected players in the game.

Niedermayer headlines a strong defense that also includes four-time Olympian Chris Pronger, who could pair with Niedermayer, his old partner from Anaheim, to form a dynamic duo. Pronger will be one of the most feared players in the tournament.

Another dynamic duo could be the Blackhawks' regular pair of Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook. For Chicago they play against every team's best forwards and they could wind up doing the same for Canada.

Dan Boyle recently returned from a six-game injury absence. He was a taxi-squad player in 2006, but now he's one of the NHL's elite puck movers. Shea Weber is going for his size, strength and powerful shot. Drew Doughty is the youngest player on the team.

Forwards

Sidney Crosby will be making his Olympic debut, and all eyes will be on Canada's new favorite son. Crosby is not the captain of this team, but he is the face of Canadian hockey.

We know he will be Canada's No. 1 center, but who does Babcock put on his line?

At the orientation camp nearly six months ago, Crosby skated with Jarome Iginla and Rick Nash. But he also has a history of playing with Patrice Bergeron and Corey Perry. They starred together at the 2005 World Juniors, considered the best under-20 team of all time.

Crosby plays a straight-line, north-south game with speed, so finding players on this roster that can play with him won't be difficult. Still, it might be the most intriguing decision Babcock makes his with forwards.

The No. 2 center is supposed to be Ryan Getzlaf, but he suffered a sprained left ankle a week ago, and Team Canada Executive Director Steve Yzerman has been monitoring his status ever since. As of Wednesday, Getzlaf remained on the roster, but it's possible he misses a game or two as he lets his ankle heal.

Once -- or if -- he can play, Getzlaf likely will be the center on the second line, possibly with Perry on his right wing. The duo has developed great chemistry in Anaheim and are naturals to play together in Vancouver -- but Getzlaf has to be healthy.

The San Jose Three -- Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau and Dany Heatley -- probably will start together. If Getzlaf is available, maybe Babcock adds someone like Eric Staal or Bergeron on the wing opposite Perry.

All 13 forwards Canada picked are responsible in the defensive end, too. Mike Richards was a Selke Trophy finalist last season, and many believe Jonathan Toews will be one eventually. Toews also could be key in a shootout situation.

Star gazing

Crosby's appearance in these Olympics is four years in the making, and probably at just the right time, too. He's coming off a Stanley Cup championship and he's arguably the most complete player in the NHL. You can make the case that Crosby will be the biggest star at the Olympics, and we're not just talking in the men's hockey tournament. The world is watching No. 87.

Striking it rich

The Canadians are considered favorites to take home the gold, but they have to play together, score goals, avoid overconfidence and steer clear (as much as they can, anyway) of the pressure. They couldn't do those things four years ago in Italy and they finished a disappointing seventh. This is the deepest team in the tournament, but you can't get by on depth alone. The stars have to shine and Babcock has to push all the right buttons.
 
Contact Dan Rosen at drosen@nhl.com.
Author: Dan Rosen | NHL.com Staff Writer

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