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2018 Olympic Preview: Team Canada

The four-time defending Olympic champions are heading for their biggest challenge yet.

Canada v United States Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

Introduction

There’s not much to say about Canada’s women’s hockey team at the Olympics that isn’t well known. This is the 20th anniversary of their last loss in a medal round game, and since 1998, Canada has always been able to rise to the occasion.

Since 2002, Canada has overcome all the odds and non-Olympic year failures to step up when it counted. The United States may have the World Championships. But they haven’t been able to take Olympic gold back.

It appeared to be another year of trials and tribulations for Canada leading up to the 2018 Games. They lost their first game to the United States badly. Their coach Laura Schuler called it an embarrassment to the country. But they ended up winning the series against the United States 4-2.

Canada has come close to beating the United States at the last two World Championships, only to lose both times in overtime. They lost in the Four Nations Cup earlier this year as well but other than the coach’s outburst in October it has been a relatively drama-free centralization period for the Canadians.

Top players

Canada’s captain and best player is Marie-Philip Poulin. Poulin - and stop me if you’ve heard this before - has scored the gold medal-winning goal in the last two Olympics, and is generally regarded as the best in women’s hockey.

Shannon Szabados had plenty of uncertainty surrounding her centralization cycle, but she should be Canada’s undisputed starter for the tournament, and is still among the best goaltenders in the world. While Canada doesn’t have the depth it normally does in goal, Szabados makes their goaltending a strength.

Canada v United States Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

Dark horse

Melodie Daoust is an Olympic veteran, having been in the 2014 Canadian team. However, in between Olympics, she has had a winding road. She is the only player coming straight from the Canadian university system on Canada’s roster and despite this being her second Olympics, she has never played at a World Championship.

She has played everywhere from on the first line on Poulin’s wing, to bottom-six centre. Her versatility and ability to play all situations is a huge asset. She also played some defence at McGill University, and with Canada only taking six defenders, that may also come in handy.

Jill Saulnier plays in the shadow of Rebecca Johnston and Brianne Jenner in Calgary with the CWHL’s Inferno, but she is a star in her own right. She played most of the pre-tournament with her two Inferno teammates, but it was Saulnier who stepped up in big moments. She is also coming off of a hat trick at the last CWHL All-Star game.

After this tournament, she may not be under the radar anymore.

Schedule (Group A)

February 11, Canada v. OAR, @ 7:10 am ET
February 13, Canada v. Finland, @ 2:40 am ET
February 14, Canada v. USA, @ 10:10 pm ET

Prediction: Canada should always be expected to play in the Gold Medal game and anything less would be a huge disappointment. While they have struggled in international competition against the United States between Olympics, they did win the six-game series leading up to the tournament. I hesitate to call the Canadian team the favourite, but their performance leading up to the Games is encouraging.

The United States and Canada are close, perhaps closer than ever, and the rest of the world is catching up as well. When it comes down to one game, anything can happen and you wipe everything from the past out.