TIG’s Olympic previews continue with one of the perennial favorites for gold: Team Canada. For the first time since 2002, the Canadians will be trying to reclaim gold at the Olympics, instead of defending it.
Back in 2018, Canada’s program was on the verge of winning five straight gold medals at the Olympics. They nearly accomplished that feat, leading Team USA in the third period of the final, 2-1. But the Americans tied it up to force overtime, and after a nail-biting final period, Team USA took home gold in the shootout. Canada’s gold medal streak was over.
2018 proved to be something of a turning point for Canada’s program. Mel Davidson, who had been at the helm for so long, stepped away as general manager to focus on scouting. Gina Kingsbury took over the GM role, and has been in that position since July 2018.
It’s been an interesting quad for Canada, but it feels like they’re peaking at the right time under Kingsbury and head coach Troy Ryan, who’s been behind the bench for two seasons. In 2019, immediately after the last Olympics, the Canadians hit a low point: they lost in the semifinals at the Women’s World Championship and, for the first time ever, did not play in the gold medal game.
The high point of the last quad? The postponed 2021 Women’s World Championship. After waiting over two years for the tournament to return and play on home ice, Canada took home gold for the first time since 2012. They dominated Team USA in the preliminary round, and then, when the gold medal game inevitably went to overtime, Marie-Philip Poulin was there to play hero once again for the Canadians.
POULIN HAS DONE IT AGAIN. IT'S POULIN IN OVERTIME. GOLD FOR CANADA. pic.twitter.com/3VLdUpeXoB— Mike Murphy (@DigDeepBSB) September 1, 2021
Canada also cleaned up nicely in the rest of their pre-Olympic competition. They beat Finland in a set of three games overseas, and won the Rivalry Series against Team USA, four games to two.
Forwards: Emily Clark, Mélodie Daoust, Sarah Fillier, Brianne Jenner, Rebecca Johnston, Emma Maltais, Sarah Nurse, Marie-Philip Poulin, Jamie Lee Rattray, Jill Saulnier, Laura Stacey, Natalie Spooner, Blayre Turnbull
Defenders: Erin Ambrose, Ashton Bell, Renata Fast, Jocelyne Larocque, Ella Shelton, Claire Thompson, Micah Zandee-Hart
Goalies: Kristen Campbell, Ann-Renée Desbiens, Emerance Maschmeyer
Jocelyne Larocque: Of the 13 players on this roster who have Olympic experience, only two are defenders: Larocque and Renata Fast. Larocque is the reliable veteran leader of the group who’s shown her best throughout this latest cycle, in my opinion. She’s been very steady on the back end for Canada while spearheading sound decision-making on the breakout. Her leadership will be key with so many rookies coming along to Beijing.
Mélodie Daoust: Daoust was lights out during Worlds back in August, earning Most Valuable Player honors after posting six goals and 12 points in Canada’s seven games. She won the same award at the last Olympics for Canada, too. She’s one of the world’s most talented players who has a knack for putting together flurries of offense in the biggest moments.
Jamie Lee Rattray: As one of Canada’s most versatile forwards, Rattray will play a critical role for Canada. She can be just as impactful on the fourth line as she is on the first line—although I personally I feel that she’s at her best when she’s scoring goals and eating up more featured minutes with her physical play. She gives Canada’s coaching staff a lot of flexibility and adds some scoring depth no matter where she slots in.
Story to watch
It’s difficult to pick just one storyline to watch, so I’ll point out a few:
- Canada has gone to overtime four times against the U.S. this year, including in the gold medal game at Worlds in August. They won three of those games. Marie-Philip Poulin scored all three times. Overtime is usually a given between the two teams, anyway. Every women’s hockey final for 11 years, with the exception of 2015 in Sweden, has gone to overtime. I guess what I’m saying is, you know what to expect, and who to expect it from.
- The play of Canada’s younger defensive corps was a bit of a question mark coming into the year. They’ve answered pretty emphatically. Ella Shelton and Erin Ambrose in particular made it clear they’d be major difference-makers at the Olympic level for this team. I’m of the mind that Hockey Canada made the right decision in shifting towards a younger group overall, and I thought the play of their defense was a clear strength during Worlds. Still, five of the seven players on the blue line are Olympic rookies, and so are two of their netminders.
- For Canada, who certainly has their eyes on getting back to the top of the podium, a gold medal would truly mean coming full circle this cycle. They were at arguably their lowest point as a program just three years ago and have since turned it around completely, looking consistent throughout centralization. This team is always highly skilled and well-prepped, but the dynamic just feels a bit different. From the outside looking in, it feels like there’s a high level of trust. And there isn’t a lot of panicking happening, even as the U.S. has closed the gap since Worlds in August.
- vs. Switzerland — Preliminary Round — Thursday, Feb. 3, 12:10 p.m. China Standard Time (Wednesday, Feb. 2, 11:10 p.m. Eastern Time)
- vs. Finland — Preliminary Round — Saturday, Feb. 5, 12:10 p.m. CST (Friday, Feb. 4, 11:10 p.m. ET)
- vs. ROC — Preliminary Round — Monday, Feb. 7, 12:10 p.m. CST (Sunday, Feb. 6, 11:10 p.m. ET)
- vs. USA — Preliminary Round — Tuesday, Feb. 8, 12:10 p.m. CST (Monday, Feb. 7, 11:10 p.m. ET)
What success looks like
Put in simple terms, success for this team looks like a gold medal on February 17th. They’ve spent a lot of time in the last cycle re-tooling, developing players, and refining their programming during a pandemic. They’ll face stiff competition, but gold is the standard for this program, especially after their Worlds results and their pre-Olympic slate.