It comes down to this. A winner-take-all gold medal final between Canada and Sweden at the 2014 Sochi Olympics.
For the Canadian side, it could become the first repeat champion in Olympic competition since NHL players began participating in men’s hockey in 1998 (see the five challenges Canada faces against Sweden). For four years, Canada has basked with the bragging rights brought on by Sidney Crosby’s heroic overtime Golden Goal against the U.S. in Vancouver.
A nice memory for Canadian hockey, but it’s in the past.
This Canadian team has been the subject of scrutiny and criticism because it hasn’t been lighting teams up on the score board, despite a plethora of chances in every game. Crosby has yet to score in this tournament. Yet as a team, they’ve given up only three goals in a total of five games, most recently shutting out the U.S. team in the semifinal to advance to Sunday’s gold medal game.
“They want to win. It’s real simple,” said Canada’s head coach Mike Babcock, as per the L.A. Times.
“Sometimes I think we get a little bit confused. It’s not about who scores the goals or who blocks the shots or who plays. It’s about winning. It’s about Canada. It’s about hockey supremacy. We like to brag that it’s our game? If you think it’s your game, you better show it’s your game.”
With the start of the regular season just around the corner, it looks like Robby Fabbri will not only make his NHL debut on Thursday, but also get meaningful minutes.
During Sunday’s practice the 19-year-old forward played alongside Jori Lehtera and Jaden Schwartz. Nothing is set in stone, but that combination did gel.
“I think we want to look at what the combinations look like now rather than do it at the start of the season,” Blues coach Ken Hitchcock told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “We’re looking at a hard match line and we’re also looking at taking advantage of speed and skill off the rush.
“I really liked what I saw today. I really liked Lehtera’s line, they looked very dynamic off the rush.”
The top line of Alexander Steen, Paul Stastny, and Vladimir Tarasenko seems like a good bet to play together for the time being. Jori Lehtera and Jaden Schwartz will stick together on the second line while Dmitrij Jaskin and David Backes can expect to be regular partners on the third unit. The X-factors will be Fabbri and Troy Brouwer as Hitchcock has left the door open to alternating between the two of them on the second and third line depending on the opponent.
Fabbri was taken with the 21st overall pick in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft and is looking to make the leap after a brief stint in the AHL last season. At the OHL level, he’s been a dominate force with the Guelph Storm, scoring 25 goals and 51 points in 30 games in 2014-15.
Will Artem Panarin‘s overwhelming success in the KHL translate to North America? The 23-year-old forward has a lot to prove, but his first big test was a success.
Playing on a line with Patrick Kane and Artem Anisimov, Panarin made his preseason debut in Chicago’s finale on Saturday. He registered two assists while giving his teammates reason to be optimistic about him.
“For not being on the ice he looks really relaxed. He’s great with the puck, has nice moves and I think we’ll see a lot of this,” Marian Hossa told CSN Chicago. “He has unbelievable skill. People here in Chicago are going to have a good time watching this guy dangling.”
Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville was impressed by Panarin as well and liked that line as a whole.
The fact that the trio seemed to hit it off quickly has to come as a relief after an upper-body injury prevented Panarin from getting the most out of this year’s training camp. At the end of the day though, the fact that he was able to at least get in one preseason contest is a big silver lining. How smoothly his adjustment goes from here is still a big X-factor, but at least now he’s going into the regular season with a better idea of what to expect.
Panarin is attempting to establish himself in the NHL after leading the KHL’s SKA St. Petersburg to a championship last year. He was the team’s scoring leader, topping ex-NHL star Ilya Kovalchuk.