GANGNEUNG, South Korea (AP) — They didn’t expect to be here.
Almost everyone involved with Canada’s Olympic team this time around, from coach Willie Desjardins to captain Chris Kelly to forward Rob Klinkhammer, had no idea last year they would end up trying to make it a gold-medal three-peat at the Olympics. Coach Mike Babcock and stars Sidney Crosby and Drew Doughty aren’t walking through that door, though, so it’s their time.
”I’m not going to go take Sidney Crosby’s spot,” Klinkhammer said Friday. ”I don’t think we have any outstanding superstars. Maybe a couple guys have had their time, but most of the guys, we’re just kind of journeyman that have had to work for everything they’ve had.”
After working at least 40 strong minutes in beating Switzerland 5-1, Canada could very well be golden once again. They’re getting big contributions from top-liners Rene Bourque and Wojtek Wolski, who each scored twice against Switzerland, to go along with the blue-collar work being done by players most fans have never heard of.
”Nobody has superstars in this tournament,” Bourque said. ”But I think we’re happy. We have a lot of guys that have the ability to score, and we’re going to need all our lines to score for us to be good in this tournament.”
That sounds familiar. On the way to winning gold in Sochi in 2014, Canada got goals from nine different players and allowed just three goals in six games.
It’s not the same talent, but it is the same blueprint and mentality.
”Canada does have a certain identity,” Desjardins said. ”I think we all like that identity, we all try to live up to that identity.”
That identity comes with the maple leaf on the jerseys. Switzerland’s Vincent Praplan said: ”They play the same way no matter who is here. They play simple. They play hard.”
That’s Canada hockey, no matter the level or quality of players. It also has been one of Hockey Canada’s goals over the past several years, to ensure it has the chance to win any tournament.
The work to build this roster began well before the NHL announced it wasn’t going to South Korea, though some of the job was done for general manager Sean Burke. Bourque called Burke last summer and asked what it would take to make Canada’s Olympic team.
”Nothing was ever guaranteed,” said Bourque, who played 12 NHL seasons for six different teams before signing with a club in Sweden. ”What he told me is, ‘You’ve got to go find a team to play on and we’ll come watch, but you’ve got to put in the work to get here.’ It was a very honest conversation, he was very up front and it was my job, my duty, to go earn a spot on this team.”
Bourque and Wolski – who came back from breaking his neck to play at a high level in the Kontinental Hockey League – each earned a spot on the team, along with Klinkhammer and the others who make up this incarnation of Team Canada. So far it looks like another dominant Canada team, though – to borrow a line from Babcock – Desjardins and his players don’t want to get too fat and happy after a single win.
”I feel good,” Desjardins said. ”I don’t read a lot into it. That was one game. There’s lots more games to come.”
Follow Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SWhyno