When discussing the expectations Canada faces in just about any international hockey tournament, Wayne Gretzky essentially echoed Rick Bobby’s “If you’re not first, you’re last.”
Granted, he said it in a very Canadian way to NHL.com, but the sentiment was pretty clear.
In cases like these, one would normally throw out a sarcastic “no pressure,” but it sounds like Team Canada head coach Mike Babcock actually embraces that tension.
“Pressure is a privilege,” Babcock said. “If you don’t have any pressure, it means you have no chance. Do you want to come to the tournament with no chance, or do you want to come to the tournament with pressure? …
“For me, I wouldn’t have it any other way. I don’t think our guys would, either.”
So, does this mean we need to throw out well-worn phrases like “gripping the sticks too tight?” Because that would be quite the shame.
While Babcock is all about the pressure, that doesn’t exactly mean that he’s the sort of risk-seeker who is going to go sky-diving from a hockey sense. As Jonathan Willis explains in this Sportsnet article, Canada’s style is essentially designed to play the sort of “tight” way you might expect from a team under pressure.
Since Mike Babcock’s ascension to the head coaching position in 2010, Canada’s approach has been to emphasize defensive ability. The underlying assumption seems to be that the Canadian team should outscore the opposition in almost any situation, and that the important thing is not to mess up on defence. That means bringing a safe, button-down style to every game and counting on the talent disparity to automatically compensate for any sacrifice on the offensive side of the puck.
In other words, Team Canada isn’t bothered by the dangers of high expectations, but they’re certainly avoiding the pitfalls of taking risks.
On paper, that’s a reasonable plan, yet the vultures will circle if decisions such as picking the likes of Jay Bouwmeester over P.K. Subban end up backfiring. And Babcock seems like he’s made peace with that thought.