Just like USA Hockey, so too was Hockey Canada criticized for leaving certain players off its World Cup roster.
Offensive defensemen P.K. Subban and Kris Letang were the big omissions, rejected because they shoot right-handed and/or didn’t have the full trust of the coaching staff. Instead, the Canadians went with Jake Muzzin and Jay Bouwmeester.
But after advancing to the semifinals of the World Cup, Hockey Canada has so far avoided the criticism that’s currently being heaped on USA Hockey. First of all, because the Canadians are winning. But also because, even without Subban and Letang, nobody looks at Canada’s roster and wonders if there’s enough skill. When Joe Thornton, Ryan O'Reilly and Matt Duchene are your fourth line, there’s clearly enough skill.
Hockey Canada, essentially, can afford to play it safe in certain instances.
For that reason, head coach Mike Babcock, who also coaches the Toronto Maple Leafs, is hesitant to take much credit for his success at the national-team level, which already includes two Olympic gold medals and may soon include a World Cup title.
“Sometimes we get way too caught up talking about structure and systems and all that, and it’s just the players are better,” Babcock said after last night’s 4-2 win that eliminated the Americans. “I had that same structure and we finished dead last last year. I was the worst coach in the National Hockey League, if you remember correct. So let’s put things in perspective. It’s called players, really good players. And when you’re fortunate that they let you coach really good players, you look like a pretty good coach sometimes.”
This isn’t to let John Tortorella or Dean Lombardi off the hook. The Americans’ biggest sin at the World Cup was’t losing to Canada; it was losing to Team Europe. The question USA Hockey should be asking is, Can we do better? And the answer to that is, yes.
As for the Canadians, they play Europe tonight for first place in Group A. After that, it’s on to the semifinals, where winning will be the only acceptable result for Babcock and his players.
“We just come to the event, we prepare for the games, we try to get better every day, and we try to win in the end,” said Babcock. “And being Canadian, you’re greedy. You think it’s your right to find a way to get ‘er done.”