After skipping the 2018 Olympics altogether, fans were thrilled when the NHL announced they had committed to the 2022 tournament. Finally, after eight years, hockey got a best-on-best competition, pitting the likes of Connor McDavid and Sidney Crosby against Alexander Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin, or Auston Matthews and Patrick Kane. However, after being forced to postpone several games due to COVID-19 outbreaks, the NHL reversed its commitment and officially withdrew from the Olympics on December 22, 2021.
While fans and players alike were disappointed with the announcement, the tournament promises to be an exciting competition and Canada promises to be a medal favorite even without their best players from the NHL. Hockey and Canada are more intertwined than any other nation in the world, and the players will have a rich history of success this year. From the birth of the NHL to the first Olympic hockey game, Canada has always been a top competitor, and this year will be no different despite the absence of its best players.
The history of ice hockey begins in Canada
Without Canada, hockey would not be the sport we know today. While The game has its roots in Britain, transformed when English, Irish and Scottish immigrants brought it to the fledgling western nation. It was one of the most popular venues in the late 1800s, and just a few years after Montreal played its first indoor game, amateur and professional leagues were springing up everywhere, from Ottawa to Seattle, and even the Governor-General was getting excited and creating a trophy for the best team in the country – the Lord Stanley’s Cup.
Around the same time, international organizations began to take shape. In 1908, the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) was formed in France, prompting the Olympic Committee to include it in the 1920 Summer Olympics in Antwerp, Belgium. Seven teams competed in the inaugural competition, and it was none other than Canada who took home the first Olympic gold medal in ice hockey, and did so in dominant fashion. They were unbeaten in their three games and conceded just one goal throughout the tournament, only coming in the gold medal game against Sweden.
Also Read: Canadiens Fans Have Reason to Watch Olympics With Sean Farrell Invite
At the next six Olympics, Canada lost gold only once, falling to a British team made up mostly of expats and dual nationals who learned to play in Canada in 1936. But in 1956 the Soviets joined the tournament and blew away the competition with their cohesion, breathtaking speed and different style. When the IIHF decided to allow NHL players to compete for the first time in 1998, many assumed that the combination of Wayne Gretzky, Eric Lindros, Joe Sakic and Patrick Roy would make the team virtually invincible. But not even that team could overcome the gold medal drought, falling to the Czech Republic in the semifinals.
It wasn’t until 2002 that Canada finally broke through and claimed the gold medal in historic fashion. They underperformed throughout the tournament, posting a 1-1-1 record in the round robin. But they found their rhythm in the playoffs, which took them all the way to the finals where they faced the undefeated Americans. Despite having two of the tournament’s most successful players in Brett Hull and John LeClair, the Americans couldn’t hold back the Canadians and the game ended 5-2.
Canada has since reclaimed its Olympic crown, winning two more golds since winning in 2002 and currently sits first with 13 golds and 22 overall. But Canada is not only successful at the Olympic Games. At the World Championships, they have the most medals of any nation with 56 and tied for first place with 27 gold medals. Even without an NHL player, the nation has done very well, finishing third in Spengler Cup wins and first in U20 junior gold medals. With that in mind, it’s not hard to say that Canada is the most dominant ice hockey nation in the world.
Fun facts about Team Canada and its players
- Harry Watson set an Olympic record for goals and points when he scored 36 goals at the 1924 Olympics over just five games, the most in a single tournament.
- Murray Dowey also made Olympic history when he scored five shutouts in eight games in 1948. He’s also the only Canadian goalie to sit in the penalty area after throwing the puck forward, which international rules didn’t allow.
- Chris Pronger has made the most Olympic appearances for Canada, dressing in 25 games across four tournaments.
- Since its inception in 1992, Canada has been involved in nearly a third of all Olympic shootouts, appearing in five. They are also the only team to win the gold medal in the shootout, beating Sweden 3-2 in 1994.
- Canada has twice beaten its opponents by more than 30 goals – a 33-0 win over Switzerland and a 30-0 win over Czechoslovakia, both in 1924. These games also hold the Olympic record for most goals scored scored in a single game.
- However, Canada’s greatest victory came at the 1947 World Ice Hockey Championships when it defeated Denmark 47-0.
- They also suffered their biggest defeat at the World Cup, losing 11-1 to the Soviet Union in the 1977 tournament.
- Canada has the longest Olympic winning streak, lasting 16 games and spanning from 1920 to 1932.
Biggest Stars on the World Stage at the Olympics
This year, all eyes will be on Owen Power, who became the first player to officially commit to the Beijing 2022 Olympics. Despite being only 19 years old, he already won a World Championship gold medal in 2021, where he was the top defender on the team. He has also played for Canada’s World Junior Team and although the 2022 tournament was canceled due to health reasons, he has already had three goals and five points in two games and promised to become one of the tournament’s top blueliners.
Power has a chance to win an Olympic gold medal before he even steps onto an NHL rink, which gives him an excellent lead to join the Triple Gold Club, a highly exclusive group whose members must have won an Olympic gold medal, a world championship gold, and to have hoisted the Stanley Cup.
Since the World Cup‘s inception in 1930, only 29 players have won all three, including 11 Canadians. Joe Sakic, Rob Blake and Brendan Shanahan were the first Canadians to join the prestigious club after winning gold with the 2002 Olympic team. Jay Bouwmeester became the youngest contestant to win the trophy with the St. Louis Blues in 2019 after winning Olympic gold in 2014 and helping Canada win World Cup gold in 2003 and 2004 as a teenager.
Dany Heatley never won a trophy, but the NHL All-Star was one of Canada’s finest international players. He is the highest-scoring Canadian at the World Championships with 62 points in 59 appearances from 2001-09, during which he won two gold medals and a 2006 Olympic gold medal. Just behind him is Rick Nash, a former 2002 draft pick and 1,060 NHL game veteran who had 44 points in 34 World Championship games between 2004 and 2011 but won just one gold.
At the Olympics, Toews holds the crown as the NHL’s all-time leading player with eight points, while Jarome Iginla is the top-scorer with five points. Carey Price was by far Canada’s top goaltender at the Olympics, posting a .972 save percentage in five games en route to a gold medal in 2014.
For non-NHL players, Corey Hirsh leads all Canadian goalies with eight appearances, all of which occurred in 1994, where he recorded a .930 save en route to a Silver medal. Zach Fucale was another strong contender on the international stage, competing in three Spengler Cups and helping Canada win it all in 2017 and 2020. He was also a distinguished junior goalie leading Canada to a World Junior gold medal in 2015.
Surprisingly, Wayne Gretzky and Gordie Howe, two of the NHL’s biggest stars, never won gold at either the Olympics or the World Championships; Gretzky won three Canada Cup gold medals but failed in his only Olympic appearance in 1998, while Howe made his only international appearance in 1974 at the age of 46 at the Canada Summit Series. Similarly, Mario Lemieux had to wait until he was 36 before making his first Olympic appearance in 2002.
Where will Canada’s players come from?
Without the addition of NHL players, most Canadian athletes will be from Europe. Currently 48 Canadians play in the Russian KHL, 29 in the Swiss National League, 25 in the Finnish Liiga and 23 in the Swedish Hockey League, many of them are former NHL players. Daniel Winnik, Corban Knight, Brandon Leipsic and Eddie Pasquale are all being considered for the team.
However, it has also been reported that Canada will be reaching out to the NCAA and major junior leagues to find players without an NHL contract, or who are allowed to leave their team for the Olympic break. It can be names like Kent Johnson, Mason McTavish, and Kaiden Guhlewho appeared on the 2022 World Junior Team, as well as minor league players and free agents Josh Ho-Sang, Cody Franson and Eric Staal.
Yes, this team won’t have a recognizable face like McDavid or Crosby, but that doesn’t mean Canada won’t be exciting to follow. Canadians have played for teams around the world and over the past few years and decades have proven that they are always a threat in the fight for a medal, whether they are professionals or amateurs. Canada has a long history of international success, and while it eluded them in 2018, there’s no reason to think it will happen again in Beijing.
A day elementary school teacher and avid hockey fan, Dayton joined The Hockey Writers in 2019 and currently covers the Ottawa Senators, World Juniors and NHL Entry Draft.