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Steve Yzerman returned as Executive Director for the Canadian men's hockey team for the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympic Games after Canada won a gold medal in the sport at the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics.
It only happens once every four years. While the U-20 World Junior Championships, World Hockey Championships and, to a lesser extent, the Spengler Cup are also sources of pride for Canadian hockey players and fans alike, nothing unites Canada more than the goal of winning Olympic ice hockey gold.
Ten days ago, the 25-man Canadian men’s hockey team was announced. Without debating who should or should not have made the team, the common goal of competing for gold at Sochi will see NHL teammates, rivals and fans alike unite.
For the Team Canada brass, it was a no-brainer to give preferential treatment to NHL forward line mates and defensive pairings when selecting Team Canada, a fact made evident by such forward combinations as Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry (Anaheim Ducks); Patrick Sharp and Jonathan Toews (Chicago Black Hawks); Sidney Crosby and Chris Kunitz (Pittsburgh Penguins), notwithstanding the defensive pairing of Jay Bouwmeester and Alex Pietrangelo (St. Louis Blues).
Why was it a no brainer? Because the chemistry that the aforementioned pairs of players have developed by playing together in the NHL cannot be discounted. Familiarity breeds success, at least that’s what Hockey Canada is banking on.
While no Canadian born member of the Toronto Maple Leafs (sorry Dion Phaneuf) was named to the team by Steve Yzerman and company, selectees from the Boston Bruins (Patrice Bergeron) and Montreal Canadiens (Carey Price, PK Subban), two fierce NHL rivals, will put their differences aside for two weeks in February. Why? Because they are professionals whose primary goal at Sochi is to win a gold medal.
As for hockey fans themselves, when else would die hard Bruins’ fans find themselves cheering for goaltender Carey Price to make a lead preserving save or defenseman PK Subban to shoot a successful shot from the point on the power play? Never. Similarly, when would Canadiens’ fans ever find themselves rooting for Patrice Bergeron to set up a teammate with a slick pass before scoring a goal?
They wouldn’t. But, because they are all wearing the same jersey in hopes of defending the gold medal that Team Canada won at the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympic Games, they too will find themselves putting their hockey differences aside. Ice hockey, much like politics, can also make for strange bedfellows.