Analysis

'You can't win if you don't score': Canadian men left stifled by Swedish defence in hockey quarter-final

Canada's failure to muster any sense of sustained offensive pressure against the suffocating Swedish defence sends men's team home without a medal for first time since 2006.

Mix of youth and experience falls short in Beijing

Team Canada players watch as Sweden players celebrate their quarter-final win at the 2022 Winter Olympics on Wednesday. (Matt Slocum/The Associated Press)

Canada is a nation full of armchair Olympic general managers, with an educated fanbase that knows its hockey.

Shane Doan, GM of the Canadian men's Olympic hockey team, received his share of criticism for picking a veteran-laden squad for the non-NHL tournament in Beijing. The cries got louder when upstart Team USA — with 15 NCCA players — rolled through the round-robin with a perfect 3-0 record, invoking (premature) comparisons to the 1980 Miracle on Ice in Lake Placid.

Clearly, the Hockey Canada brain trust subscribed to the philosophy that inexperience can prove costly on the Olympic stage. And it turned out that Jack McBain — one of five college/junior-aged players on the Canadian roster — committed a costly turnover in a 2-0 loss to Sweden in the Olympic quarter-final.

With the game tied 0-0 midway through third period, McBain attempted a drop pass at his own blueline. An opportunistic Lucas Wallmark swooped in and ripped a shot that deflected off Eric O'Dell's stick to give Sweden a 1-0 lead.

The hard-checking Swedes added an empty-netter to send Canada home without an Olympic medal in men's hockey for the first time since 2006.

WATCH | Sweden stifles Canadian attack to win quarter-final:

Highlights: Sweden eliminates Canada in men's hockey quarters

6 months ago
Duration 2:18
Lucas Wallmark's third period goal was the difference in Sweden's 2-0 quarter-final win.

The youthful Americans also lost their quarter-final to Slovakia, setting up an all-European semifinal.

"Obviously it sucks not winning," said O'Dell, one of Canada's top scorers in the tournament with two goals and five points. "We're expected to win all the time.

"Defensively we were solid but tonight couldn't get some goals for our goaltender. We had fun, but it's obviously tough not to get a medal."

McBain's miscue is clearly not the only reason Canada is not advancing. Far from it, in fact, given Canada's failure to muster any sense of sustained offensive pressure against the suffocating Swedish defence.

"The biggest thing is they clog up the ice really well," Canadian forward Landon Ferraro told CBC Sports during the second intermission.

WATCH | Full replay of Canada vs. Sweden quarter-final:

"You can't win if you don't score," bemoaned defenceman Owen Power, who logged the most ice-time for Canada with a tournament-average of 21:38. "They just clogged up the middle and didn't really let us get any entry."

In hindsight, Team Canada head coach Claude Julien might regret parking Kent Johnson on the bench to start the third period.

The University of Michigan standout arrived in Beijing as a member of the taxi squad, joining the active roster only as a last-minute replacement for Daniel Carr, who was in COVID-19 protocol.

Johnson, 19, collected a goal and five points in the first four games, but he is not known as a solid checker with attention to defensive detail.

Kent Johnson #13 of Team Canada plays the puck against Sweden during a 2-0 loss on Wednesday. The 19-year-old had a solid tournament, but found himself on the bench for most of the third period. (Andrew Lahodynskyj/The Canadian Press)

Julien reversed course after Sweden took the lead, sending Johnson over the boards to press for the equalizer. But it was not to be.

"They had a couple of chances in their power play but they didn't really get into the net like Canada are famous for — getting in front, screening, getting tips," said Swedish goalie Lars Johannsen. "We kept them on the outside.

"I could see all the pucks, so we did a really good job there."

Olympic post-mortem

In truth, the Canadians set themselves for a tough quarter-final by losing 4-2 to the U.S. in the round robin, which forced them to play a well-rested Sweden just 24 hours after dispatching China in the qualifier.

With the game on the line Wednesday, Canada failed to generate enough speed to break through the wall of yellow sweaters and dig the puck out on the forecheck.

"We believed we had more energy and power," said Team Sweden captain Anton Lander. "We just had to keep working and coming in waves, working harder and harder and harder.

"Sooner or later the puck is going to bounce with you, and tonight was that game."

Canada will have plenty of time to conduct a post-mortem of what went wrong for a team cobbled together after the NHL pulled out in December due to game cancellations caused by COVID-19.

At age 37, captain Eric Staal centred the first line but struggled to find his offensive groove. Josh Ho-Sang, considered Canada's potential X-Factor due to his obvious talent, dropped from the first line all the way to the 13th forward after two games. He chipped in with three assists but didn't prove to be the difference-maker Canada needed on offence.

The breakout player, for Canada, was goalie Matt Tomkins, who silenced a simmering goaltending controversy with sound positional play and poise after taking over for Eddie Pasquale in Game 3. 

Tomkins, 27, plays professionally in Sweden. The Sherwood Park, Alta., product could get another chance in North America to prove he's a late-bloomer like Jack Johnson or Corey Crawford — or his three Olympic appearances could go down as the highlight of his career.

Team Canada goaltender Matt Tomkins (90) stops Team Sweden defenceman Lukas Bengtsson (32) during quarter-final action. Tomkins carved out a role as Canada's clear starter in Beijing. (Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press)

In hindsight, no one will question the work ethic of the blue-collar Canadians, in spite of the final result. 

"We galvanized pretty quickly together, for not ever having played a game before," said Team Canada forward Daniel Winnik. "It was real fun being around these guys. I had a blast the last couple of weeks with them."

Even though they're heading home earlier than Canadians had hoped.

"It's an awesome experience," O'Dell said. "There's a ton to learn, on and off the ice."

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