Analysis

Veteran Olympian O'Dell's thunderous hit sets tone for Canadian men's hockey team in opening win over Germany

Eric O’Dell is not a big name on the Canadian men’s Olympic hockey team. The Ottawa product plays on the third line – the energy line – and is expected to forecheck hard, cycle the puck and maximize his minutes.

Ottawa native's thunderous hit in 5-1 victory over Germany kicks off tournament

Team Canada defender Maxim Noreau (56) celebrates with teammates Eric Staal (12) and Eric O'Dell (19) after scoring in a 5-1 win over Germany in their opening game of the Beijing Olympics. O'Dell was a key factor for Canada as one of three returning members of the 2018 Canadian team that lost to Germany in the semifinal. (Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press)

Eric O'Dell is not a big name on the Canadian men's Olympic hockey team. The Ottawa product plays on the third line — the energy line — and is expected to forecheck hard, cycle the puck and maximize his minutes.

The 31-year-old centre did just that Thursday, flattening defenceman Marco Nowak just four minutes into Canada's opening match against Germany.

The thunderous bodycheck sent Nowak crashing to the ice. With Team Germany seemingly in shock — and Nowak still in a heap behind the net ­— defenceman Alex Grant ripped a wrist shot top shelf to give Canada a 1-0 lead.

Most importantly, the sequence confirmed Canada's intentions of punishing and outworking the opposition in a rare men's tournament where the guys wearing the Maple Leaf are not considered the favourites.

"He came around the net with his head down and I finished my check," O'Dell said, mildly understating the impact of the bone-rattling collision with Nowak. "The team built off that and we got a couple of goals after that.

"So it was good."

WATCH | O'Dell sets the tone for Canada early:

Massive hit leads to Canada's first goal in men's Olympic hockey tournament

8 months ago
Duration 0:56
Eric O'Dell steamrolled German Marco Nowek, setting up Alex Grant to score Canada's first goal of Beijing 2022.

Good? Try great as Canada went on to beat Germany 5-1 in a convincing victory that O'Dell hopes sets the tone for the entire tournament.

The 2022 non-NHL version of Team Canada includes names that hockey fans will need to look up on the internet, but it's deep, it's physical, and it's in Beijing to win.

Making the opening-night victory even sweeter is the fact Canada lost to Germany in the semifinals at the 2018 Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

"It is in the back of your mind," said O'Dell, one of three returnees from the 2018 Canadian side. "It was a tough loss and it felt good to get the win today."

On Thursday, Canada stormed out to a 3-0 lead in the first period and never looked back.

WATCH | Watch Canada's tournament-opening victory over Germany:

Claude Julien to coach Canadian men's team after injury

8 months ago
Duration 1:09
James Duthie and the hockey panel react to the news that Julien will return to Canada's bench for his team's second game at the Olympics.

"It was everything you hope for happens," Grant said in describing the night. "It's kind of what you dream of."

Coach Claude Julien to give Canada boost in Beijing

The day started like a dream for Team Canada when Claude Julien touched down in China. Just prior to the opening faceoff, Hockey Canada announced the 2009 Jack Adams Trophy winner would be back behind the bench for Friday's clash with the United States.

In a bizarre turn of events, Julien, 61, suffered a rib fracture when he slipped and fell on ice late last month during a team-building exercise in Switzerland. Initially, the doctors advised it unsafe for Julien to fly to Beijing, so Jeremy Colliton assumed the role as head coach.

Given his resume, Julien is a massive presence behind the bench who commands respect. His attention to defensive detail is legendary, and he makes his players feel at ease with his unassuming demeanour.

It's no slight on Colliton, who will stay on as an assistant coach, to say Canada is a better team with Julien at the helm.

"He is such an accomplished coach," Grant said. "It will be a big boost."

WATCH | Julien set to return to Canadian bench:

Captain Eric Staal recaps Canada's 5-1 men's hockey win over Germany

8 months ago
Duration 1:15
Men's hockey captain Eric Staal says Thursday's 5-1 opening win over Germany was a great way to get out the nerves ahead of a big game against the United States.

Canada displaying depth

The Canadian coaching staff will also feel a boost from reading Thursday's game sheet. Twelve different players collected points, which will build confidence throughout the lineup.

Depth will be vital for Canada in later games against teams like the United States, Sweden, Finland and the Russian Olympic Committee. And while all eyes were on Canada's first line of Mason McTavish, Eric Staal and Josh Ho-Sang, the unsung trio of Ben Street, O'Dell and Kent Johnson combined for six points against Germany.

WATCH | Captain recaps Canada's win:

Johnson, 19, arrived in China as an alternate, joining the team off the reserve list in place of Daniel Carr. A fifth-overall pick of the Columbus Blue Jackets, Johnson buzzed around the puck the whole game against Germany, registering two assists in his Olympic debut.

Another positive: special teams, an area that may decide Canada's fate especially in a short tournament like the Olympics. On Thursday, the Canadians killed off all four German power-plays and went 1-for-2 with the man advantage.

Owen Power led Canada in ice-time at 19:33, showing why the Buffalo Sabres claimed him first overall in last year's NHL entry draft. The 19-year-old skates effortlessly and his breakout passes are crisp and on the tape. His speed allows him to take chances offensively and still get back to break up the play should something go awry.

It may be tempting for Canadian hockey fans to dream about future Olympics with Power and Cale Makar, of the Colorado Avalanche, on the top pairing. But Power already looks right at home on the Olympic stage alongside dependable veteran Mat Robinson.

A bigger test will come Friday at 11:10 p.m. ET when Canada meets the United States (the youthful Americans hammered host China 8-0 on Thursday). Canada concludes round-robin play in Group A on Sunday at 8:10 a.m. ET against China.

At the end of the day, it's important to not read too much into a preliminary-round victory over Germany. But O'Dell and his fellow Canadians certainly served notice Thursday of their intention to upgrade bronze from Pyeongchang to gold in Beijing.

Stay tuned.

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