What we know and don't know about Canada's Olympic hockey teams
The women's roster is finally set. But we're still waiting on the men's
This is an excerpt from The Buzzer, which is CBC Sports' daily email newsletter. Stay up to speed on what's happening in sports by subscribing here.
Canada's Olympic hockey teams are coming into focus
The first hockey games at the Beijing Winter Olympics take place exactly three weeks from today. Here's the latest on the two Canadian teams:
After delaying the announcement by a few weeks due to COVID-19 cases on the team, Canada finally revealed its 23-player Olympic roster yesterday afternoon. The most notable of the final three cuts was veteran defenceman Meaghan Mikkelson, who'd been trying to make it to her fourth Olympics after having knee surgery in June.
Captain/overtime magician Marie-Philip Poulin and fellow forward Rebecca Johnston will compete in their fourth Olympics, and go for their third gold medal, as Canada looks to avenge its 2018 shootout loss to the archrival United States. The Canadians turned the tables at the world championship last summer in Calgary, snapping the Americans' run of five consecutive titles when Poulin (who else?) scored in overtime in the final. Ten Canadians are set to make their Olympic debuts in Beijing.
Like a lot of Canada's Olympic athletes right now, the women's hockey team is laying low in an effort to avoid COVID-19 infections, which could jeopardize a player's eligibility for the Games. The squad is bubbled together in Calgary and, after several players tested positive last month, the decision was made to not play any more games before Beijing. The final three dates of the Rivalry Series tour vs. the U.S. were cancelled, as was this week's matchup vs. an Alberta Junior Hockey League men's team.
Canada's first Olympic game is Feb. 2 at 11:10 p.m. ET vs. Switzerland. Then it faces 2018 bronze medallist Finland on Feb. 3, Russia on Feb. 6 and the U.S. on Feb. 7 (all at 11:10 p.m. ET). All five teams in this group automatically advance to the quarter-finals, so these games are just about determining seeding. The playoff rounds begin on the night of Feb. 10 (ET), and culminate with the gold-medal game on Feb. 16 at 11:10 p.m. ET.
It's highly likely that Canada and the U.S. will square off for gold for the sixth time in the seven Olympics since women's hockey joined the program. That matchup would, as usual, be a toss-up. Read more about the Canadian roster here. Read analyst Kirsten Whelan's position-by-position breakdown here.
It's been three weeks since the NHL and its players officially bailed on Beijing, and we still don't know who's going to play for Canada. Based on the 2018 Olympics, which the NHL also skipped, we can assume the roster will be made up largely of guys who play for European clubs (especially in the Russia-based KHL), plus a few from the AHL (North America's top minor league) and even the NCAA (U.S. colleges/universities). Four years ago, the leading scorers on Canada's bronze-winning team were Maxim Noreau, who was playing in the Swiss league, and Derek Roy, who'd moved to the Swedish league after a long career in the NHL. Canada's top goalie was former NHL journeyman Ben Scrivens.
This year's team is being picked by new general manager Shane Doan, the former Phoenix/Arizona Coyotes forward who stepped in to replace Doug Armstrong when the NHL withdrew. Former Montreal Canadiens and Boston Bruins head coach Claude Julien will be behind the bench.
Probably the biggest name they're thought to be considering is six-time NHL all-star Eric Staal. The 37-year-old forward is currently not playing for anyone after helping Montreal to the Stanley Cup final last year, but Staal's agent says he's been working out and wants to play in the Olympics. His resumé is impressive: 1,034 points (including 441 goals) in 1,293 NHL regular-season games, plus a Stanley Cup with Carolina in 2005 and Olympic gold in 2010.
Another interesting player is 19-year-old Owen Power, who's reportedly a lock for the Canadian team. The No. 1 overall pick in last year's NHL draft opted to play another season at the University of Michigan and lit up the world junior championship in December, scoring a hat trick in one of the two games Canada played before the tournament was cancelled. Power also played against grown men at last year's world championship, recording three assists in 10 games to help Canada win gold.
Among the recognizable ex-NHLers also reported to be under consideration for the team are forwards Eric Fehr and Josh Ho-Sang, defencemen Jason Demers and Cody Franson, and goalie Devan Dubnyk.
When NHLers were expected to play, Canada was favoured to win gold. Now the betting markets have defending-champion Russia as the clear No. 1, and Canada part of a following pack with Finland and Sweden. Those countries, like Russia, have solid domestic leagues.
Canada's first game is Feb. 10 at 8:10 a.m. ET vs. Germany, which surprised everyone in 2018 by making it to the gold-medal game and nearly upsetting Russia before losing in OT. Canada then faces the U.S. on Feb. 11 at 11:10 p.m. ET, and wraps up the group stage vs. China on Feb. 13 at 8:10 a.m. ET.
Everyone in the men's tournament advances to the playoffs, but the winner of each of the three groups and the top second-place team advance directly to the quarter-finals. The rest must survive a one-game qualification playoff to join them. Those games are on Feb. 14 and 15 in Canadian time zones, and the quarters on Feb. 15 and 16. The gold-medal game is Feb. 19 at 11:10 p.m. ET.
The Novak Djokovic saga took another twist. The world No. 1 is still on track to play in the Australian Open starting next week after a judge on Monday overturned (on procedural grounds) the decision by border officials to revoke Djokovic's visa because they felt his exemption to the country's vaccination requirement for foreign visitors was invalid. However, Australia's immigration minister has the power to deport Djokovic, and he may choose to wield it after the tennis star appears to have been caught in both a lie and some careless behaviour. Part of Djokovic's argument for not needing to be vaccinated against COVID-19 to enter Australia is that he claims he recently recovered from the illness, and thus has some natural immunity. But reporters discovered that, at the time Djokovic claimed to have been infected (and knew so), he did an interview and photo shoot in his native Serbia while not wearing a mask. Reports also pointed out that Djokovic's claim to Australian officials that he did not travel for 14 days prior to his flight to Melbourne is untrue based on social-media posts placing him in Serbia and in Spain during that period. Djokovic admitted via written statement today that he made an "error in judgement" by doing the interview when he was infected. He blamed the inaccurate travel declaration on his support team for "ticking the incorrect box" on his form. Read more about the latest in the Djokovic controversy here.
The NHL had a Kodak moment. Last night in South Florida, the Panthers beat the visiting Canucks 5-2 to stay atop the Presidents' Trophy race with an NHL-best 24-7-5 record. But everybody on the internet is talking about the real story from the arena, which of course was Florida's Sam Reinhart racking up three points to continue his breakthrough season. I'm kidding, obviously. Everyone knows the big story was actually Panthers star Jonathan Huberdeau chipping in an assist to stay in the thick of the Art Ross Trophy race. And also, yeah, I guess this was interesting too.
Coming up on CBC Sports
Here's what you can live-stream today and Thursday on CBCSports.ca, the CBC Sports app and CBC Gem:
Freestyle skiing — aerials: The final World Cup event before the Olympics is taking place at Utah's Deer Valley. Watch it today at 5 p.m. ET.
Junior hockey: Watch a WHL battle between the Prince Albert Raiders and the Red Deer Rebels tonight at 9 p.m. ET.
Alpine skiing: It's time for one of the jewels of the World Cup circuit as this week's men's races happen on the revered Lauberhorn mountain in Wengen, Switzerland. Watch the super-G on Thursday at 6:30 a.m. ET. Back-to-back downhills go Friday and Saturday.
Figure skating: Watch the junior women's and men's free programs from the Canadian figure skating championships in Ottawa on Thursday at 10:50 a.m. ET and 2:10 p.m. ET, respectively.
Freestyle skiing — moguls: Canadian star Mikaël Kingsbury took back the men's World Cup lead from Japan's Ikuma Horishima with back-to-back victories last week at Mont-Tremblant, Que. This week's stop at Deer Valley is their last chance to square off before the Olympics. Watch the first of two competitions Thursday at 4 p.m. ET. The other goes Friday at the same time.
See the full CBC Sports streaming and broadcast schedule here.
You're up to speed. Talk to you tomorrow.