In the aftermath of the National Hockey League opting out of the Beijing Winter Games, the medal-contending nations took distinctly different approaches to roster construction.
Finland opted for team chemistry and veteran experience, selecting 18 players from the Kontinental Hockey League and nine from the squad that won the 2019 world championship. Similarly, Czechia general manager Petr Nedved cobbled together a battle-scarred line-up featuring David Krejci, 35, and Michael Frolik, 33.
The Americans swung the other way entirely, naming 15 youngsters from the college ranks to Team USA.
And Canada? Well, general manager Shane Doan barrelled right up the middle, opting for a combination of aging veterans, fresh-faced rookies and those in the prime of their careers.
WATCH | Canada takes balanced approach to roster construction:
We’ll find out which strategy works starting Wednesday when the puck drops between Switzerland and the Russian Olympic Committee to open the preliminary round.
With the threat of positive COVID-19 tests hanging over every nation, Canada plays its first game Thursday against Germany.
“We’re going to have to see with the other teams, with the whole COVID situation, who actually gets to show up and play,” Team Canada alternate captain Maxim Noreau said. “Having played at the last Olympics and many Spengler Cups, I know Canada is always going to be one of the favourites.”
In 2018, the Russians won gold, Germany silver and Canada bronze at the non-NHL PyeongChang Winter Olympics. This time around, the tournament is being held on the smaller NHL-sized ice, which, in theory, favours Canada and the U.S.
“There is always pressure when you put on the Maple Leaf,” Noreau said. “But I think it’s a privilege to have that pressure.
“We’re going for gold. We can’t be scared to say that we want to win.”
McTavish just turned 19, but the third-overall pick of the Anaheim Ducks is already a bruising forechecker with quick hands who doesn’t shy away from heavy traffic.
HEYYYYY BABY!<br>Mason McTavish kicks things off early for <a href=”https://twitter.com/HockeyCanada?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>@HockeyCanada</a> <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/WorldJuniors?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#WorldJuniors</a> <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/CZECAN?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#CZECAN</a> <a href=”https://t.co/0xVytVPdDF”>pic.twitter.com/0xVytVPdDF</a>
At 37, Staal is in the twilight of his career. But the Carolina Hurricane legend can clearly still score, having collected two goals and five points in a recent American Hockey League conditioning stint.
Ho-Sang, a Toronto Maple Leafs prospect playing for the AHL Marlies, completes the No. 1 trio as a top offensive threat on the wing.
“He’s a guy that obviously has an incredible amount of skill, somebody that can get around the ice,” Doan said of Ho-Sang. “When you watch him move, and you watch him handle the puck and do the things he does — not a lot of the people in the world can do that.”
Another offensive weapon for Canada is centre Corban Knight, the third-leading scorer in the KHL with 48 points in 47 games for Avangard Omsk.
One of the finest additions to <a href=”https://twitter.com/HockeyCanada?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>@HockeyCanada</a> – Avangard’s goals/points leader Corban Knight 🇨🇦 (18 G, 48 Pts in 47 GP). <a href=”https://t.co/VicoiUx0fm”>pic.twitter.com/VicoiUx0fm</a>
On defence, expect to see a lot of Owen Power, a first overall pick of the Buffalo Sabres. Like McTavish, Power is only 19, but he’s already widely considered the best skater in the world not playing in the NHL.
Mark Barberio (272 NHL games) and Jason Demers (699 NHL games) also bring experience and savvy to the hulking Canadian blue line.
Experience aside, defensive miscues are likely, especially given the team’s brief time to get to know one another.
Traditionally, Canada is blessed with star power in goal. But this time around, veteran netminders Eddie Pasquale and Matt Tomkins are not exactly household names.
But Levi, 20, was in street clothes for Monday’s scrimmage against the U.S. — not something you’d expect if head coach Jeremy Colliton planned to start the youngster against Germany.
Through it all, win or lose, Staal is expected to lead by example and inject calm into the lineup.
“I hope to make new memories again this year,” said Staal, who won gold with Team Canada at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. “It’s such a unique time and special event where you get everyone together and try and build a team really quickly.
“To be able to accomplish that is special.”