Canada's defense, puck-possession led to gold medalby Arpon Basu
SOCHI -- Sidney Crosby played on what may have been the greatest team Canada ever has sent to an international hockey tournament, the 2005 IIHF World Junior Championship team that was stacked with future NHL stars and steamrolled its way to the gold medal.
Crosby was joined by five of his teammates from that 2005 team at the 2014 Sochi Olympics, and he thinks the team that won gold for Canada on Sunday might be even better.
"As far as defensively, we didn't give up much, especially the last three games here," Crosby said. "The Latvia game, I don't know if a lot of people gave us credit for shutting that team down with 15 shots or whatever [actually 16]. Our [defensemen] were so good, our goaltending was so strong, our forwards … were playing in the offensive end and they were so good at getting us out [of our end].
"Yeah, I think defensively we were pretty dominant all the way through."
Canada allowed three goals on 129 shots in six Olympic games, a team save percentage of .977, and allowed none in its final 164:19 of play.
It was a defensive Picasso.
Carey Price was named the top goaltender of the tournament by the International Ice Hockey Federation directorate, but he didn't think he was particularly deserving of it.
"I think it came down to that team in front of me," Price said. "That group of defensemen playing in front of me was just an absolute pleasure to play behind. We didn't give up a whole lot the whole tournament and they really made my job a lot easier."
Price was on another Canadian junior team that also went undefeated on its way to gold, just like Canada did in Sochi, and he didn't hesitate when asked if this team was more dominant than the 2007 World Junior champs.
"I believe so, yes," Price said. "In all aspects of the game I feel we executed the way we wanted to."
Canada traditionally has been an offensive machine on the international stage, piling up big goal totals against some of the weaker nations. But that wasn't the case here as Canada scored 17 goals, or a little less than three per game.
Yet Canada took 224 shots on goal, 65 more than any other team, and made sure the puck stayed out of its net by keeping it close to the opposing one.
It was defense created through offense and puck possession, and it worked to perfection.
"They had a good game plan against us and they stuck to it," Sweden defenseman Erik Karlsson said. "We couldn't really break through a brick wall. It felt like we didn't really get any time in their zone or any type of scoring. We just had a few rush opportunities that weren't really that dangerous. Their breakouts were a little too easy for them; they got the puck out every time."
Crosby and Price don't have the life experience to judge the quality of this Canadian team against all the others that preceded it, but executive director Steve Yzerman does.
Yzerman said Tuesday that he doesn't have much recollection of the 1972 Summit Series against the U.S.S.R. -- he was seven at the time -- but does remember every best-on-best tournament ever since. He was a part of four of those Canadian teams: The 1984 Canada Cup, 1996 World Cup, the 1998 Nagano Olympics and the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics; the gold medal won then snapped a 50-year Olympic gold-medal drought for Canada.
So when Yzerman is asked if this is the best defensive team Canada ever has produced, his opinion carries some weight.
"I believe so," he said. "The coaching staff did such a good job. It wasn't strictly playing defense; we weren't sitting in a shell. Part of our defense was being aggressive and forechecking, and pressuring and closing gaps, and not letting you get the red line and get our blue line.
"So yeah, I think it's, since I've been around, the most impressive display of defensive hockey."