It has been 1,409 days since Sidney Crosby scored the golden goal for Canada in Vancouver.
And it has been about 1,408 days since the anticipation for the unveiling of Canada’s Men’s Olympic Team, version 2014, started to build.
For the men charged with naming that roster, they took every last one of those days to decide who would wear the red and white this February in Sochi, Russia.
“We were up until 1 a.m. last night making the final decisions,” says Ken Holland, a member of Canada’s National Men’s Team management group and the executive vice president and general manager of the Detroit Red Wings. “We met in the afternoon, went for supper and went back just to make sure we felt really good about all the decisions we made.”
Peter Chiarelli, another member of the management group and the general manager of the Boston Bruins, agrees that the challenge of making tough calls on good players is what kept the group talking until the wee hours of the morning.
“The late-night wrangling – you go over things six, seven times – is this the right guy, what’s the right reason. We talked about four or five guys at the end. You have second thoughts. You just got to be firm in what you believe in for the fit. It was fun. It was hard work, but last night was difficult.”
That final decision was shared Tuesday morning from the MasterCard Centre in Toronto, in what can only be described as a day almost as eagerly anticipated as Christmas morning. Marcel Aubut, president of the Canadian Olympic Committee, welcomed the 25 newest Olympians to the team, then led the crowd in a spirited cheer of “Go Canada Go.”
“We spent more time, we’ve watched more players, more games and we’ve very excited about the team,” said Steve Yzerman, executive director for Team Canada and general manager of the Tampa Bay Lightning.
As Yzerman started to reveal the goalies – hometown, NHL team, player – knowledgeable fans toting signs and wearing their favourite teams’ jerseys cheered before the names were announced. All they needed was the hometown – they could tell you who the player was.
Despite the announcement being held in Toronto, in the same facility as the practice rink of the city’s beloved Maple Leafs, the loudest cheers of the day were reserved for a pair of Montreal Canadiens, goaltender Carey Price and defenceman P.K. Subban.
In all, 11 players who won gold in Vancouver are back.
In the scrum afterward, there seemed to be a sense of relief from management that this secret was finally out of the bag. No one looked relieved – they know the hard work is far from over. Talking about the 25 players chosen brought smiles to faces, but they quickly disappeared when answering questions about those not selected. Those phone calls leave an empty feeling in your stomach, says Chiarelli.
The group can now admit they were locked in on 11 or 12 forwards and seven defencemen, says Doug Armstrong, a member of the management group and the director of hockey operations for the St. Louis Blues. There was a bit of debate on the goalies, but not a lot in the end.
“The process was really good because we had [head coach] Mike Babcock there,” he says. Mike came in and told us if you’re in the last minute of a game and you’re up by a goal you need two groups – who’s going to take the face-off on the right-hand side and he came up with some names. How are you going to use these guys. Mike and his staff had a lot of discussions on the power play, the penalty kill and the last minute of games.”
“There’s no sense having someone on the team that coaches don’t feel like using,” says Babcock, head coach of the Detroit Red Wings. “We tried to choose a team with a real high hockey IQ, that’s ultra-competitive and lightning fast.”
Who got the last roster spots came down to a question of chemistry. “When it comes time to making decisions you look at fit, you look at team building and you respect what everybody says,” says Chiarelli.
“Everyone in Canada has an opinion on who should be on this team,” says Yzerman. And no one is wrong because they’re all great players, he adds. “Ultimately this group is in charge of who the 14, eight and three are, and that’s the team we’ve chosen.”