Is Canada's 2022 Olympic team the best ever?
Canada's women stand right along with the men in Sochi in 2014 and the 2005 World Junior team. In fact, you could argue it's even better
Ninety-eight years ago, Canada won the first Winter Olympic hockey gold medal in a sweep of the competition that saw it outscore its opponents by a 132-3 margin. Harry Watson had 37 goals in five games. So, no, Canada’s 2022 women’s Olympic team is not the most dominant squad to ever wear the maple leaf. But it will go down as the greatest Canadian women’s team ever and could very well be remembered as the most dominant team – men’s or women’s - to represent Canada in modern-day international competition.
So much so that the 2022 Olympics were not a tournament so much as a coronation. By taking back the gold medal it lost in a shootout in 2018 with a 3-2 win over USA in the gold medal game, Canada did some truly mind-boggling things. And unlike a lot of Canadian teams in recent years, it was an offensive juggernaut that buried its opponents in a tsunami of goals. It was a team that was not afraid to push the pace and the envelope, finally focusing on offense after coming up short against their rival so many times in the recent past. In many ways, when it came to its approach to the game, the Canadian women’s team was everything the Canadian men’s team was not.
And that is truly what sets this team apart from the others that have represented Canada. Not always, but typically, Canada has won its championships on the strength of team defense and goaltending. And this team had that. But it also had an offensive power that no team in the world could even come close to matching. Consider this: With a record 57 goals in seven games, Canada came scored almost twice as many goals as USA did. It outscored its opponents by a margin of 57-10 and trailed for a total of 26 seconds. Canada had the top six scorers in the tournament and eight of the top 10. And when it did give up shots, as it did in both the preliminary and gold medal game against USA, goalie Ann-Renee Desbiens was almost impossible to beat. Her save percentage throughout the tournament was .940.
The Canadians forechecked with reckless abandon, constantly stripping pucks and capitalizing on their opportunities. They got a record 18 points from Sarah Nurse, who was promoted to the top line with Marie-Philip Poulin and Brianne Jenner when Melodie Daoust was injured. Nurse had never displayed that kind of offensive acumen before in her national team career. Four years ago in PyeongChang, she had one point. And, of course, Canada had Poulin, who has carved a spectacular career out of scoring often and in the most crucial times. Her place in the Hockey Hall of Fame is secure, as is her spot among the greatest players in history. She is the only player in history – women’s or men’s – to score goals in each of four gold medal games.
So it was only fitting that Nurse, Poulin and Jenner swept the all-star team at forward, with Jenner being named MVP on the strength of her nine goals in the tournament.
When it comes to all-time dominating teams for Canada, three others come to mind – the 2014 men’s Olympic team in Sochi, the 2005 World Junior team and the 2006 World Junior team. This Canadian women’s team can rightfully take its place with those teams.
Let’s start with the Sochi gold medalists. I remember walking to the mixed zone after Canada defeated Sweden 3-0 in the championship game and thinking, “I can perform a play-by-play in my mind of each goal Canada gave up in this tournament.” They outscored their opponents 18-3 and did not trail in the tournament. Shea Weber and Drew Doughty ruled the blueline and Carey Price was impenetrable. But this team had trouble scoring goals, beating Latvia 2-1 in the quarterfinal and USA 1-0 in the semis. Only Doughty and Weber finished among the top 10 scorers. Until Wednesday night/Thursday morning, that was easily the most dominant hockey team these eyes have ever seen.
By far the most dominant Canadian World Junior team of all-time was the 2005 team that took gold in North Dakota during the NHL lockout. It outscored its opponents 41-7 and demolished Russia 6-1 in the gold medal game. With Patrice Bergeron first in scoring, Ryan Getzlaf second and Jeff Carter fourth, this team is as close to the 2022 women’s Olympic team in terms of offensive domination. The next year in Vancouver, Canada produced its best defensive World Junior team, outscoring its opponents 25-6, including not giving up a goal in the semifinal or gold medal game. That team trailed for only three minutes and 12 seconds.
Where does the 2022 women’s Olympic team stack up compared to those teams? It’s right there, if not at the top of the heap.