For some NHL players, the first half of the 2021-’22 NHL season is essentially one big, fat try-out. Not so much for the Alexander Ovechkins of the world, we know he’ll be playing for the Russians in Beijing at the Winter Olympics in February. But for others, not everything is a lock. As it relates to the Vancouver Canucks, there appears to be a mix of shoe-ins and hopefuls. The “try-out” is only three weeks old.
Forward Elias Pettersson will be a part of Team Sweden, as will defenceman Oliver Ekman-Larsson, should they stay healthy and want to go. I say “forward” for Pettersson because of a potential logjam at centre and some decision making that might push him to the wing. Nils Hoglander will have to step it up to get a look-see for Tre Kronor. For now, put down two Vancouver locks for Team Sweden …
Not much has changed since I wrote this in late-August about the Americans, but I do favour Miller over Boeser at the moment. Boeser would be a 4th line winger.
The Vancouver Canucks could send a whopping four players to Beijing representing the United States: Brock Boeser, a Minnesotan, as a winger, JT Miller, an Ohioan, somewhere up front, Quinn Hughes, a Floridian, on the blueline, and Thatcher Demko, a Californian, as one of the three goalies. How would fans in BC feel about the Vancouver Canucks as Team USA west? Simple, it just means rooting against them, just like they did against Ryan Kesler, a Michigander, in his own building in 2010.
Goaltender Jaroslav Halak is a lock for the Slovakians in net, so much so that they already named him to the team. The 36-year-old carried Team Europe to a surprise appearance in the final of the 2016 World Cup of Hockey held in Toronto, while just two seasons ago he shared the William Jennings Trophy with teammate Tuukka Rask in Boston for giving up the least amount of goals in the league. He was the only Vancouver Canuck included on one of the early roster threesomes announced by each country early in October.
Any other candidates? If Bo Horvat was born in any foreign land he’d be a shoe-in, but with Team Canada’s ridiculously solid depth up the middle, barring injury(ies), the London, Ontario native is likely left being a spectator. Too bad because he’s been off to a durable start, leading the Canucks with four goals through nine games.
The Olympic break has been built into the NHL schedule and will fall between February 7th and the 22nd.
Meanwhile, the Women’s Ice Hockey tournament will actually kick off the Games just before the opening ceremonies. The women’s tourney will feature ten teams for the first time, up from eight, and there is still work to be done to determine the final Groups.
USA, Canada, Finland, the Athletes of the Russian Olympic Committee, Switzerland, Japan, and host China are automatically qualified.
The final three participants on the women’s side will be determined by the Olympic Qualification matches between November 11th and 14th in Lulea Sweden, Chomutov in the Czech Republic, and Fussen Germany.
The Czech games will feature the host country against Poland, Hungary and Norway.
The matches in Fussen will spotlight Germany, Denmark, Austria and Italy, while the Lulea games will include Sweden, France, Slovakia and Korea. The host country in each case would be considered the favourite.
Once determined, the Olympic Groups will set up as follows: The top ranked teams in order, USA, Canada, Finland, the Russians, and Switzerland will be in Group A while the three qualifiers, China and Japan will be in Group B.
The Chinese women will provide a legitimate entry. For China it will be the third Olympic women’s ice hockey tourney after qualifying for Nagano in 1998 and Vancouver in 2010.
That’s not the story for the Chinese men. Concerns still exist about the legitimacy of the program and the calibre of play for which the team is capable. “Test games” were supposed to have been conducted to see if the Chinese squad would be allowed to participate, according to IIHF President Luc Tardiff earlier in October. We are expecting some news on those developments this week.
Group A has USA, Canada, Germany and China for now. Group B features the defending champion Russians, the Czechs, Switzerland and Denmark. The Danes are participating in their first ever Men’s Olympic tournament. Group C highlights Sweden, Finland, Slovakia and Latvia.
The men’s qualifiers were held in late-August and won by Denmark, Slovakia and Latvia to earn the last three spots. If China is forced to drop out, it appears based on world rankings that the Norwegian men would be in.
It’s coming. For now, NHL fans are celebrating a great start to the season for their respective clubs, or hand-wringing based on slow starts for teams like the Vancouver Canucks. Either way, their attention will turn to the other side of the globe come February.