After much anticipation, Team Canada is finally set to take the ice at the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics. While it’s not the lineup many fans imagined, the team is capable of taking on any challenge the tournament throws at them. The first challenge will be a doozy, too. The Canadians will face Germany, the team that ended their gold-medal bid in PyeongChang in 2018.
This game will serve as an early barometer for the Canadians with a relatively unknown roster representing their country. Here’s a look at what to watch for as we count down the hours until puck drop.
Can Canada Overcome Germany’s Work Ethic?
Before 2018, Germany was considered a fringe hockey nation. They had produced a few NHL stars, including Jochen Hecht and Christian Ehrhoff, but internationally, they had little to show for their talent. Even their best player ever, Leon Draisaitl, had played most of his junior hockey in Canada. But at the Pyeongchang Olympics, all that changed. The Germans captured the silver medal, beating Canada in the semi-final and falling just short to a dominant Russian squad.
Now, Germany is a premier destination for hockey development and has produced some of the best up-and-coming stars, including Tim Stützle, Moritz Seider, JJ Peterka, and Lukas Reichel. One thing that has stood out is their work ethic. No matter the score, the Germans never relent, always pressing the attack, never giving up an inch.
“Everyone knows, who plays against Germany, that we are hard workers, we never give up, and we’re going to do that again,” said Dominik Kahun, one of Germany’s heroes in 2018 and a big part of this year’s team.
Along with Kahun, the team has a few other returning playersfrom 2018, including goalie Danny aus den Birken, Jonas Müller, Moritz Müller, Yasin Ehliz, Patrick Hager, Marcel Noebels, Leo Pföderl, and David Wolf, as well as their coach, Marco Sturm. That’s a lot of players with Olympic experience, and many of them have also played together at the World Championship and other international tournaments. Team Germany has risen from a 14th-ranked nation to 5th, and they know what it takes to win, and, according to them, they have an even better team this year.
Can Germany Withstand Canada’s Grit and Experience?
Even though they will be without NHL talent, the Canadians are no slouches. Their roster is filled with players who have defied the odds throughout their careers, employing classic Canadian grit and tenacity to keep playing the game they love.
David Desharnais, an undersized forward from Quebec, went from an undrafted free agent to play nine seasons and 524 games in the NHL with the Montreal Canadiens, Edmonton Oilers, and New York Rangers. He nearly retired after last season at 35 years old but decided to play at least one more season in Switzerland. Now, he’s Canada’s alternate captain. “My whole career, it’s been about perseverance,” Desharnais said. “It’s just another chapter. If I can say that.”
Desharnais is not alone. Daniel Winnik was a ninth-round selection in 2004 and turned that into an 11-year career. Brandon Gormley is finally reaching his potential after falling out of favour in the NHL. Josh Ho-Sang was also a first-round bust – with an alleged personality problem – for the New York Islanders but revitalized his career with the American Hockey League’s (AHL) Toronto Marlies this season after signing a minor-league deal last summer. Finally, while waiting for an NHL team to call, Canada’s captain Eric Staal signed a tryout in the AHL, returning to the league for the first time since 2004-05.
All these players, plus many more on the Team Canada roster, have never stopped chasing their dream to play on the biggest stages in the world. Now that they have that chance, none of them will take it for granted.
“Representing Canada, I mean, it’s every kid’s dream,” said Ho-Sang. “They think about it when they’re playing in the driveway and think about scoring the game-winning goal.”
Team Canada’s Key Players to Watch
Ho-Sang is in the midst of a career revival after struggling for years to secure a spot in the NHL. He has 11 goals and 20 points in 27 games with the Marlies and has earned some consideration as a future injury replacement for the Toronto Maple Leafs, should they require his services. It’s been an incredible season for the winger. Expect him to be ready to face Germany.
After 11 seasons in North America, Tobias Rieder is back in Europe, but not in Germany, surprisingly. He signed with the Växjö Lakers of the Swedish Hockey League (SHL) after his contract with the Buffalo Sabres expired last season, and he’s been a solid secondary scorer on one of the SHL’s top teams, potting eight goals and 15 points in 23 games. With the Germans, the 29-year-old sniper will undoubtedly be placed in a top-six role because of his NHL experience, and he should be a constant threat around the net.
Canada Needs to Set the Tone Early
Given Germany’s team chemistry and work ethic, Canada will be at a disadvantage heading into this game. Before the European Hockey Tour a few months ago, much of the roster had never played together. Chemistry can be hard to create in a short time, and the Canadians need to hit the ice running, so to speak, and force the Germans to play a more defensive game. Desharnais, Ho-Sang, Adam Tambellini, and Kent Johnson are strong offensive forwards who can flood the net with shots. If they can force aus den Birken to play desperate, it may lead to a lucky bounce early and give them some breathing room to figure out the rest of the game.
Whatever the result, Olympic hockey is always worth watching. Both teams are eager to return to the podium this year and will be playing their absolute best to ensure that. The puck drops at 8:10 AM Eastern time on Feb. 10, so be sure to tune in to catch all the action.
An elementary teacher by day and an avid hockey fan, Dayton joined The Hockey Writers in 2019 and currently covers the Ottawa Senators, World Juniors, and NHL Entry Draft.