Team Canada beat Team USA on Friday, 1-0. They’ve now defeated the Americans, Finland (another medal round contender), and there’s no reason to believe they won’t beat Sweden to take the gold medal.
But could they beat the Chicago Blackhawks?
Here’s your Olympic hypothetical:
Team Canada, stacked with the best roster in the world, faces the Stanley Cup Champion Chicago Blackhawks in a one-game series. The game is in Sochi, on Olympic ice, under Olympic rules. Each team keeps their full roster, meaning Jonathan Toews, Duncan Keith and Patrick Sharp are cloned and play for both sides.
Don’t dismiss the situation with a knee jerk and a chortle. Think it through, because this one’s not as clear cut as you might assume. In oversimplified thinking, there are two ways to evaluate a team: talent, and cohesiveness.
Talent-wise, Canada edges the Blackhawks, and it’s not close. They’re better on offense, with the likes of Sidney Crosby, Jeff Carter, Patrice Bergeron and several other studs. They’re better on defense, where Chicago’s best defender (Duncan Keith) plays for Team Canada as well. And they’re better in net. They’re better everywhere.
Yet, in terms of cohesiveness, Canada lags. They’re like an expensive machine just off the assembly line—nothing like the the functional, road-tested truck that is the Stanley Cup-winning Blackhawks. With proper time and experience, Canada would steamroll any conceivable hockey team in the world. But they’ve only practiced a handful of times. They don’t have the mileage yet.
The Blackhawks are a mature championship team. That’s their trump card. Hockey’s beautiful gameplay lays out a fundamental set of motion. The puck moves one way, the players move with it, and as the game goes along, a knowledgeable hockey mind could come pretty close to predicting exactly where every player will be.
Then, as the skill level rises, the improvisation begins. Suddenly, the blue-lined defensemen leaves his post and cuts to the net, wide open for a pass. The winger, who’s played with his teammate for years, recognizes the motion, takes over on the blue line, and allows the defensemen to get a scoring chance without devastating the team’s entire positioning. They can succeed, in part, because they’re all thinking the same thing.
That’s the Blackhawks’ main advantage—but, with the amount of talent Canada has, will it be enough? It might. There’s the answer. Would the Chicago Blackhawks beat Team Canada? Maybe!
Oh, who are we kidding? Blackhawks 17, Canada zip.