The list of elite players who have never had the chance to pull on a Team Canada sweater in a best-on-best tournament is long.
Off the top of my head: You’ve got Connor McDavid, Nathan MacKinnon, Mark Stone, Mitch Marner, Brayden Point, Mathew Barzal, Sean Couturier, Cale Makar, Shea Theodore, Dougie Hamilton, Thomas Chabot and Carter Hart.
Ten months from now when Doug Armstrong and his management staff are finalizing invites to the Beijing Olympics that group may also include Nick Suzuki and Bowen Byram, both currently forging a strong name for themselves early in their NHL careers.
There are bound to be others, too, who break through and get on the radar for a team they’ve dreamed of joining since before the Golden Goal. The message to them all is pretty clear right now: Dare to dream.
The next Team Canada will not be your father’s Team Canada.
“Youth will be served on this team, for sure,” Armstrong said Wednesday after being named GM.
Whatever loyalties usually exist from one Olympic cycle to the next have been disrupted by the NHL’s decision not to participate in the 2018 Games. The page has been turned. In fact, Sidney Crosby is probably the only member of the 2010 and 2014 gold-medal winning teams who can 100 per cent count on a return trip in 2022.
But Armstrong’s vision a year out from the Beijing Olympics calls for young legs and sharp minds. Prior experience is not a prerequisite.
“We want to be fast, we want to use our skill and we want to use our depth to our advantage,” he said. “The NHL is a quick league right now and I think that we have the players that can play the 200-foot game. But we do want to be a fast and difficult team to play against.”
This marks a changing of the guard on a number of levels.
Armstrong replaces Steve Yzerman as the primary architect of Team Canada’s men’s Olympic team and he’ll be hiring a new head coach after Mike Babcock handled those duties at the last two Games plus the 2016 World Cup of Hockey.
(The coaching staff isn’t expected to be finalized until sometime after the Stanley Cup is awarded in July).
The management staff includes veteran Ken Holland but includes newcomers in Don Sweeney, Ron Francis and Roberto Luongo, who was a playing member of the last three Olympic squads.
“It's hard to describe the level of excitement that I had when I got the call,” said Luongo, who retired in 2019. “Quite honestly, I was shocked, I was floored, I wasn't expecting it. I thought I was just getting a call maybe to scout some peewee tournament but then I realized that it was for Team Canada Olympics in 2022.”
Collectively, they’ll bring a fresh vision to what this team can be. No country in the world produces more hockey players than Canada and no other management group has the embarrassment of riches to select from.
While the Sochi Games were won with a ruthless defensive performance on the larger international ice surface, the pendulum appears set to swing back towards a skill game with Beijing being contested on NHL-sized rink by players like McDavid, MacKinnon and American Auston Matthews -- each of whom helped turn the 2016 World Cup on its head as members of the 23-and-under Team North America.
“I think that the World Cup showed the excitement and the flair that that Young Guns team put on the ice,” said Armstrong. “That would have usually been, in normal circumstances, the first step for some of those guys to get integrated into Hockey Canada. …
“This group that we’re going to assemble is probably going to have a lot of faces that have never worn the Canadian jersey at this level of competition.”
That means Hockey Canada is waving goodbye to the golden generation that helped dominate the last three best-on-best men’s tournaments, plus a couple IIHF World Hockey Championships and other events.
It included Crosby, Toews, Bergeron, Ryan Getzlaf, Doughty, Weber and Duncan Keith. The core of that group started to take shape during the 2005 world junior tournament with what was widely considered Canada’s best-ever entry at that event.
“I would say the game has certainly evolved over the last few years,” said Armstrong. “I think one of the things, when you look at the 2010, 2014 and 2016 World Cup team was it was based around a group of players that played in North Dakota [in 2005], that really grabbed the flag and charged up the hill for a number of years for Canada.
“In 2018 [if the NHL had gone to the Olympics], there was probably going to be some turnover; obviously from 2014 to 2022 there’s going to be a larger amount of turnover.”
And so we’ve started looking ahead towards the new generation of Canadian hockey now.