This Team Canada was close to perfect

Chris Johnston and Arash Madani recap Canada defeating Sweden to win the gold medal in men’s hockey and discuss whether this is the best team ever.

SOCHI, Russia – We will remember this hockey tournament so much differently than we experienced it.

This is truly our golden generation, Canada, and there is no better moment than now to start viewing it that way. After all, there is no guarantee that it is going to last.

Look at these players. Look at this hockey. Look at those beautiful gold medals hanging around their necks at the Bolshoy Ice Dome on Sunday.

"Does anybody know who won the scoring race? Does anybody care? Does anybody know who won the gold medal?" asked Team Canada coach Mike Babcock before heading off to march with a handful of his players in the closing ceremony.

What we witnessed in Sochi was laser-focused execution at the highest possible level of hockey. Half a world away, a loving nation worried its way through the 12-day tournament because of an overtime win over Finland and a tight quarterfinal game against Latvia. But here we had a hockey team that never thought it could lose.

Looking back, after a 3-0 victory over Sweden in the gold-medal game, we now see that this was a cohesive group from start to finish. It was clear from the second period of the opening game, when Norway went 18 minutes without so much as getting a shot, what this group was capable of.

"I think they played at a higher tempo," said Swedish coach Par Marts. "They had many, many breakouts. I couldn’t count them and you can’t play that way against Canada."

Under the guidance of Babcock and an uber-prepared management team, this group of Canadians left no stone unturned. It recognized that the game had to be played in a different way on the larger international ice surface and drew up a plan accordingly. It hired Ralph Krueger – the man who coached Switzerland to a crushing upset win over Canada at the Turin Games – and had him do advance scouting.

Furthermore, it asked some of the best hockey players on Earth to stop worrying about scoring. Once they bought in, victory was assured.

"The coaching staff did such a good job," said Yzerman. "It wasn’t strictly playing defence, we weren’t sitting in a shell. Part of our defence was being aggressive and forechecking and pressuring and closing gaps and not letting you get the red-line and get our blue-line.

"Since I’ve been around, that’s the most impressive display of defensive hockey (Canada has ever played)."

It is no coincidence that this team didn’t trail once during a pressure-packed event featuring the world’s best players. What a team.

"We before me," in the unforgettable words of Pavel Datsyuk, who couldn’t convince his fellow Russians to embrace that beautiful philosophy.

This was not an entirely fair fight and that must be acknowledged. Henrik Sedin didn’t make it to Sochi because of a rib injury, Henrik Zetterberg had to leave early because of a bad back and Nicklas Backstrom was scratched on Sunday because of a questionable decision by the International Olympic Committee to ban him because he’d taken some allergy medication.

Those are three world-class centres that would have made the march to gold considerably more difficult had they dressed for Sweden on Sunday afternoon. But, truth be told, it probably wouldn’t have changed the final result.

It was down the middle where Team Canada truly set itself apart from the other 11 nations that competed here. No one could match a roster that featured Sidney Crosby, Jonathan Toews, Ryan Getzlaf, John Tavares (prior to his injury) and Matt Duchene. No one.

"I think we were patient when we needed to be, but very aggressive when the time came to be aggressive," said Crosby. "I think that took time for us to adjust. But those close games early on probably ended up helping us down the stretch run here."

When the chips were down and the margin for error was non-existent, it was Toews and Crosby who scored in the gold-medal game – just as they did four years ago in Vancouver. Some had criticized Crosby, the Canadian captain, during this tournament and it was pure nonsense. Both then and now.

In fact, it can be argued that this might be his finest moment yet. Sure, there were no overtime heroics or gaudy scoring stats, but he played the game at a level no one could keep up with. He also carried 35 million Canadians on his back when he went in alone on Henrik Lundqvist and beat The King with a backhand deke.

Thanks to that, the Canadian players are heading home with another gold medal. This one might be even sweeter than the last one.

"It’s so special," said winger Rick Nash. "The last one was relief in Vancouver, there was so much pressure on us. Here we came into one of the most hostile environments for Canadian hockey players – Russia – and to win on their soil is special in a totally different way.”

From Mario Lemieux to Scott Niedermayer to Crosby the torch has officially been passed. And No. 87, with the help of 24 good friends, is lifting it higher than we have ever seen it go. Soak this feeling in and enjoy it, Canada.

We bullied our way through the 1972 Summit Series and walked the tightrope before realizing golden dreams at the Olympics in 2002 and 2010. In Russia, in 2014, we dominated.

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