Aug 28, 2013, 3:59 PM EDT
CALGARY, Alberta — Camera crews, photographers, adoring fans waiting for autographs — no, this wasn’t a Hollywood movie premiere.
It was the scene at Calgary International Airport on Sunday morning, as members of the Canadian men’s hockey team arrived for an Olympic orientation camp. In this hockey-crazed nation, these are the celebrities.
Rick Nash, the New York Rangers’ $7.8 million forward, sat alone unnoticed that morning at his gate at Newark Liberty International Airport, but as soon as he stepped out of baggage claim in Calgary, light bulbs flashed and cameras swarmed.
Welcome to Canada.
The Canadian men’s and women’s teams descended upon the largest city in Alberta for meetings and training sessions this week, taking one step closer to becoming members of Canada’s Olympic team. Nearly four years removed from their gold-medal runs on home soil in Vancouver, both squads are under pressure to stand atop the podium again at the 2014 Winter Games.
The attention surrounding the men was intense. This marked the first and last time the group will meet before arriving in Sochi. In their meetings with the media in Calgary, players reflected on their experiences in Vancouver and looked ahead to upcoming challenges in February.
Head coach Mike Babcock, who also leads the Detroit Red Wings, recalled his speech in the locker room before the overtime period of the gold-medal game against the U.S.
“One of you is going to be a hero … forever,” he said.
Several players laughed when asked if they were surprised when Sidney Crosby became that hero with his shot past Ryan Miller after 7 minutes, 40 seconds of overtime at Canada Hockey Place.
“It couldn’t have been anyone else,” New York Islanders forward John Tavares said.
Chicago Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews, who enjoyed a relatively short summer break after winning his second Stanley Cup, said there was a certain amount of pleasure snatching gold away from his friend and teammate Patrick Kane.
The Canadians set the bar quite high for an encore performance in February. With such lofty standards, every detail about this team has been scrutinized, from who will be in net to the effect of the wider, international-sized rinks in Sochi.
At times, these concerns can seem trivial with such a talented roster and rich history. However, the men’s tournament is filled with such strong teams, like the U.S. or the host, that one small factor could prove to be the difference.
While the Canadian women won’t likely have to worry about multiple countries competing with them for gold, their supremacy still appears to be in danger, due to the rise of the U.S. team.
Canada won the last three Olympic gold medals, but its edge over the U.S. narrowed in recent years. And with the Americans’ wins at the 2011 and 2013 World Championships, the field may be as level as it’s been in this heated rivalry.
Head coach Dan Church, who is entering his first Olympics at the helm, went so far in Calgary as to call his team “the hunters” in Sochi. His players weren’t far behind, admitting that they think about their neighbors to the south during every training session.
The recent loss in Ottawa at worlds in April still stings. Three-time Olympic gold medalist Caroline Ouellette didn’t mince words.
“It sucked to lose,” she said.
A looming meeting with the U.S. in the Sochi final seems nearly inevitable at this point — the two teams have met in every Olympic final except for one and every World Championship final.
The U.S. boasts a more youthful roster with star forwards Hilary Knight, 24, and Amanda Kessel, 22. Canada counters with the leadership and experience of Hayley Wickenheiser and Jayna Hefford, who have played in every Olympic hockey tournament dating to the women’s debut in 1998.
Though the questions surrounding the women may be fewer, the expectations in Sochi will be just as great. After all, this is hockey. And this is Canada.
Jul 28, 2014, 8:55 PM EDT
Athletes found safe in Beaverton, Ore., after going missing in Eugene.
Jul 28, 2014, 11:01 AM EDT
Nanjing Games open Aug. 16.
Jul 28, 2014, 10:39 AM EDT
Retired Olympic champion took part in Korea Skating Union workshop, according to South Korean media.
Jul 28, 2014, 10:19 AM EDT
Lawrence won gold on the U.S. 4x400m relay team at the 2014 IAAF World Relays.
Jul 28, 2014, 9:32 AM EDT
Neymar played in 2012, but there’s a new obstacle that could keep him out of 2016.
Jul 27, 2014, 6:46 PM EDT
Kerri Walsh Jennings notched a milestone victory.
Jul 27, 2014, 4:00 PM EDT
Search and rescue crews were on the lookout for Jared Pikus and his three children.
Jul 27, 2014, 3:00 PM EDT
Kerri Walsh Jennings can hit another career milestone.
Jul 26, 2014, 5:24 PM EDT
U.S. Olympic medalists will face Spanish or Brazilian pair Sunday on NBC.
Jul 26, 2014, 4:00 PM EDT
Three-time Olympic champion Kerri Walsh Jennings in biggest tournament of 2014 in U.S.
Jul 26, 2014, 10:17 AM EDT
Bolt will make a rare appearance in the heats of a 4x100m relay at Commonwealth Games.
Jul 26, 2014, 9:02 AM EDT
Beijing gold medalist slated for first bout in August.
Jul 25, 2014, 4:07 PM EDT
USOC met with representatives from four finalist cities this week.
Jul 25, 2014, 3:47 PM EDT
Bahrain runner listed with 1996 birthday may have been born in 1990.
Jul 25, 2014, 2:24 PM EDT
A step forward as skateboarding seeks Olympic inclusion.
Jul 25, 2014, 11:36 AM EDT
Brit can make Olympic history on the track in 2016.
Jul 25, 2014, 10:07 AM EDT
Cain emerged from being boxed in to beat Kenyans.
Jul 24, 2014, 4:57 PM EDT
How it impacts the U.S. and potential Olympic history for Missy Franklin.
Jul 24, 2014, 2:22 PM EDT
U.S. pair is top seed at biggest tournament in the U.S. this year.
Jul 24, 2014, 11:48 AM EDT
Moment of silence also held.
- U.S. 400m runner Torrin Lawrence dies in car accident 0
- Brazil’s Olympic coach wants Neymar to play at Rio 2016 0
- U.S. teams sweep World Series of Beach Volleyball (video) 0
- UPDATE: Noelle Pikus-Pace’s brother and his children found in Idaho 0
- Kerri Walsh Jennings, April Ross make WSOBV final 0
- Usain Bolt arrives in Glasgow, says he’s injury free 0
- Queen photobombs Commonwealth Games athlete selfie 0
- Emotional Bode Miller medals in race that mattered most (61)
- Russian women kissing after relay victory at World Championships causes stir (56)
- IOC drops wrestling from 2020 Olympics (47)
- South Korea filing official complaint over Yuna Kim’s Olympic silver (38)
- Zola Budd, 47, dominates college runners in 5K (33)