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.
Apr 19, 2014, 12:10 PM EDT
Watch every runner cross the finish line on Monday.
Apr 19, 2014, 11:41 AM EDT
Two-time Olympian hasn’t run a marathon since the London Games.
Apr 18, 2014, 9:41 PM EDT
All eyes will be on a changed Boylston Street on Monday.
Apr 18, 2014, 9:00 AM EDT
Universal Sports will have live coverage and is on a free preview nationwide.
Apr 18, 2014, 8:30 AM EDT
Monday’s race figures to come down to two men.
Apr 18, 2014, 8:00 AM EDT
An American with Massachusetts ties wants to win.
Apr 17, 2014, 1:59 PM EDT
Mark Wells previously sold his gold medal, too.
Apr 17, 2014, 12:21 PM EDT
Sochi club team is being reformed.
Apr 17, 2014, 9:56 AM EDT
Furtsch Ojeda talks about winning 4x100m relay gold at 1932 Olympics.
Apr 17, 2014, 9:10 AM EDT
Trial goes on break until May 5.
Apr 16, 2014, 6:54 PM EDT
Olympic swimming champion finished 2013 race before explosions.
Apr 16, 2014, 4:43 PM EDT
Deal takes Nike, USATF through next seven Olympics.
Apr 16, 2014, 2:57 PM EDT
Decathlon champion talks Montreal 1976, Steve Prefontaine and the greatest athlete of all time.
Apr 16, 2014, 11:31 AM EDT
Police commissioner asks spectators not to flock to Boylston Street on Monday.
Apr 16, 2014, 8:56 AM EDT
Judge will spend break reading 2,000-page court record.
Apr 16, 2014, 4:17 AM EDT
Korea Skating Union is protesting the makeup of judges, not the results.
Apr 15, 2014, 3:59 PM EDT
Survivors, first responders, those affected by attack take part in tribute.
Apr 15, 2014, 12:16 PM EDT
Teams’ tweets sent at same time Tuesday morning.
Apr 15, 2014, 11:55 AM EDT
World’s fastest man might not race again until June.
Apr 15, 2014, 11:28 AM EDT
What is the competition like in Phelps’ potential events?
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