With the NHL’s involvement in the 2014 Winter Olympics confirmed late last week, hockey-playing nations have begun to roll out their preliminary rosters for next Feburary’s competition in Sochi, Russia.
Canada, which projects to at least be a co-favorite to repeat its 2010 Vancouver triumph, was one of the first countries to reveal its pool of potential players. As expected, the Pittsburgh Penguins will be well represented among those sporting the maple leaf on their chests.
Penguins forwards Sidney Crosby, James Neal and Chris Kunitz, along with defenseman Kris Letang, will attend Hockey Canada’s Olympic orientation camp, set to take place Aug. 25-28 in Calgary. (View the full roster here.)
While Crosby, 25, is a lock (barring injury) to reprise the No. 1 center role he ably filled in 2010, Neal, Kunitz and Letang will be gunning for their first Olympic action next month. Canada memorably won the gold medal on home soil three years ago, capped by Crosby’s so-called Golden Goal in overtime against the United States in the final match.
Since the last Olympiad, Neal, Kunitz and Letang have hit their groove in different ways with the Penguins. Whereas Kunitz, 33, has served as a physical forechecker and determined puck retriever in Pittsburgh, the younger Neal, 25, has come into his own as one of the league’s most accurate snipers. The 26-year-old Letang has only expanded his wide-ranging skill set over the past four years, blossoming into a Norris Trophy finalist in 2013.
Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury was third on the Canadian depth chart in 2010, but he is nowhere to be found on the orientation camp roster this time around. His glaring difficulties in the past two Stanley Cup playoffs have likely dimmed his star with Hockey Canada leadership, spearheaded by executive director Steve Yzerman. No fewer than five NHL netminders were selected ahead of Fleury for consideration: Corey Crawford, Braden Holtby, Roberto Luongo, Carey Price and Mike Smith.
The Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks (five) have the most representatives on Canada’s preliminary roster. The Penguins and San Jose Sharks are tied for second-most with four each. Crosby is one of 15 players from the 2010 team seeking another chance at Olympic gold.
Note: Penguins forward Jussi Jokinen was selected to participate in Finland’s Olympic camp.