With the Pittsburgh Penguins in Vancouver to face the Canucks on Tuesday night, the native Canadians on the roster could soak in the suspense as their country’s hockey federation revealed its roster for the upcoming Winter Olympics.
And just like last week’s USA Hockey unveiling, two Penguins heard their names called.
Hockey Canada announced Tuesday morning that Pittsburgh forwards Sidney Crosby and Chris Kunitz are part of the 25-man group it will take to Russia for next month’s Olympic tournament. The Canadians will be attempting a gold-medal repeat after their triumph in Vancouver four years ago; they also took the top prize in the 2002 Salt Lake City games.
For the 26-year-old Crosby, it’s his second Olympic selection. He memorably scored the overtime goal to beat the United States in the 2010 gold medal game, capping a seven-point performance (4g, 3a) under homeland pressure in Vancouver. That was the last time Crosby donned the maple leaf in international competition.
Crosby, who also competed in two World Junior tournaments (2004, 2005) and one men’s World Championship (2006), is a leading candidate to serve as Canada’s team captain. He has 37 points (20g, 17a) in 28 international games and currently leads the NHL scoring race with 63 points.
Kunitz, a 34-year-old Saskatchewan native, has played for his country only once previously – at the 2008 World Championship, where he recorded four assists in five games. Leading up to the roster announcement, there was much controversy over Kunitz’ candidacy, despite his 47 points in 44 games this season and a top-10 finish on the NHL scoring list last year.
The criticism of Kunitz surrounded his apparent dependency on Crosby – all of Kunitz’ points this season have come with No. 87 on the ice with him. Team Canada general manager Steve Yzerman wasn’t deterred by that, stating Tuesday that Kunitz’ all-around game and ability to mesh with Crosby tipped the scales in his favor. There’s a better-than-average chance that Kunitz will serve as Crosby’s left winger in Sochi, as he typically does on the Penguins’ top forward line.
James Neal and Marc-Andre Fleury did not make the Canadian roster, although both have been key to the Penguins’ success this year. The exclusion of the sharp-shooter Neal, 26, was especially notable, as he is second to only Crosby in points per game, battling through an early injury to post 16 goals and 18 assists in 26 contests. Neal has been at a goal-every-other-game pace over the past three seasons.
In addition to his growing body of NHL work, Neal has 21 games of international experience across four tournaments. He competed in the 2009 and 2011 World Championships, netting three goals and assisting on five others in nine combined games.
Fleury was Canada’s starting goalie in back-to-back World Juniors (2003, 2004), and served as his country’s No. 3 netminder in the 2010 Olympics. The 29-year-old Penguins veteran did not play in Vancouver, as Roberto Luongo and Martin Brodeur split duties.
Coming off a disastrous postseason in which he was pulled after four games, Fleury has rebounded to post a .919 save percentage that would be just shy of a career best if maintained.