September 30, 2016 - 6:00 AM
TORONTO - Five players from the last Canadian team to lose in the best-on-best format have retired. Another spent last season playing in Germany.
Indeed, it's been a while since Team Canada dropped its last game, a 5-3 decision to the United States in the preliminary round of the 2010 Olympic Games in Vancouver. The Canadians have been on a remarkable tear in the nearly seven years since, winners now of 16 straight games and three straight best-on-best tournaments, including two Olympic gold medals and the 2016 World Cup.
"Everyone wants to beat you when you're playing for Team Canada," tournament MVP Sidney Crosby said. "There's a lot of expectations when you play here, we understand that."
The numbers during the unbeaten run are staggering: Canada has outscored its opponents 62-20 and outshot them 40-26 on average. The Canadians have been outshot in only seven of 50 periods. They've been outshot in a game only once.
Canada, remarkably, has trailed only three times total since their last best-on-best loss. All three deficits came at this most recent World Cup, two of them standing for less than three minutes combined.
There were moments of real peril along the way of a run though.
It took overtime at the 2010 Games for Canada to prevail, Crosby's "golden goal" sinking the United States. Kristers Gudlevskis almost did the same to Canada four years later with Latvia, the unknown Tampa Bay Lightning prospect turning 55-of-57 shots in a game the Canadians ultimately won 2-1. There were tense moments two days later when Canada just held on to beat the U.S. in the semifinal of the 2014 Games, Jamie Benn's goal standing up as the winner.
Victory was rarely in doubt at the World Cup, though Team Europe did push Canada to the brink of defeat in the final. It took 57 minutes for Patrice Bergeron to tie Game 2 at one on Thursday night, Brad Marchand adding the short-handed winner just over two minutes later.
Head coach Mike Babcock has been at the helm of all three conquests as have a group of seven core players: Crosby, Shea Weber, Corey Perry, Jonathan Toews, Ryan Getzlaf, Drew Doughty, and Patrice Bergeron. Others like Carey Price, Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Alex Pietrangelo and John Tavares starred in 2014 and 2016, but not in 2010 on a Vancouver squad that was really a collection of old and new.
Chris Pronger (retired), Martin Brodeur (retired), Jarome Iginla, Dan Boyle (retired), Brendan Morrow (retired) and Scott Niedermayer (retired) lined up as the veteran back-bone of a squad that was not only trying to deliver gold on home soil, but avenge in some ways a disastrous seventh-place showing at the 2006 Games in Torino.
Crosby was 22 at that point. Toews was 21. Doughty was 20. They've grown together since, never once tasting defeat.
The performance in Sochi was most dominant of the three best-on-best victories. Canada rolled over everyone, including a 3-0 defeat of Sweden in the gold-medal game.
"In Sochi we were (so much) better than the other teams that they couldn't touch the puck," Babcock said.
If still significantly better than every opponent, Canada never quite hit top gear at the World Cup, a reality Babcock acknowledged after the crowning game. But the Canadians found some kind of perfection in the end, the last team standing once more.
"You start these tournaments all the time and (people on the outside are) always saying 'OK, this team's good and that team's good'," Babcock opined after the latest victory. "You know in the end you've got to deliver and you can say anything you want about the game tonight, but we delivered."
News from © The Canadian Press, 2016