Jan 19, 2022
Olympic watch: Players to look for on Team Canada
The 23-player roster to represent Team Canada at the Beijing Olympics next month is set, with their eyes locked in on gold. Led by captain Marie-Philip Poulin, 13 players from the 2018 Olympic squad that took home silver return. Here are seven Canadian players to watch in Beijing.
The 23-player roster to represent Team Canada at the Beijing Olympics next month is set, with their eyes locked in on gold.
Led by captain Marie-Philip Poulin, 13 players from the 2018 Olympic squad that took home silver return. All but one player on the roster (blueliner Micah Zandee-Hart) won gold at the women’s worlds in August.
The roster has a strong veteran presence, with six players (Poulin, Mélodie Daoust, Brianne Jenner, Jocelyne Larocque, Rebecca Johnston, and Natalie Spooner) who were a part of the last Team Canada squad to win Olympic gold in Sochi in 2014.
In addition to the veterans, there are several young players who demonstrated at the worlds that they are capable of playing important roles on the big stage.
Here are seven Canadian players to watch in Beijing.
Poulin led the Canadians to gold at the worlds with her overtime winner that broke a nearly decade-long title drought at the tournament.
She carried that clutch play over to the Rivalry Series against the United States in the fall, leading all players with eight points, including two overtime winners.
Going into her fourth Games, expect Poulin to continue to shoulder a heavy load as she looks for her first Olympic title as captain.
“When you talk about star players you often think goal scorers, you think about the timeliness of that but Poulin, she is also willing to sacrifice,” said TSN Hockey analyst and two-time Olympic gold medallist Cheryl Pounder.
“She plays in all situations. For a star player, you’ll see her on the PK, you’ll see her on the power play, 5-on-5 – every potential situation, she can play in it. It makes her just such a complete player.”
Flanked by Daoust and Spooner, Fillier was the breakout star of the worlds with a three-goal, six-point performance en route to gold.
Fillier proved that was no fluke in the fall Rivalry Series, scoring five goals in six games against the Americans.
Set to make her Olympic debut at just 21, Fillier will be relied upon as an offensive driver for Canada as her dynamic skillset makes her an integral part of the Canadian attack.
“One of the things that Fillier possesses is the ability to speed up or slow down a game and a lot of this has to do with not just her IQ, but her crossover speed,” said Pounder. “She has the ability to move left to right as well as play a linear game and go north.
“But she has the awareness of when to use it and when to create for her linemates. She really has an uncanny sense of where the puck is, and she is very strong away from it as well.”
The MVP and top scorer at the 2021 worlds, Daoust will be relied upon heavily once again for Canada.
Daoust dominated the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics with three goals and seven points in five games, including a very memorable shootout goal in an MVP-winning performance.
“The two words that sum up Daoust are poise and patience,” said Pounder. “She has magic hands and so for her, it’s not about her speed, but it’s about her awareness and her intelligence with those magic mitts. She dangles and finds lanes and seams not many others can find.”
The “Fill Da Spoon” line of Daoust alongside Fillier and Spooner will likely be reunited at the Olympics after their chemistry made them Canada’s most consistent line at the worlds. However, don’t be surprised if Daoust moves up to the top line with Poulin for stretches.
As one of the young players who made an impression in August, Maltais has carved out a role on Team Canada with her versatility and her tenacity with and without the puck.
Playing in six of eight games at the worlds, Maltais was relied upon on the penalty kill and in an energy role.
In what was a competitive fight for spots on the Olympic roster, Maltais edged out Victoria Bach and Kristin O’Neill, who were the final cuts up front.
“I believe up front that she’s got a lot of versatility to her game, and I think it’s a big piece of probably why she’s on this team,” said Pounder on Maltais. “She’s so strong, her lower body, she’s a former track athlete. She’s explosive. I mean, she is so strong, she is so hard on the forecheck. She makes it extremely difficult for her opponent to get out of their zone.”
Larocque led Canada in ice time (22:01) at the worlds and expect to see her do the same in Beijing.
With defence partner Renata Fast the only other Canadian defender with Olympic experience, Larocque will be the steadying presence on a young blueline.
Not known as an offensive presence, Larocque had her most productive tournament at the 2021 worlds with four assists in seven games, including helpers on the tying goal and overtime winner in the gold-medal game.
“Her game has just evolved as she’s gotten older,” said Pounder. “She’s extremely fit, she plays a physical game, and she plays real tough minutes against the top lines, in particular against the Americans.
“She’s got that strong defensive presence that doesn’t always get the recognition that it deserves. She’s been aggressive, pinching down the wall so that Canada can maintain possession.”
After being cut from centralization in 2018, Ambrose worked her way back onto the Canadian roster and will make her Olympic debut in Beijing.
With two goals and five points in seven games at the worlds, Ambrose earned a tournament All-Star Team nod while anchoring the second pairing. The 27-year-old will once again be a key piece of Canada’s power play.
“Her ability to thread the needle on a zone exit to get herself in good positions, good spots on the ice where she’s not vulnerable and just the ability on a power play to quarterback it,” Pounder said of Ambrose’s skillset. “She’s going to be used and relied upon in that situation.
“As a defenceman, that’s the piece, right? You got to be able to get to good spots on the ice, have to be able to make a really great first pass and read the numbers. And I feel like she does read the rush and she reads the numbers really well and that’s given her spot where she’s landed on this team.”
Canada brought four defenders under the age of 24 to the worlds. While they all had their moments during the tournament, it was Thompson who rose to the occasion.
In what was her first major international tournament, the 23-year-old partnered with Ambrose on the second pair and had four assists while averaging over 18:54 TOI, behind only Larocque, Fast and Ambrose.
"[Ambrose] is more of a positionally sound player who has a little more experience, calming presence," Pounder on Ambrose's partnership with Thompson. "I think they’ve aligned them nicely to be able to complement one another.”
With the Canadian coaching staff showing confidence in her, Thompson took the opportunity and ran with it.
“Running with it gave her the confidence to do the things that her skillset can do,” said Pounder. “I feel like that’s really helped her."