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Guaranteed gold for Canada in Sochi

Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press Get used to this scene, with Team Canada favoured to and, in my opinion, likely to repeat as Olympic champions this month in Sochi. Some of the names and faces have changed, but 11 returnees remain from the 2010 gold-medal winning team in Vancouver. Not back to defend their title, from this photo, are former captain Scott Niedermayer, assistants Jarome Iginla and Chris Pronger, plus Dan Boyle and Joe Thornton. In fact, only Sidney Crosby, Corey Perry and Rick Nash will be in the picture again when it comes time to pose with their hardware.

Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press
Get used to this scene, with Team Canada favoured to and, in my opinion, likely to repeat as Olympic champions this month in Sochi. Some of the names and faces have changed, but 11 returnees remain from the 2010 gold-medal winning team in Vancouver. Not back to defend their title, from this photo, are former captain Scott Niedermayer, assistants Jarome Iginla and Chris Pronger, plus Dan Boyle and Joe Thornton. In fact, only Sidney Crosby, Corey Perry and Rick Nash will be in the picture again when it comes time to pose with their new hardware.

Hmm, what to guarantee?

I could shave my head — that’s always a classic.

I could purchase a Russian hockey jersey and post the proof in a new Facebook profile picture if they prevail. Those sweaters are pretty snazzy, after all.

Or I could eat nothing but Swedish meatballs for a week straight if their creators come out on top. That is, assuming they actually come from Sweden.

Larry Fisher

Larry Fisher

What the heck, let’s go big or go home, yell out YOLO and guarantee ALL of the above.

No . . . no, let’s not. But in all seriousness, that’s how confident I am that Canada will walk over the competition and capture gold in men’s hockey at the Sochi Olympics.

Yes, this is shaping up to be a cakewalk — in my opinion. That’s right, I’m guaranteeing GOLD!

Sure, any number of teams — eight by my count; that’s counting Switzerland — could upset Canada in this one-game elimination format. That’s entirely within the realm of possibility. Stranger things have happened.

But, in a seven-game series, I honestly don’t believe any of these 11 other countries could win more than twice — at least not with their current Sochi rosters, some of which have been depleted by key injuries and, therefore, no longer pose as much of a threat.

That’s how good this Canadian team is — even without Steven Stamkos, who had to be left at home, still recovering from a broken leg.

There will be more than enough firepower in Sochi, with the NHL’s three leading scorers — Sidney Crosby, Ryan Getzlaf and John Tavares — all playing for Canada, the top two among 11 returnees from the 2010 championship team in Vancouver.

Crosby, of course, scored the ‘Golden Goal’ there, in overtime to edge the Americans.

Yuri Kadobnov /Getty Images Canadian forward Sidney Crosby, centre, celebrates with teammates Scott Niedermayer and Drew Doughty after Crosby scored in overtime against the United States to help Canada win gold in the men's hockey final on Feb. 28, 2010, in Vancouver. The 3-2 victory gave Canada its record 14th Olympic gold, with No. 15 on the horizon at this month's Winter Games in Sochi, Russia.

Yuri Kadobnov/Getty Images
Canadian forward Sidney Crosby, centre, celebrates with teammates Scott Niedermayer and Drew Doughty after Crosby scored in overtime against the United States to help Canada win the men’s hockey final on Feb. 28, 2010, in Vancouver. That 3-2 victory earned Canada its record 14th Olympic gold medal at those Winter Games, with Crosby and Doughty expected to play key roles again this month in Sochi as Canada aims for a repeat performance.

Flashing back to this year, I wasn’t enamoured with Canada’s selections of Chris Kunitz or Marc-Edouard Vlasic. I felt (and still feel) there were better options at both forward and defence. Claude Giroux and Brent Seabrook, to name two.

I also don’t have enormous faith in goaltender Roberto Luongo, especially in a one-game, winner-takes-all situation. This, despite Luongo being between the pipes for the 2010 final.

Overall, though, Canada is built to win again in 2014 — significantly better, on paper, than everybody else.

Take a minute to go through the respective depth charts and directly compare individual players — you will find that there is no comparison. This should be no contest, providing Canada plays to its potential on an every-game basis.

That’s easier said than done — and there’s always the luck factor. But smart money, for the betting types, is on Canada. The bookies tend to agree, with most making Canada an odds-on favourite ahead of Wednesday’s tournament-opening puck-drop.

Canada has everything to lose as the defending Olympic champion, but I would contend that Russia has even more pressure playing at home.

The bigger-ice debate is overblown by my estimation, and Canada has contracted former Edmonton Oilers and Swiss national team coach Ralph Krueger to offset that perceived European advantage. Canada’s players will have a couple practices to get accustomed upon arriving in Sochi — remember, this ice size isn’t new or totally foreign to most of them. That will be followed by a couple easy — very easy — games to start against Norway and Austria, so by the time Canada faces Finland on Sunday, this shouldn’t be an overbearing or insurmountable issue. It should, by and large, be a non-issue.

For everything critics and pessimists can dig up to deny Canada the gold or diminish its chances of topping the podium — and there’s plenty of fodder there for the taking — the fact remains that Canada is the team to beat in Sochi. And for good reason. Lots of good reasons.

Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press Team Canada goaltenders Roberto Luongo, right, and Martin Brodeur show off their gold medals after Luongo backstopped Canada to a 3-2 overtime win against the United States in the championship game of the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver. Luongo supplanted Brodeur as the starter in that tournament and is returning for the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, Russia, while Brodeur was left off this year's roster in favour of Carey Price and Mike Smith.

Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press
Team Canada goaltenders Roberto Luongo, right, and Martin Brodeur show off their gold medals after Luongo backstopped Canada to a 3-2 overtime win against the United States in the championship game of the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver. Luongo supplanted Brodeur as the starter in that tournament and is returning for the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, Russia, while Brodeur was left off this year’s roster in favour of Carey Price and Mike Smith.

If — and it’s a big IF — Canada’s goaltending holds up, with Luongo or perhaps Carey Price playing above average, then gold should be there for the taking. I say above average because that should be enough to get the job done.

If the goaltending is good or great, gold should be a foregone conclusion. They may as well just play O’ Canada before the games — as they do in the NHL — rather than wait until after, because the results will never be in doubt.

That might be pushing it. I might be exaggerating Canada’s dominance as a not-so-partial pundit. Call it arrogance or ignorance, but that’s how I see these Games playing out.

And, rest assured, these aren’t patriotic feelings, but a gut feeling — that there will be no stopping Canada in Sochi.

Larry Fisher is a sports reporter for The Daily Courier in Kelowna, B.C. Follow him on Twitter: @LarryFisher_KDC.

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