TORONTO – One of the hottest talking points ahead of the Canadian men’s hockey team announcement involved the potential inclusion of Montreal Canadiens defenceman P.K. Subban.
The star blue-liner won the Norris Trophy as the league’s top blue-liner last season but he remains a polarizing figure among many fans and hockey observers. Some feel his tremendous offensive skills are a must-have in Sochi while others believe his risky style of play could prove costly.
The debate ended Tuesday morning when Subban was one of eight defencemen named to the team.
“P.K. is a guy that provides a dimension, the ability to transport the puck, run a power play, he can make a big play to win you a game,” said Team Canada management team member Ken Holland.
“He can be a game-breaker.”
Subban, a 24-year-old Toronto native, is enjoying another solid season with the Canadiens. He has seven goals, 26 assists and 45 penalty minutes in 44 games.
The six-foot 217-pound blue-liner often plays over 25 minutes a night for the Habs and is a key cog on the Montreal power play. His speed, shot and playmaking ability could prove to be quite valuable for the Canadian side, especially with the man advantage.
“This (tournament) happens quick,” Holland said after the roster announcement was made at the MasterCard Centre. “So we thought that P.K. gave us (a) game-breaking dimension, offence from the back end, ability to transport the puck.
“It’s a big ice surface, he can do stretch passes. He provided us a lot of different dimensions on a big ice surface that we thought would make us better as a team.”
Subban is no stranger to playing on an Olympic-sized rink. He spent four seasons with the Ontario Hockey League’s Belleville Bulls, who play their home games on an international-sized surface.
“It definitely plays into the skill part of the game and having room to manoeuvre out there and skate with the puck,” Subban said at the Canadiens’ practice facility outside Montreal. “But at this level, everybody is skilled so everybody benefits.”
Other blue-liners on the Canadian side include Jay Bouwmeester, Drew Doughty, Dan Hamhuis, Duncan Keith, Alex Pietrangelo, Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Shea Weber.
It’s an even split of left- and right-handed shots. Bouwmeester, Hamhuis, Keith and Vlasic are on the left with Subban, Doughty, Pietrangelo and Weber on the right.
“We spent a lot of time selecting it,” said head coach Mike Babcock. “We believe we’ve got an excellent back end.”
Weber, Keith and Doughty were on the team that won Olympic gold four years ago in Vancouver. Holland said the plan is to bring eight defencemen over to Russia and dress seven for each game.
“We’ve put together eight D and we have a list of more,” Babcock said. “We have to understand there’s probably going to be injuries, so it was important to do that. Everybody has a skill-set, and we’re going to try to maximize each guy’s skill-set.”
Team Canada executive director Steve Yzerman said the blue-line decision was one of several tough calls that had to be made on the 25-man roster.
“There are a lot of good players,” he said. “Whether it’s goaltender, right defence, left defence, we had difficult decisions to make. This isn’t about any one individual. We had hard decisions to make and because we have so many tremendous players to choose from, that’s what makes it difficult.”
Subban’s teammate, netminder Carey Price, was also named to the Canadian side on Tuesday. Price is one of three goaltenders on the roster along with Roberto Luongo of the Vancouver Canucks and Mike Smith of the Phoenix Coyotes.
Price was also all smiles, adding he’s happy to have a familiar face in Subban in front of him on the blue-line in Russia.
“Obviously he’s one of the elite defencemen in this league,” Price said. He’s a really good friend of mine and I’m really happy that I’ll be able to share this experience with him.”
Last year, Subban led all defencemen with 38 points (11-27) in 42 games. He’s on track for another big offensive season, yet his critics remain a vocal bunch.
Subban doesn’t want them to be silenced now that he has made the Olympic team.
“I hope not because they’re the people who make me better,” he said. “So I hope they keep critiquing and finding things to talk about.”
With files from Canadian Press reporters Stephen Whyno in Toronto and Frederic Daigle in Brossard, Que.
Follow Gregory Strong on Twitter at @GregoryStrongCP