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International excellence gives Canada the ‘privilege’ of being World Cup favorites

Canada has the hardware and talent to be World Cup favorites, but it’s the grunt mentality and willingness to accept less glorious roles that can win them the title.

When you look at it on paper, it borders on ridiculous. Among the 23 players suiting up for Team Canada in the World Cup of Hockey, there are 14 Stanley Cups, 21 Olympic gold medals, 15 World Championship gold medals and 17 World Junior Championship gold medals. There are only two players on the entire roster – Logan Couture and Braden Holtby – who have not yet won at least one of those titles during his career. (Jonathan Toews leads the team with a staggering eight of them.)

A total of 12 players on the roster were part of the Canada’s gold medal team in 2014 in Sochi, which might have been the most dominant Olympic entry of all-time. And collectively they carry a salary cap hit of $155,342,142, which is just slightly above the $73 million mandated by the NHL for this season.

So it should come as no surprise that Canada is the overwhelming favorite to win the tournament, a prediction aided by the fact that it would have to have a flop of biblical proportions to not emerge as a semifinalist from Group A, that also includes USA, Czech Republic and Team Europe, while Sweden, Russia, Finland and Team North America battle for two spots in Group B.

So even the tournament has been skewed to give Canada an advantage, not to mention it is playing all games on home soil. “I didn’t know we were the favorite,” said Canadian defenseman Shea Weber. This is a typical Canadian response to this sort of thing, but with the roster Canada has and its built-in advantages, it would be a major shock to see anyone other than the Canadians holding up the ugliest trophy in the history of sports once the tournament ends.

Say what you want about the notion that any team can beat another on any given day, which is true, but no team in this tournament has more resources, more past success or more skill than this one. The fact of the matter is that only a handful of players from any other team in this tournament would make Team Canada if they were Canadians.

Of course, there are some downsides to being so overwhelmingly favored. And that is you can’t win for losing. If Canada does win the tournament, it is simply fulfilling a mandate that was pre-ordained anyway. If it doesn’t, it’s a huge disappointment. Canadian coach, Mike Babcock, for one, embraces the role of the frontrunner.

“Well, pressure is a privilege,” Babcock said. “If you don’t have any pressure, it means you have no chance. Do you want to come to the tournament with no chance or do you want to come to the tournament with pressure? For me, I wouldn’t have it any other way. I don’t think our guys would, either.”

And the fact that Canada has such a winning pedigree breeds even more success. This is a team full of stars, but every one of them has, at one time or another during his career, been required to park his ego and take a less glorious role in order to help the team win. A good example is in 2010, when Toews made the Olympic team as the 13th forward, then went on to lead the team in scoring and was named the top forward in the tournament. But the fact that he put himself in a position to move up the depth chart was because he embraced his role from the beginning and showed he was able to handle more responsibility by playing an all-round game. So when Toews talks about Canada playing the game “the right way” he knows of what he speaks.

“Paying the price, wanting to win, playing defensive hockey and blocking shots,” Toews said. “I mean, we’ve seen all that already in the pre-tournament games, guys doing those little things even though they’re meaningless games. To us they weren’t. We still felt pressure to win those games, but also to play the right way and make sure we’re properly prepared for the tournament as well. And we got that across the board.”

And that, basically, is why Canada rarely puts up a stinker at one of these events, at least in recent years. The team enters basically every game knowing it has far more talent and depth than its opponent. But it does not take that fact for granted. Even though it’s a team of superstars, it has a grunt’s mentality.

And that is what will almost certainly carry Canada to the title in this tournament once again. On paper at least, it’s simply a matter of the margin of victory.

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