The Olympic debuts for P.K. Subban and Matt Duchene will have to wait. Those two men will be scratched along with third goaltender Mike Smith when Team Canada faces Norway at the Bolshoy Ice Dome on Thursday night.
However, coach Mike Babcock confirmed that both Subban and Duchene would play in Canada’s second game against Austria on Friday. The roster sizes were expanded to 25 for this event to allow for potential injury replacements – forcing teams to sit two skaters and a goalie for every game.
The depth of Team Canada doesn’t make those decisions very easy. But at ages 23 and 24, respectively, Duchene and Subban are two of the youngest members of Canada’s roster. The focus for everyone else in the long-awaited opener was trying to get organized.
“We’ve got real good players,” Babcock said after the morning skate. “We’ve got to get our real good players to become part of a structure so that we can play fast together.”
Canada also opened the Olympic tournament in Vancouver against Norway, winning 8-2. However, the countries have had some closer meetings at the IIHF World Hockey Championship – including a 4-3 victory by Norway in 2000.
The only NHLer on Norway is Mats Zuccarello, who is having a strong season for the New York Rangers. The remainder of the team has been in Sochi for about a week and veteran forward Mats Trygg believes that extra preparation is his country’s “only advantage” against a much stronger opponent.
“We know each other well,” said Trygg. “We know what we will do … and hopefully for us they are a little rusty in the beginning.”
However, Norwegian coach Ray Johansen said a victory over Canada would be comparable to someone from South America winning a gold in cross-country skiing. In other words, an extreme long shot.
Making the odds even longer is the fact that goaltender Lars Haugen was expected to make his first start since Dec. 8. He suffered a lower-body injury that night while playing in the KHL for Dinamo Minsk.
Duchene and Subban were both prepared for the possibility of sitting out games during this tournament. After Wednesday’s practice, they collected all of the pucks for the team and were the last two to leave the ice.
“You can’t whine or complain; you’ve just got to work hard,” Duchene told me earlier this week. “I’m the youngest guy on the team – I’m probably the least experienced in terms of some of the big international play. I’m going to do whatever I can to help the team, whether it’s on the ice or in the stands.”
Here is a look at Team Canada’s projected lineup for the game vs. Norway: