Canada earns revenge over Germany in Olympic hockey opener

Canada has exacted some revenge over Germany on the Olympic stage.

After suffering a loss to the Germans in the semifinal four years ago in PyeongChang, the Canadians restored some semblance of hockey order, defeating the defending silver medallists 5-1 in the opener in Beijing.

Canada featured five different goal scorers, including returning defenceman Max Noreau, while Edward Pasquale made 23 stops to secure his first win in Olympic competition.

Here are the important details from the game:

Benjamin Street (left) of Team Canada celebrates his goal with teammates Eric O'Dell and Owen Power (right) during their opening game against Germany at the 2022 Beijing Olympics. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Benjamin Street (left) of Team Canada celebrates his goal with teammates Eric O'Dell and Owen Power (right) during their opening game against Germany at the 2022 Beijing Olympics. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

A word junior tactic

Canada often delivers shock value on the world stage. Maybe most seen at world junior championships, moments of clean brutality — or massive, whopping hits on cold opponents — have been used to set tones and temporarily paralyze the opponent.

It's a bit of a dying art and might be risker than it is beneficial, now, with rules being a little stricter nowadays, but third liner Eric O'Dell pulled out the old international tactic to stamp his presence on the game and tournament.

In a moment I personally wasn't prepared for either at 8 a.m. ET, O'Dell absolutely walloped defenceman Marco Nowak less than five minutes into the game, directly leading to the tournament ice-breaker from Alex Grant.

It was borderline, every bit of it. But O'Dell managed to keep it just clean enough to disrupt the shift, shake the Germans and set the table for Canada to claim an all-important early advantage.

Remember it was a slow start that cost the Canadians four years ago in the semifinal clash between these two nations in South Korea. Surely O'Dell, one of only a handful of returnees for Canada, hasn't forgotten that.

Do they have the horses?

On the topic of O'Dell, one thought that kept bouncing around in my head as I watched the game was: "can you expect to Eric O'Dell your way to gold?" He was brilliant throughout the game, no doubt, but this prevailing idea was more about the top six than it was about O'Dell's dominant third line with Ben Street and Kent Johnson.

There is reason to be more confident that Canada has the higher-end talent to carry it through in Beijing, but it didn't necessarily show itself in the opener. Aside from some late shifts versus tired legs, Canada's top line of Eric Staal, Mason McTavish and Josh Ho-Sang failed to really assert itself or show signs that it can be a dominant entity in the tournament. Likewise, Canada's second line of Jordan Weal, Adam Tambellini and Corban Knight couldn't muster much before a late third-period goal.

Instead, the bottom six carried the day, both offensively and through impactful shift-to-shift performance. O'Dell's line had two of the five goals with Street also cashing, while Daniel Winnik provided the finish for this impressive goal for the fourth line.

Staal, Canada's captain and gold medallist from 2010, did factor on the scoresheet, adding an assist on an O'Dell-aided won draw on a power-play try. He did finish as a minus-one after allowing Tobias Rieder to earn net-front position on the only Germany goal.

Worthwhile investment

Teams on both the men's and women's sides had the option to bring taxi squads, or insurance for injury or COVID-19 absences. Incredibly, some teams — even major ones — didn't take the IOC up on that offer. For example, the United States are scrambling to bring players over following the injury to Brianna Decker.

Wisely, Canada hasn't put itself in that position. Even before the tournament began, the Canadians were able to pull talent from the taxi squad to fill a void created by COVID-19 complications. And what a luxury it was to replace Daniel Carr with a forward with the talent like Kent Johnson.

A standout in the game with two assists, it's likely that Johnson, 19, sticks on the third line with O'Dell and Street as the tournament moves forward. Not only did Canada not skip a beat, but it might be a better team because it was willing to spend the money to have the reserves in place.

Where the strength lies

Though they are coming off a second-place finish in PyeongChang, the Germans aren't necessary the toughest of tasks for the Canadian blue line. Still, it seems worth hypothesizing that the strength of the Canadian team is on defence.

Noreau and Mat Robinson are two of the three returning players for Canada, and two of the best defenders playing professionally in Europe. Throw the already-ultra-composed No. 1 overall draft selection Owen Power in the mix, along with two defencemen with recent NHL experience in Jason Demers and Mark Barberio, and Canada boasts a clearly formidable defensive unit.

If Canada is to grind out victories in the absence of undeniable firepower, the back line will have to be stingy. It seems like Hockey Canada has the personnel to succeed with that style.

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