SOCHI, Russia – When Canada won gold in the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, coach Mike Babcock had nothing but praise for defenseman Drew Doughty.
Granted it was weird, hyperbolic praise, but praise nonetheless.
“He’s just better and smarter than everybody else,” Babcock said in Dec. 2010 via the LA Times, months after his victory with Doughty in Vancouver. “He’s just been touched by God and he’s been given a gift and he seems to like hockey.
“What I like about him,” Babcock continued, “is when he creates offense it’s not foolish. He’s not a risk-taker, he’s a game-breaker.”
Against Norway on Thursday, in Canada’s opening game of the Sochi Olympics tournament, Doughty was a game breaker. In the sense that his third-period goal broke the will of his opponents, answering Norway’s power-play goal with a dazzling individual effort to give Canada its eventual 3-1 margin of victory.
With the lead cut to 2-1 after Norway’s power-play goal, Doughty schooled forward Per-Age Skroder near the top of the offensive zone, cut in on net and sent a backhand shot over goalie Lars Haugen’s shoulder. Norway was back in the game for exactly 1 minute and 24 seconds, before Doughty reminded them that even Canada’s defense has deadly scoring threats.
“He’s basically a forward on ‘D,’” said Patrick Marleau, who faces Doughty frequently as a member of the San Jose Sharks. “A very special talent.”
“He’s a fearless type player,” said Babcock. “He was telling us that’s his first ever backhanded goal of his life. I don’t know it I buy that.”
Under Babcock, Doughty had a career-defining – at the time – tournament in Vancouver. He was named to the Team Canada roster as the seventh defenseman, and worked his way into and up the lineup, until he was earning top line minutes by the time the gold medal rested on his chest.
Babcock is a coach with the utmost confidence in his defenseman, and a defenseman who knows when to pick his spots.
“Coach Babcock continued to tell us we need to have the fastest team in the tournament, we need to be jumping in the D-zone getting it out for our forwards, and when we’re in the offensive zone need to be active and getting shots through,” said Doughty.
“And we don’t have a lot of time out there with the compressed offensive zone, so we’re going to have to find ways around that. But tonight I thought we did a good job tonight.’’
The goal adds to Doughty’s legacy as a player who ups his game on the big stage. He did it in Vancouver in winning gold. He did it in the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs to win his first championship in the NHL. And already, he’s grabbed the hammer in Sochi at a time when Canada desperately needed a nail in Norway’s coffin.
What is it about these pressure situations that drives Doughty?
“I don’t know” he said. “Being on the world stage, it’s a chance to prove how good of a player you can be, and that’s what I’m looking to do.”