Growing up in the 1980s, the Olympics always featured Canada as a heavy underdog to the Russians in the hockey tournament.
That changed once the NHL and IOC opened up the Olympics to all of the world's best players. Canada was always the favorite, or at least co-favorite, and fared very well with three gold medals five NHL Olympics.
Now that the NHL has removed all of it's players and pretty much all of it's prospects out of the Olympics, Canada may be icing the biggest underdog team they ever have iced.
Think about it. Canada (like all nations) can not use any NHL players, or any minor league players on NHL contracts. So that means Canada must somehow ice a team without its' top 500-700 players! As of this moment there is no deal in sight to possibly borrow a couple top junior players. Canada is basically relying strictly on, to put it bluntly, has beens and never wases currently playing in Europe, and maybe a couple NCAA players.
Now all nations are in the same boat, as almost every top player in the world is in the NHL.
But Russia is better off than most. They are not icing a team as powerful as the old Soviet Olympic teams back in the day, and stars like Alexander Ovechkin and Nikita Kucherov are staying in the NHL. But they have some pretty impressive veterans in guys like Ilya Kovalchuk and Pavel Datsyuk. Based on talent alone they are the clear team to beat.
Interestingly, in a throwback to the Soviet days, the bulk of what is expected to be the Russia Olympic team is playing on one of two teams in the KHL - CSKA Moscow or SKA St Petersburg. Chemistry will be built in for the Russians. It's almost as if the KHL season is an extended Olympic training camp for the Russians.
On top of that the KHL times a break in their schedule prior to the Olympics to allow the Russian team to train together fully for an extended period of time.
Russia is determined to win the Olympics.
Canada will be the ultimate underdog. At least in the 1980s we had a national team that attracted some top young talent. They played together for the year or longer, and were extremely well prepared though they rarely won against the Soviets and Czechoslovaks.
There will be some no shortage of interesting storylines as we get to learn about Canada's roster. But they will need some version of their own Miracle On Ice in Korea in 2018.