Team Canada will unveil the first 16 selections for its World Cup roster Wednesday evening. The announcement is expected to generate controversy because, well, this is Canada, and complaining about international rosters is just a thing that we do up here. Somebody will be a surprise, somebody else will be snubbed, and we’ll all take a few days to yell at each other about it.
And none of it will be especially new, since there’s a long history here. Canadians have always sent a powerhouse to the World Cup and its predecessor, the Canada Cup. They’re the sort of teams that can send you down a rabbit hole of watching old highlights and marveling at the collection of talent assembled onto one roster. And when you do, you can bet that you’ll eventually notice at least one player that will make you go “Wait, that guy was on the team too?”
So while we get set to spend the rest of the week arguing over whether Marc-Edouard Vlasic is better than P.K. Subban, let’s look back at five of the more surprising Canadian selections from past Word/Canada Cup entries.
1981 – Barry Beck
One thing you can count on whenever a roomful of hockey executives get together to nail down a Team Canada roster: they love their hard-nosed defensemen. In 1981, that role went to Beck, the big-hitting Rangers captain who was coming off a 231 PIM season.
To be clear, Beck was no goon, posting 65 points in 1979-80 and playing in two NHL All-Star Games. But he wasn’t quite in the same class as 1981 teammates like Denis Potvin, Ray Bourque and Larry Robinson. Instead, he and fellow Team Canada blueliner Brian Engblom were there to keep order in the defensive zone. And it worked… at least until the final.
(Also, Beck may have once been traded because of a run-in with Don Cherry’s dog. I just wanted to mention that story.)
1984 – Peter Stastny
There weren’t many head-scratchers on the 1984 squad, although the inclusion of Dr. Randy Gregg seems a little odd. But one name stands out for different reasons: future Hall of Famer Peter Stastny.
Stastny was a dynamic center who posted more points in the 80s than any player other than Wayne Gretzky. He was also Czechoslovakian, or at least had been when he and his brothers made international headlines with a daring defection in 1980. In fact, he’d represented that country at the inaugural Canada Cup tournament in 1976.
So it was somewhat controversial to see Stastny’s name appear on Canada’s roster. He’d become a Canadian citizen by then, so he had every right to suit up and play for his new country, but his inclusion on the roster still had fans doing a double-take. And in a sense, it may have helped pave the way for future international team-hoppers like Brett Hull and Petr Nedved.
1987 – Norman Rochefort and Doug Crossman
Everyone remembers Mario Lemieux’s dramatic goal against the Soviets late in the final minutes of the 1987 tournament, the eventual winner for what many regard as the best international team Canada has ever assembled. But you could probably win a few bar bets by asking fans to guess which blueline pairing the Canadians sent over the boards on the next shift to defend that lead.
Mike Keenan didn’t turn to Bourque, or Paul Coffey, or even Larry Murphy, three future Hall of Famers who were on that team. Instead, it was the pairing of Rochefort and Crossman, two steady but unspectacular defensemen who’d combine for a grand total of zero All-Star Games over their NHL careers.
In fact, as loaded as they were up front, it’s fair to say that Canada’s 1987 entry was a little top heavy on the blueline – the backend also included such luminaries as James Patrick and Craig Hartsburg.
1996 – Lyle Odelein
Remember what I said about those hard-nosed defensemen? Odelein was the 1996 team’s version, narrowly edging out Sylvain Cote for the honors.
In 1996, Canada’s blueline had been thinned by a combination of injuries to mainstays like Al MacInnis and Bourque’s decision to decline his invite. And while Odelein was better known for his work with the gloves off, he’d developed into a fairly solid defensive defenseman during his time in New Jersey and carried that reputation to Montreal.
By the way, by 1996 the Canadian model for filling out a blueline with grit and character had been taken to heart by their neighbors to the south. The 1996 Team USA entry that went on to beat Team Canada in the tournament final featured defenseman Shawn Chambers, the blue-collar journeyman who may have been best known as the worst player in video game history.
1998 – Rob Zamunuer
OK, fine, this one doesn’t count because it was the Olympics, not a Canada/Word Cup. But we all still agree that this was super weird, right? OK, moving on…
2004 – Kirk Maltby
There weren’t many surprises on Canada’s 2004 roster. The country had just snapped its gold-medal drought at the 2002 Olympics, and ended up bringing back most of that squad two years later. But Maltby was at least a mildly odd selection, given that he was considered a third and fourth-line player in the NHL and had never represented Canada internationally outside of a single appearance at the world championships.
Still, Team Canada’s management apparently liked the idea of having a shutdown line available, and so they brought players like Maltby, Kris Draper and Brenden Morrow. It wasn’t quite the Zamuner pick all over again, but it was close. But it’s not remembered in the same way, because this time it worked – Canada rolled through an undefeated tournament, surrendering just eight goals in six games.
Sean McIndoe has been writing about the NHL since 2008, most recently for ESPN and Grantland. He spends most of his time making jokes on twitter, where you may know him as @downgoesbrown. He appears weekly on TheHockeyNews.com.