Canada Finds Itself in an Unusual Role: A Hockey Underdog

That honor goes to the Russians, or the “Olympic Athletes From Russia,” as they are being called during Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea. Although they have been notorious underperformers at recent Olympic tournaments, they are the most skilled team, with the former N.H.L. stars Ilya Kovalchuk and Pavel Datsyuk.

The Canadian team, on the other hand, is made up of long shots. Forward Eric O’Dell, 27, who plays with HC Sochi in the K.H.L., was considered the longest shot.

In 2010, he was having heart palpitations, and doctors discovered he had a small hole in his heart, which had been there since birth. O’Dell underwent surgery and spent six months on the sidelines recovering.

When he showed up for a training camp in August, nobody thought he had a chance. The coaches thought he looked more like a biker than a hockey player, full of tattoos and his hair tied back in a ponytail. And on the ice, he was a less-than-graceful skater and puck handler.


Willie Desjardins was named the Canada coach in July, a few months after being fired by the Vancouver Canucks.

Grigory Dukor/Reuters

“In his first practice, he didn’t look very good,” said Canada Coach Willie Desjardins, who coached the Vancouver Canucks in the N.H.L. from 2014 to 2017. “Guys are going, ‘This guy will never make it.’ But he finally worked his way onto the team.”

General Manager Sean Burke noticed that O’Dell had been named captain of his team in Russia, and suspected there was more to him than met the eye.

“You’re in Russia and the guys don’t speak English,” Burke said. “Having your captain being an English-speaking Canadian really says a lot about his character.”

Burke uses the word “character” a lot in describing this team, which he said will epitomize “the Canadian Way.” Usually that means having gobs more talent…

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