Feb 26, 2014 11:59 PM by Greg Smith
Matt Duchene and Team Canada were looking for payback, and they delivered with Olympic gold.
Avalanche captain Gabriel Landeskog and his Sweden team had defeated Duchene's squad in the quarterfinals at last year's world championship, ending Canada's tournament early and adding momentum to their eventual gold-medal victory.
So when Canada's and Sweden's Olympic teams were announced Jan. 7 and Duchene and Landeskog were each selected to their respective country's squads, Duchene didn't waste any time bringing up a friendly rivalry with his teammate.
"I went up to [Landeskog], and I said, 'It's time to get some revenge from last year in the world's,'" Duchene said after being selected. "Hopefully get some redemption this year."
Duchene and Canada got the redemption they wanted and defended their Olympic title Sunday in a 3-0 shutout win over Sweden in the gold-medal game and the final event of the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, Russia.
Aside from being drafted by the Avalanche, Duchene said being selected to the Canadian Olympic Team was the biggest accomplishment in his hockey career. He said he remembered waking up before the sun rose for the Nagano Games in 1998, wearing his Joe Sakic No. 91 Team Canada jersey to school after Canada won gold in 2002 in Salt Lake City, and watching the squad win the championship again on home soil in Vancouver in 2010.
"So many memories with the Olympics. Obviously 2010 (watching Canada win gold)," Duchene said prior to the games. "Hopefully. I'll get to be apart of something special like that."
Duchene was part of something special as the Canadians never trailed in this year's tournament and became the first country since the Soviet Union in 1984 and 1988 to win back-to-back Olympic championships. Canada also became the first country to win consecutive gold medals in the five Olympics featuring NHL players.
In the postgame medal ceremony Duchene couldn't keep a smile off his face, and it wasn't long after the medal was draped around his neck that he looked down and touched gold for the first time.
Through the entire process-the summer orientation camp, the selection process and at the Olympics-Duchene said he was willing to play whatever role the coaching staff wanted him to, and he ended up playing in a few different ones than what he was accustomed to with the Avs.
He began the tournament as a winger on one of Canada's top scoring lines with a pair of Anaheim Ducks forwards in Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry. He was also a healthy scratch for two of the first four games while coach Mike Babcock tried to get a feel for line combinations on what was undoubtedly the deepest team at the Olympics.
However, when John Tavares suffered a knee injury in the quarterfinals and had to miss the rest of the tournament, Duchene returned to his familiar role as a centerman.
"It's a big opportunity for myself now, a chance to play center, to play where I'm comfortable," Duchene said the day prior to a semifinal matchup with the United States. "You know, there's been a lot of unfamiliarity in this tournament, and when you get a short chance at it, sometimes it can be tough, so this is going to be much more familiar."
Duchene led a line that included wingers Rick Nash, Patrick Sharp and Martin St. Louis in shutout wins over Team USA (1-0) in the semifinals and Sweden in the final. Duchene played more of his roaming type of game on both ends of the ice and was strong in the faceoff circle as he won nearly 70 percent of the draws he took in the final two contests.
In the championship game, Duchene's line played solid defensively and created a few scoring chances. They helped keep Sweden's offense at bay as Team Canada only allowed 24 shots, including four in the final period, before celebrating the country's ninth Olympic gold medal in men's ice hockey.
"For us in Canada it's gold or bust every year," Duchene said before leaving for Sochi. "We're expected to win gold."
Team Canada met those expectations, and Duchene got some friendly bragging rights over Landeskog.
At least until the next time the two Avalanche players meet in an international competition.