I grew up in rural Canada by playing hockey against our bitter rivals from the big city an hour away. Well, to us it was a big city, 3 times the size of our town though still only a little over 20,000 people lived there. Like I said, it was rural. The nearest NHL team were the Boston Bruins about 1100km, the Montreal Canadiens were about 10 kilometres further west. The prospect of watching an NHL game always meant one thing: television. To watch a game live meant multiple days of driving and a ferry crossing or an expensive flight. Either way was impracticable. Regardless, we loved the game. We wore our sweaters to school and so did the teachers. It wasn’t uncommon to see staff sporting Toronto, Buffalo, Montreal, Boston or even the New York Islanders colours in the hallways. I broke out my Leafs sweater in French class when we had to read Roch Carrier’s “The Hockey Sweater”. On game days for our high school hockey team all of us players would wear shirt and tie to class for the day. All of these stories are about the pride we have in our game and why the defence of an Olympic gold medal is of the utmost importance in Sochi, Russia. rnrnrnCanada’s last chance to defend gold came in 2006 at the Torino games, and the less said about that the better. Now, our boys in red maple leaves have a chance to do something they haven’t done since 1952 in defending gold. There is one key difference between 2010 and 2014 aside from having home ice, which would be the size of the ice. Moving to the much wider international ice surface should contribute to a more open playing style favouring offence of the European nations. Conventional wisdom is to field the strongest team offensively that one can and hope to overpower the competition. However, I would argue that the given the offensive nature of the tournament, the freewheeling style to be played by the European teams, the national gusto to be displayed by the Russians in particular, Canada must not neglect the defensive aspect of the game. The temptation will be there for sure, Canada tried to field a team with checkers and defensively minded players in Torino and paid the price with a 7th place finish. rnrnrnA team that is strong on the defensive side could easily have the advantage in a battle of two highly offensive teams, especially if Canada came into a showdown with the Russians or Americans who will not have the defensive strength of Canada on the backend. They have talented players to be sure, but not the depth of the Canadians. The majority of Canada’s invitee defencemen have some offensive pedigree to their game, an asset but not a necessity, after all they are defencemen. Mike Green may be one of the worst defencemen in the NHL at defending, and this is the sort of player Canada should avoid unless they wish to move him to the wing. In the wide-open offensive games that will be played in Sochi the ability to maintain a defensive presence and support for the goaltender will be the difference. Canada will always be able to score with the likes of Crosby, Tavares, Stamkos and Toews. European nations and the U.S. will also have some highly talented forwards, but nowhere near the defensive depth of 3 or 4 Norris calibre players. rnrnrnProtecting the goaltenders from being shelled will be an important component of the 2014 Olympic team. Players such as Mike Smith, Braden Holtby, and Corey Crawford don’t have much experience at the international level. Roberto Luongo is always competent but hasn’t been the go-to guy in a couple of seasons and it remains to be seen how he will respond this coming season. Carey Price, possibly the most technically sound NHL netminder, struggled down the stretch last season when left exposed by a weak Montreal defence. That last point emphasizes the need to have a strong group of defensive defencemen in front of who is possibly the odds-on favourite to start in Sochi.rnrnrnTo defend, one must shield the attack. Canada must use its shield, the strongest group of defencemen available to any country, to withstand the fury with which each and every opponent fires toward its net. Canada has the offence to defend, nobody can question that, but will they bring the defence to defend?