Colorado Avalanche center Matt Duchene is getting hot at the right time; assuming he cares about making the Canadian Olympic hockey team, that is. Duchene put up three points in Colorado’s win Thursday night against the Edmonton Oilers, with a goal and two assists.
Duchene also performed well during back-to-back games against the Dallas Stars on Dec. 16th and 17th; scoring two points in each contest. In attendance for both games against the Stars was the General Manager for Team Canada: Steve Yzerman.
Despite being named to Hockey Canada’s orientation camp this summer; Duchene was considered by many to be a longshot to make the team for its’ trek to Sochi for the 2014 Olympic Games. The NHL is overflowing with elite Canadian centers, and Duchene’s game has been inconsistent in the past (he only scored a pedestrian 28 points in 58 games during the 20011-2012 season).
That impression may have changed considering Duchene’s body of work lately. Not only did he lead the Avs in scoring last season (43 points in 47 games); he is also scoring at a point-per-game pace this season (31 points in 31 games) to top a hot Avalanche club. Lately, after recovering from a hip injury and an illness that kept him out of the lineup and left him ineffective, respectively; he has taken his game to yet another level, with 10 points in his last five games.
“It was a personal challenge, that’s why you play the game. If you can’t get up for game(s) like that, a chance to make the Olympic team, you shouldn’t be playing this game,” said Duchene.
“I like where I put myself. There’s [sic] always areas to improve, and there’s a lot of things I’m working on to get better. But at the same time I have no regrets in terms of putting my best foot forward this year.”
Duchene currently ranks 13th in points amongst Canadian players, ninth in points-per-game and fifth in goals. If the numbers he has put up this season are not enough reason for Canadian brass to put him on the team; there are several other factors working in Duchene’s favor.
Duchene has represented at three World Championships; finishing second on the Canadian team with four goals during the 2013 edition of the tournament. He also represented Canada in the 2013 Spengler Cup; finishing with four points in four games while helping Canada to gold. He was the only member of Team Canada to be named to the All-Tournament team.
Like the hockey competition will be in Sochi; both the 2013 World Championship and the 2012 Spengler Cup were contested on the larger Olympic-sized ice. Duchene’s acclimation to this size of ice could also work in his favor. Duchene also played for Frolunda of the Swedish Elite League (now known as the Swedish Hockey League) and Ambri-Piotta of the Swiss-based NLA during the lockout. Both of these leagues also play on the larger ice surface. Duchene is known to possess elite speed. This can be better utilized with more room on the ice.
Worth mentioning, Duchene also primarily on the wing whilst playing in Europe. Primarily used as a center in the NHL; Duchene has also played left wing during his NHL career (including at times this season). Canada is deep up the middle, so his ability to move to the wing may also be to his advantage.
The final factor in the case for Duchene making the Canadian team may be his familiarity with the NHL’s leading scorer: Sidney Crosby. The two have trained together for the past several offseasons and are said to be good friends. Crosby is thought by some to be difficult to play with, this familiarity could be useful if Canada is to make a run at gold in Sochi.