Leading hockey stat-wrangler Gabe Desjardins offers a sobering statistical treatment of Canada’s chances for hockey gold. It’s sobering because it’s not at all based on a pessimistic view of the preliminary round—which, indeed, went some way toward vindicating Steve Yzerman’s roster selection and had the useful effect of clearing away the irrelevant detritus of past trophies from the goaltending question. (When was the last time you saw a Canadian team dominate a U.S. one from goal line to goal line so decisively?) Even on the explicit, historically derived premise that Canada has the strongest team in the tournament, it would be hard to peg our chances of winning gold at much higher than 25%. On Desjardins’ pretty reasonable estimates of underlying national team strength, the figure is not close to 25%. I crunched the numbers, leaving room for the possibility of being helped somewhere along the way by an upset of a strong rival, and I get about 19%. That’s assuming we have a 100% chance of beating Germany tonight, when the real figure is probably more like 93-95%.
Even Canada supporters who don’t quantify this stuff instinctively have probably already grimaced at the terrible logic. What are the most generous possible probabilities you could assign to Canada beating Russia and beating Sweden? Even if it’s 70% for both, that leaves us, basically, with only a (.7)² shot at merely making the final. In other words, about 50-50.
The historic estimate of our chances in a single game against Russia, even taking into account some weak pre-Ovechkin Russian teams, isn’t 70%; it’s 57%. Which feels approximately right. Home ice helps, but a lot of the home-ice advantage is really a “home time-zone advantage”, and the Rooskies have had a week to adjust to the new clock. And the chance of Slovakia bumping Sweden out of our way helps too, but then, Slovakia isn’t chopped liver. The sky grows darker yet, and the sea rises higher.