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Hockey Night in CanadaWide-open competition to crack Canada's Olympic roster

Posted: Tuesday, August 27, 2013 | 09:58 PM

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Head coach Mike Babcock gives instruction during a ball hockey training session at the Canadian national men's team orientation camp in Calgary on Monday.(Jeff McIntosh/Canadian Press) Head coach Mike Babcock gives instruction during a ball hockey training session at the Canadian national men's team orientation camp in Calgary on Monday.(Jeff McIntosh/Canadian Press)

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While there are several locks to make Canada's Olympic men's hockey squad, Steve Yzerman and Mike Babcock have made it clear it is a wide-open competition for players in the upcoming months.
CALGARY -- The roster reckoning for the Canadian Olympic men's hockey team began months ago and ratcheted up over the past few days as 45 hopefuls assembled at Hockey Canada's headquarters for an orientation camp.

While there are several locks to make the team, executive director Steve Yzerman and head coach Mike Babcock have made it clear this is a wide-open competition for the 25 roster spots of three goalies, eight defencemen and 14 forwards. 

Yzerman remarked "conservatively" that there are about eight to nine sure bets to make this team.

It will come down to which players perform the best and which players are healthy when the lineup is announced in mid-to-late December.

NHL training camps don't open for another 15 days. The regular season is 34 days from raising its curtain. Then the real competition begins for Canadian Olympic roster spots.

"There's a lot of could-bes, but I think the first half of the year just has such an impact on who's on the team," Sidney Crosby said. "I'm sure there [are] some guys in mind, but there'll be guys who have standout first halves, and will make it tough not to be selected.

"So I think we're going to see here in the first half [of the NHL season] who really shows they want to be part of it, so I don't think the team's even close to being [picked], but everyone's going to make their own team, and I'm sure we're going to hear about it."

Clear message

The men's and women's teams had a dinner on Tuesday evening. When the players pack up and depart for home on Wednesday to get ready for the 2013-14 NHL season, Babcock will send each player home with a clear message on how to crack the Canadian Olympic roster.

"We've tried to explain to each guy that they have three months to do their part, and that they're in control whether they go," Babcock said.

"I think it's very specific. You tell them how they have to play to be on this team. You tell them the way they have to take care of the puck, the way you skate, the way you play defence, what's involved and what we're looking for."

Yzerman and the management team, as well as Babcock and his assistant coaches, want even the best offensive players paying attention to defence.

"The way I look at it, all the best teams in the league that win, play right," Babcock said. "Their offensive players play without the puck. So if you think you're playing the other way, you're not coming."

This was not an evaluation camp. Babcock had three aims for the stay in Calgary.

First, he wanted the players, coaches and trainers to get to know each other so there will be a comfort level with each other before Sochi. Canada will arrive three days before its first game, and will have only two practices before its Winter Games opener against Norway on Feb. 13.


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Understanding the details

Babcock also wanted to give the players an understanding of the details of the system, the power play and penalty kill that will be employed by Canada. The coaching staff held video and ball hockey walk-through sessions that the coaching staff felt went well.

"The walk-throughs led to way more talk than they would normally do," Babcock said. "Normally, you're going way too fast on the ice [and] there is less talk. There was a lot of talk and answering questions and I think that was a positive thing."

The players had to stay off the ice because of insurance costs. But the walk-throughs on Tuesday were noticeably slower than on Monday. There was concern that the players' pace was too swift in the earlier sessions.

Finally, Babcock wanted the players to understand what they need to exhibit in the first three months to make the team.

"If you're leaving here without an idea, you didn't listen," he said.

Could this team be younger than the 2010 gold-medal squad?

"The only thing I've seen is there is so much experience in this group," Babcock said. "There are so many medals, so many championships and I'm comfortable with that. But obviously, it's going to be different [than Vancouver] and it should be."

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