Make no mistake, Canada is Babcock's team
While nobody can technically play himself on or off Team Canada at this orientation camp here in Calgary, there are a few things we can start to glean after two days of work.
First, this is Mike Babcock's team. Period.
Yes, he is flanked by some outstanding assistant coaches in Jacques Lemaire, Ken Hitchcock and Lindy Ruff — who since he is the youngest of all assistant coaches gets to do the grunt work like shovel snow in front of the net — but make no mistake about it, Babcock is in charge.
Even at the opening press conference on Monday, where Babcock laid out his now infamous "200-foot" hockey player analogy, you can tell in every interaction that the coach is leading this squad.
Right away, Babcock is on the ice at the opening session.
He gives out the instructions, he runs the drills and, yes, he stops players who aren't doing exactly what he wants.
And that includes the Sidney Crosby/Rick Nash/Jarome Iginla line, which he stopped Tuesday and made them start a drill over.
The assistant coaches had a little more responsibility at Tuesday's sessions but the symbolic move of Babcock ruling over everything on opening day was not lost on anyone — especially the players.
As for this camp overall, it's simply a chance for all these players to get to know one another. Sure, many of them have crossed paths before; heck, a sizeable chunk of them played together on the world junior team in 2005.
That team won in Grand Forks, N.D., and you can even throw into that mix the last cut from that squad, Capitals defenceman Mike Green, but by and large these guys haven't had any time to bond at all.
Team Canada will have exactly one practice in February before they drop the Olympic puck, so a four-day camp like this is crucial for guys not to feel like they're playing with strangers.
It also gives the younger skaters a chance to ask anything and everything they need to know about the Olympic experience.
What's the drug testing all about? What are the IIHF rules compared to the NHL's? How does the Olympic village work? How does the international media differ from the NHL media?
All questions that can be answered not only by executive director Steve Yzerman, but also by players like Iginla, Martin Brodeur, Chris Pronger and Scott Niedermayer.
And considering how many young players there are at this camp the questions should go on all week long.
Gotta Like Mike
"His resume speaks for itself. He is well-respected by everyone." — Sidney Crosby on Babcock
"He is a super A-type personality. He is a very focused, intense individual. He doesn't move on anywhere until it is done. It is just like the way he runs practice. If it is not done right, he doesn't care what the name is on the back, what your number is, where you're from, who you play for. He treats everybody the same. You have got to do the job." — Assistant coach Ken Hitchcock on Babcock
Niedermayer top candidate to wear 'C'
Speaking of Niedermayer, while many in Canada are in love with the idea of Crosby captaining this team, it's just not going to happen.
Yzerman told us he is looking for someone with a lot of experience internationally, and someone he knows will not crack under pressure.
And while I don't think Crosby would snap, I'm pretty sure Yzerman is looking at the Cranbrook, B.C., blue-liner to wear the "C".
And it makes sense, too.
He's won at every level — Memorial Cup, Stanley Cup, World Cup, world championship, Olympics.
In short, he is the most widely decorated player in the history of the game. He's the guy.
Sure, you could make a case for Iginla or even loyal Canadian foot soldier Shane Doan, but at the end of the day pretty well all agree this will be Niedermayer's team.
One day, maybe as early as 2014, this will be Crosby's squad. But it's not his time yet.
Crosby, Nash and Iginla turning heads
If there's one line that has turned heads and made Hockey Canada re-think the idea of reuniting the Ryan Getzlaf/Nash/Dany Heatley line from the world championship two years ago, it's the Crosby-Iginla-Nash trio.
Hands down, they have been the smoothest combo on the ice and the thought of Crosby flanked by two of the best finishers in the game has Hockey Canada drooling.
While it looked like some players still had their cottage hands and feet, Crosby, Nash and Iginla hit the ground running with Crosby feathering beautiful passes to both wingers.
The Cole Harbour, N.S., kid also scored a sick goal on Brodeur during a breakaway drill for some added punctuation.
The line of Mike Richards, Brenden Morrow and Dany Heatley has also demonstrated some instant chemistry as well.
Some individual players have started to answer questions about themselves, too — most notably Vincent Lecavalier, who struggled the last season with a shoulder injury.
However, there has been no evidence of that injury here as Lecavalier is back sizzling the puck.
Corey Perry has looked impressive, and there may be some temptation to add him to the team to keep together the chemistry he has with Anaheim Ducks teammate Getzlaf.
Perry has looked really strong playing on a line with Joe Thornton and Eric Staal in the first two days.
Toews treat to watch
It will be tough for Jonathan Toews to make the team, but after watching him play you can't help but say "this kid gets it."
He understands each drill right away and executes them almost flawlessly.
He's a treat to watch and will one day be a fixture on Team Canada, but with the bulk the squad has down the middle he may find himself stuck in the same rut another famous centreman did when he was trapped behind likes of Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, Mark Messier, Bryan Trottier, and even Dale Hawerchuck: Steve Yzerman.
Coincidently, that's the player Toews is often compared too.
Weber makes waves
On the blue-line, Shea Weber has turned heads with his combination of size and skill.
And if there is a player who's destined to shoot like Al MacInnis and hit like Scott Stevens, it's this Nashville Predator. Weber was paired with Francois Beauchemin for the first session and then Duncan Keith on Tuesday morning.
Sticking with the backend, just about everyone is in agreement that it will be a longshot for Marc Staal to make this team, but the experience he's gaining by playing with these guys at this level will only help him take that next step when he suits up again for the New York Rangers this season.
Look for him to cement himself as the Blueshirts' top defenceman game in and game out.
Fleury stones shooters
The goalies have been tough to gauge since they are constantly facing some of the best shooters the NHL has to offer, but Brodeur has looked very good.
Roberto Luongo has looked shaky at times, but you know the Canucks captain will be there in February if healthy.
Perhaps most impressive has been Marc-Andre Fleury, who has stoned shooters with that quick snap of his pads.
Finally, and this should get Canadian hockey fans excited, stylistically this should be an exciting team.
During every session, Babcock is prodding these players to continually pick up the pace, transition faster and keep the tempo high. It's an exciting practice to take in as players continually challenge themselves to execute more quickly.
And in just about every rush drill he runs, Babcock almost always has one of the defencemen jumping in to join the rush. That's excitement.
So far it looks like this is going to be a wild ride. Lets see what the next two days bring.