Olympic hopefuls still have much to prove
Once the 40-plus skaters at Team Canada's orientation camp resume preparations for the upcoming NHL season, they'll know what it will take to be an Olympian.
They'll also know how they perform during the season will go a long way to determining their chances of securing one of 23 roster spots on Canada's entry for the 2010 Vancouver Olympics.
"After this camp, you go back to your respective teams and you play your style of game," Calgary Flames defenceman Dion Phaneuf said. "That is all you can do is play your game, do your job for your team and give yourself the best chance to make [the Olympic squad]."
"I think the players really understand how important October, November and December are," Team Canada associate coach Ken Hitchcock noted. "They know this is the chance of a lifetime."
Ask any player and he'll tell you this week's orientation camp in Calgary was a positive experience — competitive, efficient and informative.
"The biggest thing, as a player, is you want to come in here and learn as much as you can and understand it," Pittsburgh Penguins forward Sidney Crosby said. "It is one thing to be told a bunch of things, but you really have to absorb it and know what the goal is.
"I think we're all pretty clear on that. I think it's pretty easy to say it has been a success over the last few days."
Team Canada wrapped up Olympic orientation camp with an informal Red-White scrimmage in front of 19, 289 fans at Calgary. Jeff Carter and Patrick Marleau scored for the Red and Ryan Smyth and Corey Perry scored for the White as the teams tied 2-2. Part of the exhibition was dedicated to special teams — power plays and 4-on-4 — and 24 skaters tested Marc-Andre Fleury and Steve Mason in a brisk shootout won 6-2 by Red. Not that it mattered much.
"It is the first time anyone has ever cheered for one of my teams here, I'll tell you that." — Team Canada head coach Mike Babock, normally behind the bench of the Red Wings.
Catch the excitement in our live chat replay featuring HNIC Radio host Jeff Marek from the Saddledome.
Most importantly, it laid the foundation for future preparations and provided head coach Mike Babcock the opportunity to test out the game plan for Vancouver.
"There was a little bit more teaching this time around," said Philadelphia Flyers defenceman Chris Pronger, a three-time Olympian and gold medallist in 2002. "Just from a systems point of view and a style of play, really trying to bang it into guys' heads how Mike wants us to play from goaltenders out."
"Really, this is our last opportunity to get together as a group before getting to Vancouver," Team Canada executive director Steve Yzerman explained. "We'll talk a lot on the phone, we'll talk in groups of two or three, but having everyone together — [this was the last] chance to talk about the players and where we go from here."
'You can drive yourself crazy'
Final rosters must be submitted by New Year's Eve, leaving Yzerman little time — about 20 to 25 NHL games — to assess the progress of the 46 players invited.
Until then, those candidates considered on the bubble will be hard pressed not to think about their chances of making the squad.
"You can drive yourself crazy," Boston Bruins forward Milan Lucic said. "You try not to think about it too much."
"There is probably 30 guys who didn't get invited that you could argue could be on the team," said Phoenix Coyotes forward Shane Doan.
Team Canada will try to squeeze in one more scrimmage before opening the Olympic tournament versus Norway at Canada Hockey Place in Vancouver on Feb. 16.
"The Olympics, once they do come, they just happen right away," Calgary Flames captain Jarome Iginla said, snapping his fingers.
Let the games begin.
J. Staal-Doan ( Gagne injured )
With files from The Canadian Press