Big Canuck hockey camps: a history
The 46 players who will attend Canada's Olympic hockey orientation camp this week may face unprecedented media scrutiny, but they won't be the first to gather with the heavy burden of a nation's expectations.
Here's a look at some of the more anticipated summer hockey camps involving Canadian teams in the past — be they Olympics, Canada Cups or the Summit Series — including the dominant storylines, surprise players who emerged, and unusual moments.
Goalie battle: Ken Dryden, Tony Esposito, Eddie Johnston.
Camp attendees you may have forgotten: The '72 team's story is so well-documented that the participation of Jocelyn Guevremont, Don Awrey and Brian Glennie is fairly well known. So we're going to cheat a bit and cite a trio of junior players who were invited to camp to fill out scrimmages: No. 1 overall draft pick Billy Harris and top Canadiens prospects Bunny Larocque and John Van Boxmeer.
While the three would all go on to be solid pros, it would be the closest they would ever get to a tournament of this calibre.
Camp surprise: J.P. Parise
Even Parise expressed surprise he was invited, adding that he didn't expect to be too integral to the team with a list of others on the left side that included Vic Hadfield, Dennis Hull, Peter and Frank Mahovlich, and Rick Martin.
But coach Harry Sinden said he needed "diggers" like Parise to get the puck to Phil Esposito. Parise proved Sinden wise, picking up four points in six Summit games.
They said it — 1972
"You must remember that a North American will appraise the Russians using his own standards. Just because a North American says the Russians pass too much, that doesn't necessarily mean it is so."
— Ken Dryden, being very Ken Dryden.
The inscrutability of the Soviets was paramount in the coverage leading up to the series, but the biggest internal storyline revolved around who was at camp and who wasn't. Hockey Canada, bowing to NHL pressure, ultimately ruled that players who had signed to the new World Hockey Association weren't eligible for the series. That meant coach Harry Sinden wouldn't have at his disposal four guys he wanted — Bobby Hull, Gerry Cheevers, J.C. Tremblay and Derek Sanderson.
Next biggest was Bobby Orr's quest to play for Canada after offseason knee surgery. As late as Aug. 23, Orr predicted after a workout he would be on target to return for Games 5-8 in Russia. It was not to be.
The NHL sought to retain control in many ways, including a quite morbid request. The board of governors wanted the Canadian players to fly over to Russia on as many separate planes as possible, in case one met with a worst-case scenario.
Sinden rejected the request as unworkable.
Goalie battle: Dan Bouchard, Gerry Cheevers, Glenn (Chico) Resch, Rogie Vachon.
Camp attendees you may have forgotten: Dave Burrows, Dan Maloney, Paul Shmyr.
Camp surprise: Danny Gare
Do you remember Gare being on the 1976 team? In all fairness to Gare, this squad had probably the most talented group of skaters this country has ever assembled, so any "surprise" selection wasn't going to play all that much during the actual tournament, especially when the position competition included the likes of Guy Lafleur, Reggie Leach and Lanny McDonald. Still, Gare made the cut over his more celebrated teammate on the Buffalo Sabres, French Connection member Rene Robert.
They said it — 1976
"That's a lot of bunk. I felt terrific after the 1974 [WHA] series with the Russians and scored 77 goals during the season. Now how can that wear you down?"
— Bobby Hull dismisses the idea the tournament will make for a long season. Hull would play just 34 games the next season for the Winnipeg Jets due to injuries, scoring 21 times.
Bobby, Bobby, Bobby.
Orr was determined not to miss out on a second opportunity to play the world's best, despite the fact he was coming off his fifth operation on his left knee. Several pounds under his playing weight, he arrived days into camp and literally headed from airport to scrimmage, which didn't stop him from being the consensus choice among the players as the best on the ice.
The second storyline was focused between the pipes. No one doubted the ability of Cheevers, Resch and Vachon, but the previous two Vezina Trophy winners — Ken Dryden and Bernie Parent — were unable to participate due to injury.
If you asked ardent hockey fans who coached this team, the answer would be Scotty Bowman. But team director Sam Pollock actually picked a committee of coaches: Bowman, Don Cherry, Bobby Kromm and Al McNeil.
It all seems so sensible in retrospect, given that Canada went 6-1, but can you imagine such an arrangement nowadays? While it would provide the sports cable networks with weeks worth of fodder, in reality it would be unworkable.
Goalie battle: Grant Fuhr, Ron Hextall, Kelly Hrudey, Patrick Roy
Camp attendees you may have forgotten: Wendel Clark, Doug Lidster, Kirk Muller, Derrick Smith, Tony Tanti.
Camp surprise: Doug Crossman
It's not that Crossman wasn't really good — he was coming off 18 points in 26 playoff games for Philadelphia, after all. But it's not insulting Crossman to state he wouldn't have made the squad without the vacancies left by injuries to Larry Robinson, Kevin Lowe, Doug Wilson and Paul Reinhart. As well, he was selected over Scott Stevens, who possessed a ruggedness far and above the rest of the defensive candidates.
You could also make a good case for Claude Lemieux and Normand Rochefort as surprise picks, but of the three, Crossman was the only one to play in all eight tournament games, providing a steadying presence on the blueline.
They said it — 1987
"I must be getting worse in my old age."
— Steve Yzerman, 22, cut from the team three years after making the 1984 Canada Cup squad.
While we remember this tournament in retrospect for Wayne Gretzky joining forces with Mario Lemieux, it would be revisionist history to think the newspaper accounts leading into camp focused on the wondrous pairing.
In fact, Lemieux was not seen by either the Toronto Star or the Globe and Mail as being particularly impressive in camp.
"If for no other reason than his expertise on the power play, Lemieux will survive," said William Houston of the Globe, adding that bypassing Lemieux "would come close to sparking a riot in Montreal."
Injuries on defence were a big story. Several top blue liners couldn't attend, with players being invited after even camp started. Late calls Rob Ramage and Brad McCrimmon wouldn't make it, but Larry Murphy — not on the original invite list — had seven points in eight games and was on the ice for the winning goal.
Ultimately, this ultra-competitive camp under coach Mike Keenan was also known for ruffling more feathers than any other involving a top Canadian team. None of Dino Ciccarelli, Scott Stevens and Steve Yzerman left with "just happy to be here" comments after being cut.
Flyers goalie Ron Hextall, already facing an eight-game suspension at the beginning of the next season for a Stanley Cup final slash, puts an end to Sylvain Turgeon's chances (which were admittedly slim) by breaking a bone in the Hartford Whaler forward's arm with a slash during a scrimmage.
Camp attendees you may have forgotten: Anson Carter, Richard Matvichuk, Derek Morris, Pierre Turgeon.
Goalie battle: Ed Belfour, Martin Brodeur, Curtis Joseph, Patrick Roy.
They said it — 2001
"The one who plays the best, you give him the net. That's the way it is in the playoffs."
— Patrick Roy, not a big fan of rotating goaltenders in a tournament. Roy would decide to pass on the Olympics two months later.
Camp surprise: Jarome Iginla
This selection might provoke a double-take, but it's easy to forget that in the summer of 2001, Iginla had just cracked 70 points for the first time, in his fifth NHL season.
As well, Iginla was invited to orientation only a couple of days beforehand, getting the call due to a shoulder injury to Simon Gagne. Both young players would be vital on the squad that won gold in Salt Lake City five months later.
Iginla proved that being the last invite to the orientation camp isn't necessarily a consolation prize, which should encourage Jason Spezza, a late call to this year's gathering.
Redemption was the theme of the day for a disappointing performance in 1998, the first time an all-star squad of Canadian NHLers was assembled for the Olympics.
Over a dozen veterans from those games convened for summer camp in 2001, led by executive director Wayne Gretzky. Brendan Shanahan, a late addition to camp after an injury, talked about not wanting to go through the pain of Nagano again.
The club was also heavy on leadership, with about a third of the eventual roster captains of their NHL clubs.
Martin Brodeur, meanwhile, was itching to play. Brodeur strongly hinted he wasn't interested in going back to the Olympics just to be a backup one more time.
A total of eight skaters knew they would be playing on Canada's Olympic team before the camp even began. The "Elite Eight" were publicly announced, a list that included Mario Lemieux, Scott Niedermayer, Rob Blake and Paul Kariya.
Eric Lindros suited up for camp, despite not having played in the NHL in more than a year. Lindros attended camp along with Scott Stevens, the man who had knocked him unconscious and out of hockey with a thundering check.
The goalie battle: Martin Brodeur, Marty Turco, Roberto Luongo, and Jose Theodore.
They said it — 2005
Wayne Gretzky shuddered at the possibilities of what Bertuzzi might do with the planned NHL crackdown on obstruction coming out of the lockout.
"With the new rules, how do you stop him?" Gretzky said. "You can't hook him, you can't hold him. His reach is so strong and so long."
Bertuzzi had scored 63 goals over the two previous seasons. Since Gretzky's comments four seasons ago, Bertuzzi's scored 61 — none in the Olympics — for an average of 18 for every 82 games.
Camp attendees you may have forgotten: Scott Hannan, Kirk Maltby, Brendan Morrison, Alex Tanguay.
Camp surprise: Loyalty and past experience were weighted heavily, and nearly every one who made the team had played on the 2002 Olympic team and/or the 2004 World Cup of Hockey squad. Dan Boyle was one of the few exceptions, and he got to go to Turin when injuries mounted.
Todd Bertuzzi, suspended over 20 games for a vicious blindside hit on Steve Moore, wasn't eligible to be invited to camp. But just days before the orientation camp in B.C., he was re-instated by the NHL.
Hockey Canada promptly put out a call to Bertuzzi, a move that divided public opinion. In addition to the controversial hit, Bertuzzi's output the previous season had fallen by 29 goals.
While there were a lot of familiar faces invited to camp, goaltending was one area of turnover. Curtis Joseph and Patrick Roy were out, with younger goalies Roberto Luongo and Jose Theodore getting a chance to shine.