Sports Hockey

OLYMPIC CAMP

Sidney Crosby and NHL elite hit Calgary for Team Canada orientation camp

By Scott Mitchell, Toronto Sun

Topics

Speed, speed, and more speed.

With a caveat, of course.

As Team Canada’s management team, followed by the coaching staff, and then, finally, five players — Rick Nash, Patrice Bergeron, Shea Weber, Roberto Luongo and Sidney Crosby — from the 2010 Olympic gold-medal squad from Vancouver arrived in Calgary and were trotted out in front of the media at WinSport’s Markin MacPhail Centre, the questions came quickly.

Most of them surrounded the on-ice makeup of the team — notably the ability to handle the big ice in Sochi, Russia.

“We’re not just going to take the 14 fastest forwards and the eight fastest defencemen,” said executive director Steve Yzerman. “Hockey sense will probably be an important aspect.

“I think it’s fair to say, though, it’s above-average foot-speed and where the cutoff is, I’m not sure about that. There’s going to be some players on this team that are simply too good to leave off and you wouldn’t consider them as racehorses.”

The last time Canada tried to defend a gold medal on the ice, it didn’t go well.

After winning in Salt Lake City in 2002, the group sent to Torino, Italy, in ’06, tasked with making it two straight top-of-the-podium finishes, was much of the same group as four years prior.

There was a lesson learned from the experience of being bounced in the quarterfinals by Russia and finishing out of the medals at the Torino Games.

“We’re certainly much more open-minded to have a different team than the gold-medal team in Vancouver,” said Kevin Lowe, who’s part of the five-man management group, along with Yzerman, Doug Armstrong, Peter Chiarelli and Ken Holland.

“Not that we were close-minded in ’06 after Salt Lake, but we were certainly respectful of the fact that the group that had won in ’02 were the incumbents. They were the ones who had won the Stanley Cup or gold medal, previously, and they were still good players in the National Hockey League. And we felt like they were still capable of delivering as a group.

“But this is a lot different than the National Hockey League,” Lowe continued. “And it’s four years removed from the previous championship. And the biggest question is foot-speed.

“Foot-speed, along with puck-moving ability, for all players — they have to be able to skate, and they have to be able to move the puck.

“The team will be made up of players who can skate and think and move the puck, and there could be a number of changes from the gold-medal team in 2010.”

Assistant coach Ken Hitchcock agrees.

“If you’re not quick and agile, you have to be a brilliant player to play this type of game,” the St. Louis Blues bench boss said.

Team Canada brass is eyeing the 46-player orientation camp — it was supposed to be 47, but injured Philadelphia Flyers star Claude Giroux isn’t in attendance — this week in Calgary as a way to get a head-start on introducing systems and team bonding.

Unfortunately, the players can’t take the ice due to the roughly $1.5 billion in contracts needing to be insured at an exorbitant cost to Hockey Canada.

Maybe they can storm a local soccer pitch and get some game action that way, if Yzerman’s opinion of the game on the larger surface means anything.

“It really becomes a lot more like soccer where you’ve got to defend more as a team and pressure as a group of five,” Yzerman said.

While the pressure to defend gold is just starting to build, Crosby can’t see it being anything like Vancouver four years ago.

“That’s the most pressure

I think I’ve ever felt as a hockey player,” Crosby said.

Just wait, Sid.

It’s only August.

scott.mitchell@sunmedia.ca

twitter.com/SUNMitchell


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