U.S., Canada pre­par­ing for NHL-less Olympics very dif­fer­ently

Cape Breton Post - - Sports - BY STEPHEN WHYNO

For­mer Van­cou­ver Canucks coach Wil­lie Des­jardins turned down of­fers to work in the NHL this sea­son so he could be be­hind the bench for Canada at the Win­ter Olympics. Tony Granato gets to keep his day job at the Univer­sity of Wis­con­sin and still coach the United States.

Six months from the start of the Olympics in South Korea, pick­ing coaches is just one of the many con­trasts be­tween Hockey Canada and USA Hockey. Their ros­ters will be more sim­i­lar to each other’s than Rus­sia’s star-stud­ded group, but the two North Amer­i­can coun­tries are em­bark­ing on dras­ti­cally dif­fer­ent ap­proaches ahead of the Fe­bru­ary tour­na­ment that will be the first with­out NHL play­ers since 1994.

Canada is tak­ing no risks with its thor­ough prepa­ra­tion as it tries to win a third con­sec­u­tive gold medal, while the United States sees a ben­e­fit in a lessis-more ap­proach in try­ing to re­turn to the podium.

“There’s no guar­an­tee, so that’s why you get your­self pre­pared as well as you can,” Canada as­sis­tant gen­eral man­ager Martin Brodeur said.

The best way to pre­pare is a mat­ter of opinion.

The U.S. and Canada will each rely heav­ily on pro­fes­sion­als play­ing in Euro­pean leagues and mix in mi­nor lea­guers on Amer­i­can Hockey League con­tracts. While Rus­sia will likely have a team with for­mer NHL stars like Ilya Ko­valchuk, Pavel Dat­syuk and An­drei Markov , who went home to join the Kon­ti­nen­tal Hockey League, Canada has for­mer NHL play­ers like Derek Roy, Max Tal­bot, Ma­son Ray­mond, Kevin Klein and Ben Scrivens to look to in Europe. The U.S. has Nathan Gerbe, Keith Au­coin and for­mer AHL goalies David Leg­gio and Jean-Philippe Lamoureux.

Be­cause there are fewer ex­pe­ri­enced Amer­i­can play­ers in Europe, the U.S. is far more likely to call on re­cent world ju­nior and cur­rent col­lege play­ers, skew­ing younger at skill po­si­tions. Bos­ton Univer­sity’s Jor­dan Green­way and Den­ver’s Troy Terry, who led the U.S. to gold at the world ju­niors last year, could be among the se­lec­tions.

Canada GM Sean Burke be­gan pre­par­ing a year ago for a no-NHL Olympics, scout­ing to find po­ten­tial fits to fill the po­si­tions pre­vi­ously held by Sid­ney Crosby, Jonathan Toews, Drew Doughty and Carey Price. U.S. GM Jim Jo­hann­son be­gan touch­ing base with play­ers on a se­ri­ous level in June, af­ter ros­ter rules were set . He doesn’t plan to put a lot of mileage into in­per­son scout­ing over the next cou­ple of months.

“In many cases we know what those play­ers are,” said Jo­hann­son, who has been in charge of re­cent U.S. world ju­nior and world cham­pi­onship teams. “I don’t think our goal is prior to De­cem­ber go run­ning all across the world to see what do th­ese guys got. Let their sea­son get go­ing.”

Canada has al­ready got­ten started as a group on the ice, play­ing this week in the Sochi Hockey Open and tak­ing an­other group of prospec­tive Olympians to St. Peters­burg, Rus­sia, next week for the Tour­na­ment of Niko­lai Puchkov. Those are the first two of five tour­na­ments in which Canada will par­tic­i­pate be­fore the fi­nal 25-man team goes to Pyeongchang, along with the Kar­jala Cup in Fin­land in Novem­ber, the Chan­nel One Cup in Rus­sia in mid-De­cem­ber and the Spen­gler Cup in Switzer­land at the end of De­cem­ber.

Vice pres­i­dent of hockey op­er­a­tions Scott Sal­mond said Hockey Canada is “not start­ing at ground zero” and plans to fine-tune its Olympic ros­ter over the next sev­eral months. That’s not all that will come to­gether in those five tour­na­ments.

“We will have a bet­ter un­der­stand­ing of the play­ers we have, what sys­tem we can put in and ad­just­ments we need be­fore it starts,” said Brodeur, who serves as as­sis­tant GM of the St. Louis Blues.

Burke be­lieves he’ll have a good idea of what Canada’s Olympic team will look like by the Moscow-based Chan­nel Cup, which also in­cludes teams from Rus­sia, the Czech Repub­lic, Fin­land, Swe­den and South Korea.

“That’ll be the ma­jor­ity of our team that we’ll head into Fe­bru­ary with,” Burke said. “That’ll de­pend on guys, the way they play early in the sea­son. Some guys may emerge. Other guys may drop off. But I do feel that when we get to De­cem­ber, we’ll have put enough work and enough ef­fort into this to have nar­rowed what we think will be most of our Olympic team down.”

The U.S. has all its fo­cus on Novem­ber’s Deutsch­land Cup, which will be full of Europe­based pros and in­clude teams from Rus­sia, Slo­vakia and host Ger­many, as its only pre-Olympic tour­na­ment. De­spite play­ing al­most 50 pre-Olympic games for the U.S. in 1988 be­fore the Cal­gary Olympics, Granato be­lieves it’s a pos­i­tive that the coaches and play­ers will be able to con­tinue with their reg­u­lar teams with lim­ited in­ter­rup­tion.

am­ber arnoLd/Wis­con­sin state Jour­naL via ap, FiLe

In this March 30, 2016, file photo, Tony Granato speaks at a press con­fer­ence where he was in­tro­duced as the new head coach for the Univer­sity of Wis­con­sin men’s NCAA col­lege hockey team in Madi­son, Wisc.

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