Team Canada brass in no hurry to judge

As­sem­bling fi­nal ros­ter will be care­ful process: Bab­cock

Winnipeg Free Press - Section D - - HOCKEY -

THREE days to­gether and lots of in­for­ma­tion was shared but Team Canada is not one inch closer to be­ing se­lected. Shorts, sneak­ers and swat­ting a hard lit­tle or­ange ball around is ap­par­ently no way to pick a hockey team.

“We knew there wouldn’t be any eval­u­a­tion com­ing in here. There was no eval­u­a­tion that took place here what­so­ever just be­cause there was no op­por­tu­nity. But there was lots of learn­ing and shared in­for­ma­tion,” said head coach Mike Bab­cock, who had his fi­nal meet­ing with play­ers Wed­nes­day morn­ing be­fore send­ing them on their way.

“They got to know each other bet­ter. We re­ally talked about that a lot.

“Ob­vi­ously the de­tails from ter­mi­nol­ogy to ex­pec­ta­tions of how we’re go­ing to play. I thought the walk­throughs led to way more talk than they would nor­mally do. Nor­mally, you’re go­ing way too fast on the ice, there is less talk. There was a lot of talk and an­swer­ing ques­tions and I think that was a pos­i­tive thing.”

Team Canada’s man­age­ment team won’t make any fi­nal ros­ter de­ci­sions un­til late De­cem­ber and any pre­dic­tions on who will make the fi­nal cut and what line com­bi­na­tions will be used are pure spec­u­la­tion at this point.

Still, there are some things we can take from this week’s ori­en­ta­tion camp in Calgary.

Right now there are more ques­tions than an­swers and GM Steve Yz­er­man and Bab­cock are in no rush to force the is­sue. They’re not mak­ing up their minds four months prior to the dead­line.

That was a mis­take made by the brain trust prior to the 2006 Games in Turin, Italy when they went with a lot of the play­ers that won gold at Salt Lake in 2002. There will be lots of turnover on this team and man­age­ment has re­peat­edly said they will take the play­ers per­form­ing best as the tour­na­ment nears.

“It’s the guys that play the best that are go­ing to be on the team — the guys that can skate, the guys that take care of the puck, the guys that play 200 feet,” said Bab­cock. “We’ll ex­plain that to them. In the end, the man­age­ment team’s go­ing to watch them very closely the first three months or what­ever is. Who­ever’s play­ing the best will be on the team.”

The con­sen­sus on the street is that Sid­ney Crosby will be cap­tain but Yz­er­man says that won’t be de­cided on for some time.

“We’ll name the team first and then we’ll name the cap­tain,” said Yz­er­man. “I think Mike has in his mind a bit of a lead­er­ship group here for this camp. I don’t know I’d define it pub­licly. I think some of our vet­eran guys that have been in the pro­gram and been around and on the pre­vi­ous Olympic team are the guys Mike would (con­sider). The Scott Nie­der­may­ers, the Chris Prongers aren’t here. So, yes, I ex­pect some of th­ese younger play­ers to take a step for­ward. Jonathan Toews or Sid­ney, for ex­am­ple, they’ve won gold medals, won Stan­ley Cups. They’ve ac­com­plished a lot. They’re still young guys. But they’re lead­ers on their own clubs and we ex­pect them to be here.”

Bab­cock is con­cerned about the larger Olympic ice sur­face and has brought in Win­nipeg na­tive Ralph Krueger to help de­velop strate­gies to help trans­late the strengths of the Cana­dian game.

“We brought Ralph on board be­cause he knows way more about the big ice than we do,” said Bab­cock, who has to be cog­nizant of 2006 when Canada fin­ished sev­enth and looked ill-pre­pared for the larger sur­face. “The bot­tom line is, we don’t want to be mak­ing de­ci­sions over there be­cause we got backed off be­cause some­thing went wrong. For ex­am­ple, Claude (Julien) is re­spon­si­ble for our penalty kill. He was ask­ing Ralph, ‘Can we pres­sure that hard?’ No one knows bet­ter than him. Real good man. Real good hockey coach. We thought he was a real good coach in our league and an in­ter­na­tional coach for a long time. He’s go­ing to be a big part of our staff. Likes to have fun and is go­ing to be im­por­tant for us.

As­sis­tant coach Ken Hitch­cock said Canada must still play with pace.

“I think the sucker play is you have more space, you have more time, so the ten­dency is to take more time. It’s the big mis­take. When we play well as Cana­di­ans, we play fast de­fen­sively and even faster of­fen­sively,” Hitch­cock said head­ing into camp. “It’s the sucker play if you make that mis­take on big ice, you end up be­ing slow and you get cov­ered over quickly de­fen­sively. That’s what we’re em­pha­siz­ing here over the next three days with the play­ers. We can’t lose per­spec­tive of how we play. We’ve got to carry that onto the big ice game and not lose it from the 85-foot game we play nat­u­rally.”

Bab­cock’s group has been talk­ing a lot about speed but they won’t be just tak­ing sprint­ers. Per­haps the great­est strength of Cana­dian play­ers is there hockey IQ and Yz­er­man wants as much of that as pos­si­ble.

“We’re not just go­ing to take the 14 fastest for­wards and the eight fastest de­fence­men. Hockey sense is prob­a­bly the most im­por­tant as­pect that a player can have. The guys who don’t have the hockey sense, it re­ally stands out,” said Yz­er­man.

“There are go­ing to be some play­ers on this team who are sim­ply too good to leave off, and you wouldn’t con­sider them as race horses.”

GARY LAW­LESS

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