Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Team Canada brass in no hurry to judge

Assembling final roster will be careful process: Babcock

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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 walk- throughs 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.

THE BIG QUESTIONS: 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."

WHO WILL BE CAPTAIN? 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."

THE BIG ICE: 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."

THINK, THINK, THINK: 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@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @garylawless

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 29, 2013 D2

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About Gary Lawless

Gary Lawless is the Free Press sports columnist and co-host of the Hustler and Lawless show on TSN 1290 Winnipeg and www.winnipegfreepress.com
Lawless began covering sports as a rookie reporter at The Chronicle-Journal in Thunder Bay after graduating from journalism school at Durham College in Ontario.
After a Grey Cup winning stint with the Toronto Argonauts in the communications department, Lawless returned to Thunder Bay as sports editor.
In 1999 he joined the Free Press and after working on the night sports desk moved back into the field where he covered pro hockey, baseball and football beats prior to being named columnist.

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