Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

‘Let’s get playing’

Canadian men anxious to get going at Games; today’s the day

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SOCHI, Russia — It’s on. They flicked the switch on the flashiest hockey tournament in the world and perhaps history Wednesday and the power surged all over the world.

From Russia with Malice. The Kremlin Coup. Ten Days in Sochi. Golden Glasnost.

Call it whatever you want but 12 hockey nations are now pitted in the Bolshoy IceDome slugging it out for Olympic supremacy.

Team Canada coach Mike Babcock put his charges through their final full workout on Wednesday and they meet Norway in their tournament opener today. Babcock says he and his team are amped for action.

"I think the buildup for you guys has been different for us. In the media this is what you do, you get paid to build it up. I get paid to get ready," said the coach of the Detroit Red Wings when back in the NHL. "My team (Detroit) just played a couple days ago. So it’s a different kind of thing. I’ll be excited to get going. Our players probably didn’t want to listen to me today, they probably wanted to play today, to be honest with you. Let’s get playing, let’s find out if we’re any good."

Any good? Well, on paper they're very impressive and so too were they in practice. Babcock has been installing his system the last couple of days and he’s starting to see flow in that regard but the sheer skill of his group is also evident in practice.

"Well, I’ve seen organizational improvements. I don’t know if you know, those players are pretty good. The puck sails around pretty good," he said. "I feel bad for the goaltenders. We do some of these two-on-one drills (with Detroit) it takes us an hour to score a goal. Never mind, here. Like it’s unbelievable."

Babcock ended the suspense Canadian hockey fans have been in since Team Canada’s original orientation roster was named last summer and tabbed Carey Price as his starting goalie for Thursday’s Olympic opener.

Babcock stepped off the ice and announced Montreal Canadiens goalie Price as his man for Canada’s game against Norway.

Roberto Luongo of the Vancouver Canucks will start the second game Friday against Austria.

"I’m really excited. I’m ready to go. Our preparation has been really good so far," said Price. "I got the message this morning. (Babcock) told me in the dressing room when I arrived. We’re all ready for the responsibility. That’s part of being here."

Price said he’s not worried about Game 3 of the tournament and who will start for Canada in that game against Finland.

"My approach has been to prepare for each game individually, regardless of the role, and I don’t play on changing that," said Price.

Los Angeles Kings defenceman Drew Doughty says any talk of Canada having an easy start to the tournament against Norway and Austria can’t infect his team’s approach.

"We need to put pucks in the net and we have to keep them out of ours. We’re not going to take our foot off the pedal," said Doughty. "We’re just going to keep going. We don’t want to develop bad habits."

New York Islanders forward John Tavares says it’s time to put club team expectations and habit aside and focus on being a good member of Team Canada.

"I think you learn how to handle things a certain way. I said to myself the other day, ‘This is the Olympics, I want to enjoy being here and take it all in.’ Everyone’s going to have a different role on the team and if we’re not all excepting that role then it’s going to be hard for us to win," said Tavares.

Winnipeg native Jonathan Toews says Canada is under less of a microscope than it was in Vancouver four years ago.

"This time, I think we know that pressure is there, but we’re a little bit more loose, a little bit more talkative, a little more energetic in the room, and we can just go out there and try to upset the Russians if we have the chance. That same home-soil pressure is on them this time," said Toews, before adding the Russians are on their own when it comes to beating the heat. "I have no advice for the Russians. They’ve got to figure it out on their own."

Apparently, the games have already begun.

Twitter: @garylawless

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 13, 2014 D3

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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
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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