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Canadian players having a ball : Babcock finds alternate route

With ice no dice, Team Canada coach leads profitable practice

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Vancouver Canucks goalie Roberto Luongo tracks the ball during a dryland training session at the Canadian national men's team orientation camp in Calgary.

JEFF MCINTOSH / THE CANADIAN PRESS Enlarge Image

Vancouver Canucks goalie Roberto Luongo tracks the ball during a dryland training session at the Canadian national men's team orientation camp in Calgary.

CALGARY -- Day 2 at Team Canada's Olympic orientation camp featured head coach Mike Babcock putting his players through a sneakers and shorts ball hockey practice.

Team Canada elected not to skate due to the high expense of insuring its players, but Babcock found a way to get his work done.

 

"I thought it was a real good day for us. Obviously I have never done this before. We've put a lot of planning into it. I spent a lot of time talking to people to gather the information, Tom Izzo in particular with Michigan State basketball. He talks about the walk-throughs and (they are) part of the reason that he believes they've been to six Final Fours in the last 15 years," said Babcock. "This is a big sheet (of ice), and guys aren't used to it. It's even bigger when you can't move very fast, and you couldn't go very fast today. But I thought it was a good teaching tool."

 

No Jumbo Joe

SAN JOSE Sharks centre Joe Thornton was not able to attend the camp due to his infant son coming down with a serious illness. Babcock said any time a family issue comes up it takes precedence.

Sharks teammate Dan Boyle agreed.

"Our wives are best friends," said Boyle. "He made the right decision, you got to stay home. Family is the most important thing."

 

Richie rich

KENORA native Mike Richards won gold in Vancouver but says that has no bearing on his status today. Babcock has been clear there are no guaranteed spots for 2010 winners. Richards says the hottest players should go, as they'll give Canada the best chance to win.

"It's kind of the way you want it. You want to earn your spot. It's a lot of fun and you want to be part of it. Vancouver was great and I'd love to be in Sochi," said Richards.

A quick start to the NHL season is key, says Richards.

"It helps. You have to put an emphasis on each game and there is no chance to take games off, like you might when you get lost in a long season. You have to play every game like you should and like you need to," he said.

 

No goalie controversy

BABCOCK is confident a Canadian goalie will step forward this NHL season and make the selection of a starter at the Olympics easy for him.

"One of these goalies will be real good. And one of these goalies will be hot going in so that everyone will know who's playing goal for Canada," he said.

Babcock added he's not limited to the goalies or skaters at this camp but only to Canadian birth certificates.

"There's lots of players that aren't here that probably might end up with an opportunity. Play good. I read or hear, 'Oh this guy feels snubbed.' So what? Do something about it," said the coach. "The great thing about life is you get to control what happens to you the majority of the time. Do something about it if you're not here."

 

Dylan's day

WITH Thornton unable to attend, Babcock needed another forward to work on a line with Taylor Hall and Jordan Staal. The coach tapped University of Calgary winger Dylan Walchuk after attending a Dinos practice a few days earlier with Calgary coach Mark Howell.

"That's the best story about this whole thing so far. Life is about what you make of it," said Babcock. "Their team had a party, a double-kegger the night before I came in. We put them through the paces (the next day) and that kid was the best kid on the ice by a million miles. So when Thornton couldn't come in -- when you do good things, good things happen. He did a good job. He didn't have to. He did a good job, was excellent out there. We phoned him last night and said, 'Do you want to come?' Great, and his stall was next to Crosby."

gary.lawless@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @garylawless

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 27, 2013 D4

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