Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Couture making Oly push

Impresses Team Canada brain trust

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DETROIT -- Logan Couture knows Mike Babcock coaches the Detroit Red Wings and Team Canada.

He also knows that Ken Holland, a member of Canada's management staff, is Detroit's general manager. But the San Jose Sharks centre didn't know until after Monday night's game that Steve Yzerman was in attendance at Joe Louis Arena.

"Every game I'm trying to play the way I want to, and I know that people are going to be watching. That's just what happens with an Olympic year," Couture said. "To play in front of them live, hopefully I made a good impression."

Team Canada's GM watched as Couture went play-for-play against Pavel Datysuk in a scoreless game that didn't feature a lot of spare ice to work with. The 24-year-old had a strong night defensively and put a game-high five shots on net even to make good, subtle impressions well before he scored the shootout winner.

"I notice Logan every night. That's very easily done," Sharks coach Todd McLellan said. "I think Logan has some Pavel qualities as far as his ability to hold people off, to strip pucks."

While Datsyuk is a lock for the Russian Olympic team in Sochi, Couture is part of a crowded group of young forwards -- and especially centres -- competing for a handful of spots on Team Canada. With four goals and seven assists through nine games, the Guelph, Ont., native has two more points than Matt Duchene of the Colorado Avalanche, another candidate for the Canadian Olympic team.

Hot starts by the Sharks and Avalanche have helped those two players make strong cases. And Babcock has noticed Couture's contributions.

"Their team's changed," Babcock said Monday morning. "Couture, in my opinion, has basically taken over as their No. 1 centre."

After San Jose's 1-0 shootout victory, Babcock praised Couture and winger Patrick Marleau for their play against Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg.

At 6-1 and 200 pounds, Couture has the size to compete when space is hard to come by, as he showed Monday. The bigger ice in February will change those dynamics, but he has the speed and playmaking ability to shift his focus and the flexibility to move to the wing.

But Couture has insisted since before the season that his focus is on the Sharks, not Team Canada. Still, he knows he's being watched.

"The Olympic team is on my mind all year, but it's not the most important thing," Couture said. "They watch every single game, they got enough guys scouting for the Olympic team. Just because we're playing against his team, I don't think it makes that much of a difference. They're going to watch a lot of tape."

Yzerman was at the Sharks-Red Wings game with Tampa Bay Lightning assistant general manager and director of player personnel Pat Verbeek. With the Lightning set to play Detroit Nov. 9, it was likely a good chance to do some multi-tasking.

What Yzerman saw, if he was keeping a close eye on Couture, was a player who drew a penalty early in the second period and got in front of two shots. Canada has plenty of defensive-minded forwards, but it never hurts to have another skill player willing to fit that role if asked in Sochi.

Couture's tangible impact on the game came on his shootout winner against Jimmy Howard, the only time the puck went in the net all game.

"Jimmy, I played against him last year here in Detroit and I went backhand five-hole on him," Couture said. "So I thought maybe give him a little fade to my backhand and freeze him, and I was able to get it just above the pad."

Yzerman had already left his seat by that time.

Fortunately for Couture, he already showed plenty and will get other chances to impress Team Canada's brass, like Thursday when the Sharks visit Peter Chiarelli and Claude Julien's Boston Bruins.


-- The Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 23, 2013 C4

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