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Wanted: The best skaters available

Team Canada to play on bigger ice in Sochi

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THE word for players trying to make Canada's Olympic hockey team is simple -- you've got to be able to skate.

After winning gold on an NHL-size rink at the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver, Canada will be moving back onto the larger international ice surface for the 2014 Games in Sochi, Russia.

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And as Team Canada executive director Steve Yzerman put it: "There will be more of a premium placed on skating."

There will be plenty of skaters to chose from, as Yzerman and his staff announced Monday a list of 47 players who have been invited to an Aug. 25-28 orientation camp in Calgary.

Among them are 15 who won gold in Vancouver, led by Sidney Crosby, Jonathan Toews, Drew Doughty and goaltender Roberto Luongo.

The final roster will have 25 players -- likely three goalies, eight defencemen and 14 forwards.

"Ultimately, we'll pick the best players available to us, but playing on a bigger ice surface, I believe there is a priority on being able to skate," Yzerman said on a conference call. "That will weigh into our final decisions on putting this team together."

He said being too slow afoot was one reason Canada bowed out in the quarter-finals the last time on the big ice at the 2006 Winter Games in Turin, Italy.

Without naming names, Yzerman allowed there are about a dozen locks to make the team and the tough part will be filling out the rest of the roster.

Some will be young stars who have emerged since 2010, perhaps Steven Stamkos, Claude Giroux or John Tavares. But Mike Babcock, who returns as head coach, said all will have to be two-way players who check in their egos when they put on the Team Canada jersey.

"They have to be able to skate," the Detroit Red Wings coach said. "We expect players to be 200-footers.

"They have to play without the puck. And once again, it comes back to playing for Canada. It's not going to be about any of the individuals, it's going to be about Canada and executing our plan. So they have to find their game within our game."

Others players invited from the 2010 team were defencemen Dan Boyle, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook and Shea Weber and forwards Patrice Bergeron, Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf, Rick Nash, Mike Richards, Eric Staal and Joe Thornton.

Not all are guaranteed to make the squad again, but Yzerman said big-game experience will work in a player's favour.

He said older skaters such as Scott Niedermayer, now retired, and Chris Pronger, who hasn't played since November, 2011 due to concussion symptoms, were key performers in Vancouver.

"We want to put the best team on the ice, but there is great value in that veteran leadership," he said. "Having said that, we've got to make room for some of these younger players to come in.

"So it's somewhat of a changing of the guard. There's always been some transition where guys were on the cusp of breaking in at previous Olympics and for various reasons they weren't selected, and it's time to move them in."

 

-- The Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 23, 2013 D2

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