The Canadian Press - ONLINE EDITION
Posted: 02/10/2014 10:20 AM | Comments: 0
Last Modified: 02/10/2014 4:08 PM
SOCHI, Russia - Mike Babcock brought his book from the Vancouver Olympics to Sochi and with it the memories of how that tournament unfolded.
"Some guys started on the first line on right wing and ended up not being in the mix and other guys started not being in the mix and ended up being very important," Babcock said.
Memo to Jeff Carter: Things can change quickly. Carter spent Team Canada's first practice as the first-line right-winger alongside Sidney Crosby and Chris Kunitz, but a handful of rushes already gave Babcock reason to pause and perhaps change his mind before opening the Olympics on Thursday against Norway.
Babcock has Carter there because he's a shooter and wants him to shoot.
"After watching him pass it back today, I didn't know for sure," Canada's coach said. "You can't pass to the net, you've got to shoot to the net. Carter shoots the puck when he gets it in L.A., we expect him to shoot the puck when he gets it here. If he's giving it back to Sid, he can't play with him."
The coveted spot as Crosby's right-hand man has been the subject of much speculation over the past several months, dating to Olympic orientation camp in Calgary in August. Steven Stamkos getting injured and then being ruled out eliminated what looked like the most logical option, but Carter seemed to fit because he's a quick right-handed shot and a pure goal-scorer.
"I think the things that stick out are his speed and his shot," Crosby said. "I don't think you have to tell him anything other besides just, 'Shoot it.' He’s going to get open and he’s going to be able to create things with his speed."
Carter, who was the backup plan if Ryan Getzlaf wasn't ready four years ago, didn't learn where he was playing until just before practice. What he learned about Crosby after 45 minutes was that "he's really good."
"You always have to be ready with him," Carter said. "He won't even be looking at you and the puck's coming to you. ... I think for whoever plays with him, you've just got to kind of listen to him. He'll tell you where to go to be in the right spots. He's going to find you and when you get the chance you've got to get it to the net."
That's what Babcock wants from Crosby's right-winger. So he'll keep toying with lines this week and likely for much longer.
To start, Jonathan Toews centred Patrick Sharp and Rick Nash, Getzlaf was with Patrick Marleau and Corey Perry and John Tavares with Jamie Benn and Patrice Bergeron. Martin St. Louis rotated in, and the coaching staff will give Matt Duchene a chance to factor in as well.
"That's what we told everyone: They've got to find a way to grab their piece," Babcock said. "We're going to watch what happens, we're going to evaluate each and every day and we'll see."
When players left the locker-room for their 8 p.m. practice at Bolshoy Ice Dome, Tavares said he and some of his teammates didn't even see the lineup posted. That's probably for the best because everyone, including executive director Steve Yzerman, expects Babcock to put his lines in a blender.
"Obviously these players have played together — say, Perry and Getzlaf, for example — you would assume they'll start together," Yzerman said. "They may not finish together. So you kind of start from there."
This is the start for Team Canada, which featured predictable defensive pairings: Duncan Keith with Shea Weber, Marc-Edouard Vlasic with Drew Doughty and Jay Bouwmeester with Alex Pietrangelo. Judging from practice it appeared that either P.K. Subban or Dan Hamhuis will be the seventh defenceman.
All three goalies were on the ice for practice, and Carey Price, Roberto Luongo and Mike Smith are actually roommates at the athletes village. Luongo, who was in net when Canada won gold in Vancouver, is ready for this.
"It's super exciting," he said. "It seems like four years ago was just yesterday and here we are again."
Eleven players are back from that group, along with Yzerman, Babcock and assistant coaches Lindy Ruff and Ken Hitchcock. Hockey Canada added a few pieces to the mix with the goal of defending gold.
"Our preparation has to be equal to the opportunity," Babcock said. "The opportunity's great."
With the first practice in the books, the opportunity is now. The workload will increase and everything could change in the lines.
"We'll be a work in progress just like every team at the Olympics," Babcock said. "You've got to keep getting better. We have good talent, now we've got to become a good team."
There are a lot of good players at this tournament that will try to come together to make good teams. Hitchcock is embracing that challenge.
"We think we've got a heck of a hockey club," he said. "We know there's other teams that are good, too. But I think, quite frankly, we feel like we've got a gear that we can play at that's substantial, and it's our job to get it out there."
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