Something to remember:
In 2009, 46 players were invited to the Canadian men’s Olympic orientation camp in Calgary, but Patrice Bergeron wasn’t among them. Four months later, when the roster for the 2010 Olympic team was announced, Bergeron’s name was there, but a whole lot of other sure-fire, can’t-miss candidates had fallen by the wayside, including Jeff Carter, who’d scored 46 goals the previous year, most among Canadian-born players.
It is why on Monday, when Canada unveiled the preliminary list for the 2014 men’s Olympic camp, executive director Steve Yzerman was at pains to point out that nothing is for sure just yet. The preliminary evaluations began last year, but it will be a good three months into the NHL season before Yzerman and his staff commit to a final Canadian roster, leaving lots of time for the candidates’ stock to rise and fall.
As Yzerman pointed out Monday on a conference call with reporters, if every person in Canada put together a team of 25 players, there might be a dozen or so that they could all agree upon. The test for him and his staff will be to sort out the bottom half of the Canadian roster, where there are wildly differing views as to who should and who shouldn’t make the team.
Altogether, 47 players received invitations to attend an orientation camp scheduled for Calgary in the final week of August, and even there, the list of omissions from the preliminary roster would fill out a pretty good Olympic team.
Up front, Jamie Benn, Patrick Marleau, Jarome Iginla, Brad Richards and Jason Spezza were among the players overlooked. Iginla is a three-time Olympian and was a mainstay on two gold-medal winning teams in 2002 and 2010. But as Yzerman said: The goal is not to dwell on past glories, but to put together a team that gives Canada the best chance of winning in 2014.
Nowadays, goaltender is a controversial position for Canada internationally, and two players who received a lot of support for inclusion in February, Cam Ward and Marc-André Fleury, were not among the five goalies invited to Calgary. Nor, for that matter, was Martin Brodeur, a mainstay of the 2002 gold medal-winning team who lost his job as the Olympic starter to Roberto Luongo in 2010.
Fleury has struggled in the playoffs for the Pittsburgh Penguins in two consecutive postseasons, so it is hard to imagine what he could do to rehabilitate his reputation in the short term, but Ward is in a different category. His 2012-13 season ended prematurely because of injury. If anyone can do what Bergeron did four years ago – and play himself onto the team from the fringes of contention – it could be Ward.
Luongo, the new/old No. 1 man in Vancouver, will go to the camp – he was in goal for the 2010 gold-medal victory over the Americans – and he will be joined by Carey Price, Corey Crawford, Mike Smith and Braden Holtby.
Head coach Mike Babcock said he had no preconceived notions about who might be his starter, noting that “in goal, there’s a whole bunch of guys playing for that job. It’s not a locked-down position like it’s been in the past. So the first three months of the season are going to be very important in making that decision.”
Canada is deep down the middle, and it means at least four players who regularly play centre in the NHL – Steven Stamkos, Logan Couture, Eric Staal and John Tavares – will likely shift to the wing on this team. That would still leave Babcock with Sidney Crosby, Jonathan Toews, Bergeron, Claude Giroux, Ryan Getzlaf, Mike Richards and Jordan Staal to choose from at centre.
This will be the fifth time that the NHL has released its players to compete in the Olympics, and the only other time they were in Europe, Turin in 2006, Canada struggled with the larger international-sized ice surface. Yzerman wasn’t involved with the Turin team, but said he watched all the games and thought it needed more speed.
Nonetheless, it is a star-studded cast, an embarrassment of riches, and a sign of just how deep Canada’s program runs, at least as far as the position players go.
“There’s no question, when you think of this roster and then you think of your National Hockey League team, you’d be pretty pumped to have it,” Babcock said. “But each country is going to be loaded, and we understand that, so we’re going to have to choose the right balance. But I really like our group up front. We have a whole bunch of guys who can skate and move the puck and are real dangerous offensively, but understand how the game is supposed to be played without the puck.
“We have a great nucleus of players that all want to play for Canada. Getting off to a great start in the regular season, and showing they can play with and without the puck, is going to be important for them, if they want to play on the team.”