The conversations will be a little different this time around.
Kevin Lowe has started making calls on behalf of Hockey Canada, hoping to bring the best team possible to the IIHF World Hockey Championship next month. While that goal remains unchanged from previous years, the message being delivered along with the invitations is.
“Canada's reaching out to them this time,” Lowe, the Canadian GM, said in a recent interview. “Not only in preparation for Sochi, but we've got to have a good finish here for our placing (at the Olympics) in 2014.”
Canada sits fourth in the IIHF's world rankings after consecutive quarter-final exits at the world championship.
Another poor finish won't be tolerated. The world rankings in place at the end of this year's tournament will be used to determine everything from groupings to practice times to quality of dressing rooms at the upcoming Olympics.
Lowe and members of the management staff held a conference call Monday to discuss the available player pool and had a good idea what they were dealing with because 11 NHL teams had already been eliminated.
The need for a strong finish will be conveyed to invitees.
“We encourage the players, if we reach out to them, that they really give it strong consideration,” said Lowe.
After last year's 2-1 loss to Russia in the quarter-finals, Hockey Canada president Bob Nicholson sounded off about a “few key players” who declined invitations to the event in Slovakia. Without naming names, he expressed frustration about the group of no-shows he felt owed something to the program.
In a bid to avoid a repeat of that situation, an emphasis has been placed on the tie between this year's world championship and the 2014 Olympics — providing an obvious carrot for players.
On Sunday night, Anaheim Ducks captain Ryan Getzlaf told the Orange County Register that both he and teammate Corey Perry were interested in attending. They were part of Canada's gold-medal win at the Vancouver Olympics.
Other possible world championship invites include Tampa Bay Lightning star Steven Stamkos; Eric Staal, Cam Ward and Jeff Skinner of the Carolina Hurricanes; New York Islanders forward John Tavares; Toronto Maple Leafs defenceman Dion Phaneuf; and Columbus Blue Jackets captain Rick Nash, among others.
Of course, any of those players might be secretly nursing an injury or have another valid reason not to go. For example, Hockey Canada had its eye on Montreal Canadiens goaltender Carey Price, but it was revealed Monday that he's suffering from headaches which could affect his availability.
Assembling big name talent is only part of the challenge.
Lowe has yet to name the coaching staff that will be tasked with bringing the group together. The organization has learned first-hand about the importance of peaking for the medal round, which features three straight must-win games.
“You have to have the team prepared for that single-game knockout,” said Lowe. “The team has played well and they just haven't got it done.”
Canada appeared in six of seven finals between 2003 and 2009, but hasn't won a gold medal since the 2007 tournament in Moscow.
This year's event will be split between Sweden and Finland, with Canada scheduled to play all of its games at Hartwall Arena in Helsinki. It opens the tournament against Slovakia on May 4.
Lowe expects to build a strong team with golden aspirations.
“If you're a first-round casualty in the NHL or you don't make the playoffs, it's always disappointing,” said Lowe. “But you've got to think short of injury, that guys want to play hockey.”
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