To all outward appearances, the impending Canadian Olympic roster announcement doesn’t seem to be weighing all that heavily on a man whose candidacy has launched a thousand arguments.
P.K. Subban might make it to the upcoming Winter Olympics, he might not.
When he sauntered into the Montreal Canadiens dressing room a few hours before one final chance to impress the national team brain trust against the Florida Panthers, the blueliner didn’t have the look of someone who is excessively burdened.
Subban isn’t generally available to the media on game days – the NHL team made it clear he would grant no interviews Monday – but he seemed relaxed and happy, chit-chatting informally with reporters as he stripped off his gear.
Asked if he’s had trouble sleeping, he grinned broadly and said: “Nah.”
The Canadiens rearguard is said to be on the bubble for the national team entry in Sochi – this is scarcely believable to Habs fans, who watch him closely – and has become known as a polarizing figure for both his game and his ebullient personality.
Too risky in his own end for the big time, sniff the critics, too exuberant, too show-offy.
Yes, well, Subban also happens to sit third in scoring among NHL defencemen, and in the view of his teammates has raised his defensive game – which was always exponentially better than he gets credit for – to new heights in the past few weeks.
“I think you’ve seen, especially in the last two months, his compete level has gone way up, his ability to play against the top-end players in the world – and play them hard and play them tight. The other important aspect is he always seems to play his best in big games,” said Josh Gorges, Subban’s regular defence partner, who added: “You don’t have to worry so much about playing defence when you can just go and take control of the puck – you’re not on defence anymore, you’re on the attack. I think his game has grown a lot.”
All season, Subban has been steadfast in his insistence he is preoccupied with the here and now – for the 129 days between the August orientation camp in Calgary and Monday, that was probably true. But the eve of a Hockey Canada roster announcement, say others who have pulled the national team shirt over their head, is a different deal.
If Subban wasn’t available to open up about dealing with the excruciating anticipation ahead of the final cut, his teammates offered a little bit of insight.
Gorges, who sported the Maple Leaf at the 2003 world junior championship, said while the Olympic team is an entirely different proposition, being in the frame for a national squad at any level is an emotional wringer.
“It’s the worst day ever, until you find out one way or the other. Then, it could get even worse, or it turns out to be the best day of your life. You sit there and wait, you’re helpless … there’s a lot of emotions and things that are racing through your mind,” Gorges said.
Added winger Brendan Gallagher, another Canada junior team alumnus: “It’s almost a bit of a relief … you know you’re finally going to learn your fate in the morning. But it’s not an easy thing to go through.”
It’s a given in the Habs room that goalie Carey Price will be along for the Canadian squad’s voyage to Sochi, and there’s a firm belief Subban is deserving of a berth as well. (“I’m rooting for both of them,” head coach Michel Therrien said.)
This isn’t to say Subban’s teammates haven’t been giving him the gears about the Games and the implicit possibility he’ll be spurned – precious few things are off-limits in a dressing room.
“It gets brought up. We watch TSN, too, we see it in the morning,” Gallagher said with a laugh. “So when they’re talking about it, we can make a joke and mess around with him, but, obviously, we’re his teammates so we hope he’s there even if we joke around and bug him and say we don’t.”
The 21-year-old Gallagher played down the concerns of the Subban skeptics, saying elite players always come under heavy scrutiny in the shadow of major competitions.
“There’s criticism about every single player when you’re going to make a team like Team Canada for the Olympics. … They sit in a room, they discuss, and they’re picking apart every player and trying to find reasons to cut him. That’s just what they do, it’s just part of hockey,” Gallagher said.
It’s true Subban sometimes takes chances, but his NHL career has shown they pay off more often than they blow up in his face – over the past two years, the 24-year-old is tops among Canadian defence hopefuls in even-strength goals against while he is on the ice.
The reigning James Norris Memorial Trophy winner’s mix of mobility, strength and smarts make him a hard player to overlook, but Canada has depth on defence so anything’s possible – ask Washington’s Mike Green, who was snubbed in 2010 despite scoring 31 goals the previous year and earning a Norris nomination.
“I think [Subban] has handled this whole situation very professionally,” Gorges added. “He’s gone about his business, doing what he can to help our team win. I think he understands the more he focuses on that, the better chance he has of making it.”
By that standard, he should go to Russia, but nothing’s fair in love or hockey.
At least the hard part – the wait – is over.