VANCOUVER – If Canada had selected its Olympic hockey team in November, Dan Hamhuis probably wouldn’t have made the cut.
The Vancouver Canucks defenceman struggled mightily to adapt to John Tortorella’s system early in the NHL season, with the new head coach describing Hamhuis’s game as a “dog’s breakfast.”
What a difference a few months make.
The 31-year-old from Smithers, B.C., was named to Canada’s 25-man roster on Tuesday and will head to Sochi next month after turning around a season that looked anything but Olympic-calibre coming out of training camp.
Tortorella preaches an aggressive, puck-pressure system in all three zones that many on the Canucks’ roster initially had difficulty grasping—Hamhuis included.
“Probably didn’t get off to the start I wanted to early on in the season,” he said after Tuesday’s morning skate ahead of Vancouver’s game against the Pittsburgh Penguins. “I stayed patient with myself and to the adjustments we were making as an organization with the new coaches and the new systems we were playing.
“(I) just tried to patiently get better each day and I think my game has come around.”
Steve Yzerman, Canada’s executive director, obviously thought so as well.
Heading into Tuesday’s action, Hamhuis had a modest four goals and nine assists to go along with a plus-12 rating in 44 games.
He has played for Canada seven times at different levels, and perhaps most importantly, he shoots left—something that head coach Mike Babcock values on a balanced defence corps.
“Looking at the players this morning on that list, it’s pretty incredible the amount of talent that’s on that team and the amount of talent that’s left off the team,” said Hamhuis. “I’m sure the managers agonized over a lot of the decisions in putting the best team forward.”
It was also an agonizing wait for Hamhuis, who didn’t sleep well in anticipation of a call from Canada’s brass.
But instead of waiting anxiously, he turned his phone off on Monday night and waited to see if he had any messages on his voice mail by Tuesday morning.
Sure enough, he did.
“I thought they maybe would have called (Monday) so I was kind of waiting by the phone all day,” said Hamhuis. “A little bit of a restless sleep last night—certainly excited to get the call.
“It’s a huge privilege to play for the country … it never gets old putting on that Canadian jersey and it comes with a lot of responsibility.”
To no one’s surprise, joining Hamhuis on Canada’s roster will be Canucks’ teammate Roberto Luongo.
The veteran goalie led Canada to gold at the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver and, if healthy, will in all likelihood start the tournament as the No. 1.
“It’s a great honour,” said Luongo of being named to the team. “This is my third (Olympics) and it’s just as special as the first two times—really excited and looking forward to it.”
The 34-year-old from Montreal is 16-10-6 with three shutouts to go along with a .922 save percentage and a 2.23 goals-against average so far this season.
He just recently returned from a groin problem only to get hurt again over the weekend, this time suffering a suspected ankle injury.
The Canucks didn’t allow reporters to ask Luongo about his health on Tuesday, but the fact that he spoke to the media at all suggests it isn’t too serious.
Luongo said he watched the televised Canadian roster announcement just like the rest of the country.
“I wanted to see if Hammer made it. Really excited for him, more than anything,” said Luongo. “I thought he played hard and was a guy that was talked about since the summer.
“Wasn’t sure if he was going to make it or not but I was really happy to see his name up there.”
Luongo said that winning gold for Canada back in 2010 was one of the biggest moment of his career, one he hopes to duplicate in Russia.
“You still look at the replays and get the chills and the goose bumps and I think that’s probably going to stay there for the rest of my days,” he said. “Hopefully we can make some more good memories.”