CALGARY – The Calgary Flames aren’t the only ones who think they’ll have a standout defence next season.
Team Canada’s brass thinks so too after inviting three Flames defenceman – the most from any NHL team – to the summer orientation camp Aug. 24-27 in Calgary.
Robyn Regehr and Jay Bouwmeester, who both played in the 2006 Olympics, and Dion Phaneuf are among the 16 blue-liners summoned to camp. Flames captain Jarome Iginla, a two-time Olympian, was among the invitees at forward.
“We all have expectations on ourselves on the defence core and it’s a really nice feeling to be named to the orientation camp and to see some of your teammates being named as well,” Regehr said Thursday.
“There will be some publicity, usually a lot, when something like this happens, and those expectations will be raised even more.”
Calgary signed Bouwmeester to a US$33-million, five-year contract prior to the start of unrestricted free agency this week, which gave the Flames three premiere defenceman with different styles.
Regehr, from Rosthern, Sask., punishes the opposition in his own end and does it without going to the penalty box. With a booming shot and nasty edge, Edmonton native Phaneuf is intimidating in the offensive zone, although his defensive play frayed last season.
Bouwmeester, also from Edmonton, was a late addition to the 2006 Olympic team because of injuries to Scott Niedermayer and Ed Jovanovski. He’s a multi-purpose smooth skater and puck handler who can play in any situation, plus contribute offensively.
“To go to the camp is one thing,” Bouwmeester said. “To play in those Olympics would be a total honour. To do it in Canada would be pretty amazing.”
Russia beat Canada 2-0 in the quarter-finals of the 2006 Olympics in Turin, Italy. Regehr had one assist in five games and was plus-1, while Bouwmeester was plus-4.
“I would like another shot because the outcome of the Olympics in Italy was extremely disappointing not just for myself, but anyone involved with that team,” Regehr said. “Playing in the Olympics on your home soil is probably going to be one of the most amazing things any player that’s part of that is going to go through in his lifetime.”
Given their previous Olympic experience, Regehr, 29, and Bouwmeester, 25, have a solid chance of making the team. Phaneuf is more of a dark horse after a mediocre season. He needs to raise his stock to wear the Maple Leaf at the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver.
The former Norris Trophy nominee dropped to a minus-11 and had his lowest offensive output in his fourth season in the NHL. New Flames head coach Brent Sutter is expected to restore the 24-year-old’s defensive game.
“His statistics dipped this year and maybe his overall game,” Olympic team executive director Steve Yzerman said Thursday during a conference call. “He didn’t continue on the path he was his first two years, but for young players that’s part of the process.
“It may be a good thing for Dion that he’s gone through some of these things. He’s challenged to improve.”
Regehr says going to the 2005 Olympic orientation camp in Kelowna was a springboard into the following season. He hopes for the same effect for himself and his teammates this summer.
“I thought it really helped me in the first half of the NHL season,” Regehr said. “I think if our team comes out and has a really strong first half of the season, I think that’s really going to be beneficial to all three of our chances (of making the Olympic team).
“We all bring a little bit something different, so I think that may be beneficial too.”
Bouwmeester played up to 30 minutes a game in Florida. Phaneuf eats up about 25 per game for Calgary and Regehr is in the 20-22 range.
The NHL will play a condensed 2009-10 schedule around the Olympics with less rest between games. Regehr is prepared for it should he be named to the Olympic squad again.
“The condensed schedule will be tough, but nowadays with the work we put in in the summer and pre-training camp on the ice, I don’t think that’s as big a factor,” Regehr said. “There are up and down times during the season, but you get that no matter what season.
“Also the travel of the Olympics, we’re not going to have to go overseas and deal with a big time change and things like that. That’s really going to help all the players in the NHL playing over here.”
Both Regehr and Phaneuf were hampered by injuries late in the season. Regehr missed 12 games, including six in the playoffs, with a sprained medial collateral ligament in his knee.
Phaneuf had back issues to end the regular season and injured his shoulder late in the first round versus Chicago. Neither player required surgery or expected the injuries to carry over 2009-10. Regehr was back on a full training program by June 1.