The word for players trying to make Canada’s Olympic hockey team is simple _ you’ve got to be able to skate.
After winning gold on an NHL-size rink at the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver, Canada will be moving back onto the larger international ice surface for the 2014 Games in Sochi, Russia.
And as Team Canada executive director Steve Yzerman put it: “There will be more of a premium placed on skating.”
There will be plenty of that to chose from, as Yzerman and his staff announced on Monday a list of 47 players who have been invited to an Aug. 25-28 orientation camp in Calgary.
Among them are 15 players who won gold in Vancouver, led by Sidney Crosby, Jonathan Toews, Drew Doughty and goaltender Roberto Luongo.
The final roster will have 25 players _ likely three goalies, eight defencemen and 14 forwards.
“Ultimately, we’ll pick the best players available to us, but playing on a bigger ice surface, I believe there is a priority on being able to skate,” Yzerman said on a conference call. “That will weigh into our final decisions on putting this team together.”
He said being too slow afoot was one of the reasons Canada bowed out in the quarter-finals the last time it played on the big ice at the 2006 Winter Games in Turin, Italy.
Without naming names, Yzerman allowed that there are about a dozen locks to make the team and that the tough part will be filling out the rest of the roster.
Some will be young stars who have emerged since 2010, perhaps Steven Stamkos, Claude Giroux or John Tavares.
But Mike Babcock, who returns as head coach, said all with have to be two-way players who check in their egos when they put on the Team Canada jersey.
“They have to be able to skate,” the Detroit Red Wings coach said. “We expect players to be 200-footers.
“They have to play without the puck. And once again, it comes back to playing for Canada. It’s not going to be about any of the individuals, it’s going to be about Canada and executing our plan. So they have to find their game within our game.”
Others players invited from the 2010 team were defencemen Dan Boyle, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook and Shea Weber; and forwards Patrice Bergeron, Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf, Rick Nash, Mike Richards, Eric Staal and Joe Thornton.
Not all are guaranteed to make the squad again, but Yzerman said big-game experience will work in a player’s favour.
He said older skaters like Scott Niedermayer, who is now retired, and Chris Pronger, who hasn’t played since November, 2011 due to concussion symptoms, were key performers in Vancouver.
“We want to put the best team on the ice, but there is great value in that veteran leadership,” he said. “Having said that, we’ve got to make room for some of these younger players to come in.
“Some of these younger players are forcing their way into the lineup. Not only Stamkos, there will be a few of them. They’ve matured, they’ve put their time in and they’re elite players in the league.
“So it’s somewhat of a changing of the guard. There’s always been some transition where guys were on the cusp of breaking in at previous Olympics and for various reasons they weren’t selected, and it’s time to move them in.”
Some names on the list were a surprise, like Travis Hamonic who has been solid on defence for the New York Islanders, or Boston super-pest Brad Marchand, not to mention the Bruins bruising winger Milan Lucic.
There will be debate over some names left off the list, including 41-year-old goalie Martin Brodeur, who was on the four previous Olympic teams with NHL player participation, or 36-year-old winger Jarome Iginla, who played in the last three Games.
Iginla made the decisive pass to Crosby on the overtime goal that clinched gold in Vancouver.
Also left out were Dallas forward Jamie Benn, goalies Cam Ward of Carolina and James Reimer of Toronto, and Edmonton defenceman Justin Schultz.
Players can still play their way onto the team by performing well in the first half of the 2013-14 NHL campaign.
Goaltending will be an issue, as Luongo was dropped to second string status with Vancouver last season, only to get back the No. 1 job when the Canucks dealt Cory Schneider to New Jersey.
“With the changes made in Vancouver, I would assume that (Luongo) will play a lot in the first half of the season, which will bode well for Canada and for Roberto’s hopes of being on this team,” said Yzerman.
Other goalies invited were Corey Crawford, fresh off leading Chicago to a Stanley Cup, Montreal’s Carey Price, Phoenix’s Mike Smith and a surprise _ Washington’s inexperienced Braden Holtby.
The defence will be another puzzle, if only because Canada is loaded with top-quality rearguards who shoot right-handed.
Four incumbents shoot right _ Boyle, Doughty, Weber and Seabrook _ while only Keith shoots left.
Other top candidates who shoot right include Norris Trophy winner P.K. Subban of Montreal, Alex Pietrangelo of St. Louis and Kris Letang of Pittsburgh.
The lefties include Marc Staal of the New York Rangers, Toronto captain Dion Phaneuf, Ottawa’s Marc Methot and Vancouver’s Dan Hamhuis.
Yzerman said he favours having an equal balance of right and-left-handed shots on defence, although it is not cast in stone. And he noted the high-powered Soviet teams of the 1970s and 1980s had all left-hand shots.
But Babcock also likes a balance, which could be bad news for younger righty blueliners.
“The best eight will be in the squad and then we’ll decide who plays with who,” he said. “But when I look at the group, the veterans of last time and the young players coming in, it looks like there’s a chance to have a balance.
“But we’ll watch until the end of the December and see who are the best to help us succeed.”
Teams must announce rosters by Dec. 31.
As with every Canadian Olympic squad, there will be centres forced to play on the wing by a glut of talent down the middle. Eric Staal and Giroux are among those who may be moved to the wings.
A difference from previous summer camps is that players almost certainly won’t go on the ice in Calgary, as it would cost Hockey Canada up to $1 million in insurance. The U.S. team won’t skate at its camp in August for the same reason.
Instead, one day will be for media and administrative things like going over travel plans and arrangements for families. The rest will spent learning the team system of play and watching video, with time out for team-building activities—perhaps some golf or a barbecue.
The Chicago Blackhawks have the most players invited with five, followed by the Pittsburgh Penguins with four and Boston, Los Angeles and Washington with three each.
Other defencemen invited were Karl Alzner, Jay Bouwmeester, Mike Green and Marc-Edouard Vlasic.
The other forwards are Jeff Carter, Logan Couture, Matt Duchene, Chris Kunitz, Andrew Ladd, James Neal, Patrick Sharp, Jordan Staal and Martin St. Louis.
The team also announced that the coaching staff from Vancouver would return, including assistants Ken Hitchcock and Lindy Ruff, but with Boston’s Claude Julien replacing Jacques Lemaire.
“Mike and his staff did an outstanding job in 2010 in Vancouver,” said Yzerman. “That was the easiest decision and the right decision to make in this case. I’m 100 per cent confident that with our coaching staff we’ll be prepared.”
The announcement by Hockey Canada came days after an agreement was reached to have NHL players participate at the Sochi Games.
Canada opens the Games on Feb. 13 against Norway.