OTTAWA – Cabin fever hasn’t set in yet for Canada’s players even though they spend most of their time at their hotel when not on the ice trying to win yet another gold medal at the world junior hockey championship.
Belleville defenceman P.K. Subban estimates the team spends ”98 per cent” of its time away from Scotiabank Place in its suburban hotel near the arena.
The nerve centre of their lodgings is the players’ lounge set up by Hockey Canada.
The players sprawl on couches to watch hockey or movies on big-screen televisions, check their e-mail on computers or play video games on Xbox. There’s usually a game of cards going on too.
The lounge is decorated with Canadian team banners and photos of past teams. There’s always a table of food and drink, in addition to their four scheduled meals each day. Physiotherapy and massage are just one floor up.
“Most of the time we’re watching movies or playing cards,” centre John Tavares said. “We find things to do.”
The lounge is where informal team bonding happens. Hockey Canada strives to insulate the players from the distractions that come with competing in this tournament at home, but doesn’t want to isolate them completely.
“We try to put them in an environment in the hotel where they don’t have to worry about anything outside,” explained Brad Pascall, director of national teams for Hockey Canada.
“The goal is to keep them together as a team and don’t segregate them in their hotel rooms, make them interact and do things together, and really give them every opportunity to communicate (with friends and family) on e-mail and phone.”
Games, practice, team meetings, meals and simply getting enough rest between ice sessions eats up most of their time.
“We take a lot of nap times,” goaltender Chet Pickard said. “Everyone is in bed pretty early.
“Rest is pretty key to this thing.”
The team scheduled a few meals at Ottawa restaurants during the tournament for a change of scenery. The players were to join their parents at a restaurant for pizza after Wednesday’s game against the U.S.
Those trips are limited because they can take time and energy away from what the players are here for, which is to win hockey games.
“When we get here, our focus is being prepared,” Pascall said. “We base everything around that.”
The Canadian team took its own chef to Europe the past two years when the world junior championship was in Sweden and the Czech Republic. This team doesn’t have its own chef here.
“Because we were in Canada, we thought that would be a little bit of overkill,” Pascall said.
The team has about 135 family members in Ottawa. The players see them right after each game in an area set up at Scotiabank Place specifically for that purpose.
When the 22 players were selected, their parents were told via conference call and at a parents’ meeting in Ottawa they would be able to see their sons during the tournament, just not all the time.
They were also warned that while they’re accustomed to seeing their sons play 30 to 40 minutes per game with their club teams, it might be five minutes a game here and the players would need their parents’ support.
The few times the players are out in public, they’re often reminded how much their country wants a fifth straight gold medal.
“When you walk out of the rink, you walk somewhere and everyone is saying ‘Good luck’ and ‘Good job last night,’ ” captain Thomas Hickey said. “There’s those pressures, but even when you’re overseas you know the whole country is behind you.
“It’s a little bit different being in the home city.”
The players say they haven’t been inundated with autograph or photo requests and they don’t mind doing that anyway.
“People have been great,” Tavares said. “You can’t complain with all the support we’ve got. We understand this event only happens here once and people appreciate us being here.
“Asking for our autograph, I don’t think it takes too much energy to sign pieces of paper.”