MONTREAL – Just judging by their temperament, it’s easy to see the wide chasm of Olympic experience separating Philadelphia Flyers teammates Chris Pronger and Mike Richards.
Pronger, 35, will be competing in his fourth Olympics when the men’s hockey tournament gets started in Vancouver on Tuesday, tying him with New Jersey Devils goaltender Martin Brodeur for the most on Team Canada.
Pronger’s 18 Olympic games played make him Canada’s most battle-tested player on the sport’s most glorious international stage.
On the other end of the spectrum is Richards, who turned 25 on Thursday.
The young Flyers captain will be one of 14 Team Canada members making their Olympic debuts in Vancouver.
So when Pronger and Richards were each asked prior to Saturday’s Flyers game against the Montreal Canadiens whether they were starting to get excited for the Olympics, that experience – or lack thereof – came shining through in their answers.
“Yeah, you start to think about it a little bit when you see the opening ceremonies,” Pronger said. “But you have to be able to separate the two and understand we still have one more game before all that begins.”
Separating the two is obviously a lot easier when you’ve played in all three Olympics the NHL has been involved in.
For Richards, that sense of perspective is a little more difficult to grasp.
“I was trying not to think about it until this week, when I started to need to pack and get things ready, then you can’t help but think about it,” Richards said. “You get chills, a little nervousness, excitement. It’s going to be nice to have that day off (Sunday) to get into it and really get started.”
Richards said it’s difficult to keep those nerves in check at a point where months of anticipation are on the verge of boiling over.
“It’s been a long wait, not only to get announced to the team and all the stresses that come with that, but all of a sudden you’re trying to prepare for what’s probably the biggest two weeks of your life,” Richards said. “It’s an exciting time and I’m looking forward to it.”
One area where Pronger’s experience will be valuable to Team Canada is the quick turnaround from the end of the NHL schedule to the start of the Olympic tournament. Head coach Mike Babcock will only have one practice Monday to try to implement his system and give the players their first clue of who they will be playing with when the tournament kicks off with a game against Norway on Tuesday.
It’s a process that is now old hat for Pronger, but even then he says the difficulty of it should not be taken for granted.
“It’s not as easy as people think,” he said. “You can work on systems and everything in that one practice, but you need to get a couple of games in to really get line combinations and the rest of that stuff squared away.”
If Pronger and Richards are somewhat overloaded with anticipation heading into the Olympic tournament, imagine what it is like for their Flyers teammate Jeff Carter.
Carter will be flying to Vancouver on Sunday as a potential emergency replacement for Anaheim centre Ryan Getzlaf, who may be unable to play because of a sprained ankle suffered Monday night against the Los Angeles Kings.
An MRI on Getzlaf’s left ankle Tuesday showed no significant damage, but Team Canada GM Steve Yzerman still asked Carter to be in Vancouver, just in case.
Carter declined a request for an interview Saturday, but Richards says his friend is happy that he might get a chance to play.
“He’s not exactly sure what he’s going to do, but he’s excited to get the opportunity,” Richards said. “Even if it’s to go out there just for the opportunity, he’s willing to accept that with open arms and he’s excited about doing it.”
Richards’s own level of excitement risks going off the charts when he arrives in Vancouver on Sunday, and he says he’s been asking Pronger some questions to prepare himself for some of the off-ice details he may need to know about.
While the spectacle of the Olympics is something Richards is eager to take in, he realizes that what awaits him is a business trip above anything else.
“With all the excitement and everything going around, you want to take it all in,” he said. “But at the same time you want to know what you’re there for, and that’s to play hockey and that’s to win. So you don’t want to lose focus of that.”