Steve Yzerman believes that Olympic gold will be won on the backs of role players.
As much as the executive director of Team Canada wants to bring top-end talent to Vancouver, he’s also intent on assembling a supporting cast capable of doing more than just scoring goals.
That helps explain how players like Milan Lucic, Dan Cleary and Brenden Morrow found themselves with an invitation to the summer orientation camp on Thursday while others like Marc Savard, Jason Spezza and Steven Stamkos did not.
“We wanted to bring some different types of players, some guys that maybe aren’t leading their teams in scoring but very good players in a different role,” Yzerman said during a conference call. “In doing that, we had to remove (some guys).”
Yzerman and his management team have asked 46 players to attend the camp, which will be held in Calgary from Aug. 24 to 27.
There have already been some tough decisions and it won’t get any easier before the final 23-man roster is set in December. The list of orientation camp invites provides a glimpse into what the team for the Feb. 12-28 Games might look like.
Even though others remain eligible to be picked, a Canadian player hasn’t been passed over for the camp then added to the final team in either of the past two Games. That doesn’t mean Yzerman won’t keep his eyes on others next season.
“We tried to bring depth at every different type of player,” he said. “When we get to the Olympics next year, depending on how the season starts and the potential injuries to players, I wouldn’t (rule out) some of the guys that didn’t make this camp. They’re not automatically excluded.
“Things can change in the next sixth months significantly.”
Invites were extended to five goaltenders, 16 defencemen and 25 forwards.
Among those receiving one were Sidney Crosby, three of the four Staal brothers and a trio of Calgary Flames defencemen – Jay Bouwmeester, Dion Phaneuf and Robyn Regehr.
There are four players each from the Flames, Anaheim Ducks and Philadelphia Flyers. Crosby will be joined by Penguins teammates Jordan Staal and Marc-Andre Fleury.
He can’t wait for the Olympics.
“I dont think I could describe it,” Crosby told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. “We grow up wanting to win the Cup, but this is something more than hockey. Its a cultural thing. There are people that have trained their whole lives to compete in one Winter Games.
“The whole country comes togther like nobody has seen before. Ive seen it in Italy, but I cant imagine what it would be like in Canada.”
The depth of the Canadian program is evident in the list of players who weren’t asked to come to Calgary – goaltenders Chris Osgood and Carey Price and defenceman Brian Campbell will be at home along with Spezza, Savard and Stamkos, who was one of the last cuts.
The tough decisions were made by a committee that included Yzerman’s management team and Mike Babcock’s coaching staff. They had a thorough discussion during last weekend’s NHL draft in Montreal.
“We all got to voice our opinion and then we made the decisions,” said Babcock. “I don’t think there was a whole lot of disagreement at all. There was just good talk and good process that went into it.”
Even though Yzerman expects some players to be disappointed at not receiving an invite, he doesn’t plan to contact any of them directly.
“There would be several players that I would feel I would need to do that to,” he said. “And quite honestly, I’m not sure any of them want a call from me explaining why they’re not on the list.”
The team will likely end up having a different look than the squad that finished a disappointing seventh at the 2006 Olympics in Turin. Nineteen of the players invited will be 25 or under when the camp starts, with the youngest being 20-year-old Los Angeles Kings defenceman Drew Doughty.
The oldest player invited is Joe Sakic, who turns 40 next week and has yet to announce if he’ll return to the Colorado Avalanche next season. The native of Burnaby, B.C., has represented Canada at the past three Olympics.
Two other players invited to camp have also been part of every Canadian Olympic team that has featured NHLers – Chris Pronger and Martin Brodeur.
The camp will include on-ice sessions every day along with team-building activities away from the rink. The format forced Yzerman to limit his invitations.
“I wanted a manageable number,” he said. “We talked about bringing even more players, bring as many guys (as we could), why not? But I really felt like for the players to be on the ice and get something out of practice you can’t have too many bodies.”
Added Babcock: “Twenty-three guys, that’s a long way from 46. We didn’t want to get too carried away here.”
Even though there will be no official player evaluation during the camp, the Canadian staff believe it’s still important to hold the event.
Above all, Yzerman wants his players to feel like they’re part of a team when they get together next February.
“I want them to walk into the room in Vancouver for the Olympics and see familiar faces and be comfortable around one another,” said Yzerman. “The tournament is only two weeks long.”