CALGARY – Sidney Crosby would like to be on the ice this week at Hockey Canada’s Olympic orientation camp. So would Roberto Luongo.
Instead, the high cost of insurance will limit them to some optional off-ice workouts and maybe some golf on the side. But Hockey Canada figures that no skating is no problem for the players who travelled to Calgary for a few days of meetings, bonding and information-sharing in preparation for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.
“It would be nice, but it’s not the case and I still think we can get a lot out of these few days without skating,” said Crosby, the Pittsburgh Penguins captain who scored the gold-medal-winning goal in Vancouver in 2010. “There will be a lot of information being thrown out there and we’ll have to learn a lot in a short period of time, but I think everyone is kind of excited for that.”
Those who went through this experience four years ago before the Vancouver Olympics remember it fondly. They were able to skate then, something that allowed coach Mike Babcock to at least get a rough idea of line combinations.
General manager Steve Yzerman would have liked that extra preparation, but as assistant coach Claude Julien of the Boston Bruins pointed out, not having the luxury of skating gives the staff a “great opportunity to do something different.”
“What you do in the next three days, we’ve learned over time really matters,” said assistant Ken Hitchcock, who coaches the St. Louis Blues. “The terminology that Mike talks about that we put in the next two days, the systems, the walk-throughs, are really, really important because all of us at the end of this event, we get onto our own teams and we don’t think about it until we get on the plane. Having that information that the players can draw from, we can go back and hit familiar ground right away.”
Creating some familiar ground is one of the main goals in the next couple of days. Many of the players at least know each other, but as Kevin Lowe, president of the Edmonton Oilers, noted, there’s no way to underestimate “camaraderie and relationships” going into the Olympics.
Spending time together is one thing players said they’re trying to get out of this experience.
“I know a lot of them are going to be my opponents during the season; some of them are pretty close friends that I haven’t seen in while, so it’s a plus,” said Ottawa Senators defenceman Marc Methot. “And being around some great hockey people, there’s always an opportunity to learn a lot of cool new things. And we’re still getting a couple workouts in. They’re optional workouts, but we are working out, so it’s not a complete loss, physically.”
Anaheim Ducks captain Ryan Getzlaf emphasized the need to stay in a workout routine, which also might be the biggest downside of not skating at this camp.
“I don’t think it matters from a standpoint of preparing for the Olympics. I think that we’re all professional players here, we’re all playing relatively the same game. There’s no big hockey secret out there,” Getzlaf said. “I think that the only thing that would be nice to keep on skating because we’re getting prepared for our own (NHL training) camps. This is a big chunk, this is almost a whole week where we’re not going to get our skates in.”
San Jose Sharks defenceman Dan Boyle, 37, was “thrilled” not to be skating because he hadn’t ramped up his off-season regimen too much before going to Calgary. Oilers left wing Taylor Hall would love the opportunity to skate with a lot of talented potential teammates, but he was relieved because he’s not yet in peak shape to do so.
Players generally didn’t protest the lack of on-ice activities because the insurance issue was out of their hands. Hockey Canada president and CEO Bob Nicholson estimated that with contracts totalling about $1.5 billion, it just got too expensive to insure them and allow players to lace up their skates.
“I don’t think it’s anything major,” said Luongo, who won gold in Vancouver in 2010. “It’s always fun to go on the ice with the country’s best players and it kind of kicks off your season a little bit one you do that. It’s going to be a good time here even though we’re not skating. But it would’ve been nice to maybe stop a few pucks.”
These players will get their chances to skate with teammates soon enough, when NHL camps open next month.
“Guys have been working out and guys have been skating a lot recently,” Tampa Bay Lightning forward Steven Stamkos said. “Maybe a little break is going to be nice before you really go hard for two weeks heading into (training) camp. … It’s not like even if we were going on the ice we’re going to be doing a lot of tough, tough situation things. We’re probably going to get the same results by going over things with coaches, watching video and things like that.”
That’s where Babcock’s coaching comes in. He said there’s “no sense worrying” about not skating, simply adjusting to the situation on the fly.
The Detroit Red Wings coach singled out everyone getting to know each other and implementing the details of how Canada is going to play in Sochi as two important pieces of camp.
The third element is far more wide-ranging.
“Being an Olympian to me is much bigger than just being part of a regular hockey team,” Babcock said. “You’re part of a bigger team: the Canadian team. That’s not just the Canadian hockey team, that’s the Canadian Olympic team. I think it’s a special, special thing. When you get special opportunities, your preparation should be the same. Our preparation this week has to be gold-medal preparation.”