CALGARY – Sidney Crosby’s brush with danger at Canada’s Olympic orientation camp happened in the middle of a river and was accompanied by plenty of laughter. Shane Doan and Jarome Iginla’s latest battle was waged on a golf course and followed up with some playful trash talk.
The 40-plus Olympic hopefuls in Calgary this week are having all kinds of fun together and it’s all being done in the name of chemistry.
Even though it is virtually impossible to measure or quantify, its importance to the success of a team is not. In fact, Rick Nash cited a lack of chemistry as one of the reasons he feels a powerful-looking Canadian roster was shut out three times at the 2006 Olympics on the way to a seventh-place finish.
“There was so much firepower on the team, maybe just not the right chemistry,” Nash said Wednesday. “It’s tough to look back and say what happened. There was no reason why we shouldn’t have had scoring power.”
It’s no secret that one of the goals Steve Yzerman and his Olympic management group have set for this orientation camp is to try and build some rapport amongst the players.
While the ultimate success of those efforts won’t truly be known until the Olympic tournament is played in February, the early returns seem good. There was a somewhat lighter atmosphere on the third day of camp – perhaps not surprisingly since the players spent the morning playing golf, fly fishing or simply relaxing.
Crosby was among the handful of guys who took to the river and had the group in stitches because of a casting mishap.
“Sometimes we can laugh at each other,” said defenceman Francois Beauchemin. “Sid almost hooked himself in the back of the head. That was fun to see.”
Meanwhile, an intense battle was being waged on the links in a foursome that included Iginla, Doan, Dany Heatley and Jordan Staal.
Iginla and Heatley won a little bit of money against their opponents.
“Dany Heatley and I had some chemistry against those guys,” said Iginla. “We had a good day.”
Doan had a slightly different take on the event. He was questioning whether the twosome was using its proper handicaps in the match.
“He ended up winning money because he set up another game where he kind of had the advantage,” said Doan. “Dan Heatley and Iggy were sandbagging in that game. (Iginla) didn’t make as much as he planned on making.”
The only place there wasn’t much laughter was on the ice at the Pengrowth Saddledome, where coach Mike Babcock put the two groups of skaters through a high-paced practice for the third consecutive day.
There was even a point in the first practice when Babcock stopped a drill, gathered the players around and instructed them to do it better. His intensity has been on display all week.
“It’s the Stanley Cup playoffs every day for Mike and I think that’s a good thing,” said Kevin Lowe, one of the team’s executives.
Added defenceman Scott Niedermayer: “He’s done a good job at the camp really being black and white, letting everybody know what’s wanted and demanded from the players. He is into the details, but it’s very quick and it’s very direct. There’s not a lot of grey areas. He tells you exactly what he wants and expects us to do it.”
Babcock shook up all of his line pairings Wednesday, replacing Jarome Iginla with Martin St. Louis on the top unit with Crosby and Nash.
The coach seems intent on keeping Crosby and Nash together: “I think there’s something there.”
Iginla ended up skating on a line with Mike Richards and Jonathan Toews, who was moved to the wing after lining up at centre over the opening two days.
Even though Babcock has repeatedly warned reporters not to read too much into his lines, there’s a growing sentiment among some of the players that they are a good indication of what he’s thinking.
“No one knows what the combinations are going to be as far as players and who’s going to be around,” said Toews. “The coaching staff, I think they’re starting to maybe get their own ideas.”
The camp wraps up on Thursday night with a scrimmage between the two groups of players. More than 16,000 tickets have been sold for the game.
Babcock will shake up some of his lines again for the scrimmage and plans to watch from behind the bench.
While no one expects to see many hits after the puck is drop on Thursday, the scrimmage will likely feature more intensity than a typical all-star game.
“They want it to be competitive – like how we practice during the season against each other,” said Iginla. “You know, you go to the practice in the heat of a season and you know how to play against each other as teammates. That’s what we are here for.
“You’ll be battling, you don’t want your teammate to beat you.”
Ultimately, the 23 players that end up getting selected for the Olympic roster hope to feel like they’re part of a true team when the Games get underway in Vancouver.
That’s why everyone is putting in so much effort to get to know one another and try to build a foundation for winning gold in 2010.
“Right now we’re a great group of talent,” Babcock said at the start of the camp. “We have to become a great team.”