CALGARY – The NHL stars hoping to represent Canada at next year’s Olympics ended their orientation camp with a scrimmage Thursday night, but a sellout crowd gave it a playoff atmosphere.
That the Pengrowth Saddledome was full for the Red-White game shows the passion Canadian hockey fans have for the men’s team as it heads into the 2010 Olympic team February in Vancouver.
The lack of body checking and the staged shootout to conclude the game made the 2-2 result artificial. The announced sellout of 19,289 who paid between US$40 and $85 for a ticket didn’t seem to mind. The scrimmage was not televised but was available via webcast on Hockey Canada’s website.
The scrimmage was expected to be massaged to put the 44 players through power-play and four-on-four systems, but the game was allowed to unfold organically. Each team had chances to test their special-teams legs with players going to the penalty box on legitimate calls.
Canada’s coach Mike Babcock said he wanted to see the players play a regular game and just before the third period, he nixed a plan to play it four-on-four. He was behind the Red team’s bench, which won the shootout 6-2.
“It’s the first time anyone’s ever cheered for one of my teams in here, I’ll tell you that,” the Detroit Red Wings head coach observed.
Los Angeles Kings forward Ryan Smyth and Anaheim’s Corey Perry scored for White, while Philadelphia centre Jeff Carter and San Jose Sharks forward Patrick Marleau replied for Red.
Senators forward Dany Heatley, who has requested a trade from Ottawa despite signing a long-term contract extension there, was razzed whenever he had possession of the puck during regulation. But the Calgary native was cheered when he scored during the post-game shootout.
As would be expected of August hockey, the play was sloppy early, but both sides threw the puck around with more abandon and there was increased body contact by the end of the second period.
The goaltenders provided most of the buzz in the building. White goalie Roberto Luongo of the Vancouver Canucks provided the first-period entertainment by stopping all 17 shots he faced with several acrobatic saves. That prompted calls of “Looo” in a building that dislikes him when the Canucks visit the Calgary Flames.
Red goalie Martin Brodeur stole Luongo’s thunder, however, in the final seconds of the opening period. He slide across the goal-mouth to rob Jason Spezza, which brought the Saddledome to its feet when the buzzer sounded.
“It was a great game goalie-wise,” Luongo said. “It was high-tempo and good pace. The physical aspect wasn’t there, but that’s normal. We don’t want to hurt each other at this point in the summer.”
Brodeur stopped 11 of 12 shots over 30 minutes before the New Jersey Devil was relieved by Pittsburgh’s Marc-Andre Fleury. He stopped nine of 10 shots for Red and stoned Tampa Bay’s Martin St. Louis on a breakaway late in the third period during his half of the game.
White had three goalies to rotate through the game. Carolina’s Cam Ward made 11 saves on 13 shots in relief of Luongo in the second period and Steve Mason of the Columbus Blue Jackets stopped all 12 shots he faced in the third for White.
Fleury and Mason remained in their respective nets for the 24-player shootout and Fleury had the better run, stopping 10 attempts from White.
Canadian team executive director Steve Yzerman, Babcock and assistants Ken Hitchcock, Jacques Lemaire and Lindy Ruff will evaluate players from now until December, when Canada’s Olympic men’s team will be named
“This is as close as they can get to an exhibition game before the Olympics,” Yzerman said. “I hope they got something out of it.”
To add to the informal nature of the game, several players on each team wore the same numbers and sometimes played on the same line: Jordan Staal and Daniel Cleary No. 11 and Brendan Morrow and Andy McDonald No. 10 for Red; Eric Staal and Jarome Iginla No. 12 and Perry and Patrick Sharp No. 10 for White.