Steve Yzerman has already seen the benefits of a productive Olympic orientation camp.
He participated in the first one Canada ever held just months before the country ended a 50-year gold-medal drought at the 2002 Games in Salt Lake City. The biggest thing that stands out in his mind about the camp is the bonding opportunity it offered the players.
“In ’01, I really didn’t know what to expect – I don’t think any of us did,” Yzerman said over the weekend. “It was the first time we attended an Olympic camp. I really enjoyed it. . .
“I thought the most important part of it is that the players really got comfortable with each other. There’s a lot of guys I didn’t know very well. We got to spend a lot of time – whether it be golfing or just being around one another – to get to know each other. Because that’s the only time you really get together with some of these guys before the tournament.”
Forty-six hopefuls for Canada’s 2010 team will gather in Calgary from Monday to Thursday and getting familiar with each another is one of the top items on the agenda.
After attending the last two Olympic camps as a player, Yzerman is the man in charge of this one. He plans to address the players before they take the ice for the first time on Monday night.
The message he’ll deliver?
“Just what my expectations are for the camp, what I’m hoping we accomplish in the four days in Calgary,” said Yzerman. “I also want to let them know what my expectation of the team is and what Kevin (Lowe), Ken (Holland), Doug (Armstrong) and myself will be out looking for in general when we make our final decisions.”
Yzerman and his management staff will select the 23-man roster in December so no jobs will be won or lost during four days in August. The camp is intended more as an orientation session than a chance for player evaluation.
“August is planting the seeds and making sure the players know what is expected when they go to the Olympics,” said Hockey Canada president Bob Nicholson. “The Olympics are so different with security, doping and media. They (need) that preparation.”
The camp is also about something much less tangible – trying to create a bit of chemistry.
The Olympic team will only have one practice together before taking the ice for its first game in February. Yzerman wants to make sure that every player walks into the dressing room in Vancouver and sees familiar faces.
It could be particularly important this time around because there’s likely to be quite a few Olympic rookies – 19 of the players invited to camp are currently 25 or under, with the youngest being 20-year-old Los Angeles Kings defenceman Drew Doughty.
Among those also receiving an invitation 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.
During the camp, the players will be put through their paces by coach Mike Babcock and his staff. That’s another important aspect of the experience.
“They’ve got to spend some time with the coaches,” said Yzerman. “(It’s important) that they understand what the coaches want to do, how they want to play, and even just the lingo that they use.”
The camp marks the start of a busy stretch in the run-up to the Games for everyone involved with the team.
Yzerman, for one, is excited about it.
“This is our first opportunity to get together with the players and spend some time,” said Yzerman. “It’s the next step, and it’s the biggest step so far in our preparation. I’m really looking forward to it. There’s a lot of things I want to get accomplished at the camp. . .
“Before you know it, it’ll be the middle of December and we’re going to have to announce that team.”