CALGARY – No evaluation came from Hockey Canada’s Olympic orientation camp, but coach Mike Babcock insisted the staff and players got plenty of benefits out of spending a few days together.
“One hundred per cent we knew that coming in here,” Babcock said. “There was no evaluation that took place here whatsoever just because there was no opportunity. But there was lots of learning and shared information.”
Tuesday evening marked the end of the main portion of camp, though players will convene briefly Wednesday to get drug-testing and other information before leaving Calgary to continue preparations for the upcoming NHL season. Even without the ability to go through on-ice practices, players took a lot out of ball-hockey walk-throughs and meetings.
“I think we made the best of every situation,” said Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby. “A lot of information, details on the way we want to play. Just trying to grasp all that is important, because there isn’t a ton of time over there, so you make the most of having the time here together.”
It’s a quick turnaround for players, coaches and general managers before the start of training camps in September. Rookie camps come first, so Team Canada GM Steve Yzerman and his colleagues must shift focus from this group to their own teams.
Players will get a little bit more time to think about their experience, which Washington Capitals defenceman Karl Alzner described as the best summer camp anyone could be a part of. His hope is that bonding will linger.
“Just getting to talk to some of the guys that you wouldn’t normally say anything to on the ice, it’ll be a little bit different now because I think I only knew maybe a quarter of the guys here,” Alzner said. “That’s pretty cool for me. It makes you feel probably a little bit better on the ice to go up against them, not so nervous.”
Tactically, Babcock was trying to give players at least an introduction to how Canada will play in Sochi, Russia.
“Understand the details of how we’re going to play—terminology, where to stand, how to play in your own zone, how to play on the power play, penalty kill,” he said. “We’ve gone over and over that. The walk-throughs made it slow enough to really spend some time on it.”
The prep work on Canada Olympic Park’s international-sized rink came with boards over top of the ice and orange balls instead of pucks. But that didn’t seem to detract from what was accomplished.
“The feedback from coaches and players is they think it’s been worthwhile,” Yzerman said. “They’ve spent a lot of time, even if they’re going on the floor, in meetings and video sessions…. Some guys learn different than others. Some guys tune out in video and meetings and whatnot. If we do this in a practical manner, it kind of drives the point home a little bit.”
Giroux’s absence won’t hurt chances
Philadelphia Flyers centre Claude Giroux chose to skip camp to continue rehabbing a finger injury suffered earlier this month. He and San Jose Sharks captain Joe Thornton, who had to cancel his trip because his two-month-old son was hospitalized, might have some extra home work to do, but their absences won’t affect their chances of making it to Sochi, according to Yzerman.
“We’d love to have them here but understandably, they can’t,” Yzerman said. “If they’re selected to the team, they’ll get a crash course at that point. Joe’s been in the camp, Giroux has been with us at the world championships.”
Giroux had surgery to repair torn tendons in his right index finger and was expected to miss five to six weeks, the Flyers said Aug. 15. That would put him in line to be ready for the start of the regular season.
“Talked to (Flyers GM) Paul Holmgren,” Yzerman said. “Rehabbing on a daily basis. Very aggressive. Doesn’t know time frame. Needed to be there on a daily basis to be with trainers.”
At the start of camp, Boston Bruins centre Patrice Bergeron deemed himself 95 per cent after suffering torn rib cartilage, a broken rib, separated right shoulder and a punctured lung during the Stanley Cup final.
Bergeron took part in ball-hockey walk-throughs and looked to be moving around well.
“It’s good to see that he’s almost fully recovered,” Bruins teammate Milan Lucic said. “I don’t know if he’s totally recovered, but he’s probably 99 per cent. It’s pretty crazy and amazing that he played through what he went through. I didn’t really know it was that bad, but I saw him in pain. That’s why (during) these off-seasons you have to do whatever you can to get yourself as close to 100 per cent as you possibly can.”
Smith relieved Coyotes have new owners
Goaltender Mike Smith was only with the Phoenix Coyotes for the past two seasons, but in that time the constant questions about the team’s uncertain future got to him.
“We always talked about not letting it creep into our room,” Smith said. “It seemed the last two (training) camps I was at, guys kept saying ‘We can’t worry about what’s happening with ownership.’ But this past year it started to weigh on us.”
With the ownership saga over after IceArizona finalized the purchase of the Coyotes in early August, Smith said it’s one less thing to think about. Now he and his teammates can focus on hockey and a future in Arizona.
“Signing some free agents, that stability will be key, and just being able to play knowing we’re going to be there, for the fans and the sponsors to know we’re going to be there, will be big,” said Smith, who signed a six-year, US$34-million contract with the Coyotes earlier this off-season. “It’s a great place to play and I’m glad we’re staying there. It’s a place I can call home for a few years and not have to worry about whether the team’s going to be there next year.”