Canada's no-ice practices a success

CALGARY, Alberta -- Team Canada wrapped up its three-day Olympic camp with more "walk-through" practices Tuesday, and, while it has been unusual to see the players in ball-hockey mode on the covered ice, the innovative approach was a winner with the players.

Despite not skating for real, there was a sense of accomplishment at the end of it all.

“Being on the ice, going over video, getting to know some of the guys, I think we made the best of every situation," Sidney Crosby said after camp wrapped up Tuesday.

“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.”

Some people may snicker at a camp without actual on-ice practices, but Team Canada GM Steve Yzerman felt it was worth it, no question.

"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. It just takes that one step further and they can walk through their positioning. 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."

Head coach Mike Babcock spent a lot of time organizing the event and had specific goals he wanted to reach here.

"They [the players] came here for three simple things. No. 1 was to get to know everybody better from players to coaches to management to trainers, to get to know them and have a comfort level," Babcock said.

"No. 2 is to 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. We've gone over and over that. The walk-throughs made it slow enough to really spend some time on it.

"The third thing I think was critical for them is the evaluation process. How do you get to Sochi? We've tried to explain it to each and every guy so when they leave here they've got three months to do their part. They're in control of whether they go."

Just how much the players remember in terms of their system teaching come four months from now remains to be seen.

“I’m sure guys will need to refresh a little bit, but as far as just getting an idea for a foundation, it’s great we’re able to do it here,” Crosby said. "Kind of an unconventional way of doing it, but I think nonetheless we were able to benefit from it.”

Countries have until Dec. 31 to name their 25-man rosters, Yzerman indicating Canada would name its team sometime between mid- to late December.

"At the start of the season, we’ll start with this group of 47 -- we’ll keep an eye on everybody -- but focus on particular teams, particular games, particular players that we’re deciding on,” Yzerman said of narrowing down the choices. "There was a few guys we don’t feel the need to watch. But we know what they can do and they’re going to be on this team, assuming they’re healthy. We’ll arrange our schedule over the next week or so to get ready for the start of the regular season. We’ll get together as a group early November to narrow things down a little bit and talk about what we’re seeing and make sure we’re all in constant communication and get organized from November to mid-December and make our final decisions at that point."

In 2010, Canada was criticized for some its selections despite winning gold. Only in hockey-mad Canada is winning gold not quite good enough to satisfy everyone.

Yzerman knows the Team Canada brain trust won’t please everyone with its decisions this time, either.

"In 2010, we won, could you have put six or seven different guys on that team and still have won? Probably, maybe?” Yzerman said. "But we’ll beat it to death and talk about it and try and put the best team together. There will be logic behind our decisions whether it looks like it or not."

Canada's captain

The naming of a team captain will wait for now.

“It will probably be similar to Vancouver. I think it would be wise to wait until the team is named before we announce a captain,” said Yzerman, who named Scott Niedermayer captain last time around. "We’ll talk to the coaching staff about it and collectively reach a decision on that."

Hard to think Sidney Crosby won’t get the "C," although there will be a number of great candidates given that most of these guys are captains on their respective NHL teams.

“It’d be an honor for sure,” Crosby said of whether he’d be named captain. "But it’s not something that’s on my mind a whole lot. We all want to be on this team and lead by example when we need to, but it’s an honor to be a captain on any team.”

Regardless, Crosby will have a bigger leadership role than he had in 2010 when he was a 22-year-old first-time Olympian.

“I think if I look back at last time, I was probably more in awe and trying to learn from those guys [more] than anything,” Crosby said. "I don’t think it's a conscious decision you make, I think its just a natural progression when you’ve played on a team before, you understand things a bit better. It’s a comfort level. It’s a difference between going to your first Olympic camp and your second one. It’s a mindset.

“I think it’s kind of a natural progression for all the guys who were in Vancouver to come here and be a lot more comfortable, but with the number of guys we have here who are captains or leaders on their team, I think you’ll see a lot of guys who are comfortable.”

Yzerman said it’s the natural progression of this team to have some of the young stars from 2010 step up in the leadership department this time around.

"Sidney, Shea Weber, those types of guys that played very well and are elite NHL players,” Yzerman said. "Four more years later, a lot has happened in their careers. They’ve learned a lot. They’ve matured a lot. The Scott Neidermayers, the Chris Prongers aren’t here. It’s up to those players to take a step forward. So, yes, I expect some of these younger players to take a step forward. Jonathan or Sidney, for example, they’ve won gold medals, won Stanley Cups. They’ve accomplished a lot. They’re still young guys. But they’re leaders on their own clubs and we expect them to be here.”

Sharp's ready this time

Four years ago, Patrick Sharp arrived at the Canadian Olympic camp a little wide-eyed. But it’s a different feeling this time around for the Chicago Blackhawks star.

"Going back then, I think I was a different player,” Sharp said Tuesday. "I was 26 or 27. I don’t want to say I was star struck, but I was excited to be here. But I don’t know if I really believed then that I belonged. I know that’s a bad thing to say as a player. This time around, I’m much more confident, I’ve played in a some pretty serious games. Since 2009 we’ve gone deep in the playoffs three times and won the Stanley Cup twice. So a lot has changed for my game since then, and hopefully, I can play well this year and show the coaches and Hockey Canada that I belong."

What does Team Canada GM Steve Yzerman say about Sharp’s opportunity to make the team?

"A very good chance," Yzerman said. "One, he can play all of the three forward positions, which is a great asset. He plays in all situations, power play, penalty killing. He has been on teams that have won Stanley Cups and been an important player. Teams that win, certain traits they have, their players play a certain way and can play in big games and play under pressure and know how to win. He’s got all those things going for him."

Sharp’s ability to play all three forward positions is an obvious asset.

"I hope so,” said Sharp, a native of Thunder Bay, Ontario. "I know it’s tough putting these kinds of teams together and moving guys around in different positions. That’s something I’ve done my whole career in Chicago. If that helps my chances, that’s great."

You sense in Sharp’s voice how much it would mean to him to make this team. He was asked if making Team Canada would mean as much or even more than winning the Stanley Cup.

"That’s tough to answer,” Sharp said. "That’s like saying, who do you like better, my wife or my daughter. It’s two things that would be incredible accomplishments. And I’m jealous of Seabs and Duncs and Johnny who were able to win the Cup and the gold in the same year. I certainly want to be part of that and will do anything I can to make the team this year."

Marc Staal's recovery

Rangers blueliner Marc Staal says he’s ready to go after suffering a scary eye injury last season.

"It's good. Really good. I had a really good summer of training and I feel really good," Staal said Tuesday. "When I'm on the ice, I don't really notice it at all. I'm excited and anxious just to start the season up and get it going."

Staal said he has adjusted well.

"It was more of just adapting to the depth perception and things like that when I was coming back,” Staal explained. "It just wasn't clicking when I was trying to come back in the playoffs there. But with the time off and the training now, everything's back to normal and I'm feeling really good."

Many people believe Staal could make Team Canada as long as there are no signs he’s limited by what happened to his eye.

"I have no limitations at all. It's been a great summer of training,” Staal said. "Physically from the time I was cleared to start working out, there wasn't anything I couldn't do as far as physically getting ready. So that part of it has been really good this summer, just getting into shape, getting stronger and getting ready for the season."

Weber's game

Early in Canada’s trouncing of Russia in the quarterfinals of the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver, Shea Weber threw his body around and it set the tempo for the victory.

But that was on NHL ice. He has given some thought to how he’s going to have to adjust his game on the bigger ice in Sochi.

"Yeah definitely," Weber said. "I had the chance to play in the world championships in Russia and Switzerland, so I’m a little familiar with it. You can get caught out of position a lot easier. It’s wider and there’s more time and space for those guys to make passes through you. So you have to be conscious. You still want to play physical but you don’t want to take chances."

Weber is a lock to make this team again, but he certainly hasn’t tried to sit down and figure out the 25-man roster.

"No, that’s why I’m the player, there’s too many tough decisions,” joked the Nashville Predators captain. "You go down the list and everybody deserves the chance. That’s why they’re here. There’s even guys that aren’t here that probably will get a good look during the season. We’re very fortunate in Canada to have a big selection, but definitely some tough choices."

Lucic's in shape

A lot was said last season about what kind of shape Milan Lucic was in. The topic reared its ugly head late in the regular season when he was a healthy scratch because of his ineffective play. He picked it up big time in the playoffs and was once again the player people in Boston were used to watching.

Good news, Bruins fans. One look at Lucic this week at the Olympic camp and you know he’s in excellent shape.

"I'm in a lot better shape than I was going into [last] year,” Lucic said. "I didn't take much time off; I maybe took a week off after we lost to Chicago just because I was feeling really good, how I ended off on a personal note and I kind of wanted to keep that going. I went back to how I used to always train. I had some things that were kind of bothering me that weren't allowing my body to train as hard as I used to and I rectified a couple of those problems and it's starting to feel better in the gym."

Iggy talk

Bruins center Patrice Bergeron is eager to see Jarome Iginla on the Bruins this season.

"For sure, it's going to be great,” Bergeron said. "I've had a chance to play with him and to meet him in Vancouver and he's an amazing guy and also player, very professional and a great leader as well. Very excited to have him with us and looking forward to getting to know him even more."