Team Canada's battle-tested leaders benefit from experience

TORONTO -- The leadership core of this cool-as-they-come machine called Team Canada was born out of the most pressurized environment one could ever imagine for the sport of hockey.

The 2010 Olympics in Vancouver, British Columbia, was a must-win hockey tournament for the sport's birth nation following Canada's tremendously disappointing flameout at the Torino Winter Games in Italy four years earlier.

A silver medal in 2010 would have been deemed a disaster. It was akin to Brazil hosting soccer's World Cup. It is beyond belief how much pressure there was in Vancouver.

To have been able to come through with a gold medal in that environment six years ago spawned a whole new era for Team Canada's core stars -- led by Sidney Crosby, Jonathan Toews, Shea Weber, Drew Doughty and Ryan Getzlaf -- and produced the kind of belief and quiet confidence that has set this team apart on its way to the World Cup of Hockey finals.

The best-of-three championship series against Team Europe begins Tuesday.

Add in the same head coach since Vancouver in Mike Babcock and you've got the kind of continuity over three best-on-best tournaments that has led to a certain know-how you can't buy.

"Obviously, it's important," Babcock said over the weekend. "When we had the graybeards that year in 2010 with Nieds and Prongs and Iggy, I mean, they provided great stabilization for us in the room. And Boiler was on that team, and there was some good, good, good men who had been around a long time to help these kids. These kids now aren't kids any more. ... I trust them, and I think they trust me."

Babcock was referring to the veteran presence of Scott Niedermayer, Chris Pronger, Jarome Iginla and Dan Boyle, which in that frying pan of a tournament in 2010 helped ease the transition to Team Canada's current generation of leaders.

"It was a pretty jam-packed and pressure-packed moment, and you look at how all those guys performed, it was pretty remarkable," Pronger said Monday over the phone.

Don't kid yourself though. The presence of Hall of Famers such as Pronger and Niedermayer helped those young stars handle the moment at hand in Vancouver.

"I especially remember Nieds, because I was so fortunate to play with him and sat beside him in the locker room," Weber said Monday after practice. "He was just a calming influence. He was never a guy that was really that vocal. He said things, but he wasn't always chirping -- just that guy where there was never a doubt in his mind -- and I think that really calms a room. You can learn a lot from those guys in those situations."

Reached Monday, Niedermayer, ever humble, downplayed his role.

"The way Toews and Crosby play, I mean, it's impressive," he said. "Obviously, extremely talented players, but neither feel they're too good to do the little dirty jobs that need to be done. Throughout my career, that really impresses me when you see a guy like that that's willing to do that for his team.

"Those two guys were born leaders. If we happened to pass on a few things that we learned from other guys, great, but I think those two guys were going to figure it out on their own."

Babcock is quick to remind people that Weber is just as important in that Crosby-Toews leadership group.

"He's as good a human being as I've ever been around," Babcock said of Weber. "He doesn't have to say much. He just has to look at you, and you snap into shape. He cuts a big swath out there. ... What I like about him best is when he walks in the dressing room, you know it's business. And so he's a culture-type person. He makes your franchise better when he walks in the door."

The fact is, Team Canada has leaders all over the dressing room. Most of them wear a letter on their respective NHL teams, which is why nobody has to stand up and deliver a speech.

"There's not one voice that's the most present in the room, I don't think," Doughty said. "Everyone's kind of got the things they want to say either to the team or just to your linemates or D partners. Everyone is chipping in on that, and we look for that from everyone."

It's why when Canada somehow was in a tie game after 40 minutes in Saturday's semifinal despite massively outplaying Russia that you could hear a pin drop in the Canadian dressing room. Been there, done that; the back-to-back Olympic champs just stuck to the game plan and hammered the Russians in the third period.

Leadership also is accepting your role. There are star players on Team Canada playing fewer minutes than they're used to. Nobody is complaining.

"It's impressive," Niedermayer said. "I think this run that this group's been on is amazing and should really be appreciated, obviously by them but also by Canadians and fans. ... I don't see anybody there that's worried about themselves.

"They're there for one reason, to help the team, and I think it really shows."