The opening day of Team Canada’s Olympic orientation camp was a circus, regardless of whether it deserved to be.
Sure, it was the first time many of these players – all superstars, many of them captains – were not only asked serious questions since last June but also the first they had even appeared on television since last June, but not one player will take the ice in Calgary this week.
Insurance costs won’t allow it. Instead, they’ll talk. They’ll discuss. They’ll have a retreat, of sorts, and they’ll treat it like a consolation prize – an honour – for several worthy players who won’t eventually make the grade for Sochi. (Marty St. Louis, Dan Hamhuis, etc.)
Sunday, though, was nothing original.
Roberto Luongo was egged with Vancouver-based questions, and Sidney Crosby (who was sitting beside him) had to curb the Canucks talk by telling the media throng that he felt bad for Luey.
“I want to take the attention away from what’s happened,” Luongo told reporters. “There are so many great goalie in Canada… there are guys pushing to take the jobs that are playing great.”
“He wins every time,” said head coach Mike Babcock, who coached Luongo in the 2010 Olympics and who eventually made him that tournament’s starter over Martin Brodeur.
“He’s been through an emotional, tumultuous time, but I thought he handled it with extreme class and professionalism,” Babcock said. “In fact, I’d say I’m proud of the way he handled it. Because of all that, you can tell he has a renewed sense of confidence in himself. But he’s here like everyone else and you have to get off to a good start if you’re a goaltender.”
Goalies are sure to be the most dissected, unsure portion of next year’s Canadian squad. As of now, Luongo could be seen as the favourite to start, but Corey Crawford is coming off a Stanley Cup victory and Carey Price has a chance to be Carey Price once again.
Braden Holtby and Mike Smith were also invited to this week’s camp, and possibles Marc-Andre Fleury, Cam Ward, and future Hall of Famer Martin Brodeur all have a shot to crack 2014’s roster.
“You’ve got to come in here and earn the job,” said Carey Price, the often embattled Montreal Canadiens goalie who was also invited to this week’s camp and was the odds-on favourite to win the starting Canadian job before last year’s playoffs.
For Luongo’s part, he was the only member of the Canadian contingent to admit he was going to miss being on-ice for this week’s camp.
“It’s unfortunate and a shame that we couldn’t be on the ice this week, but this is a good start,” he said. “At the end of the day, that’s all I want to do – to play and to talk about hockey. It feels great.
“I think over the course of the last year I gained a lot of experience on how to deal with tough situations. I think it will make me a better player and person.
“But right now I’m focused on getting back to playing hockey. That’s the bottom line.”
The players, the coaches, and the entire management team – led by Steve Yzerman and Kevin Lowe – were asked about the international ice surface. They were asked about this week’s camp and what could really be accomplished considering that, you know, the players couldn’t skate.
Yzerman was asked about Canada’s lack of Olympic success – two Gold medals since 2002, but only two Gold medals since 1952 – and the brain behind this upcoming team seemed confused by the premise. (Of course he was. He won Gold as a player in 2002 and he won Gold as a manager in 2010. He’s known success, but the Canadians haven’t.)
Stevie Y didn’t answer the question from Canada’s perspective – as in, “We haven’t won because we haven’t (insert here)” – but he instead heralded the skill and desire of other teams, all of whom are excellent and all of whom believe they should win.
“We’re not putting together a team for an NHL all-star game, we’re putting together the best possible team we can to compete against the best players in the world and try and win a gold medal,” Yzerman said earlier this week. “Part of that comes with having players that can do specific things for us.”
And yet, for all today’s talk of speed and youth and energy to cover a larger ice surface – and the need to match up against the Russias, the USAs, and even the Slovakias of the world – there was still the whiff of the old Canada, the ancient Canada, and the self-loving Canada.
We always over-value experience, because it worked in 2002 (barely) and because we still haven’t gotten over ourselves.
Despite Canada’s 2006 loss to a Russian team led by 19-year-olds Alex Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin, and despite a razor-thin overtime to a Team USA led by Patrick Kane (the 2010 tournament’s best player) – a Gold that was only possible because of the play of another impossibly young player in Jonathan Toews – our Canada Olympic crew has never been able to just let the kids play.
Crosby missed the Games in 2006. Stamkos missed them in 2010. Jarome Iginla was a bubble choice in 2002 and scored two goals in that year’s Gold medal final.
You just know Nathan MacKinnon or Jonathan Drouin won’t have a chance in 2014, despite how they start the year.
It should be noted, both Sidney Crosby and Shea Weber were asked about Russia’s current anti-gay legislation and they both answered as politically neutral as they possibly could, although both Weber and Crosby said they didn’t approve of the country’s view on gay rights.
“We’re going over there to play hockey and that’s what we’re going to focus on,” said Weber.
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has said it will not tolerate any protests or displays of protest from athletes (against Russia) at the Sochi Olympics, but it has also demanded assurance and clarification from the Russian government on its law that bans “gay propaganda”.
“The International Olympic Committee is clear that sport is a human right and should be available to all regardless of race, sex or sexual orientation,” the IOC’s statement from July said. “The Games themselves should be open to all, free of discrimination, and that applies to spectators, officials, media and of course athletes. We would oppose in the strongest terms any move that would jeopardize this principle.”