CALGARY (Reuters) - It is the height of the Canadian summer but ice hockey fever has come early to the Great White North, as 46 of the country’s finest try to convince coaches they are worthy of a spot on the team for the Vancouver Olympics.
The players have been called to Calgary this week for a four-day orientation camp, with only 23 eventually making it on to Team Canada.
The 2010 Olympic lineup will not be revealed by Executive Director Steve Yzerman until December, but the players know it is never too early to make a good impression.
”Right now, we’re a great group of talent,“ coach Mike Babcock told reporters. ”We have to become a great team.
”That’s basically what we told them. We talked a lot about 200-foot players.
“What that means to me is simply one word -- trust. That we have to trust them everywhere in the rink if they want to be on our team.”
Babcock said the players had everything to prove and no one could be considered a lock for a spot on the team.
”The competition for jobs in all areas of this team are up for grabs,“ he added. Not for one second could I tell you who is going to be on this team. I couldn’t do that.”
While Babcock might not yet know who will be on his team, he cannot venture far without hearing an opinion.
Over 150 members of the media have been accredited for the orientation camp, which will culminate in an inter-squad game on Thursday night at the Saddledome.
The game is expected to attract a sellout crowd of close to 16,000.
‘WINNING THE LOTTO’
The only thing being hit on Tuesday were golf balls as players enjoyed an afternoon’s golf, but Team Canada officials were confident valuable work was being crammed into the four-day camp.
With the NHL waiting until the last moment to shut down for the Vancouver Games, Canada will have just one practice before facing Norway in their opener on February 16.
Babcock will therefore be keen to get his message across about the style and tactics he expects to use in Vancouver.
Players will also be briefed on everything from doping protocols to arranging tickets for family members to help eliminate surprises and distractions.
Babcock, a Canadian who also coaches the Detroit Red Wings in the National Hockey League, said it was a pleasure to be part of ice hockey in his home country again.
”When you’re born Canadian, in my opinion, it’s like winning the lotto,“ he said. ”You’re in the greatest country, playing the greatest game that the people have passion for.
”I love living in the United States. I‘m in a great hockey environment .... in saying that, you have to find those environments in the United States.
“It’s across the country here. The passion is fantastic.”
Editing by Peter Rutherford