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Olympics should be seen as opportunity, not pressure

Friday, 08.21.2009 / 9:38 AM / All-Access Vancouver

By Dan Rosen - NHL.com Senior Writer

The 46 lucky ones will be in Calgary starting Monday with the eyes of an entire hockey-mad nation fixated squarely on them.

Pressure?

Only if the lucky 46 remember why they're there.

"It's never going to happen in anyone's career ever again," Columbus Blue Jackets captain Rich Nash told NHL.com. "There will not be another Winter Olympics in Canada that any of us will be able to play in."

The Canadian National Men's Olympic Team orientation camp begins Monday night at the Pengrowth Saddledome and continues through the Red vs. White scrimmage Thursday night in front of what is expected to be a full house of more than 18,000 fans/critics.

The next time we'll see a collection of talent even close to what will be on the Saddledome ice will be in February for the 2010 Olympic men's ice hockey tournament in Vancouver, where the host nation will be expected to win gold.

Some of the players at the camp will make it to the Games. At least half will be home watching. All the lucky 46 have now is the knowledge that they are at least under consideration for a spot in what potentially could be the most talked about ice hockey event in Canada since the 1972 Summit Series.

"What pressure means is there are expectations, and the reason there are expectations is because you have a chance. Isn't that all you can ever ask for?" National Team coach Mike Babcock told NHL.com. "To me, that's fantastic. That your country is all fired up, isn't that a great thing? I can't see anything negative in it."

In the grand scheme of things, how the guys play this week doesn't mean squat. It's how they play in the first three months of the season that will determine if they're going to be chosen for the Olympic squad.

"You're really going to have to have a good start to the season," Nash said. "There are enough great Canadian players to have a couple of teams."

That doesn't mean camp won't be intense. The players will have to dust off some rust that has built up in the offseason, but every one of them likely will want to, as Nash said, "impress and shine."

Can you blame them?

It's the only time before the Olympics they'll play in front of all of Hockey Canada's collection of decision makers, which includes Executive Director Steve Yzerman; Executive Vice President Johnny Misley; President/CEO Bob Nicholson; Associate Directors Ken Holland, Kevin Lowe and Doug Armstrong; and Babcock and assistant coaches Jacques Lemaire, Lindy Ruff and Ken Hitchcock.

"They're going to get into place the systems they want to play, the different forechecks and neutral zones and they want to see who can do it and who can't, how it works and if people are capable of fitting into a certain system," Phoenix captain Shane Doan told NHL.com. "It's getting everyone in the loop."

It's unlikely that discussing the pressure they'll be under in Vancouver is on the agenda for this week because, simply, it's universally understood and probably too difficult to put into words anyway.

"With Canada, every single time you go to an international tournament the pressure is to win; gold is the only option and there is nothing else that matters," Doan said. "You let the whole country down when you don't win gold. So this is nothing different than what we have always expected. It's the pressure that comes with playing for Canada."

"I've coached in some pretty big games, but I don't think like that," Babcock said. "I like to say the two places I'm most comfortable are with my family and on the bench. Experience gives you comfort. The level of our team and our staff gives you comfort."

"What pressure means is there are expectations, and the reason there are expectations is because you have a chance. Isn't that all you can ever ask for? To me, that's fantastic. That your country is all fired up, isn't that a great thing? I can't see anything negative in it."
-- Mike Babcock

This, though, is a bit different because it's playing for Canada in Canada. It's possible some players could wilt under that type of intense pressure, but Babcock thinks like Nash, who thinks like Doan, who thinks like Yzerman and so on.

This week's camp starts the process for a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, so soak it in and enjoy every second even if that pressure is unyielding.

"To be an Olympic athlete or coach I think is beyond special, and for that to be in your own country is a dream come true," Babcock said. "And then to have the chance ... we're going to have a good team. It's time for us to have our turn."

Contact Dan Rosen at drosen@nhl.com