"They probably worked harder than I expected at this camp and I expect a lot, so that was great. Now they know what we expect. We expect them to compete if they are going to be on the team. That's the message here. We know we have skill, but skill is not going to win the tournament."
-- Mike Babcock
According to the players, coach Mike Babcock and Executive Director Steve Yzerman, everything they wanted to accomplish in these four days in Calgary got accomplished. If any of the players were uneasy heading into camp, that feeling is washed away now.
They not only know exactly how Canada is going to play at the Olympics, including systems and speed, but they know all the logistics that go along with Olympic play. That includes everything from when the team will be picked to where they will assemble, where they will stay and to what kind of treatment the families will be getting.
Every question has been answered. Now it's a four-month race to the finish line.
"I had high hopes and we came here with a plan that we wanted to execute and we were able to do that, but the players really took it to another level as far as coming here ready to work real hard," Babcock said. "They probably worked harder than I expected at this camp and I expect a lot, so that was great. Now they know what we expect. We expect them to compete if they are going to be on the team. That's the message here. We know we have skill, but skill is not going to win the tournament."
"The intensity they brought and how they competed, that's what gives you comfort."
That intensity was evident during Thursday night's Red-White scrimmage, which finished locked in a 2-2 tie after regulation in front of a sellout crowd of 19,289 at the Pengrowth Saddledome. Pittsburgh's Marc-Andre Fleury stopped 10 of 12 shooters in the ensuing shootout, surrendering goals to only Penguins' teammate Sidney Crosby and Martin St. Louis. Columbus' Steve Mason gave up six goals against 12 shots on the other end.
"It was a good pace, especially in the first I thought the goalies put on a pretty good show there," Crosby said. "We expected it to be fast and it was."
The first period was indeed a show between the top two goalies in the country as Vancouver's Roberto Luongo stood on his head under siege to make 17 saves, while New Jersey's Martin Brodeur made only seven, but some of them were downright spectacular.
"Seventeen shots in the period, it was like the glory of my Florida Panther days," Luongo said. "It wasn't a physical game because nobody wanted to get hurt out there, but apart from that we played as if it was a real match."
"The team is in good shape goaltending-wise," added Ottawa's Jason Spezza. "They put on a show, especially Marty and Lu."
The players, though, kept up the fast pace throughout the full 60 minutes. Even more impressive, considering the array of all stars here, including many offensive defensemen, everybody worked their tails off to backcheck.
"Well they better be doing that," Babcock said. "That's the message and it's real clear."
Anybody thinking this was going to be a glorified all-star game was sorely misled because it hardly resembled one, even though there wasn't too much hitting.
"I think there was a little letting up on the hits, but for the most part it was high tempo going up and down the rink and pushing the pace," said L.A. Kings forward Ryan Smyth, who scored the first goal of the night. "That's what it's all about. We have to learn the system that Babcock and the coaches have in store for us and it's important we all adapt to it. Whatever your role is you accept."
Perhaps, though, the most impressive thing about Thursday night was the crowd. They were 19,000 strong and cheering every play.
"Isn't that unbelievable?" Babcock said with a smile. "That's what it's about. That's why to have this opportunity in Canada for us is so very special. It was a great atmosphere for the players. The crowd obviously enjoyed the game and it was good for hockey."
Brodeur even marveled at how into it the crowd was when a replay showed Joe Thornton kicked the puck into the net late in the third period. The goal was eventually waved off.
"We expected it because people talked about it, but to see how people were into it, like with that kicking motion goal, it was pretty neat," Brodeur said. "It was almost too much of a real game than we thought it was going to be like."
Either way, with training camp roughly two weeks away, everybody that was on the ice here can now turn his attention to the upcoming NHL season. But after four days in Calgary, the lessons learned at Olympic orientation camp won't soon be forgotten.
"There shouldn't be any questions now," Sharks defenseman Dan Boyle said. "Everybody knows what they need to do and now it's just a matter of going out and playing our games in the NHL and hopefully getting a call in December."
Contact Dan Rosen at email@example.com