Six months before the opening ceremony of the 2014 Olympic Winter Games in Sochi, Russia, several national team coaches face the task of whittling a preliminary list of orientation-camp invitees into a roster capable of bringing home the gold.
It's a difficult job for any country with NHL-caliber talent. It's nearly impossible for Canada, the defending Olympic champion.
The 47 players invited to Canada's orientation camp, scheduled to take place in Calgary from Aug. 25-28, have combined to win 20 Stanley Cup championships and have played in 27 NHL All-Star Games. The task of creating a gold-medal roster from that group is complicated by the fact the camp won't include on-ice activities.
That's why the opening months of the 2013-14 NHL season will be more important for certain players.
"It will be a unique situation. We'll have a camp at the end of August and go through a lot of stuff we want to do," said Dallas Stars coach Lindy Ruff, an assistant coach for Canada. "Most of that evaluation process is going to take place as the season is going on in the first couple of months. I think that's incentive for some players who may be sitting on the bubble."
With a team that will be as scrutinized as any at the Olympic tournament, Canada general manager Steve Yzerman will inevitably have to make unpopular decisions. The 2010 team that won gold in Vancouver met expectations, but was initially criticized for missing Martin St. Louis, Patrick Sharp, Jason Spezza and Jeff Carter.
With 15 players and three coaches from the 2010 team attending the upcoming camp, memories from Canada's 3-2 overtime win against the United States in the Vancouver gold-medal game should be fresh.
"We saw the challenge last time. It wasn't easy in Canada. This one won't be easy either," Ruff said. "I think the Olympic competition is very tight. It is about getting hot at the right time and producing at the right time."
Finding and maintaining that chemistry may be the most challenging job for Canada. In an environment that should prove very different from Vancouver, naming a final Olympic roster will be the first of several complicated tasks for Canada's coaches, a group headed by Mike Babcock of the Detroit Red Wings and including Ken Hitchcock of the St. Louis Blues and Claude Julien of the Boston Bruins.
"I think it's a little different ballgame. We're playing in Europe, we're playing on the big ice, we're playing outside of the country," Ruff said. "It will be our responsibility to keep the team tight and together. It will be our responsibility to keep them motivated, excited about being there, because it's going to be a couple of tough weeks of hard work."